The Symbolic Role of Agriculture in Anglophone/American Fiction(Panel)
John Casey (University of Illinois at Chicago)
“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people...” (Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIX). This quote from Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) represents an attitude towards agriculture and specifically the family farm that remains influential in the United States today. Connection to the land is still viewed as sacred even as less people work on the land as farmers and ranchers (two percent according to the last census) and environmentalists struggle to reclaim the “soul” of agriculture from the industrial interests that have reshaped farming and the American farmer. In this panel, we will examine a variety of fictional representations of farming and the American farmer that explore the special status these metaphors have in US culture. Papers might cover topics such as fictional narratives about homesteading, the gap between myths of farming and agricultural techniques as they are exposed in fiction, stories that dramatize the conflict between environmentalists and farmers, the connection between immigration and farming in US fiction, themes of land ownership and the law in stories about family farms, and the role of farming in dispossessing First Nations. Analysis of films is welcome in this panel provided that the paper emphasizes characterization and narrative elements over matters of film form. Papers that explore the inter-relation of US metaphors for farming and farmers with other nations are also welcome, particularly when they challenge claims that US myths are “unique” in relation to other global cultures.