—in collaboration with the American Cultures working group—

Laura Perry, English, University of Wisconsin—Madison

“Pigs in the Parlor: Species and Nuisances in the American Suburbs”

This article examines the centrality of the concept of species to the history of white flight and the racist federal housing policies of the 1950s and 60s, by tracking a discourse about species in legal rhetoric and postwar suburban literature. In emphasizing how species and the suburban home are culturally as well as materially constructed, I aim to complicate and extend the suburban as a literary genre by analyzing how suburban narratives helped police the role of nonhuman animals within modern American domestic spaces.

In the postwar years, nuclear families increasingly went to the grocery store for eggs, rather than the chicken coop. This separation between suburban families and the animals who stocked their kitchens was no accident: suburban land use regulations and cultural expectations cordoned off animal bodies into a separate sphere, geographically and conceptually. Farm animals became described and perceived as nuisances, as evidence that a neighborhood was not truly residential. The Supreme Court ruling in Euclid v. Ambler, a landmark case in 1926 about housing policy, used farm animals as a kind of limit case, citing “a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard” as an obvious nuisance to homeowners. Though most scholars have read the “pig in the parlor” as a figurative intruder, this article will suggest that this kind of animal rhetoric is symptomatic of a larger debate about the proper place for animal bodies in midcentury America.

Please email Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu).