This thesis identifies a claimant narrative tradition in nineteenth-century American literature and examines the role of that tradition in the formation of American national identity. Drawing on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The American Claimant Manuscripts and Our Old Home (1863) as well as Mark Twain’s The American Claimant (1892), I argue that these writers confronted the paradoxical nature of claimant narratives—what Hawthorne called a “peculiar insanity”—which combined a hereditary sympathy between the United States and Britain with exceptionalist rhetoric about American republican values. Hawthorne’s ambivalence toward the claimant tradition identified the paradox, but his writing merely pointed out inconsistencies, while Twain censured with satire and direct social criticism. America’s British sympathies persisted in later decades, and remained a popular subject of fiction throughout the century, making it ripe for parody by the time Twain wrote his own claimant story. Claimant narratives reinforced class differences in the United States even as they appeared to reject them. The transnational framework of Twain’s novel affords a pointed critical view revealing the latent cruelty of democracy when coupled with attitudes of exceptionalism.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Pence, Jared M., ""Peculiar Insanity": Hereditary Sympathy and the Nationalist Enterprise in Twain's The American Claiment" (2015). Theses and Dissertations. 5264.