Synopses & Reviews
When D. H. Lawrence wrote his classic study of American literature, he claimed that youth was the "true myth" of America. Beginning from this assertion, Emily A. Murphy traces the ways that youth began to embody national hopes and fears at a time when the United States was transitioning to a new position of world power. In the aftermath of World War II, persistent calls for the nation to "grow up" and move beyond innocence became common, and the child that had long served as a symbol of the nation was suddenly discarded in favor of a rebellious adolescent. This era marked the beginning of a crisis of identity, where literary critics and writers both sought to redefine U.S. national identity in light of the nation's new global position.
The figure of the adolescent is central to an understanding of U.S. national identity, both past and present, and of the cultural forms (e.g., literature) that participate in the ongoing process of representing the diverse experiences of Americans. In tracing the evolution of this youthful figure, Murphy revisits classics of American literature, including J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, alongside contemporary bestsellers. The influence of the adolescent on some of America's greatest writers demonstrates the endurance of the myth that Lawrence first identified in 1923 and signals a powerful link between youth and one of the most persistent questions for the nation: What does it mean to be an American?