Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
While common sense tells us that the 19th-century U.S. was obsessed with individual rights and individual success, there remains evidence that civic duty continued to be a significant component of national identity. In fact, we might say that the conflict between individual rights and civic duty organizes one of the most popular forms of literature in the antebellum U.S.: frontier fiction. In novels by William Gilmore Simms, James Kirke Paulding, Washington Irving, James Hall, and Robert M. Bird, heroes travel to the frontier where they must survive the wilderness, resist the temptations of “savagery,” and explore various roles in white/Indian affairs. While these heroes participate in America’s expansion, they are torn between the freedom of the frontier and their duty to the polity. Yet, not all frontier novels resolve this dilemma in the same way, and my dissertation, by attending closely to the different ways in which frontier novels imagined this conflict, discloses a new history of the origins of American masculinity, and of the ways in which American masculinity is entangled in ideologies of race.
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