The Massacre Of Cats, By Darnton Sparknotes

Decent Essays

By utilizing classic folk tales and various case studies: police files, intellectuals, bourgeois, and most interestingly, the massacre of cats, Darnton attempts to tell a cultural history of pre-Revolution France. He argues that by using an anthropological viewpoint: through the usage of such “unfamiliar(5)” techniques, that he can show how “intellectuals and common people coped with the same sort of problems(7)” as well as give insight into a topic that many people had not yet explored with success: l’histoire des mentalities (history of the ordinary person). He claims that using the atypical sources is a unique approach, and in 1984 (when this was published) he was correct. The usage of varied anthropological study for cultural history would not be effective until the 1990’s, according to Darnton (xvi). Darnton understands the limitations of using such limited sources, and argues that he is not trying to explain all of eighteenth-century thought in France, but rather “provide ways of entering into it (5).”
Class and status are a major theme in Darnton’s text. By starting from “below (xvii),” and working his way up the social ladder with each chapter, Darnton investigates the various ways that each class thought, lived, and interacted with each other as well as separate from each other. While Darnton names his book after the great cat massacre that occurred as a result of fed-up workers, Darnton’s first chapter, the analyzing of Mother Goose tales, is his longest chapter

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