Adkins, Matthew King
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This study begins with the premise that fictional texts are imagined worlds, worlds with which we can interact as participants, investing emotionally and psychologically in characters and events, but worlds that we ultimately recognize as distinct from our own and regard from some critical distance. While scholars who have examined this subjective/ objective duality have focused on its effect on the reader, I examine how writers address these competing stresses, arguing that navigating between the two is, if anything, a more urgent problem for the writer than for the reader. Using these basic assumptions as a starting point, I explore specific textual instances where writers encode the tension between these two poles into their work. In an effort to isolate such moments, I limit my study to a very specific time and place in literary history: late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. American writers during this roughly fifty year period were influenced by a number of dramatic social and political changes - Westward expansion, the publication of Darwin and Freud, and the introduction of new artistic media among them -- which together fostered an atmosphere in which artists were virtually forced to confront this duality. I deal primarily with four writers of the period -- Henry James, Stephen Crane, Upton Sinclair, and Willa Cather -- each of whom seems to respond to this duality from his or her own unique perspective. I begin with Henry James, whose narrative voice in Portrait of a Lady enacts the struggle the artist faces, between providing a realistic representation of life and the necessity of using the artificial elements of technique to create this representation. In the next chapter I look primarily at Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage¸ and the ways in which he uses movement as a means of providing both a subjective experience of events and a complete picture of the battlefield. Next I turn to The Jungle, in which Upton Sinclair uses the immigrant character Jurgis Rudkus to offer an outsider’s perspective on the social, economic, and political structure of Chicago. Finally, I conclude with a study of Willa Cather, whose work employs multiple levels of storytelling as a means of distancing her audience from the text itself.