Metalious’ best known novel, Peyton Place, was a bestseller and a media phenomenon in the mid-1950s and 1960s, creating a stir because of its depictions of teenage sexuality, incest, and illegal abortion. Surprisingly, however, few close examinations of the novel’s content and style have been published by literary critics. This essay provides a discussion of a key concern in the novel: racial, ethnic, geographical, and sexual marginality. Written to challenge the inscription of white, middle class, nuclear family life as the standard by which difference should be measured, Peyton Place features several characters who inhabit the metaphorical margins of American society, including Samuel Peyton, an escaped slave and the founder of the town; Tomoas Makris, a mysteriously handsome Greek school principal with several resemblances to George Metalious; and Selena Cross, a dark-skinned, beautiful young woman describes as a “gypsy,” whose life ties in to the incest and abortion subplots within the novel. I will provide a working definition of marginality and “othering” to begin this essay, followed by a discussion of Metalious’ social status as a French Canadian in New Hampshire, a description of the characterizations of Samuel Peyton and Selena Cross, and a final word on realism, reception, and the novel’s legacy.
Marginality and “othering” are terms that have a long history in literary and critical discourse of the 20th century. In cultural criticism of the last three decades, these terms have been used to describe differences in power among individuals, nations, and cultural forms. In Orientalism, for instance, Edward Said invokes this idea of marg...
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...ched understanding of the novel’s legacy. The unique and provocative treatments of marginality and othering in Peyton Place illustrate conflicts and anxieties that remain unresolved in 21st century American culture.
Mussell, Kay. Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women’s Romance Fiction. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.
Sorrell, Richard S. “A Novelist and Her Ethnicity: Grace Metalious as a Franco-American,” Historical New Hampshire, Fall 1980: 284-327.
Stearns, Jane and Michael Stearns. “Peyton Place.” Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. New York: Harper, 1992: 381-383.
Toth, Emily. Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
“Unpopular Best Seller.” Life, November 12, 1956: 104.
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