All Children Must Be in Class: Popular Representations of Class and Childhood in Nineteenth-Century America
Focusing on George Thompson’s City Crimes and on Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid newspaper comics, this article argues that nineteenth-century urban childhood is a constructed, classed identity. Though it has attracted less critical attention than gender, race, and class, age is also a social construct. Shared cultural assumptions mediate the way society imagines childhood and the way children are expected to behave. These assumptions play out in fiction, specifically in the ways children are depicted in fiction. Thompson and Outcault’s different depictions of childhood reflect the differing way the two writers associate childhood with class. Thompson depicts children as innocent, and as threatened by the corrupting influence of the city, because Thompson’s children are symbols of bourgeois purity. Outcault, by contrast, depicts children as a wild and corrupting influence upon the city, because Outcault’s children are symbols of poverty and its threat to bourgeois safety.
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