‘The Comfort of Victimhood’: Jonathan Franzen’s Lament for America’s White Men
Jonathan Franzen concludes his famous 1996 Harper’s essay, ‘Perchance to Dream’ by observing that ‘…if multiculturalism succeeds in making us a nation of independently empowered tribes, each tribe will be deprived of the comfort of victimhood and be forced to confront human limitation for what it is: a fixture of life’ (54). Throughout the essay he refers to correspondence he conducted with David Foster Wallace in which they discussed the predicament the middle-class American man found himself in, apparently lacking in a unifying tribe that would allow them to articulate an identity that somehow fit with the alienation they felt.
The alienated, misunderstood white male is a fixture in Franzen’s two most celebrated novels, The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2010). This paper seeks to interrogate the validity of this pose, particularly in relation to how Franzen depicts American family life, and how this connects with a culture that he sees as increasingly invasive and superficial. How accurate is Franzen’s depiction of life for America’s middle class white men, especially when read in the light of his own position in the literary world?
Julie Le Blanc
‘The stories find me’: An excavation of myth in Alan Garner’s Weirdstone Trilogy
Fantasy has traditionally drawn on mythology for its characters, settings and plots. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings launched the adult fantasy genre, using Old Norse and Old English myths to build his own mythology. In children’s literature, where fantasy flourished long before it became acceptable for adults, Alan Garner’s first two novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963), achieved fame and praise for similar reasons. Garner’s expansion of a local Cheshire legend to include figures from Norse, Irish, English, and Welsh mythology has drawn child readers for the last half century, no less so than when in 2012 Garner released Boneland, a book for those childreaders now grown, which completed the trilogy.
Garner has argued that he subconsciously taps into a preexisting mythological system. ‘Place comes first, and the rest is exposed, as if in an archaeological dig,’ he claimed in a 2015 interview. This attitude implies two things: first, that his work is only the voice of a greater, more complete story and, second, since each ethnic or national mythology is connected in this undercurrent source, Garner is entitled to draw from any culture’s stories. This raises questions, however, about the importance of the cultural context of myths, and what this means for the informed reader when approaching Garner’s texts. Removing a narrative or character from their cultural environment necessarily raises issues of cultural appropriation, as well as of gender and politics when that character is the Irish goddess, the Morrígain. This paper will examine Garner’s mythopoesis through his interpretation of the Morrígain throughout the Weirdstone trilogy, discussing the implications of appropriation and the effects of the adaptation and transformation of myths in children’s literature.