Demonizing Unions: Religious Rhetoric in the Early 20th Century Strike Novel

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Abstract
Demonizing Unions uncovers the significance of a Biblical idiom in American novels portraying violent labor conflicts from the 1910s to the 1930s. I reveal the different ways that Upton Sinclair’s King Coal and The Coal War, Mary Heaton Vorse’s Strike!, and Ruth McKenney’s Industrial Valley employ a Biblical motif both to emphasize the God-like power of Capital over society, and to critique an emergent socio-political faith in business power. The texts I examine demonstrate how it was clear to industrialists in the early 20th century that physical violence was losing its efficacy. Therefore, much of the brunt of the physical conflict in labor struggles could be eased by waging a war of ideas to turn public opinion into an additional, ultimately more powerful, weapon against the potential of organized labor. I argue that in these texts, the besmearing of the discontented workers as violent dupes of “outside agitators,” rather than regular folks with economic grievances, takes on Biblical proportions. In turn, these authors utilize Biblical stories oriented around conceptions of power and hierarchy to illuminate the potential of ordinary humans to effect their own liberation.
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2019-08-30
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Labor; Labor relations; strike novel; working class; Religion; American studies; American literature
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Cheyfitz, Eric T.
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Attell, Kevin D.
Woubshet, Dagmawi
Hutchinson, George B.
Degree Discipline
English Language and Literature
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Ph.D., English Language and Literature
Degree Level
Doctor of Philosophy
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dissertation or thesis
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