Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the role of the mob in Early American literature, and how the mob continues to be an essential part of American society. Chapter one uses Linebaugh's and Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra to argue that early American authors acted as demagogues attempting to control the mob. These earliest American writers aligned with Federalist-leaning politicians and convey a conservative message to the reading public. For these American authors it was essential to keep the Revolutionary spirit alive, and to point the overeager mob in the direction of worthwhile causes. Just who is deciding whether a cause is a "moral" one or not is the subject of chapter two. Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland and "Trials of Arden," and Stephen Burroughs' Memoir reveal attempts by these authors to manipulate and force the reader to wrestle with "reasonable doubt." These authors frame the reader as the mob, and attempt to push the reader to think without "hasty judgment." Building on these ideas, the discussion moves to the "neutral ground" in The Spy, "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," "Rip Van Winkle," and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The neutral ground, a liminal space, is the truest test of Democracy, as it is an area without formal laws and regulations. Mob rule dominates this region, and, though dangerous, it allows for the greatest freedom in the new nation. Chapter four argues that the hope of the "neutral ground" on the frontier is a myth. The sea-novels of Herman Melville, Richard Penn Smith's Col. Crockett, and political cartoons of the 1830s, reveal that corrupt captains are formed wherever Americans look for freedom, whether that be at sea or on the western frontier. The concluding chapter focuses on the current usage of "mob" in American culture--looking at the Tea Party and Occupy movements of the last decade--and asserts that mobs are currently alive and well in American literature and culture.
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