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Bodies of ReformThe Rhetoric of Character in Gilded Age America$
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James B. Salazar

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780814741306

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814741306.001.0001

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Character Is Capital

Character Is Capital

Manufacturing Habit in Mark Twain’s Character Factory

(p.63) 2 Character Is Capital
Bodies of Reform

James B. Salazar

NYU Press

This chapter explores the pedagogy of “habit” through a reading of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). By tracing the novel's formal inversion of the realist modes of readerly identification that defined the “bad boy” literary genre of the 1870s and 1880s, it demonstrates how Twain mimics and models in the allegorical structure of the novel itself the institutional practices of “boyology” that were taking shape at the moment of A Connecticut Yankee's publication. In aligning these practices with the Yankee's own brand of cultural imperialism, the novel implicates such character-building agencies as the Boy Scouts of America—and the forms of homosocial chumminess, “Indian” identification, and military training around which they were organized—in the ideology of “Americanization” that increasingly dominated debates over racial segregation, Native American sovereignty, immigration policy, and overseas expansion in the 1890s. The chapter traces the cultural work of such character-building agencies to the broader discourse of habit as it was developed in the pragmatist psychology of William James, as well as in one of the most popular nonfiction genres of the period, the success manual. It argues that the ideological function of the complex pedagogy of will training and self-habituation articulated in such works is to obscure the reification of class difference through a democratization of middle-class character.

Keywords:   habit, Mark Twain, William James, success manual, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, boyology, cultural imperialism, Boy Scouts of America, class difference, middle class character

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