Hapke, Laura 1946-
Hapke, Laura 1946-
Born January 4, 1946, in New York, NY; daughter of Daniel (a pipefitter and writer) and Frances (a teacher) Harris. Education: Brandeis University, B.A., 1967; University of Chicago, M.A., 1969; City University of New York, Ph.D., 1974.
Office—Department of English, Pace University, 1 Pace Plaza, New York, NY 10038-1598.
Postmodern Language Association, American Sociological Association, NYLNA.
National Endowment for the Humanities Awards, 1980 and 1981; Tales of the Working Girl: Wage-earning Women in American Literature, 1890-1925 and Daughters of the Great Depression: Women, Work, and Fiction in the American 1930s were named Choice Outstanding Academic Books.
Tales of the Working Girl: Wage-earning Women in American Literature, 1890-1925, Twayne/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
Labor's Text: The Worker in American Fiction, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2001.
Sweatshop: The History of an American Idea, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2004.
Contributor to women's studies encyclopedias; work represented in Belles Lettres; contributor to women's studies and American studies journals, including Journal of American Culture and Mid-America.
Laura Hapke once told CA: "My current task as an author and scholar is the rediscovery of those workers of the past, particularly women, whose wage-earning toil stifled them, whose (mainstream) society scorned them, and whose literary imaginers frequently misrepresented them. To that end, I evaluate a host of largely forgotten texts of blue-collar life, rescuing from relative neglect the topic of labor in late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century American literature. My critical method, whether in my recent or forthcoming book, my evolving homage to my worker-writer father, or my articles on Victorian gender ideology or on turn-of-the-twentieth-century images of the ‘wicked city,’ is to anchor literature in the social and intellectual history of the period."
Hapke's Daughters of the Great Depression: Women, Work, and Fiction in the American 1930s embraces a wide variety of writers—from Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes to Margaret Mitchell and John Steinbeck—to examine how women were portrayed during the hardest years of early-twentieth-century American life. As Hapke points out, the "Roaring Twenties" saw many women boldly venturing out of the home and into the working world, but the collapse of the stock market in November 1929 brought such optimism to an end. After that, at least in fiction, "female wage earners were often depicted as harridans who were out to steal men's jobs," as Wendy Martin put it in a New York Times Book Review article. (Hapke noted that in real life, men and women rarely competed for the same jobs.)
By contrast, the "good" women of 1930s fiction were shown as selfless wives and mothers. Hapke singles out Ma Joad from Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath as the archetypical Depression heroine. As Hapke noted, in only one scene of that novel was Ma Joad shown helping her migrant-working family in the fields, and that was during an emergency. In reality, women like Ma Joad "regularly engaged in agricultural work as the wives of tenants and sharecroppers or as agricultural wage laborers," Hapke stated, as quoted by Melissa Walker in H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. But "white male social protest writers like Steinbeck largely rendered working women invisible, instead focusing on heroic mothers like Ma Joad or on failed mothers." Black authors like Hughes, on the other hand, tended to treat working-women characters with more dignity in portraying their struggles to raise their children and bring in wages.
One 1930s novel bucked the trend, to great effect. Mitchell's Gone with the Wind depicts Scarlett O'Hara as the ultimate independent woman, albeit one from the Civil War era. Gone with the Wind is acknowledged as an allegory that uses historical events to show the changing status of women. But Hapke argues, according to Walker, "that the novel's meaning is deeper than this: it is an attempt ‘to meld old and new womanhood.’" Thus did Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "[help] to subvert the ideology of domestic femininity," in the words of Martin.
Martin praised Daughters of the Great Depression as "a probing analysis of the way [gender roles] shaped the lives of Depression-era Americans." Walker, as well, recommended the work, saying that the most important contribution of Hapke's research is "her careful comparison of the depictions of women in fiction with the reality of women's lives." Her study, Walker concluded, "deepens our understanding of how 1930s literature both shaped and reflected cultural images of women."
In Sweatshop: The History of an American Idea, Hapke addresses the question of whether it is possible to ever provide readers with an accurate, in-depth look at the cultural history of the sweatshop in America. Although some information is available, the nature of the sweatshop itself was always that of something hidden, secretive, based on the need for money and a lack of marketable abilities. The individuals who worked in sweatshops tended to be uneducated and in some cases in the country illegally, so they were not likely to leave behind any chronicle of the sweatshop experience. Likewise, the owners of the sweatshops frequently operated outside the law and were unlikely to document the details of the business. Hapke discusses sweatshops as an early American institution, then goes on to talk about their present incarnations and the way they have spread to countries outside the United States. Susan Rimby, writing for the Historian, noted that "no work to date takes Hapke's postmodernist approach to the subject. Sweatshop, therefore, is an extremely helpful book for scholars and concerned citizens seeking to understand this ‘homegrown problem with peculiarly American roots.’"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Literary History, summer, 1996, David Zonderman, review of Tales of the Working Girl: Wage-earning Women in American Literature, 1890-1925, p. 341.
American Literature, June, 1993, review of Tales of the Working Girl, p. 400; December, 1996, Caren Irr, review of Daughters of the Great Depression: Women, Work, and Fiction in the American 1930s, p. 865.
American Studies, spring, 1991, Mary Anne Schofield, review of Girls Who Went Wrong: Prostitutes in American Fiction, 1885-1917, p. 122; fall, 1997, Barbara Melosh, review of Daughters of the Great Depression, p. 155.
American Studies International, October, 1990, Joel Hodson, review of Girls Who Went Wrong, p. 117; April, 1993, Catherine Campbell, review of Tales of the Working Girl, p. 153.
Choice, January, 1993, E. Nettels, review of Tales of the Working Girl, p. 792; May, 1996, review of Daughters of the Great Depression, p. 1477.
Communication Research, October, 1990, James Beniger, review of Girls Who Went Wrong, p. 717.
Historian, spring, 2006, Susan Rimby, review of Sweatshop: The History of an American Idea, p. 142.
Journal of American Culture, winter, 1990, Jan Cohn, review of Girls Who Went Wrong, p. 85.
Journal of Economic Literature, June, 1996, review of Daughters of the Great Depression, p. 899.
Library Journal, November 15, 2000, Ellen Sullivan, review of Labor's Text: The Worker in American Fiction, pp. 66-67.
New York Times Book Review, February 4, 1996, Wendy Martin, "Women's Work," p. 25.
Reference & Research Book News, May, 1996, review of Daughters of the Great Depression, p. 44.
Social Education, September, 1996, review of Daughters of the Great Depression, p. 302.
Women's Review of Books, June, 1996, review of Daughters of the Great Depression, p. 24.
History Net,http://www.thehistorynet.com/ (October 17, 2001), review of Daughters of the Great Depression.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (July, 1996), Melissa Walker, review of Daughters of the Great Depression.