アメリカ研究
Online ISSN : 1884-782X
Print ISSN : 0387-2815
ISSN-L : 0387-2815
特集論文:「貧困」
人間の尊厳と二つの貧困――カーヴァー,スタインベック,コールドウェル
山辺 省太
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ジャーナル 認証あり

2021 年 55 巻 p. 97-119

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In 2019, the documentary photography book titled Dignity was published. It shows us shocking figures suffering from poverty in big cities or small rustbelt towns in the United States and the poor situations of the people in the 21st century. Moreover, as indicated by its title, the photo book presents the unyielding spirit of people who endure the painful poverty with human dignity. The author, Chris Arnade, praises their spirit, but from the book, we can see that dignity complicates the issues of poverty, preventing the poor from asking others for aids. Curiously enough, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance also shows the manner in which poor hillbillies stick to dignity even under the degraded situations. Dignity is so essential for humans that they never abandon it despite any humiliation as Francis Fukuyama stressed in The End of History and the Last Man. In the book, he insists that the United States can satisfy the pride of the people by ensuring free enjoyment of dignity without recourse to any ideological legitimacy. This essay challenges his idea by probing that dignity in the light of poverty becomes obstructions for poor people to reveal their horrible circumstances.

The main part of the essay specifically explores the way three American authors deal with poverty in their novels and stories and concludes that the issues of poverty are likely to be invisible in characters that do not yield to humiliation with a strong sense of dignity. Raymond Carver’s “Neighbors” shows the couple named the Millers, who do not want to accept the fact that another couple, the Stones, who live in the next room succeed and soar up to the upper class. Besides, dignity does not allow the Millers to feel that they are a loser in the American society. When the Millers take care of the Stones room, as they are away on account of business and pleasure, the refusal of the fact leads them to act eerie behaviors in the room of the Stones. In a different nuance from “Neighbors,” readers also sense the strength of human dignity from Tom Joad in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. He is very firm in his conviction that people are no more humans if they lose dignity. In fact, Tom, because of belief on dignity, harshly denounces a garage worker with one eye who repeatedly complains about his unfortunate luck. Although the ways Carver and Steinbeck present poverty are different, both of them write about the characters showing aspects of dignity in their difficult situations.

Contrarily, Erskine Caldwell does not hide the environments of penury by featuring elements of humanities, such as dignity and morality. Caldwell can be distinguished from Carver and Steinbeck in that Caldwell does not hesitate to show spiritual poverty of humans who are degenerated to be creatures like animals or materials, whereas the other two depict only physical poverty. That is the reason why many of the readers cannot stand seeing those aspects in characters and evade reading Caldwell’s works. One of the traits of his literature is that he does not highlight human virtues but directs readers’ attention to the horrible effects of poverty on human minds. However, this is nothing but Caldwell’s literary ethics, as people are liable to turn blind eyes to poverty with an attempt to find some hope or humanity in such a degraded situation. His works should see the light in the era where class disparity is worse than ever.

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