The Quaker City: George Lippard's critique of capitalism through sensational advocacy for the disenfranchised
AdvisorBechtold, Rebeccah B.
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Nineteenth-century author and journalist George Lippard advocated for the underprivileged by devoting himself to his self-founded labor union, "The Brotherhood of the Union," as well as by incorporating fresh and fiery commentary on the political issues of the day into his fiction. Novels like Empire City and New York addressed corruption in local politics, exploitative practices in the emerging finance industry, and the horrors of slavery. Yet, Lippard's most popular work, The Quaker City, or the Monks of Monk Hall (1845), most clearly provides a gritty and sensationalized depiction of the political and social corruption rampant in Philadelphia in the mid-1800s. In the following thesis, I explore how George Lippard's novel engages with the antebellum period's unique intersection of spectacle, disability, and labor in order to argue that, through the character of Devil Bug, Lippard exemplifies how a marginalized body might make his own way as an independent businessman amidst the capitalist society that attempts to exploit or negate bodies like his own. In my first section, I turn to the sensationalist popular culture that prevailed in Lippard's time (freak shows, dime museums, city penny papers, etc.) and his own engagement with this culture that turned the human body into spectacular entertainment. In my second section, I further argue how the rise of Northern factory systems reinforced the notion of the body as an object to be capitalized upon, and how I see Lippard rejecting this corruption of the body. My final section examines Devil Bug's success operating within this capitalist system, despite his non-normative physicality. However, I also uncover the drawbacks of Devil Bug's participation in the capitalist system: although Devil Bug attempts to counteract his isolated "abnormal" physical state by developing relationships, his all-consuming "goold"-focused mindset problematically drives him to define these relationships as economic transactions.
Thesis (M.A.)-- Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of English