Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
It is no secret to scholars of American literary Communism that left-wing authors blacklisted by adult and textbook publishers that caved in to government pressure during the Communist witch- hunts of the McCarthy era, often survived by writing children’s books. However, by accepting this overly simplified explanation, we risk ignoring a vital genre in recovering a link in American literary and cultural history that a right-of-center government attempted to erase.
In my thesis I will explore how left-wing writer Meridel Le Sueur, in her children’s books, Little Brother of the Wilderness: The Story of Johnny Appleseed, Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln’s Mother, Sparrow Hawk, Chanticleer of Wilderness Road: A Story of Davy Crockett, and The River Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln, countered government-induced hysteria that domestic Communism was a threat to American society by reclaiming American history for the left, placing it at the heart of American traditions and myths. I will identify in Le Sueur’s wilderness book series how she paid homage to the defunct Popular Front’s attempt to reclaim bourgeois institutions and traditions through American folklore, and how she called on the nation’s own folk heroes to validate its own revolutionary roots.
Beyond that, I will demonstrate how Le Sueur looked even further back to the precursor of American folklore to recover the socialist nature of Native Americans through their egalitarian, genderless society, grounded in a fusion of democratic and communal spirit. Criticizing even her own beloved American Communist Party, Le Sueur nearly got herself blacklisted from American Communist publishers as well, revealing that Le Sueur’s commitment to the working class overrode her commitment to the party line.
I also will explore how Le Sueur’s powerful female protagonists reflect the Popular Front’s move to recruit mothers to influence the next generation. Finally, I will examine how her interpretation of American folklore teaches children—adolescent boys in particular—that a revolution forged in imagination, diversity, cooperation, and love offers a lasting alternative to violence in creating a new egalitarian society. For Le Sueur, children were at the center of the Communist writer’s hallmark message of hope. I will argue that her stories were in fact a call to action by challenging children to use their words as weapons in her peaceful revolution to end oppression.
Valladares, William J., "Go Left, Young Folk : Meridel Le Sueur’s Radical Children’s Stories Invoke the Spirit of the Red, White, and True" (2007). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 1339.