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Rebekah Hyneman’s Leaves of the Upas Tree: A Tale of (In)temperance and (Im)morality

Authors
  • Rabinovich, Irina
Type
Published Article
Journal
Prague Journal of English Studies
Publisher
Walter de Gruyter GmbH
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2020
Volume
9
Issue
1
Pages
49–64
Identifiers
DOI: 10.2478/pjes-2020-0003
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

The intent of this paper is to examine the use, by nineteenth-century American authors, of the temperance novel, a popular literary sub-genre in antebellum America, as a literary means for presenting the widespread controversy in the nation as regards the achievements of temperance societies. Moreover, my goal is to show that the popularity of temperance novels, in spite of their didactic and moralistic nature, displays the public’s readiness to consume temperance literature, thus reciprocating the attempt of writers to promote social ideals and heal social ills. Finally, since Rebekah Hyneman, a convert to Judaism, is the only Jewish-American writer who wrote a temperance novel, and is one among a small number of female writers who used this genre, it is interesting to examine if and how her double “Otherness” (being a Jew and a female novelist) distinguishes her from her literary Christian male and/or female counterparts. Hyneman’s novel Leaves of the Upas Tree: A Story for Every Household (1854–55) serves as a case in point of a temperance novel that demonstrates how a dysfunctional American family operates as a microcosm and how temperance and other charitable societies fail to cope with individuals’ tribulations. More importantly, the novel aims to attest that a familial defective unit, affected by excessive drinking, breeds a ruthless societal macrocosm, lacking compassion, empathy, and social and communal support. The merciless, xenophobic and anti-Semitic community depicted in the novel serves as a prism through which the author presents much more acute plagues afflicting America.

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