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11 - The Literature of Reconstruction and the Worlds the Civil War Might Have Made

from Part II - Worlds Made and Remade

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2022

Kathleen Diffley
Affiliation:
University of Iowa
Coleman Hutchison
Affiliation:
University of Texas, Austin
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Summary

Literature does not reflect history: it creates possible worlds. The literature of Reconstruction participated in national debates by imagining competing fictional worlds that could have emerged from controversial policies to reconcile former enemies while promoting rights for newly emancipated freedmen. Recent scholarship defines Reconstruction spatially as encompassing the nation, not just the south, and temporally as lasting from the middle of the Civil War to the advent of legalized segregation and disfranchisement in the early twentieth century. This chapter compares works structured by four emerging plots: stories about the Union as it was, romances between northerners and southerners, racial passing, and inheritance. These plots are not mutually exclusive. For instance, romances often have consequences for inheritance. Nonetheless, debates over what sort of nation should emerge from the blood of civil war come alive by comparing how these plots were fashioned in competing ways.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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