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Alone in America

The Stories That Matter
Alone in America
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Harvard University Press

Robert A. Ferguson investigates the nature of loneliness in American fiction, from its mythological beginnings in Rip Van Winkle to the postmodern terrors of 9/11. At issue is the dark side of a trumpeted American individualism. The theme is a vital one because a greater percentage of people live alone today than at any other time in U.S. history.

The many isolated characters in American fiction, Ferguson says, appeal to us through inward claims of identity when pitted against the social priorities of a consensual culture. They indicate how we might talk to ourselves when the same pressures come our way. In fiction, more visibly than in life, defining moments turn on the clarity of an inner conversation.

Alone in America tests the inner conversations that work and sometimes fail. It examines the typical elements and moments that force us toward a solitary state—failure, betrayal, change, defeat, breakdown, fear, difference, age, and loss—in their ascending power over us. It underlines the evolving answers that famous figures in literature have given in response. Figures like Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Toni Morrison’s Sethe and Paul D., or Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March and Marilynne Robinson’s John Ames, carve out their own possibilities against ruthless situations that hold them in place. Instead of trusting to often superficial social remedies, or taking thin sustenance from the philosophy of self-reliance, Ferguson says we can learn from our fiction how to live alone.


With more people living alone today than at any time in U.S. history, Ferguson investigates loneliness in American fiction, from its mythological beginnings in Rip Van Winkle to the postmodern terrors of 9/11. At issue is the dark side of a trumpeted American individualism. Ferguson shows that we can learn, from our literature, how to live alone.

Authors: Ferguson, Robert A., 1942-
Statement of Responsibility: Robert A. Ferguson
Title: Alone in America
the stories that matter
Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2013
Characteristics: x, 283 p. ; 20 cm.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. [253]-272) and index
Contents: Prologue: The Lords of Life
Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?
Nathaniel Hawthorne dissects betrayal
Louisa May Alcott meets Mark Twain over the young face of change
Henry James and Zora Neale Hurston answer defeat
Edith Wharton's anatomy of breakdown
Midpoint: the lords of life revisited
The immigrant novel: fear in America
William Faulkner and Toni Morrison plot racial difference
Saul Bellow observes old age
Don DeLillo and Marilynne Robinson mourn loss
Walt Whitman finds the courage to be
Subject Headings: Loneliness in literature American fiction History and criticism
Topical Term: Loneliness in literature
American fiction
LCCN: 2012027363
ISBN: 0674066766
9780674066762
Branch Call Number: 813.0093 F
Research Call Number: JFC 13-15
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