Abject Humanism in Tom Perrotta Adaptations: 'Election' and 'Little Children'

Wyatt Moss-Wellington


In ‘Literary Theory’, Terry Eagleton disparaged humanism as ‘a suburban moral ideology’. Humanist hermeneutics have often been criticized as politically impotent or lightweight owing to an emphasis on human kindness rather than systems of power and exploitation, yet close scrutiny of films labeled as humanistic or human drama reveals deep concern with antisocial behaviors, group politics, and the political consequences of our attempts to identify and ostracize transgressors. This paper uses adaptations of Tom Perrotta’s novels ‘Election’ and ‘Little Children’ to articulate a concept of abject humanism, asking how we can acknowledge negative affect and maleficence without becoming convinced that they are representative of all human experience. In turn, Perrotta’s works depict the problems we encounter when we do not admit darkness in our lives; they take us to the brink of human cruelty in American suburbia, and then see what is salvageable.

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