Working the Garden

American Writers and the Industrialization of Agriculture

By William Conlogue

242 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 illus., 1 table, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4994-1
    Published: January 2002
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7505-6
    Published: January 2003

Studies in Rural Culture

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In 1860 farmers accounted for 60 percent of the American workforce; in 1910, 30.5 percent; by 1994, there were too few to warrant a separate census category. The changes wrought by the decline of family farming and the rise of industrial agribusiness typically have been viewed through historical, economic, and political lenses. But as William Conlogue demonstrates, some of the most vital and incisive debates on the subject have occurred in a site that is perhaps less obvious--literature.

Conlogue refutes the critical tendency to treat farm-centered texts as pastorals, arguing that such an approach overlooks the diverse ways these works explore human relationships to the land. His readings of works by Willa Cather, Ruth Comfort Mitchell, John Steinbeck, Luis Valdez, Ernest Gaines, Jane Smiley, Wendell Berry, and others reveal that, through agricultural narratives, authors have addressed such wide-ranging subjects as the impact of technology on people and land, changing gender roles, environmental destruction, and the exploitation of migrant workers. In short, Conlogue offers fresh perspectives on how writers confront issues whose site is the farm but whose impact reaches every corner of American society.

About the Author

William Conlogue is assistant professor of English at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

For more information about William Conlogue, visit the Author Page.


"Provides a lively witness to the debate in American letters about the relative advantages and strengths of the family farm and agribusiness. Conlogue's postscript, in which he narrates his own experience of this struggle, is alone worth the price."--Choice

"Challenges the prevailing tendency in literary criticism to view American farming through . . . a 'pastoral prism.' . . . Important and throught-provoking."--American Studies

"In Working the Garden, William Conlogue provides readers with an exciting interdisciplinary study of farming literature. Artfully meshing literary analysis with historical, economic, and political considerations, he depicts how the changing fate of American farming has been related, affected, and evaluated in literary texts by male and female, black and white writers. Conlogue persuasively demonstrates how such literature documents the costs to American culture of the diminishment and denigration of the family farm and direct work with the land."--Patrick D. Murphy, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

"Conlogue explores American literature's long engagement with agricultural issues, defining new ways of thinking about farming and writing. He demonstrates that American writers have been documenting the United States' massive agricultural transformation all along, not with nostalgia but with an eye toward how best to use 'the garden,' machines and all."--Frieda Knobloch, University of Wyoming