Fictional Franchise: The Great American Novel
For the second edition of our series that examines fictional characters and the real people who represent them in Congress, we explore the franchise of American literature heroes.
The rules go like this: We decide where a fictional character lives and then look up who represents them in the House. (See more on the rules here.) We welcome any dispute with our assessments in the comments section below.
The Great American Novel is a relatively easy topic to research — public curiosity in literary characters is so strong that most of the places listed below built tourist industries around these novels’ settings.
And this writer might have to plead guilty to dragging her family out to Great Neck, Long Island, when she was 19 in her quest for the spirit of Zelda Fitzgerald. So let’s start with the love of Zelda’s life, who wrote the quintessential Great American Novel.
“The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
West Egg, N.Y.: Democratic Rep. Steve Israel
Israel’s district is full of money.
This is especially true in the enclaves along Long Island’s North Shore, the home of both Gatsby’s noveau riche West Egg (Kings Point) home and the post-Buchanan home in East Egg (Sands Point). The mansion that many believe inspired the Buchanan home was on the market in 2005 for $28 million, according to Forbes.
Judging by the trailer of director Baz Luhrmann’s new movie adaptation, Leonardo DiCaprio’s attempt at a Locust Valley Lockjaw accent sounds terribly fake and contrived.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
Maycomb, Ala.: Republican Rep. Jo Bonner
Monroeville, Ala., “is the birthplace of Harper Lee and is generally regarded as the novel’s fictitious setting of Maycomb,” according to the Monroe County Heritage Museum website. A troupe of actors known as “the Mockingbird Players” produces a two-act play each spring.
But something is clearly in the water down in Bonner’s 1st District. It was also a childhood home of Truman Capote, one of Lee’s best friends.
“On The Road,” by Jack Kerouac
Paterson, N.J.: Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Before Kerouac’s alter-ego, Sal Paradise, hit the road, he lived with his aunt (and is therefore likely registered to vote) in Paterson, N.J.
“Paterson’s history was founded by Alexander Hamilton and was forged as the cradle of the [Industrial] Revolution, but our city also has tremendous cultural significance as a gritty muse for outstanding authors such as Jack Kerouac and Junot Diaz, and incredible poets such as William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan,” Pascrell said in a written statement of his hometown.
Paterson is a weird paradox of grit and natural beauty. It’s known for the historic economic engine of the town, a stunning natural waterfall, that co-exists with urban congestion. A few years ago, Pascrell successfully lobbied for the falls to be designated as a national historical park.
But the Great Falls have a more sinister fictional past — a source tipped us off last year that the Paterson Great Falls was the site of a violent “The Sopranos” hit job. The Sopranos video is on YouTube, but it is frankly too disturbing to post on family-friendly websites such as Heard on the Hill.
Lennie Small and George Milton
“Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinbeck
Soledad, Calif.: Democratic Rep. Sam Farr
Small and Milton lived and worked on a ranch “near Soledad, just south of Steinbeck’s hometown, Salinas,” according to San Jose State University. This region is also the setting for a number of other Steinbeck novels. In fact, the National Steinbeck Center is also in the district.
So, to the 20th District constituents: Hide your puppies, hide your wife.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Washington Irving
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.: Democratic Rep. Nita M. Lowey
Irving’s tale of the headless horseman is so intertwined with the region that the residents of North Tarrytown voted in 1996 to officially change its name to “Sleepy Hollow,” per The New York Times.
The area is also the vacation home of Judy Blume’s Sheila Tubman of “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.” The headless horseman was a source of anxiety for the novel’s protagonist.
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” by Mark Twain
St. Petersburg, Mo.: Republican Rep. Sam Graves
The University of Virginia and pretty much everyone else agrees that St. Petersburg is a stand-in name for Mark Twain’s boyhood home of Hannibal, Mo.
Ever wanted to check out Huckleberry Finn’s and Becky Thatcher’s houses? The homes of the real-life children who inspired Sawyer’s best friend and sweetheart are preserved and open to the public, according to The Associated Press.
“The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
The Upper East Side, New York City: Democratic Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney
Walking tours tracing Holden’s steps are something of a cottage industry in New York. On Salinger’s birthday in 2010, The New York Times created an interactive map to track Holden’s Lost Weekend. Per the Gray Lady, he stayed predominantly in Maloney’s 12th District, though he does venture some into Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s 10th District.
Watch for these two members to make frequent future appearances in this series. They essentially bisect the lower two-thirds of Manhattan — Maloney claims the east and Nadler claims the west. It is a region teeming with fictional characters who take their voting rights seriously.
There is some room for controversy on exactly where Holden’s parents live (and presumably where he will be registered to vote when he turns 18), but it can be reasonably deduced that his parents’ home is on the Upper East Side.
Check out our previous installments here: