By Gina Rossetti
From Herman Melville’s Queequeg to Ken Kesey’s leader Bromden, primitive characters have performed key roles in literature and feature in most cases emerged as enduring and sympathetic figures. during this ebook, Gina M. Rossetti makes a speciality of works by way of Jack London, Frank Norris, Eugene O’Neill, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Nella Larsen, arguing that primitive literary characters demonstrate complicated and culturally established assumptions. within the interval of 1895 to 1929, Rossetti asserts, the primitive serves as a literary determine whose presence may well hyperlink naturalism and modernism. Defining the primitive as “the dominant culture’s projection of its inner worry, anxieties, and attractions,” Rossetti explores how the operating type and racial and ethnic minorities got here to occupy the placement of “primitives” and the measure to which extra privileged participants imagined themselves throughout the lens of this occasionally denigrated and infrequently romanticized different. For the chosen naturalist authors, the primitive is rendered in a Darwinian context, representing a determine whose presence will jeopardize American cultural identification by way of being evolutionarily inferior. In modernist literature of the 20th century, even though, the primitive separates from Darwinism and turns into aestheticized. In a lot of the literature from this era, the primitive features as a naive posture for the artist to imagine with a view to break out the issues of recent lifestyles. The overdue 19th and early 20th centuries have been a time of growing to be difficulty for the “vanishing Anglo Saxon,” and the primitive determine is frequently associated with theories of race. during this context, the racial primitive displays the culture’s desire for, and perpetuation of, a racial different who offers physique and form to American id. the ultimate evocation of the primitive combines either the naturalists’ preoccupation with race-based notions of personhood and the modernists’ wish for a romantic break out. even if the primitive is invoked definitely or negatively, Rossetti argues, it delineates the boundaries of yankee id and, within the period of time coated, frequently induces a double-edged reaction. The primitive’s marginality indicates the measure to which authors, privileged and differently, depend on its embedded presence in our nationwide literature. Rossetti eventually demonstrates that the primitive isn't really static yet particularly inconsistent and transformational, the resource from which many naturalist and modernist texts undertaking their matters, fears, and contradictions.
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Extra resources for Imagining the Primitive in Naturalist And Modernist Literature
For selected American modernist writers, the primitive becomes the means by which they will artistically escape from the modern era’s deadening culture. The writers aestheticize the primitive ﬁgure and use it as a way to carve out an artistic strategy that is prior to their cultural moment. In Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House (1925), for example, she represents Tom Outland as a primitive whose natural innocence will revitalize St. Peter’s imagination. On the contrary, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) questions the primitive both as an aesthetic and ideological tool and outlines the limitations of this literary ﬁgure.
Rather than possess a ﬁrm conviction, one that is molded by his class for the advancement of his class’s status, “Vandover allowed his ideas and tastes to be moulded by this new order of things. . he [was] very curious to see for himself the other lower side of their life that began after midnight in the private rooms and fast cafes and that was continued in the heavy musk-laden air of certain parlours amid the rustle of heavy silks” (21). In this underworld where the “primitives” reside, “there was no recoil of conscience, no shame, no remorse”; rather, Vandover “drifted into the life of a certain class of the young men of the city” (22).
18 This description not only establishes Vandover’s family afﬂuence, but it also sets him up as one prone to satisfying his desires. ” In his efforts to satisfy his desires, Vandover is introduced to the body as grotesque matter. This occurs in two key events: his mother’s death and growing awarenss of reproduction. His mother’s death shapes Vandover, and its grotesqueness profoundly affects him; as he recalls, “she drew a long sigh, her face became the face of an imbecile, stupid, without expression, her eyes half-closed, her mouth half-open.
Imagining the Primitive in Naturalist And Modernist Literature by Gina Rossetti