American Dreams in Mississippi

Consumers, Poverty, and Culture, 1830-1998

By Ted Ownby

248 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 illus., 11 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4806-7
    Published: May 1999
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7469-1
    Published: October 2002
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6770-4
    Published: October 2002

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 1999 John B. Cawelti Award, American Culture Association

A 2000 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

The dreams of abundance, choice, and novelty that have fueled the growth of consumer culture in the United States would seem to have little place in the history of Mississippi--a state long associated with poverty, inequality, and rural life. But as Ted Ownby demonstrates in this innovative study, consumer goods and shopping have played important roles in the development of class, race, and gender relations in Mississippi from the antebellum era to the present.

After examining the general and plantation stores of the nineteenth century, a period when shopping habits were stratified according to racial and class hierarchies, Ownby traces the development of new types of stores and buying patterns in the twentieth century, when women and African Americans began to wield new forms of economic power. Using sources as diverse as store ledgers, blues lyrics, and the writings of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, and Will Percy, he illuminates the changing relationships among race, rural life, and consumer goods and, in the process, offers a new way to understand the connection between power and culture in the American South.

About the Author

Ted Ownby is associate professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. He is author of Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865.
For more information about Ted Ownby, visit the Author Page.


"A major contribution to the growing historiography of American consumerism. . . . An important work that should serve as a model for similar studies."--Journal of American History

"By looking at what kinds of goods Mississippians bought, and how they went about it, [Ownby] opens a new window on a distinctive southern state whose people shared the American dream of material success despite the fact that so many of them did not enjoy it."--North Carolina Historical Review

"With this well-written and thoughtful book, Ownby adds an unexpected case study to the burgeoning literature on American consumerism. . . . A sophisticated and engaging book that belongs in the history collection of every library."--Choice

"Intensely researched . . . surprising and revealing. . . . A valuable work of social history that could encourage a reevaluation of many premises about the Deep South."--Booklist

"A provocative social history that examines the consumer behavior around four powerful dreams (abundance, democracy of goods, freedom of choice, and novelty) from a multicultural perspective."--Library Journal

"Ownby has written a wonderfully rich and suggestive book. It is a testament of his skills as a researcher, historian, and writer that he has been able to reconstruct the history of consumer culture over two centuries in ways that are so wonderfully imaginative, thorough, and fascinating."--Daniel Horowitz, Smith College