Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Bayou Corne Sinkhole
A sinkhole in Louisiana was created when an underground salt dome operated by the Texas Brine Company under ownership of Occidental Petroleum collapsed, swallowing entire homes and forcing community evacuations. This consequence of this environmental resulting from under-regulation of the industry becomes the central symbol of the Great Paradox at the heart of the narrative: conservatives who want a cleaner environment but persistently vote for politicians who vote to loosen rather than tighten regulations.
Pres. Barack Obama
Barack Obama is the symbolic incarnation of all that is rotten in government and repugnant about liberal ideology. This view seems to be a bind holding the right-wing coalition together, but curiously—or perhaps not—the reasoning behind this view is in almost every recorded instance in the book based on emotion rather than factual evidence. Negative perspectives are far more likely to be based upon suspicion raised by merely asking how he managed to move so high so quickly than any on direct reference to policy. But then again, that is what makes something a symbol.
The Brown Pelican
“Line cutters” is a metaphorical term encompassing all those groups that white conservatives blame for the whole devaluation of their lifestyle over the last quarter of the twentieth century and into the new millennium. Among the groups that they deeply believe are given preference and so “cut in line” ahead of them are all ethnic groups characterized by darker skin pigmentation as well as immigrants, refugees and homosexuals. The central symbol of this ideology of blame is the Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican. When the government put the pelican on the endangered species list, it was suddenly viewed as a line cutter as well, receiving preferential treatment at the expense of its white citizens. (Never mind that the same environmental regulations protecting the pelican and limiting the rights of whites in the state also limited the rights of people of any other color.)
The keyhole—specifically the ability to peer through a keyhole and see just enough of the interior of the room behind the closed door to drawn evidence based conclusions on what the unseen portion looks like—is the symbolic centerpiece of the sociological perspective on which the book focuses. More specifically speaking, the sociological framework revolves around the concept of behavioral patterns associated with keyhole issues. A keyhole issue is a single specific interest analogous to the part of the room which is visible through the keyhole. In this instance, the book is peering through a keyhole in which the environmental damage to Louisiana is clearly visible and well-lit and from the conservative reaction to which provides a framework for exploring the broader canvas of conservative ideology.
The American Dream
Interestingly, it is the symbol of the country’s enticement to immigrants which is shrinking the white majority and stimulating widespread anxiety that is situated as the symbol of what this anxiety is really all about. The author suggests that the anxiety about becoming “strangers in their own land” which has such a powerful grip on conservative ideology at this point in history is less about religious values, political power and economic dominance than it is the corruption of the American Dream. The problem is that the American Dream was precise and specifically a political and economic construct symbolizing the abolition of European aristocratic class division as an obstruction to social mobility in place right from the moment of birth. For the conservative movement, the American Dream of owning a home, having a job and enjoying the right to live as one pleases has somehow become corrupted into owning a home, being rewarded for having a job and enjoying the right to not be forced to accept the way others choose to live as they please.
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Study Guide for Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right study guide contains a biography of Arlie Russell Hochschild, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.