New York, March 19, 2013—Dozens of Columbia Law School faculty members gathered recently to celebrate and discuss a new book by Professor Robert A. Ferguson that explores what great works of fiction can teach us about being alone.
Ferguson's Book Draws Lessons on Solitude and Loneliness From Fictional Characters
In Alone in America: The Stories that Matter, Ferguson, the George Edward Woodberry Professor in Law, Literature, and Criticism, uses some of the most famous characters of 19th and 20th century literature—including Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Toni Morrison’s Sethe and Paul D.—to identify what sustains people in times of loneliness brought on by failure, betrayal, change, defeat, breakdown, fear, difference, age, and loss.
Vincent Blasi, the Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties; Clinical Professor of Law Brett Dignam, and University Professor Kent Greenawalt spoke at the discussion, highlighting the parts of the book that were most meaningful to them.
Dignam said the book reminded her of Ferguson’s research and teachings on punishment and incarceration because so many of the fictional men Ferguson writes about end up dying while the fictional women “end up alone, often raising children.”
Ferguson said the impetus for his book was a feeling that he should help people deal with the problems they have. According to recent research, more Americans are living alone than ever before.
“The isolated characters in American fiction appeal to us through their inward claims of identity when pitted against the pressure of a surrounding community,” Ferguson writes in his prologue. “They appeal because they indicate how we might talk to ourselves when the pressures come our way.”