Alone in America: The Stories that Matter by Robert A. Ferguson

By Robert A. Ferguson

Robert A. Ferguson investigates the character of loneliness in American fiction, from its mythological beginnings in Rip Van Winkle to the postmodern terrors of September 11. At factor is the darkish part of a trumpeted American individualism. The subject is a crucial one simply because a better percent of individuals reside on my own this day than at the other time in U.S. history.

the numerous remoted characters in American fiction, Ferguson says, entice us via inward claims of id whilst pitted opposed to the social priorities of a consensual tradition. They point out how we'd consult ourselves while a similar pressures come our manner. In fiction, extra visibly than in lifestyles, defining moments activate the readability of an internal conversation.

Alone in America assessments the interior conversations that paintings and infrequently fail. It examines the common parts and moments that strength us towards a solitary state—failure, betrayal, switch, defeat, breakdown, worry, distinction, age, and loss—in their ascending strength over us. It underlines the evolving solutions that well-known figures in literature have given in reaction. Figures like Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Toni Morrison’s Sethe and Paul D., or Louisa may perhaps Alcott’s Jo March and Marilynne Robinson’s John Ames, carve out their very own probabilities opposed to ruthless events that carry them in position. rather than trusting to sometimes superficial social treatments, or taking skinny sustenance from the philosophy of self-reliance, Ferguson says we will research from our fiction tips on how to reside alone.

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Grieving mothers, dead sons, jilted lovers, sailors lost at sea, disgraced bankrupts, and funerals proliferate in The Sketch Book, with “Rip Van Winkle” as its centerpiece. Irving casts every problem into sentiment, where vicarious sorrow overwhelms the nasty particulars. Does Nobody Here Know Rip Van Winkle? 25 Rip is indeed a shiftless alcoholic, an addict who shirks the obligations of house and home, but Diedrich Knickerbocker, the ancient historian who narrates Irving’s story, “winks” these negative traits into the imaginary past of Sleepy Hollow, a place we can regard with interest without having to care about it.

Every character is plunged into either the knowledge or the danger of betrayal at some point in Hawthorne’s story, but the ravages of it are best seen in the two characters who are forced to live it obsessively: Clifford Pyncheon has been sentenced through it, and Holgrave uses it for nefarious reasons. In “The Pyncheon Garden,” the impact of unjust incarceration on Clifford Pyncheon furnishes the con- Nathaniel Hawthorne Dissects Betrayal 51 templative center of the novel. Clifford has been smashed into incoherence by the perfidy in events.

Downward mobility applies to every pleasure-seeking Rip that we have seen. How many idle Rips will be able to duplicate old Rip’s escape, an escape that he has done nothing to earn beyond the telling of it? Disaster awaits every new Rip who fails to find a nurturing female to solve his situation. The littlest and latest Rip in Irving’s story faces this prospect, and it is no wonder that he cries out in alarm at what he sees. Nor is that his only problem in the return of his drunken grandfather. Will Mother Judith have the time, the means, and the patience to take care of both of them?

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