Contemporary North American Narrative Fiction and the Landscapes of Neoliberalism: The Explosion of Corporate Capitalism and the Spaces of the Fallen American Middle Class

  • Michael K. Walonen
Part of the New Comparisons in World Literature book series (NCWL)


American authors have been textually grappling for generations with the innovations in the evolution of capitalism that would in time usher the neoliberal social order into being. On the outer cusp of the explosion of large trusts and then corporations that would sweep through the country and transform the structure of its economy from roughly the end of Reconstruction to the Great Depression (Beatty 127–128), Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) warned of the dangers of the joint-stock limited liability model of ownership1 that vests practically unlimited authority — but no restraint born of moral, ethical, or environmental considerations — upon the enterprise leader in order to maximize profits. Under the guise of responsibility to its shareholders (‘widows and orphans, many of them’ Captain Bildad claims in a grab or moral legitimacy), the managers of the Pequod underpay its laborers (74–75) and put the megalomaniacal, revenge-bent Ahab in charge of the ship due to his reputation for killing valuable sperm whales, with disastrous consequences for all. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, Frank Norris penned works like The Octopus (1901), revealing the backroom machinations of corporate monopolies and the forms of misery visited upon the working class as a result of them, while Theodore Dreiser explored the vicissitudes and schemes of the American financier in his Trilogy of Desire (The Financier [1912], The Titan [1914], and The Stoic [1947]).


Free Market Polar Bear Gated Community Moral Legitimacy Narrative Fiction 
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Copyright information

© Michael Walonen 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael K. Walonen
    • 1
  1. 1.Bethune-Cookman UniversityUSA

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