Each volume of The Norton Anthology of English and American Literature now features a full-color section of visual art that offers readers the opportunity to consider the parallels between the words on the page and the paint on the canvases of the same era. That opportunity prompted me to create an assignment series for my British Literature students that asks them to write a blog post about one of the works of art and make connections between that visual art and one or more of their readings. This blog post, “The Ring and the River,” is one that I composed as a model for my British Literature students. I chose a painting from the American anthology to avoid the risk that my students would think that the blog post they wanted to write had already been written.
As a member of the Ashcan school of artists, painter George Bellows championed the representation of American society in its many forms, in particular the working classes. Seeing Bellows’ painting Both Members of This Club in The Norton Anthology of American Literature brings to mind one of the novels included in the anthology: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Bellows turned to the boxing ring to depict America as Twain turned to the Mississippi River. The opponents in the ring evoke the racial conflict at the heart of Twain’s narrative, and the grotesque faces of the crowd mirror the images of the mob in Chapter 22. In the words of Colonel Sherburn, “[t]he pitifulest thing out is a mob” (200).
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: 1865-Present. 9th ed. Robert S. Levine, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. pp. 108-290.