American Animals, American Men: Popular Literature from 1830 to 1915
Committee memberSalazar, James B.
Ford, Talissa J.
Wray, Matt, 1964-
Manhood and masculinity
Popular literature and culture
Permanent link to this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12613/4768
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AbstractCritics of animal rights often deride the movement’s proponents for having a sentimental, juvenile misconception of what animals really are, an argument bolstered by the fact that few twenty-first-century Americans besides those engaged in the industries of animal exploitation have any prolonged contact with real animals other than their pets. Until the first decades of the twentieth century, however, American cities teemed with diverse animal residents and workers, and a rapidly increasing percentage of humans grew in their conviction that these animal neighbors should be extended considerations and rights. Shifting ideas about these animals’ roles within United States society were captured in a number of new bestselling literary genres centered around “realistic” depictions of animal characters. Because animals are often conceptualized as a “contrast class” to humanity—a fundamental “Other” by which humans establish what qualities make themselves distinct and (typically) superior—analyzing these texts and their circulation within nineteenth-century culture reveals how Americans understood authority and systems of governance, and in particular how they modeled an ideal American manhood nourished by animal bodies. What forms of exploitation and control were permissible in a man’s treatment of his animals often reflected other power dynamics within society, and so these texts also provide insight into issues of class, race, and gender. Although the historical trajectory of popular culture depictions of realistic animals shows a general increase in compassion, egalitarianism, and the extension of rights, the successful removal of much animal exploitation from visibility has allowed that exploitation to grow in spite of the increasing popular sentiment to the contrary.
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