Race marks: Miscegenation in nineteenth-century American fiction

Race marks: Miscegenation in nineteenth-century American fiction

University of Massachusetts, Amherst
195 pages

Kimberly Anne Hicks

This dissertation examines the process of miscegenation in the work of four authors who occupy pivotal positions in American writing about race. It is concerned with a variety of fictional and non-fictional texts produced by William Wells Brown, George Washington Cable, Pauline Hopkins, and Thomas Dixon between the years 1846 and 1915. This study will examine how miscegenation provided these authors with a way of narrativizing American race relations in a period which encompasses slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction and Redemption, as well as the creation of a segregated South and an imperial America.

Individual chapters engage in cultural as well as literary analyses by reading mixed-race characters as literary signs which gave rise to a wide range of narrative possibilities, as political instruments which allowed each author to intervene in contemporary debates about the construction of American history, the nature of race, and laws designed to regulate interracial contact. While remaining aware of the personal and political differences which separate the writers under consideration, this study notes similarities in the ways in which each makes use of mixed-race characters and miscegenation plots.

Attention to gender likewise unites the individual chapters. The fact of mixed parentage signifies differently for male and female characters, no matter what plot these authors chose. For each, the figure of the quadroon woman presented special problems, as indicated by the sheer number of pages each devoted to telling child re-telling her story. This study traces the permutations of plots centered around quadroon women by reading a number of fictional works by each of the primary authors. It also examines the ways in which constructions of gender are overdetermined by methods of race representation which appear in the works of African-American writers, as well as in that of their white counterparts.

By focusing on a works which illustrate the interconnectedness between black and white Americans from slavery through segregation–works created by authors who themselves represent, in their persons as well as their politics, a variety of subject positions–this dissertation seeks to locate itself in the context of current efforts to produce a new canon of American literature, one more truly reflective of the varied nature of American life. It examines a literature not of race, but of race relations; one which repeatedly describes positions on a racial continuum too complicated to be characterized in terms of black and white.

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