This book argues that language and literature actively produced chance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by categorizing injuries and losses as innocent of design. Automobile collisions and occupational injuries became "car accidents" and "industrial accidents." During the post-Civil War period of racial, ethnic, and class-based hostility, chance was an abstract enemy against which society might unite. By producing chance, novels by William Dean Howells, Stephen Crane, Anna Katharine Green, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, and James Cain documented and helped establish new modes of collective interdependence. Chance here is connected not with the competitive individualism of the Gilded Age, but with important progressive and social democratic reforms, including developments in insurance, which had long employed accident narratives to shape its own "mutual society." Accident Society reveals the extent to which American collectivity has depended—and continues to depend—on the literary production of chance.
About the author
Jason Puskar is Assistant Professor of American Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"The value of Puskar's analysis lies in his ability to guide readers through the evolution of the production of chance in literature and the ways in which it ultimately fails to compel lasting systems of interdependence."
—Debbie Lelekis, Journal of American Culture
"Accident Society is skillfully executed and makes important contributions to existing debates over the role of individual agency and moral responsibility in the age of incorporation leading up to the New Deal. Puskar uncovers original historical contexts to buttress new readings of crucial authors and texts."
—Maurice S. Lee, Boston University
"The intellectual range of this book is staggering. Each chapter not only shifts the discourse about a particular literary text, finding hidden illuminations, but also radiates new possibilities for understanding the social, philosophical, and political coordinates that situate the texts. It is truly a brilliant book."
—Eric Wertheimer, Arizona State University