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Violence in the Contemporary American Novel
An End to Innocence

James R. Giles

Analyzes the response of fiction writers to the epidemic of urban American violence

Violence in the Contemporary American Novel attends to the trope of violence in eight contemporary American urban novels: William Kennedy's Quinn's Book, Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Richard Price's The Wanderers, John Edgar Wideman's Philadelphia Fire, Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street, Cormac McCarthy's Suttree, N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, and John Rechy's The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez. James R. Giles shows that these representative works, published between 1968 and 1994, convey a sense of violence as an epidemic, a modern plague that threatens to extinguish the dreams, aspirations, and actual lives of the inhabitants of America's cities. Framing his study with two especially horrific and widely publicized cases of violence involving children in Chicago, he notes with alarm the degree to which violence in the novels is perpetrated by adults against children or, even more shockingly, by children against children.

Giles demonstrates that American writers have assumed a responsibility not only to record the plague of violence that so threatens the survival of the nation's children but also to seek explanations of its origins. He argues that the violence in these works, which is never portrayed as a positive form of revolutionary action but is instead represented as reactive effect, emerges largely out of ethnic antagonism, racial and gender division, and class oppression.

While Giles finds an emphasis on an oppressive class structure underlying each of the novels, he also underscores a rich diversity in the novels' styles, subjects, and perspectives. He contends that the novelists cumulatively offer diversity as an antidote to the initiation and spread of violence, and he concludes that they envision cultural diversity as urban America's opportunity for redemption and hope.

A professor of English at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, James R. Giles is the author of Understanding Hubert Selby, Jr. and The Naturalistic Inner-City Novel in America: Encounters with the Fat Man.



book jacket for Violence in the Contemporary American Novel


6 x 9
192 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-328-5
cloth, $34.95s


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