Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Proulx and History

I've been thinking a lot about the discussion we had abut Postcards this morning and this idea that all of the notes are just tiny snippets that don't give us the whole story. We also touched on the fact that Annie Proulx incorporates so many historical American writers into her novel and that the story itself spans a really large time period. And, similarly to On the Road, she seems to question some of our traditional American values (like the American Dream and the idea of the Western frontier)

With this in mind I thought maybe Proulx was trying to connect to the way we view our own history. Arguably, the American history courses we take in high school and even here at GW are just textbook explanations of events that have already occurred. We take these at face valuable but probably don't get the whole story. Do you guys think that Proulx is trying to argue against the way we perceive our own history?


  1. I definitely agree with what you're saying in this post. While nearly everyone in American society experiences or feels the effects of the broad, over-arching events described in our lessons, the day-to-day lives of everyday people are not just black and white print in our history textbooks. It's truly the small experiences in one's life that make all the difference and influence actions: An accidental murder, a splinter in the eye, losing a limb... things that are not necessarily thought of as "important."

    Saying that, I'm not quite sure how I can add onto what you're saying. While what you said is extremely interesting, we'll have to finish the novel to really see what she is getting at.

  2. i had not thought about it like that really... but it reminds me of my multicultural class where we are learning about textbooks leaving so much out ie american history beginning with white history and what not..

  3. So here's another response in which I encourage all of you to think. This time, think postmodernism. Specifcally, think about the notion that universal, grand narrative truths might not exist. I think the editors of The Norton frame these concepts in terms of reality--the idea being that whenever we think of realism, we need to ask: Whose reality are we conceiving? History is often taught as universal and unquestionable. Stuff happened, learn about when and why it happened, and you'll be fine. Test on Friday.

    susanlh's question is really important in this context. Is Proulx, as a postmodernist (if, in fact, she is one), attacking the notion of a universal historical viewpoint, particularly in the context of 20th century American history? To put it another way, are the lives of the members of the Blood family as significant as the "bigger" things that we know about twentieth-century America--WWII, rise of the suburbs, explosion of the market for real estate, etc.?

  4. This reminds me of how I think right now about American history--it really is just snippets of what I remember from my AP History classes in high school. I remember general ideas, but they don't usually paint a detailed picture. The details, and the finer, usually forgotten snippets, are what truly define history because these are the actions done by the common masses--they are the instruments of social order, reform, and routine that defined the time.

    What often confuses me in these discussions is "what exactly is postmodernism"? I really should read that section of the anthologies--in fact, I'll go do that now.

  5. Yes, Lauren and Susan I definitely agree with you about how Proulx unveils her interpretation of American History. (side note: Proulx was considered a Historian far before she became an author. She was also on her way of getting her PhD in History before she started publishing short stories and novels).

    With Postcards I was more appreciative of Proulx's way of relaying a portrait of a middle class American family, coming out of WWII and their struggles to find a sense of self worth as the rate of industrialism and consumerism was on the rapid increase.

    The novel, while sad, has been both criticized and acclaimed. The ability for a book to have such polar opposite reception is interesting and I'm trying to think of how this could possibly work. One answer could be the breadth unto which Proulx tackles so many different aspects of American life. The fact that she conquered so much about American society (not to mention over a span of 60 years...) sounds like the endeavor could either go really well or be a total failure. I don't think Proulx failed, but I do think she gives the reader a unique perspective.