Neighborhood associations: security and hospitality in American suburban fiction

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Joseph A. George II (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Christian Moraru

Abstract: Formed in the wake of U.S. victories in World War II and in anticipation of Cold War enemies, the American postwar suburb was intended to be a manifestation of a particular national identity. Unsurprisingly, this strong conflation of space and identity has drawn its share of critics and satire, and suburbia has come to represent conformity and exclusion in the public imagination. Against these assumptions, however, a striking number of fictions set in suburbia reveal a plurality that confounds such dichotomies and exceeds the definitions imposed by real estate developers and home owners' associations. My dissertation "Neighborhood Associations: Security and Hospitality in American Suburban Fiction" calls for a radical reconsideration of the communal possibilities of suburbia by examining representations of neighborhood contracts, of the assumptions held by property owners, of the nuclear family, and of the parent/child bond. According to a surprising range of authors - including John Updike, Gloria Naylor, Jeffery Eugenides, and Chang-rae Lee - suburbia may have been created to ensure security through prefabricated identities and predetermined social engagements, but it is instead imagined as a place where intrinsically different others dwell together. My readings follow recent community studies in American literature, which reject the antisocial individualism identified by Leslie Fiedler and R.W.B. Lewis and place greater importance on social relations. But where many critics think of association as a type of kinship or regionalism, suburbia's embrace of the nuclear family and architectural homogeneity problematizes such categories. Instead, I argue that suburban fiction better reflects what Sue-Im Lee calls a "nervousness" towards community in American literature, and often features the singularities described by continental philosophers like Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Roberto Esposito. In addition to these philosophical influences, I also approach these works as reactions to the social upheaval and uncertainty of the second half of the 20th century. This focus distinguishes my work from previous studies of suburban fiction; while I share their rejection of the typical accusations leveled at the residential model, I am most interested in the communal implications of the postwar suburb. My study contends that these fictions do not simply critique the exploitative and exclusionary intentions of suburbia's original designers, but rather illustrate associations that exceed these limitations and extend welcome to infinitely unknowable neighbors.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Cold War, Hospitality, Security, Suburbia
American literature $x History and criticism
Neighborhoods in literature
Suburban life in literature
Suburbs in literature
Communities in literature

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