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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"Against the real dangers of modern life the home is no safeguard": Examining Spheres of Affect and Coercion in the Home in Nineteenth Century California Literature

  • Author(s): Tejeda, Carla Alicia
  • Advisor(s): Padilla, Genaro M
  • et al.

This dissertation examines representations of domestic discord in California literature with the argument that scenes of coercion in the literature's multiethnic households enact the aggressive dynamics of U.S. expansion and governance in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The literary representations of political and familial forms of coercion presented here hinge upon the multiple scales implied with the term "domestic," which include but are not limited to the private home space and the nation state. Between these spatial scales, the literary narrative of coupling and marriage on a private scale is then writ large as a national narrative of statehood and citizenship. Those writing in and about California in the aftermath of the U.S.-Mexican War were narrating a geography already inscribed with discourses of U.S. domestic policy with regards to its territories. The resulting U.S. narrative of migration and desire - enabled by the influx of gold rush speculators in 1849, the completion of the trans-continental railroad in 1868, and the various land booms and busts of the 1870s and 80s, came to define the region. The works examined here highlight the significance of California as a site of both national and international conquest. Almost all the homes depicted in this study house people who represent both the aggressors and casualties of westward migration and national expansion. The domestic spaces presented here are then sites of tension that symbolically enact the aggressive political and military campaign of westward expansion within an affective context. The focus on the home is a powerful symbol for this commentary, as it is an economic object imbued with affective expression. It is the material product of the emergent middle class, providing the means for exploring identity through the artifacts of culture, and in an era of homesteading, it serves as both the symbol and the instrument of national expansion.

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