Connecting Narratives of Food Work Through Labor Studies and Migrant Studies

In order for my vision of my Senior Thesis to become clearer, I have begun compiling a reading list that is influenced by the presence of food labor in literature.  Narratives on food labor are often less about the actual work being done, and more about the various forces, conditions, and injustices underlying the very nature of this work.  It is the academic analysis of these (often intersecting) issues in narratives of food labor that I have sought out in my field work. Seeking these analyses, I have come across two noteworthy texts discussing literary depictions of food labor.  The first is featured in the Summer issue of the journal Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S. (MELUS), titled “Lands of Entrapment: Environmental Health and Well-Being in Literature about the US Southwest and Chicana/o Communities” by María Isabel Pérez-Ramos.  The second text is “Beastmen and Labor Experts: Fiction and the Problem of Authority from 1900 to 1917”, the fifth chapter of the book Labor’s Text: The Worker in American Fiction by Laura Hapke.

In “Beastmen and Labor Experts”, Laura Hapke introduces her analysis on early 20th century labor narratives by explaining the history behind the United States’ increasing reliance on immigrant labor in industry.  In accordance with this reliance on mainly Slavic labor, Hapke also details the unjust rules and conditions these workers were forced to accept. This rise of injustice coincided with the establishment of the Socialist party in the United States in 1901, and Hapke contends that both instances created a literary culture that was rooted in the ‘social protest’ of exploitative labor.  But in analyzing this specific culture, Hapke argues that ““Even as the new social protest authors relied more heavily than did their nineteenth century predecessors on the authority of experience, they filtered the work through an authority all their own” (121) To support this, she touches on the subject of Upton Sinclair and his 1906 novel, The Jungle.  Initially, Hapke explains that Sinclair- a prominent Socialist of his time- wrote The Jungle with the intention of revealing the cruel injustices faced by the worker that have resulted from Capitalism’s parasitic nature.  And to many readers, as Hapke argues, his writing truly “captured the terrors of workers” (123). However, Hapke takes her analysis one step further by arguing that Sinclair’s writing style, in its “excessive focus on degradation” in the Chicago meatpacking industry, ultimately “has a dulling effect” (124).  To Hapke, Sinclair’s writing style and manipulation of language actually served to dehumanize the laborers he hoped to represent and ‘brutalize’ his novel’s central character, the Slavic meatpacking worker Jurgis Rudkis.

Source: Ebay

In “Lands of Entrapment”, Pérez-Ramos focuses on Chicanx narratives about the relationship between Chicanx communities in the United States, their relationship with the land they inhabit, and the environmental racism many of these communities- especially Chicanx farmworker communities- face.  To Pérez-Ramos, theses narratives hold a deeper meaning beyond representation, and reach into a collective ideology that is intrinsic to Latinx native histories. “Chicana/o culture and literature, in its pursuit of socioenvironmental justice, strives for well-being by conjoining economic, environmental, and social issues.  In Latin America, this holistic perception of socioenvironmental well-being is referred to as Buen Vivir.  The philosophy of Buen Vivir is in turn influenced by indigenous ways of living and interpreting the world” (130)  Through this concept of Buen Vivir, Pérez-Ramos presents her argument that the environmental racism that violates Chicanx bodies and communities simultaneously imposes violence on an idea that is foundational to the Chicanx and Latinx mind, and the depiction of these violations in literature is crucial to attaining justice and redemption.  To illustrate these depictions and their passionate themes of justice, Pérez-Ramos writes about the plays and novels, Heroes and Saints by Cherrie Moraga, Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes, and Cactus Blood by Lucha Corpi.  The three plays and novels depict Chicanx farmworking communities in the States, centering their narratives on characters who either work directly in the fields or are related to these workers.  As Pérez-Ramos explains, the narratives all follow the characters as they navigate the physical and psychological devastation that has been imposed on them due to polluted water, pesticide poisoning, toxic waste, and other environmental hazards that have been redirected to their community.  She emphasizes the psychological devastation in these narratives by describing them as “toxic traumas”, and notes that by this toxic trauma being explored further in depth by Chicanx writers, we can understand the gravity of the oppression Chicanx farmworking communities endure.

In terms of the central arguments both sources make about the implications of labor in their respective texts, there is a definite divergence.  For Perez-Ramos, it is clear that her analysis of Moraga, Viramontes, and Corpi’s works seeks to reveal certain themes on racial and ethnic identity, collective indigenous philosophies, and how this all affects the Chicanx diaspora in the American agricultural South.  Hapke’s analysis on Sinclair’s The Jungle, however, shows a shift towards themes of socialist interpretations of literature, authorship and the ‘authority of experience’ (121), and language manipulation.

While these sources touch on very distinct experiences of labor during very different periods of American history, I have found them both to be invaluable in my research and understanding of labor within the food industry and how this impacts the humanity of the immigrant laborer.  Both Hapke and Perez-Ramos use their research and analysis of different texts to highlight literature’s abilities in bringing attention to the worker exploitation that can occur during the production of the food we eat. Specifically, both sources and the texts they discuss work cohesively within the field of Literary Labor Studies, which explores different kinds of depictions of work in literature, often through Socialist or Communist frames.

My thesis will be looking intently at the fields of Food Studies, Ethnic Literature, Labor in Literature, and Migration in Literature, as well as being framed by the terms: food production, immigration, labor exploitation, and authorship.  “Beastmen and Labor Experts” has raised the issue of authorship within Labor in Literature by revealing how class and race often clashes with good intentions when it comes to writing the immigrant working individual and the communities they live in.  I have been aware that audience reaction to The Jungle has focused more on outrage over food conditions rather than labor conditions, and attributed this to a trend of many Americans prioritizing their plates over people.  However, Hapke’s argues that this reaction can also be attributed to Sinclair’s brutalized depiction of workers consequently made it difficult for audiences to connect with them.  This argument has made me more aware of perhaps even the exploitative nature in socialist literary depictions of labor in food production.

Additionally, “Lands of Entrapment” has raised what I feel is an oversight in Latinx depictions of food labor.  Perez-Ramos emphasizes the roles of racism and citizenship in the exploitation of the workers in the texts she analyzes, and while this emphasis is vital- I do believe her analysis can also benefit from a framework that also acknowledges the roles of capitalism and industry in this exploitation.  As The Jungle shows, exploitation in food has held a history in the United States that has involved numerous marginalized and undocumented groups, and this can be attributed to industries taking advantage of these groups’ inability to legally advocate and organize for better wages and conditions.  Therefore, I am hoping that as I continue to study narratives of the Latinx agricultural laborer, I will come across scholars who acknowledge these forces as well.

These two sources have immeasurably helped me in my navigation of the thesis research process.  Admittedly, I had been intimidated by the prospect of studying literary depictions of Slavic immigrant meatpacking workers in the early 20th century alongside depictions of Latinx immigrant/migrant farmworkers in a contemporary sense.  These sources have shown me the extensive history of immigrant exploitation in the food industry, and the pivotal role literature can play in making this exploitation visible to those who are unaware. Specifically, Hapke has helped me learn to pay attention to the language and writing style used to describe laborers, as well as knowing who is behind these words, and the role their own identity and experiences plays in representations of immigrant laborers.  Now, as I dive further into my central texts, I will be looking into my first impressions of characters, and dive deeper into: why I have come to certain conclusions, what forces are at play in my perception of their representation, and how do I think this representation is interpreted by other readers?  Additionally, I am asking questions about the challenges of capturing experiences and conditions of exploitation- is the text I’m studying voyeuristic? Valid in its attempt to raise awareness of injustice? Reducing these stories simply to make a political point?

In terms of Perez-Ramos’ work, I have been reminded to pay close attention to the mental conditions of the workers in the texts I analyze.  It is easy to write about the painful physical consequences of exploitative labor, but by also giving the psychological consequences of exploitative labor a platform, I will be able to reiterate the humanity in the characters I write about for my thesis.  This is something that is of utmost importance to me. The narratives I am studying are interpretations of actual experiences of oppression, exploitation, and trauma, and it is important to analyze how these experiences affect the mental wellbeing of the laborer by paying closer attention to their words and actions.

Blog Post #5


Hapke, Laura.  “Beastmen and Labor Experts: Fiction and the Problem of Authority from 1900 to 1917” Labor’s Text: The Worker in American Fiction.  Rutgers University Press, New Jersey, 2001.  pp. 121-4.

Pérez-Ramos, María I. “Lands of Entrapment: Environmental Health and Well-Being in Literature about the US Southwest and Chicana/o Communities” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S.  Vol. 43, No. 2.  2018. pp. 129-50

Language, Class, and National Identity in Irish Literature

The development of national identity is a product of a worldview born relatively recently. In the following article, Elizabeth Gilmartin discusses linguistic identity and reclamation, while Markus Kornprobst discusses the role of the social and economic elite in the development of nations. In conversation with one another, the two pieces highlight the tensions between English and Irish, the lower classes and the elite, and tradition and modernity in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

In “The Anglo-Irish Dialect: Mediating Linguistic Conflict,” (2004) Elizabeth Gilmartin maps the tension between the Irish and English language during the Victorian era, the period where the most common language spoken at home in Ireland transitioned from Irish to English. Gilmartin argues that this linguistic tension resulted in the “Anglo-Irish” dialect, which was “‘sufficiently Irish’ [enough] to give appropriate voice to the identity of the new Irish nation that was emerging early in the twentieth century” (Gilmartin 2). This “new Irish English,” termed “Hiberno-English or Anglo-Irish,” followed distinctly Irish syntax and accent while using English vocabulary (Gilmartin 2-6). This dialect became the result and marker of class, as Irish-speaking parents encouraged their children to learn English so that they could access social and economic status that would otherwise be denied to them (Gilmartin 4). This trend is representative of “auto colonization,” a process in which the “punishment for using the native language does not come from the colonizer but from the colonized themselves” (4). Therefore the dialect that emerged from Irish speakers imposing English on their own children was distinctly Irish in syntax and accent (Gilmartin 4). Anglo-Irish therefore gave authors a language adequate for describing the culture of the Irish Renaissance, as it was an english adapted for the use of the lower class Irish (Gilmartin 13).

In discussing the linguistic trends of the lower classes, Gilmartin also describes the linguistic nationalists and english-supporting modernists elites who were debating the linguistic path of the nation during the Victorian period, and who gave Anglo-Irish legitimacy through their works. In “Episteme, nation-builders and national identity: the re-construction of Irishness,” Markus Kornprobst focuses on these literary and political elites, analyzing their desire to create a national identity and the process of doing so. Kornprobst presents Foucault’s understanding of “the episteme [as] an ideational force that makes us interpret the world in a certain way, often without an active interpretation process,” and expands upon it, drawing on similarities to “theory” as a whole (Kornprobst 408). Episteme becomes important in delineating “which identity narrative is plausible,” therefore validating the elite’s understanding of nation (Kornprobst 409). Kornprobst connects strategies of episteme to Eamon de Valera, revolutionary and later Taoiseach (Prime Minister); and literary figures William B. Yeats and Douglas Hyde directly (410). For these early elites “gaelic language and culture, Roman Catholicism and the rejection of modernity were constitutive to identity” (417). Kornprobst argues that immediately following British occupation, Irishness was created with the understanding that to be a nation was to be homogenous, unique, and fighting against intervention by colonialists, however the elites of the nation began to see plurality in identity and motivation as non-threatening to the Irish state beginning in the 1970s (417)

The useful past of Kornprobst argument in conversation with Gilmartin, is his belief that elites recognized the “uniqueness” and “difference” of the Irish population to the English colonizers. The elites therefore inact rhetoric reinforcing this difference, even though the Irish population had taken aspects of English culture and restructured them to make them distinctly Irish—as Gilmartin argues that the lower classes did with the english language. These articles highlight the importance of language and commerce in the creation of culture, yet challenge the concept of a “worldview” that is central to the nation-state. Both pieces present academic elites who wish to impose an episteme on the greater population, without understanding the full nuances of local identities. Moving forward, their works will be useful in understanding how this tension gets translated to the page, using language not created for or by the literary elite.


Gilmartin, Elizabeth. “The Anglo-Irish Dialect: Mediating Linguistic Conflict,” Victorian Literature & Culture, vol. 32, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1-16

Kornprobst, Markus. “Episteme, nation-builders and national identity: the re-construction of Irishness,” Nations & Nationalism, vol. 11, no. 3, 2005,  pp. 403-421.

Emasculation of Soldiers post-WWI

Image is WWI propaganda poster from the Imperial War Museum

I am fascinated by the emasculation of men—particularly soldiers—that occurred in post-World War I Britain. Though right now I am looking at Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway as my primary text, there are other options such as Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier which I may choose to focus on instead.

One document that directly relates and supports the claim of “emasculating soldiers” is the War Report of 1922Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry Into “Shell Shock”. This report has pieces from both parliamentary and medical officials in Britain in 1922. The entire purpose of the report is to denounce the claim that ‘shell shock’ was both real and a disease that the WWI veterans were suffering from. The report moves from the various written beliefs of military, parliamentary, and medical officials such as Dr. William Aldren Turner and General Gilbert Mellor. Moreover, this report explicitly frames the expectations of men within this time period—they are meant to be both stoic and repressive by nature. The report makes statements such as “a man instinctively masks his emotions almost as a matter of routine” (The War Office Committee, Squadron Leader W. Tyrrell, 30) to support its further claims that shell shock is “the exhaustion of nerves” similar to “hysteria” and indicative of “cowardice”. However, the report goes further to state that “cowardice should be regarded as a military crime to be punished when necessary by death” (The War Office Committee 139). It incites fear in its male readers, for they are acutely made aware of the strict social expectations for their sex. The idea of “masculinity”, particularly British “manliness” is central to this report, and is useful to me in that it clearly defines expectations of men and the post-war British mindset towards nervousness—i.e. shell shock.

An article, which relates to the aforementioned report, that I am also interested in is Tracey Loughran’s Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories. This article looks at ‘shell shock’ and ‘trauma’ through both literary and historical approaches to understand shell shock and how aspects of the disease have has come to be known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Broken into four separate sections, the article maps how the shell shock has been perceived, how it came to be, how it was perceived during and after the war, and finally how it has evolved to eventually be legitimized and classified as an actual disease. The article specifically mentions the academic journal The Lancet and its 1915 publication which first used the term ‘shell shock’. More importantly, the mention of this British medical journal includes reference to the academic psychologist Charles Myers, who is frequently mentioned throughout the War Report of 1922. Dr. Myers was the first to publicly oppose notions that shell shock was ‘treatable’ and simply just a manifestation of ‘cowardice’. In this way Loughran’s article elucidates a history of the disease, and its perception that is necessary for my research.

The two documents overlap in their content, and in the way that Loughran’s directly speaks to the notions propagated in the War Report of 1922. Though I am curious about how the disease developed to eventually gain legitimacy, I am more curious about the perceptions of nervousness—specifically shell shock—during and directly after WWI. Indeed, these two sources are not literary, but I believe they hold importance to my research, as they situate themselves directly within the nervous disorder and its historical context. My aim is to use these two sources as a means of supporting my analysis of my primary text—be it Mrs. Dalloway or The Return of the Soldier—so that I may demonstrate how the emasculation of soldiers through nervous disorders like shell shock came to be.

I began this process researching “male hysteria” but I have come to realize that this is more a side-effect—almost a result—of the strict guidelines of “manliness” set out and reinforced by officials of Britain during and post-WWI. Nervousness and anxiety, mainly through manifestations of shell shock in literature, were debilitating to masculinity because anxiety was perceived to be inherently feminine. This idea is supported in the War Report of 1922 and similar documents, which have potential connections to the idea of the ‘stoic’ man that is present even today. Though I want to stay specifically within the early 19th Century, these sources are very applicable to the contemporary construction of “manliness” in and outside of literature. Going forward, I hope to find more literary sources to support my ideas, and not rely so heavily on the sociological, historical, and medical sources I have found.


BP 5

Works Cited

The War Office Committee. Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry into “Shell Shock”. London, 1922.

Tracey Loughran. “Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, no. 1, 2012, p. 94.

Questions of Queerness in Comedy

My thesis centers around how humor and issues of queerness interact within the medium of stand-up comedy. Rebecca Krefting’s book All Joking Aside aims to classify a type of stand-up comedy as “charged humor,” and places that type of humor within different concepts of identity (Krefting 3). The first chapter, for example, focuses on “cultural citizenship,” specifically how comedians with an immigrant background use comedy to either question or assert their own position within American culture. Another chapter analyzes how comedy addresses gender politics, while another focuses on a generational identity (that is, comedy after the year 2000). Her arguments center around posing contradictions. Krefting will introduce a concept, then provide two examples, a positive and a negative. She compares, for example, a straight comedian’s joke about “gay ghosts” redecorating a house, with a Mexican comedian’s joke about Mexican field workers taking revenge on white oppressors by inserting e. Coli into crops. She claims that while one comedian takes advantage of someone else’s stereotypes, the other one is a reappropriation of stereotypes for humor. She explains “charged humor” by defining it as more biting than satire, and more focused on carving a spot for disenfranchised people.

The Trouble with Normal Cover Art

The Trouble with Normal by Michael Warner is a study of queer theory as a whole, which questions how the LGBT movement functions. Although a lot has changed since the book’s publishing in 1999, many of the concepts introduced are integral to studying queer stand-up comedy. One of the major arguments of the book is that shame surrounding sex permeates our society, but is especially prevalent within the queer community. He argues that only when we accept shame (instead of trying to push away or pretend we don’t have shame) can the movement more forward. The other key argument of the book is that the attempt to normalize queerness is regressive. Warner specifically uses the fight for “gay marriage” as an example of a harmful attempt for “normalization.” The Trouble with Normal therefore primarily deals with how we as a society (and how queer communities) should talk about queerness. Each chapter begins with many specific examples of queer media (such as certain gay marriage protests and magazines like Hero), and close-reads comments surrounding those examples. The author then consolidates his analysis into critiques about the queer community obsession with normalcy. The book uses close-reading to study the politics of shame and queerness.

Both sources deal directly with how queerness should be discussed. All Joking Aside lays a framework for how stand-up throughout history has covered topics of identity. From satire, to “charged humor,” to bigoted belittling, to personalized storytelling, the book details the various methods by which identity can be covered. The Trouble with Normal argues how queerness specifically should be talked about. He argues that shame should not be ignored, but owned. Shame is often used as a punchline in stand-up comedy. Although All Joking Aside does not directly mentioned shame, politics of normalcy are confronted in many of the comedians exemplified in All Joking Aside (though specifically in a chapter discussing Hari Kondabolu comedy critiquing racial inequality in the United States). From both of these sources, it seems that comedy about shame (whether the jokes are meant to cause shame, hide shame, confront shame, etc) is a key feature in debates about queer comedy.

All Joking Aside argues that humor is a tool for social justice, but I want to focus more on why social justice is a tool for humor. In the same way that The Trouble with Normal criticizes certain topics (i.e. gay marriage) as regressive or unhelpful for queer movements, I want to study more about what aspects of queerness make stand-up funny, or how comedians use their queerness for humor. Instead of talking about how social justice is served by a humorous telling, I want to base my arguments in why my primary texts are funny. While texts such as All Joking Aside provide a history of “charged humor” and give excellent examples of comedians who have used social justice in their work, I want to read more about comedy theory in general. Then I’ll be able to incorporate the close analysis from queer studies texts like The Trouble with Normal, and write more effectively about how one discipline (queer studies) serves another (comedy).


Works Cited

Krefting, Rebecca. All Joking Aside : American Humor and Its Discontents. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal : Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2000., 2000.

Blog Prompt #5: Field Report Draft

Blog Post #5 Due: Tues 11/6, 12noon // Comments #9-10 Due: Tues 11/6, 11:59pm

In preparation for your Field Report, you’ll be using this blog post to draft 3 focused paragraphs reflecting on 2 different sources from your reading list. If you find it necessary to write more than 3 paragraphs in order to do justice to the requirements for this prompt, please feel free to do so. Please note that this post will be necessarily longer than the usual word limit allotted for blog posts.

Friday Night Lights Meme

Meme courtesy of Academic Coach Taylor. If you haven’t watched Friday Night Lights, you really need to get on that.

You can pick any combination of sources (e.g. 1 journal article and 1 book, or 1 book chapter and 1 journal article, etc.). These three paragraphs must cohesively and fluidly accomplish the following:

1. Introduce and provide critical summaries of the two sources. These summaries should describe (a) the text’s main argument, (b) the logic or process by which the text proves this argument, and (c) the main terms and concepts central to the argument.

2. Describe how these sources speak to one another. in other words, how do they reflect on related concepts or problems within your field, or how they illuminate two very different aspects of your field?

3. Map what you’ve learned about the fields / key terms that frame your project based on these two sources. Consider the following questions: What questions or problems do these sources raise about your relevant fields / key terms? How do these sources point to specific debates / blindspots within your fields? What kinds of methods / theories do these sources rely on and/or critique?

4. Describe how reading these two sources have shaped your sense of your emerging research interests. What specific questions and ideas have these sources brought to the forefront for you?