House and Home in 20th Century American Film and Literature (conference 4/2011; abstract due 9/30/2010)

full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
contact email: 

From Blanche Dubois' Belle Reve to Esperanza Cordero's house on Mango Street, houses—and the affiliated, if more abstract, idea of home—figure prominently in 20th century American literature and film. The 20th century, after all, is characterized by both inter- and intra-national migrations which have, invariably, entailed the loss of one home, followed by the acquisition of another. Moreover, the 20th century has seen a steady increase in both actual home ownership and the imaginative importance of owning a home. At the start of the 20th century, 46.5% of Americans—less than one in two—were homeowners but, by 2000, that number had risen to 66.2%, or two in three. Throughout the century between, homeownership increasingly came to be affiliated with middle class success, domestic stability; committed citizenship and, more recently, individuation and self-expression. Yet despite the generally positive connotations of home in the popular imagination, representations of it often acknowledge a vastly more complex reality: the Gothic claustrophobia of Robert Frost's farmhouses and the ill-fated plantations of William Faulkner remind us that home can also be a force of containment, a way that the past exerts power over the present. This panel, then, will consider the way that ideas about home have changed over the past century and the ways that American literature, in particular, has imagined it.

How have literature and film commented on the ideology surrounding homes and homeownership in the 20th century? Have works reinforced or resisted what Richard Ronald has called the semantic hijacking of "home," the way that "normalizing discourses" have made "home" synonymous with owner occupation? What role do houses play in literary works, and how are houses themselves represented? Why do works depicting the creation of a home on the frontier—like Little House on the Prairie, or O, Pioneers!—remain so resonant, and widely read? How have works of literature defined home in an age of migration? Is home where the heart is or, as Groucho Marx would have it, "where you hang your head," and, either way, what does that suggest?

Please send 300–500 word abstracts for 15–20 minute presentations to Megan Hamilton (mhamilto[at] on or before September 30, 2010. Along with your abstract, please send a brief biographical statement and your contact information (email address, postal address, and phone number).

About the Conference:
42nd Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 7-10, 2011
New Brunswick, NY – Hyatt New Brunswick
Host Institution: Rutgers University

The 42nd Annual Convention will feature approximately 360 sessions, as well as dynamic speakers and cultural events. Details and the complete Call for Papers for the 2011 Convention will be posted in June:

Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable. Please note that A/V use requires a $10 handling fee with registration, and please do not accept a slot if you may cancel to present on another session.