Dr. Tracy Hoffman
March 20, 2008
Stereotyping the Poor
Early American literature has several distinct characteristics. Most pieces hold true to many of the same basic ideas and stereotypes that were popular in their present day. Drunken Irishmen, tragic mulattas, the superficial Indian, and the absent mother are great examples of these commonly used figures. In Washington Irving’s writing the impoverished citizens are always shown as people whose lives are controlled by their emotions. In Irving’s “The Wife” and “The Widow and Her Son” individuals of lower class are depicted as people who are in touch with their emotions and have an immense capacity to love and care for one another.
“The Widow and Her Son” shows how emotions, both love and depression, are more dramatic in the lives of the poor. The narrator, when witnessing the great sorrow of the poor widow laying her only son to rest, remarks “The sorrows of the poor… are indeed sorrows which make us feel the impotency of consolation” (Irving 110). These are no doubt the feelings of Irving only being presented through one of his narrators. The rich have their money and friends to divert their grief. The widow lost her son to a gang of seafarers and soon after her husband passed away leaving her alone with nothing but her grief to bear. This poor, old woman had nothing more to do than go to church on Sunday and bide her time until she could meet her family again. The narrator’s point, upon examination, proves true in the widow’s case. The widow has no money or wealthy society to produce distractions for her. Each day she must carry out her duties and have the burning thoughts in her mind of her lost son and husband. One
afternoon her son George returns home thin and pale. She does not recognize her own son because of his “air of one broken by sickness” (Irving 112). George, coming home in such terrible shape and having been away from his...