Thursday, October 10, 2002

I'm teaching a book: Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy by Jean Bethke Elshtain (Basic Books, 2002), which is a fascinating book though hard for my students to follow. Elshtain tells a story that you can find in Twenty Years at Hull House at the very end of chapter XIII. Addams tells how as a child she found a small toad she thought was lonely and urged it into the company of a larger toad, which promptly ate it. She says her listener drew the conclusion that people like Jane Addams should not try to go where they did not belong (working with the poor). Addams says she "protested that was exactly what we wanted--to be swallowed and digested, to disappear into the bulk of the people." I don't know if I was able to get across to my students that Addams saw this as a giving up of the ego in a positive sense, not selfsacrifice but selfdevelopment by becoming immersed in an authentic web of relationships.

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