Buying and Selling Culture

Literature and Consumption in Antebellum American Literature


From the founding of the USA at the end of the 18th century, consumption has been an important element in America's economic, social, and cultural development. The project looks at what Jane Tompkins has called the "cultural work" that antebellum American literature performed with regard to consumption, its objects, and related consumer practices. Both literature and consumption, I contend, came to be sites where the young nation's social, economic, and cultural development was not only displayed but also critically negotiated. The aim of this study, then, will be to reread literary texts of this period in light of their discussion of consumption and to show how this discussion is centrally concerned with the formation of the American nation. Tracing and comparing the different attitudes that become visible in literature, which came to be a commodity during the same time, I will show how consumption becomes a central part of American society during this period as both a concrete economic practice and as a symbolically significant gesture.


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