A Fraught Inheritance: Legal Realism, Literary Realism, and the Forging of American Democracy
Khan, Almas , English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ross, Marlon, Department of English, University of Virginia
A Fraught Inheritance: Legal Realism, Literary Realism, and the Forging of American Democracy is the first extensive conceptualization of two seminal, contemporaneous movements in American law and letters. The project literarily and legally cross-examines the Reconstruction Amendments, which formally cemented equal citizenship rights in the Civil War’s wake, from the Amendments’ ratification through World War II. I construe the Amendments through the lenses of literary realism and legal realism, which are framed as dissenting intellectual movements. Both realisms emerged largely in response to statutes and judicial decisions that belied the Reconstruction Amendments’ egalitarian promise by intentionally or effectively subordinating people of color and the working class. My analysis couples legal texts that critiqued these laws with kindred literary works by Charles Chesnutt, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, and Richard Wright. Despite criticisms of literary realism and legal realism’s overall complicity with an unjust status quo, a reading of the movements against the disciplinary grain demonstrates their social justice resiliency during the modern period as well as their formidable influence on equitable literary and legal developments into today.
PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
literary realism, legal realism, Reconstruction Amendments, American Dream, Charles Chesnutt, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Richard Wright, The Marrow of Tradition, The Jungle, An American Tragedy, "The Man Who Killed a Shadow"
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