Around Quitting Time

Work and Middle-Class Fantasy in American Fiction

Around Quitting Time

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: Published: June 2001

Author: Robert Seguin

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Virtually since its inception, the United States has nurtured a dreamlike and often delirious image of itself as an essentially classless society. Given the stark levels of social inequality that have actually existed and that continue today, what sustains this at once hopelessly ideological and breathlessly utopian mirage? In Around Quitting Time Robert Seguin investigates this question, focusing on a series of modern writers who were acutely sensitive to the American web of ideology and utopic vision in order to argue that a pervasive middle-class imaginary is the key to the enigma of class in America.
Tracing connections between the reconstruction of the labor process and the aesthetic dilemmas of modernism, between the emergence of the modern state and the structure of narrative, Seguin analyzes the work of Nathanael West, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, John Barth, and others. These fictional narratives serve to demonstrate for Seguin the pattern of social sites and cultural phenomenon that have emerged where work and leisure, production and consumption, and activity and passivity coincide. He reveals how, by creating pathways between these seemingly opposed domains, the middle-class imaginary at once captures and suspends the dynamics of social class and opens out onto a political and cultural terrain where class is both omnipresent and invisible.
Aroung Quitting Time
will interest critics and historians of modern U.S. culture, literary scholars, and those who explore the interaction between economic and cultural forms.


“[A]n important contribution to the analysis of class in American fiction. . . . Seguin’s discussion becomes truly fascinating and compelling. . . . Around Quitting Time is both timely and important, bringing an intelligent, sophisticated, and much-needed new perspective to bear on the problem of class(lessness) and the Utopian imaginary which defines the American Dream.” — Stephen Ross , Modern Fiction Studies

“In Around Quitting Time, Robert Sequin makes a major contribution to the ‘New Americanist’ rethinking of classic American literature in dialectical relation to American cultural and social history. . . . [T]his is a complex and stimulating account of the ‘stalled dialect’ of the American imagination . . . .The topic is a particularly significant one . . . . [Around Quitting Time] is certainly of interest to any student of this period of American literature, and indeed to anyone who puzzles over questions of labor, leisure and class in American life and politics today.” — Naomi Jacobs , Utopian Studies

"[A] complex and intelligent argument. . . ." — Susan Edmunds , American Literary History

"[A]n important contribution to the analysis of class in American fiction. . . . Seguin's discussion becomes truly fascinating and compelling when he gets to the more fraught articulations of middle-classness and frontier/pastoral. . . . Around Quitting Time Is both timely and important, bringing an intelligent, sophisticated, and much-needed new perspective to bear on the problem of class(lessness) and the Utopian imaginary which defines the American Dream." — Stephen Ross , Americas

"[O]ffers a complex and rigorously theorized approach to the middle-class imaginary through the problematic of production. . . . [A] welcome and important intervention. . . ." — Amy Blair, American Quarterly

"[R]eaders will find Seguin's ideas useful and . . . enlightening. . . ." — Lydia A. Schultz, Dreiser Studies

"I found the book to be provocative. . . . I would recommend this book to graduate students and professors of American Studies." — Sarah Cheney Watson , Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas

"Sequin's analysis generally leads to probing and persuasive conclusions about how middle-class ambivalence is lived as a pregnant dialectical pause, a timid hesitation before the unimaginable future." — Andrew Knighton , Cultural Critique

“A remarkably positive achievement that contributes significantly to an understanding of quite a range of texts, to an understanding of specific currents of literary modernism, and most generally to an understanding of class, which—in a U.S. context especially—remains that most vexed of social categories.” — Evan Watkins, Pennsylvania State University

“Rob Seguin’s Around Quitting Time makes a major contribution to discussions of class formation in the United States. His original readings of novels by Dreiser, Cather, West, and Barth brilliantly pursue the ghostly tracks of social and cultural change as they are rendered in fine narrative and linguistic detail within the domain of the literary. His mode of reading is as significant as his argument about the "classlessness" of the middle class. Indeed, Seguin demonstrates in exemplary fashion that it is possible to attend to literature as a social and political force without neglecting the specificity of its aesthetic work.” — Janice A. Radway, Duke University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Robert Seguin is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the State University of New York at Brockport.

Table of Contents Back to Top

1. Introduction: Class, Middle Class, and the Modalities of Labor

2. The Burden of Toil: Sister Carrie as Urban Pastoral

3. Willa Cather and the Ambivalence of Hierarchy

4. New Frontiers in Hollywood: Mobility and Desire in The Day of the Locust

5. Into the 1950s: Fiction in a Age of Consensus

Postscript: The Insistence of Class and the Framing of Culture in the American Scene



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2670-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2675-5
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