Out of many, one—e pluribus unum—is the motto of the American nation, and it sums up neatly the paradox that Stephanie Foote so deftly identifies in Regional Fictions. Regionalism, the genre that ostensibly challenges or offers an alternative to nationalism, in fact characterizes and perhaps even defines the American sense of nationhood.
In particular, Foote argues that the colorful local characters, dialects, and accents that marked regionalist novels and short stories of the late nineteenth century were key to the genre’s conversion of seemingly dangerous political differences—such as those posed by disaffected Midwestern farmers or recalcitrant foreign nationals—into appealing cultural differences. She asserts that many of the most treasured beliefs about the value of local identities still held in the United States today are traceable to the discourses of this regional fiction, and she illustrates her contentions with insightful examinations of the work of Sarah Orne Jewett, Hamlin Garland, Gertrude Atherton, George Washington Cable, Jacob Riis, and others. Broadening the definitions of regional writing and its imaginative territory, Regional Fictions moves beyond literary criticism to comment on the ideology of national, local, ethnic, and racial identity.