“These narratives of racial passing have risen from the dead”

“These narratives of racial passing have risen from the dead”

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
May 2015
275 pages
DOI: 10.7282/T38G8NJG

Donavan L. Ramon

Ph.D. Dissertation

Instead of concurring with most critics that racial passing literature reached its apex during the Harlem Renaissance, this project highlights its persistence, as evidenced in the texts examined from 1900 to 2014. Using psychoanalysis, this dissertation recovers non-canonical and white-authored narratives that critics overlook, thus reconceptualizing the genre of passing literature to forge a new genealogy for this tradition. This new genealogy includes novels, life writings, and short stories. In arguing for the genre’s continued relevance and production, this project offers a rejoinder to critics who contend that racial passing literature is obsolete. Part one of this dissertation complicates the notion that characters pass only in response to witnessing a lynching or to improve their socioeconomic status, by asserting that racial passing begins in the classroom for male characters and at home for their female counterparts. It thus precedes the threat of violence or middle class aspirations. Whereas the first half of this project is preoccupied with the gendered beginnings of racial passing, the second half examines its effects, on both writing and death. This project explores racial passing in Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900), James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun (1929), Vera Caspary’s The White Girl (1929), Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s The Stones of the Village (1988), Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1999), Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (2000), Bliss Broyard’s One Drop (2003) and Anita Reynolds’ American Cocktail (2014).

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