A Novel Approach: The Sociology of Literature, Children’s Books, and Social Inequality

Amy Singer

Abstract


This article discusses the complexity of literary analysis and the implications of using fiction as a source of sociological data. This project infuses literary analysis with sociological imagination. Using a random sample of children’s novels published between 1930 and 1980, this article describes both a methodological approach to the analysis of children’s books and the subsequent development of two analytical categories of novels. The first category captures books whose narratives describe and support unequal social arrangements; the second category captures those whose narratives work instead to identify inequality and disrupt it. Building on Griswold’s methodological approach to literary fiction, this project examines how children’s novels describe, challenge, or even subvert systems of inequality. Through a sociological reading of three sampled texts – Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, A Wrinkle in Time, and Hitty: Her First Hundred Years – readers learn how these analytical categories work and how the sociology of literature might be enriched by attention to structural forms of inequality within literary fiction. This essay investigates children’s books in order to reinvigorate the discussion and use of novels by sociologists.

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