Middle-class identity and corporeal attachments in The Wide, Wide World
Early nineteenth century industrialization and capitalism stimulated growth in public labor forces and consumer markets. Though largely conceived as a male-centered history, industrialization upended the lives of women; who, acting as producers and consumers, established themselves as integral components of the capitalist system. In response to this social metamorphosis, white middle-class ideologies - such as the cult of true womanhood, sentimentalism, and the cult of domesticity - emerged to preserve feminine sensibilities and purity from the cruelties and corruption of the consumer market. In her wildly popular sentimental novel The Wide, Wide World, published in 1850, Susan Warner disseminates domestic, sentimental ideologies and explores the perversity of the capitalist world. Warner's young orphaned protagonist, Ellen Montgomery, exposes the particulars of female consumption and white, middle-class, female labor. Warner ultimately places Ellen on the margins of the economic world as an invisible domestic laborer with imperfect male-regulated access to consumer markets. Men dominate both the domestic and economic spheres, and the definition white middle-class manhood emerges in tandem with the definition of "true womanhood." Warner actualizes the subversive potential of the novel by exposing the economic subjection and the domestic regulation of women by the male-hegemonic systems that define and commodify womanhood.
Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of English