American culture has often been described in terms of paradigmatic images--the wilderness, the Jeffersonian landscape of family farms, the great industrial cities at the turn of the 19th century. But underlying these cultural ideals are less happy paradoxes. Settling the land meant banishing the Indians and destroying the wilderness; Jeffersonian landscapes were created with the help of the new country's enslaved citizens; and economic opportunities in the cities were purchased at the high price of self-commercialization. In this study of the popular 19th- and early 20th-century American novel, Philip Fisher demonstrates how such works as Dreiser's Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Cooper's The Deerslayer worked to make these three "hard facts" of the 19th-century American experience familiar and tolerable--or familiar and intolerable--to their wide audience of readers. His perceptive analysis proves that the most important cultural "work" was accomplished not by novels generally taken to be at the core of the American literary canon--those of Hawthorne, Melville, or Twain--but rather by books which never abandoned the ambition to be widely read.