Fagan, Abigail, “Bloated: Power and the Body in American Temperance Literature” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut, 2019)

Abstract

“Bloated: Power and the Body in American Temperance Literature” tracks the figure of the white, male drunkard through the temperance discourse that permeated American literature from 1827 to 1920. The temperance movement spanned the entire length of the nineteenth century, ultimately culminating in the 1919 passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcohol in the United States. By tracking the way that authors—particularly women and Black men and women—employed the figure of the white, male drunkard in their temperance discourse, I demonstrate that temperance literature comprises an intersectional critique of the white supremacist and patriarchal foundations of American social hierarchies. Antebellum authors used the figure of the white male drunkard to dissociate the values associated with American citizenship—particularly rational discourse and physical self-control—from whiteness and masculinity in a wide range of genres and modes, including anecdotes, editorials, and letters in women’s interest and Black abolitionist newspapers, as well as short stories, slave narratives, novels, and reform-oriented appeals to the legislature and the public at large. In the postbellum period, however, this archetypal white, male drunkard disappeared from the vast majority of temperance-oriented texts, including the historical documents written and published by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The drunkard then emerged as the alcoholic in the sociological and biographical volumes of the Progressive Era. These changes to the figure of the white, male drunkard are as politically significant as was the drunkard’s objectification in antebellum texts. They signal a normalizing shift in what had been a deconstructive discourse and a capitulation to the white supremacist undergirding of national reunification. By tracking representations—and omissions—of the white, male drunkard in nineteenth-century American literature, I demonstrate how temperance authors revealed the hypocrisy of embodiment that undergirds American allocation of power: white men are uniquely capable of governing themselves and others because of their bodies, but what makes them capable of this government is their dissociation from those bodies.