Fellow travelers: mobility, male friendships, and the whitening of U. S. national space in nineteenth-century American literature

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Howard Gene Melton II (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Mark Rifkin

Abstract: This dissertation examines how literary depictions of a range of male friendships, set into motion within the fluctuating boundaries of U. S. jurisdiction (both before and after the Civil War), provide an excellent site for interrogating, across the nineteenth century, the fundamental assumptions, policies, and practices of “Manifest Destiny” as an in-process white, heteronormative, masculinist endeavor. The promises and problems inherent to Manifest Destiny, I assert, are particularly apparent in nineteenth-century non-fiction and fiction that depict significant male-male friendships as associated with the social, political, and geographical concerns that motivated—and challenged—the project of defining United States national space throughout the century. Such narratives of homosocial friendships—“romantic” and otherwise—between white men, between non-white men, and between men from both groups mobilize, in some cases, celebrations of white male nation-building and, in others, critiques or complications of those same ideals. What makes the period’s literary depictions of male homosocial relationships especially rich for interrogating Manifest Destiny as an ongoing process is that these friendships, like the fluctuating national space of the nineteenth-century United States, present an incompletely mapped terrain, an evolving social and political construct that allows, with significant consequences for the individual and the community, a traversing of various officially mandated boundaries. Moreover, like the developing nation, the male friendships depicted in the texts I examine in this dissertation cross politicized and racialized geographic space; in doing so, I argue, they offer opportunities to consider how, through such movements within and beyond the shifting borders of the United States, principles of individualism and collaboration, as well as policies of racial, gender, and class superiority, figure into and also afford material for the critique of the construction of Manifest Destiny as both a national imperative and as a primary national narrative. My study thus demonstrates that, in nineteenth-century works that privilege the geographic and social mobility of male friendships, these mobile homosocial relationships come to embody many of the social, legal, economic, political, cultural, and cartographical phenomena that collectively constitute, yet also call into question, Manifest Destiny as a project of what I term the whitening of U.S. national space, especially as those homosocial relationships expose the multiplicities of whitenesses and masculinities with a stake in the evolving jurisdictions of the United States. The set of works privileging male friendships that I analyze in this dissertation reflect two primary movements in geographic space: within areas of North American continental terrain that have come to be known as part of the contiguous United States but that, in the nineteenth century, were sites whose political and legal status was far more ambiguous in light of the sovereignties of Native peoples. The other is a movement outward still further from the continental space of the nation and into other sovereign locales, such as Cuba and Hawai‘i. The initial two chapters treat works from the antebellum period, first tracing—in History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark (1814), a popular adaptation of the voluminous journals associated with the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition—an early nineteenth-century gesture toward representation of a paradigmatic mobile male friendship at the core of the process by which the national space of the United States was being whitened through the enslavement of African Americans and the systematic displacement of Native peoples; and second analyzing—in Blake; or, the Huts of America (1861-1862), the serial novel/manifesto of slave revolt by Martin Delany—a mid-century African American challenge to that agenda. As becomes evident in South-Sea Idyls (1873), the postbellum work by Charles Warren Stoddard that I treat in the final chapter, the whitening of national space extended, through interracial and intergenerational homosocial friendships, into territory outside the western boundary of the continental United States. Collectively, these movement patterns, and the male friendships with which they are narratively associated, trace key fluctuations in legal, political, and territorial jurisdiction attendant upon the whitening of U. S. national space during the span of the nineteenth century and beyond.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
19th century, Male friendship, Mobility, United States, Whiteness
American literature $y 19th century $x History and criticism
Male friendship in literature
Men in literature
Whites in literature
Social mobility in literature
Movement in literature
Manifest Destiny

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