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By James B. Salazar

From the patricians of the early republic to post-Reconstruction racial scientists, from fin de siècle progressivist social reformers to post-war sociologists, personality, that apparently formable but both bold “stuff,” has had a protracted and checkered background giving form to the yank nationwide identity.Bodies of Reform reconceives this pivotal class of nineteenth-century literature and tradition through charting the advance of the concept that of “character” within the fictional genres, social reform activities, and political cultures of the U.S. from the mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century. by way of analyzing novelists resembling Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman along a various selection of texts desirous about the undertaking of creating personality, together with child-rearing publications, muscle-building magazines, libel and naturalization legislation, Scout handbooks, and luck manuals, James B. Salazar uncovers how the cultural practices of representing personality operated in tandem with the character-building concepts of social reformers. His leading edge examining of this archive bargains a thorough revision of this defining type in U.S. literature and tradition, arguing that personality used to be the keystone of a cultural politics of embodiment, a politics that performed a serious position in determining-and contesting-the social mobility, political authority, and cultural that means of the raced and gendered physique.

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In delineating the literary dynamics of Melville’s novel, this chapter ultimately aims to make visible the racializing effects of the confidence man’s spectacular self-constitution as both a social agent and a literary character. In the opening pages of the novel, Melville portrays the Fidèle and the many characters it conveys as representative of the demographic diversity of the Jacksonian era: [On it] there was not lack of variety. Natives of all sorts, and foreigners; men of business and men of pleasure.

Introduction 33 Chapter 1 explores the racializing dynamics of the rhetoric of character in Herman Melville’s last completed novel, The Confidence-Man (1857). Situated within the uncertainties of value produced in the wake of westward expansion and its dislocations of social and commercial exchange, Melville’s text, I argue, conflates rather than confirms the distinction between personality and character by charting the logical and historical entailment of the abstract equality of the democratic citizen in the exchangeability of the commodity form.

Rather than simply portraying the social implications of this crisis of character, however, Melville interrogates the cultural work performed by the rhetoric of character, this chapter argues, by restaging its formal logic in the textual and interpretive 38 Philanthropic Taste dynamics produced by the novel itself. Melville’s broader fascination with the concept of character is evident in many of his literary works, from the identity-altering tattoos of Typee to the physiognomic taxonomies of Moby-Dick to the phrenological fascinations of Billy Budd.

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