Chasing the dream : literature and regional construction in California's Great Central Valley

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


As a region, California's Great Central Valley can be defined through the physical and cultural characteristics assigned to the space by its residents. Not unlike the larger regions of which it is part, the Valley's cultural landscapes have long been constructed as sites of wealth, fertile ground, and opportunity. Drawn to the region's myriad promises and possibilities, populations moving into and within the region often search for their part in a frequently elusive California Dream. Yet as with any place, the lived experience of the Valley's residents is often far removed from the construction of the region as a land of prosperity and mobility. Tracing the various constructions of region in the Great Central Valley requires an understanding of cultural and regional identity as complex and multifaceted. No two individuals experience the landscapes they inhabit in the same way; as a result, any attempt to define a unitary regional identity in the Valley is ultimately problematic. Despite the diverse experiences and interpretations of the Valley and its inhabitants, many overlapping themes emerge, resulting in what I call a "regional imaginary'-a set of meanings assigned to a region by its residents. Although many methods exist by which to explore and tentatively define the idea of a regional imaginary in the Central Valley, one of the most productive involves utilizing critical regional approaches to literature and other narrative works. By examining the many novels, poems, and other narratives written about the Valley, the various cultural, historical, and natural forces that converge and conflict in the Valley's landscapes may begin to come into focus.




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