Reforming Women

From the swift emergence, a decade ago, of a serious new interest in women’s history, scholars have recognized in this field not only a subject of intrinsic fascination, but a constructive approach to numerous aspects of social and cultural history. Recent works in the history of the family, medicine, literature, …

Democratic Vistas

The most familiar tradition of literary criticism in America assigns the special features of our writing to the experience of abundance, individualism, and Adam’s release from complicity in past history. Professor Bruce Franklin’s new book challenges this tradition on all points, by concentrating exclusively on oppression in America and its …

A History of Endurance

Saying what Nathan Huggins’s new book on the Afro-American experience is not may help to define what it is. It is not sociology, psychology, or anthropology, though there are significant insights gleaned from these disciplines, and large sections of the book read much like the more successful popular works in …

The Emergence of American Women

When life comes near to imitating art, bad art, then truth begins to sound excessive, and the writer who records life may easily become an excessive writer. This is one of the problems of Victorian letters. A check through the typically detailed “Contents” of many a fat volume of the …

American Women in Their Place

The achieving female of a hundred years ago has presented problems as a model for her achieving feminist successors of our times. A fair assessment, for instance, of someone like Catharine Beecher, a front-running celebrant of the “cult of domesticity,” would be less galling if her contributions to women’s education …

An American Family

Roots is about lineage and blood, history and suffering, and the need to know about these things. The need-to-know is Alex Haley’s. Why and how the author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X has driven himself for a dozen years to find his own bloodlines, or one strain at least, …

Off the Plantation

As the crisp outline left when a cooky cutter has finished its business serves to remind us, it is occasionally possible to see the shape of things as well from the outside as from within. That plantation slavery was much more than a labor system most readers of American history …

What We Didn’t Know About Slavery

For six or eight generations writers have been pegging slavery up and down on a moral scale that buckles alarmingly with the temperature of the social issue that slavery entailed. So long as the peculiar institution was a contemporary reality the question was absolute. Was slavery a moral institution, or …

Killing for Freedom

Biographers of men who lived in violent times have the special problem of dealing with the abstractions about means and ends that clutter the rhetoric of political systems in a state of polarization. When do men mean what they say? How a biographer’s subject responds to a call to action …