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Jane Smiley, Jonathan Franzen, Don DeLillo

Narratives of Everyday Justice

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Jason S. Polley

The novels of Jane Smiley, Jonathan Franzen, and Don DeLillo propose new readings of justice in contemporary American literature. Jason S. Polley argues that such distinctive writers as Smiley, Franzen, and DeLillo reconfigure what he calls «acts of justice» in various modalities and spaces. These authors re-conceptualize justice in their portrayals of peripheral groups, such as women, minorities, and outcasts. In lieu of fictionalizing justice in conventional courtrooms, these writers’ narratives make a virtue of representing the undetermined and everyday presence of justice. As a result, Smiley, Franzen, and DeLillo succeed in demonstrating the ordinariness of personal concerns with justice. Loosely tracing a legacy of justice in American literature, this book also compares contemporary American narratives to canonized earlier American novels, such as Melville’s Moby Dick, James’s The Bostonians, and Norris’s McTeague. The book likewise examines contemporary writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison. Polley concludes by observing that justice in contemporary American life is not about closure, but is an open-ended practice of human action, a theory that corresponds to postmodern theories of narrative.

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