Urban intersections: meetings of life and literature in United States cities

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University of Illinois Press, 1992 - Literary Criticism - 258 pages
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What is "urban" literature? In Urban Intersections, Sidney Bremer looks beyond the skyscraper to reveal earlier and continuing images of the neighborhood, the street, and the family home challenging the universality of urban alienation. She reminds us of the many regional, women, and ethnic writers who have articulated the expressive and communal life of cities in the United States. Tracking the development of the American city from "city-town" through "economic city", "neighborhood city", and "megalopolis", Bremer explores how our perceptions and expectations of urban areas have changed over time. Texts by authors such as James Fenimore Cooper, William Dean Howells before 1890, then Chicagoans Edith Wyatt and Elia Peattie document city dwellers creating communities and connections. While Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and Nathanael West went on to describe the alienating machinery of the city, other writers were exploring life on New York's Jewish Lower East Side, in Harlem during its renaissance, in the South, and even in Chicago, in stories of home within the city, of struggling toward social identity, of dignity and strength. Bremer argues that these works constitute a countertradition worthy of attention. Beginning with a discussion of how we define texts as "urban", Bremer shows how city-town imagery in literature emphasizes flexibility, communal values, and multiple perspectives as characters create and interpret newborn American cities. She then shifts from this regional perspective to post-Romantic, turn-of-the-century Chicago as the national epitome of literature's anti-natural economic city. Bremer argues that writers such as Dreiser and Frank Norris dramatize howindividualism "both exacerbates the excesses of modern urban life and proves inadequate to control it". While this literature rose to prominence, inscribing "urban alienation" in America's consciousness, another genre of urban literature - from a female perspective - continued to challenge it. Willa Cather, Edith Wyatt, Elia Peattie, and others wrote of the civic family that existed alongside the more resonant alienation. A similar communalism parading in the streets of Harlem and the Upper East Side of New York symbolized African- and Jewish-American struggles for identity, as individuals and as groups, within the modern city. James Weldon Johnson, Abraham Cahan, and their successors enlighten us about the vitality of modern urban experience in literature.

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Toward a National Economic City
The Standard Chicago Novel

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