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Fiction and Solidarity: On the Representation of Mutual Support in U.S.-American Culture

Christof Decker

Pages 491 - 508



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Recent scholarship has conceptualized solidarity as a human right allowing individuals to protect themselves against social vulnerabilities. As with other human rights, the claims they imply need to be anchored in a sense of social cohesion—a common feeling of commitment and support, which ultimately has to be produced by cultural forms and institutions. This article examines how various types of mutual support have been imagined in the history of U.S.-American literature and culture. It distinguishes between semantic, performative, and communicative functions of fictional texts to explore how the idea of social cohesion has been discussed "and" performed in and through fiction. I focus on three modes emerging in the nineteenth century: the sentimental, the utopian, and the post-metaphysical. Looking closely at their narrative and rhetorical design, I argue that they aimed to contain two major opposing forces working against the idea of mutual support and solidaristic communities: a destructive individualism as the cause of social vulnerabilities and a sense of distance limiting the feeling of connection and interdependency.

Key Words: solidarity; fiction; literature; film; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Rebecca Harding Davis; Stephen Crane

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