Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

I.8 Hudson

Roderick’s heritage represents a schism in mid-nineteenth century American identity. As the son of a timorous New England girl and a Virginian slave owner who drank himself to death, Roderick’s bloodline reflects both the Protestant work ethic of the Industrial North and the lethargy typical of landowning Southerners. The literal interpretation of Roderick’s paternal family name, despite its Southern roots, evokes the historically important Hudson River, which was crucial to the Northeast’s transportation of goods at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. His upbringing, too, represents the cultural divide of North and South. He spent the first decade of his life on his father’s Virginia plantation. After his father’s death, his widowed mother spent the family’s fortune on repaying her husband’s massive debt and relocated the family to her New England home. Embodied in Roderick’s character, by blood and by experience, is a mingling of contradictory American identities. While his father lived licentiously on his inherited plantation, Roderick’s mother came from a “Massachusetts country family” and instills in him a Protestant work ethic. As a descent of both the leisure and laboring class, Roderick sees unity only the “whiteness” of both familial sides. Through the course of the novel, Roderick assumes that his racial identity can resolve his bifurcated ancestry—a valuation that further compromises his character’s social agency.

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