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Made in America

Self-Styled Success from Horatio Alger to Oprah Winfrey

1997
Author:

Jeffrey Louis Decker

Made in America

The first look at self-made men and women from a multicultural perspective.

Presenting the first look at self-made men and women from a multicultural perspective, Jeffrey Louis Decker discusses the emergence of self-starters like Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, Madam C. J. Walker, and Lee Iacocca in relation to the changing consumer markets of the twentieth century.

“Lucid and engaging, this is one of those rare academic books that addresses both specialists and general readers.” --Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside

“Bringing to light many newly discovered facts about the lives of his subjects, Decker makes important connections between self-making and nation-building and expands this discussion to include the changing identity of the figure of the self-made man within and beyond boundaries of gender, race, and even physical existence itself. Lucid and engaging, this is one of those rare academic books that addresses both specialists and general readers.” Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside

Brings gender, race, and ethnicity to bear on the myth of the “self-made man.”

Made in America presents the first look at self-made men and women from a multicultural perspective. Jeffrey Louis Decker discusses the emergence of self-starters like Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, Madam C. J. Walker, Younghill Kang, and Lee Iacocca in relation to the changing consumer markets of the twentieth century.

Decker locates the new breed of entrepreneurs within the changing rhetoric of personal success, which shifted its emphasis over the past century from religious “character” to psychological “personality” to celebrity “image.” The book concludes by surveying the life stories of enterprising celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Decker analyzes the autobiographical expressions of famous entrepreneurs, from Carnegie to Ross Perot, alongside more marginal ones in order to examine how mainstream society shapes and is shaped by the cultures of subordinate groups. In addition, he looks at the link between self-making and nation-building, and in doing so discovers the origins of another pervasive myth: the “American dream.”

Underlying Decker’s study are these questions: What happened to the myth of self-making in America? If it is dead, what caused its demise? If it lives on, what form has it taken? Written in a lucid and engaging style, Made in America uncovers the richness, complexity, and diversity of self-styled success in our time. By bringing gender, race, and ethnicity to bear on the myth of the “self-made man,” this book provides a timely and fascinating reexamination of a traditional area of inquiry in American cultural studies.

200 pages
Translation rights: University of Minnesota Press

Made in America

Jeffrey Louis Decker was an Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow at Harvard University, and currently teaches American studies and American literature at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Made in America

“Bringing to light many newly discovered facts about the lives of his subjects, Decker makes important connections between self-making and nation-building and expands this discussion to include the changing identity of the figure of the self-made man within and beyond boundaries of gender, race, and even physical existence itself. Lucid and engaging, this is one of those rare academic books that addresses both specialists and general readers.” Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside

“In this concise yet comprehensive study, Jeffrey Decker shows how stories about material success provide the central subtext for much of American autobiography and fiction. Moral pluck produces market luck in these narratives; their promises of self-reliance, moral uplift, and material abundance seem to provide a unifying common ground for an otherwise fragmented and diverse society. Yet Decker demonstrates the ways in which promises of universal inclusion mask practices of differentiated exclusion, and he raises probing and profound questions about the perils of disguising normative power as moral behavior.” George Lipsitz, author of Time Passages

Made in America

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction
The Rise of the Self-Made Man and the Triumph of U.S. Nationalism
From Character to Personality to Image
Multicultural Narratives of Uplift in Twentieth-Century America

1 Class Mobility
Moral Luck and the Horatio Alger Formula: Andrew Carnegie
Hard Luck: John McLuckie
The Limits of Luck: James J. Davis
2 Gender Stability
Troubling the Horatio Alger Formula: Tattered Tom
True Womanhood in the Market: Harriet Hubbard Ayer
Domesticating Business: The “Emma McChesney” Trilogy
3 Racial Segregation
The Political Economy of a Lynch Mob: Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart
Free Enterprise: Booker T. Washington
Working Wonders: Madam C. J. Walker
4 Immigrant Aspirations
Out of America: Marcus Garvey
From Steerage to Self-Culture: Mary Antin
Oriental Yankees: Younghill Kang
5 Individual Enterprise in the Postfrontier Nation
Not-Quite-White Enterprise in the Tribal Twenties: The Great Gatsby
Inventing the American Dream in the Great Depression: The Epic of America
6 The Ends of Self-Making
Image, Inc.: Howard Hughes, Lee Iacocca, and Ross Perot
Downsizing: Susan Powter and Oprah Winfrey

Epilogue: The Return of the Self-Made Man

Notes

Index