English and Modern Languages
Master of Arts (MA)
Matthew D. Towles
Primary Subject Area
American Studies; Literature, American; History, United States
American Exceptionalism, August Wilson, Baseball, Imperialism, Irwin Shaw, William Kennedy
Baseball has often been viewed as unique among the pantheon of American organized sports. Perhaps this view was spawned from baseball's supposedly pastoral origins, but the sport undeniably carries, as Allen Guttmann mentions, a brand as America's pastime (51). For millions of immigrants who entered America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, baseball was the first and primary institution that provided them with a sense of belonging to America. Foreigners ascribed tremendous value to baseball in the nineteenth century, leading the French philosopher Jacques Barzun to comment that no other sport seemed genuinely entwined with a nation's identity (13). Baseball is unique in that it, as a sport, is situated as an institution that embodies the tenets of American exceptionalism by espousing a gospel of belonging.
For writers Irwin Shaw, August Wilson, and William Kennedy, baseball operates in a unique function as imperialistic and exceptional, rendering their works subject and dependent to the societal need to belong within baseball that influenced their immigrant forebears. Baseball stadiums and culture eventually rivaled the Protestantism of American exceptionalism as the primary identifier of one's Americanness. Ultimately, for these men, how one relates to baseball is a valid means of judging one's worth to society and to humanity.