Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2018-11-12 23:30Z by Steven

Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

5 University Gardens
Room 101
University of Glasgow
Glasgow, United Kingdom
Tuesday, 2018-11-20, 17:15Z

Janine Bradbury, Senior Lecturer in Literature
York St John University York, United Kingdom

JBradbury170802-Staff-Profile.jpg

The Transatlantic Literary Women are excited to be welcoming Dr. Janine Bradbury to Glasgow to give a paper titled: “Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts”. The talk takes place in room 101, 5 University Gardens at 5.15pm on Tuesday 20th November with drinks and refreshments available from 5. This is a social, friendly gathering. As always, everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an entire literary genre emerged in the United States that revolved around light skinned, mixed race African Americans who ‘fraudulently’ pretended to be or passed for white in order to ‘evade’ racism, prejudice, and segregation. Films like Imitation of Life brought the topic to a national audience and writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Langston Hughes featured passing in their works.

Given that the United States has a distinct history of race relations, how do stories about passing ‘work’ beyond these regional and national contexts? And do American stories about passing inspire and hold relevance for writers across the black Atlantic? How is gender and nationhood represented in these works? And what role do women writers play in the history of the passing genre?

This talk explores the phenomenon of ‘passing-for-white’ as represented in the work of transatlantic literary women ranging from Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen to contemporary British writer Helen Oyeyemi and asks why passing continues to inspire women writers across the West.

For more information, click here.

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A Mysterious Heart: ‘Passing’ and the Narrative Enigma in Faulkner’s “Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom!”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-07-13 00:29Z by Steven

A Mysterious Heart: ‘Passing’ and the Narrative Enigma in Faulkner’s “Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom!”

Amerikastudien / American Studies
Volume 58, Number 1, 2013
pages 51-78

Marta Puxan-Oliva
Department of Modern Language and Literatures and English Studies
University of Barcelona , Barcelona, Spain

This essay argues that William Faulkner’s Light in August and Absalom, Absalom! use the device of the narrative enigma to effectively tell stories in which the cultural practice of ‘passing for white‘ in the United States under the Jim Crow system is strongly suggested. The secret is the essential feature of the social practice of passing, which makes the construction of the plot around a narrative enigma especially suitable. By not resolving the narrative enigma, the novels not only preserve the secret of the supposed ‘passers,’ but construct a narrative that departs from the most important conventions of the so-called genre of the passing novel. The truly modernist narrative strategy of placing an unresolved mystery to drive the plot even allows Faulkner to go a step further: the narrative can portray the Southern white fear of passing with even more significance than the actual act of passing itself. It is precisely the fact that the main characters, Joe Christmas and Charles Bon, have uncertain blood origins that allows and even urges the white community of Jefferson to build a story set only upon conjecture along established racial patterns. Therefore, the effect of the narrative enigma is twofold: it retains the racialization of the story and preserves the secret of the passers, while ambiguously uncovering the false grounds upon which the fear of miscegenation constructs and maintains racial boundaries.

He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart, forgotten. unforgiven, and excessively romantic.
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Sometimes literature illuminates in a striking way the emotional and historical effects that contemporary social practices—no longer operative today—had in the past, providing an understanding that an analysis from the viewpoint of our transformed, contemporary societies cannot offer. This is the case with the practice of ‘passing’ in the United States, and with the series of novels that constitute what has been labeled the passing novel genre. Joel Williamson defines ‘passing’ as “crossing the race line and winning acceptance as white in the white world” (100). Movement in the opposite direction is less common. Even though the practice survives—broadened to include gender passing, but still primarily denoting racial or ethnic mobility—the force and historical function that passing for white had during the Jim Crow period, which peaks in the late nineteenth century and the interwar period, perished with the end of segregation. Viewed as a genre, the…

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Postcolonial Palimpsests: Entwined Colonialisms and the Conflicted Representation of Charles Bon in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2016-10-22 23:33Z by Steven

Postcolonial Palimpsests: Entwined Colonialisms and the Conflicted Representation of Charles Bon in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

ariel: A Review of International English Literature
Volume 47, Number 4, October 2016
pages 1-23
DOI: 10.1353/ari.2016.0044

Jenna Grace Sciuto, Assistant Professor, English/Communications
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

This essay argues that Charles Bon in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) embodies a fluidity that confronts the hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexuality on which colonialism and neocolonialism depend for coherence and meaning. The biracial, sexually fluid Bon and his contradictory depiction by competing narrators reveal entwined colonialisms in the United States South that complicate the divide between the colonial and neo-colonial periods employed in linear surface narratives: Bon is portrayed as living multiple stories of colonialism simultaneously in the novel. With an awareness of the narrators’ divergent colonial mindsets, I show how Faulkner uses Bon’s mĂ©tissage, or blending of cultural, racial, and sexual categories, to confront the resilient colonial mentalities that persist in the twentieth-century American South through imagining an alternative: the acceptance of this fluidity.

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Contested Identities: Racial Indeterminacy and Law in the American Novel, 1900-1942

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-01-27 03:14Z by Steven

Contested Identities: Racial Indeterminacy and Law in the American Novel, 1900-1942

University of Connecticut
2014-05-08

Rebecca S. Nisetich

In Contested Identities, I chart the path of the legal and literary discourses on racial identity, codified by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision and culturally ascendant in the early decades of the twentieth century. In this period, a group of American writers produced fiction that implicitly challenged this legal and cultural discourse. My project explores the literary productions of Charles W. Chesnutt, Nella Larsen, and William Faulkner—three writers who undermine, question, and critique the legal and social practices that seek to define and contain individual identities in binary terms. Specifically, in Contested Identities I explore why Chesnutt, Larsen, and Faulkner create characters whose identities are not clearly articulated, defined, or knowable, and why they intentionally position these figures in relation to the law.

At the center of each of these texts there remains a void where racial information might be clearly articulated, defined, or corroborated, but isn’t. This enables Chesnutt, Larsen, and Faulkner to underscore an unresolved tension between what must be true and what cannot be known, a dynamic which throws into relief the maddening complexity of human experience in opposition to cut-and-dry legal and popular definitions of “race,” which operate under the assumption that blood proportions are easily known, and that specific blood proportions determine identity. I argue that it is racial indeterminacy that animates these writers’ explorations of identity, and that it is the fundamental theme that binds these characters and texts together. The law treats race as a matter of identity; my dissertation argues that the law is instead a crucial factor in the formation of the racial identity of individual characters.

Available for download here on or after 2024-05-01.

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Unwed Mothers, Race, and Transgression in William Faulkner’s Novels

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2015-12-22 23:49Z by Steven

Unwed Mothers, Race, and Transgression in William Faulkner’s Novels

McKendree University Scholars Journal
Lebanon, Illinois
Issue 24, Winter 2015
16 pages

Mindy Allen

As a modernist writer, William Faulkner is conflicted with the autonomy he can allow for his female characters, particularly unmarried mothers. Ideology about women during the early twentieth century, including the debates of birth control and the loss of the Southern Belle,
influence the creation of Faulkner’s female characters. The purpose of this paper is to explore how Faulkner’s unmarried mothers transgress sexual boundaries imposed by patriarchal values in the novels As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, Absalom! Absalom! and Go Down, Moses. Faulkner’s female characters can no longer strive towards the status of the Southern Belle as New South ideals emerge. Faulkner includes many unmarried mothers in his novels, as well as mixed race unmarried mothers. He leaves the impression that, through his novels, he attempts to make since of females transgressing sexual and racial boundaries.

Read the entire article here.

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Violent Disruptions: Richard Wright and William Faulkner’s Racial Imaginations

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-11-26 19:58Z by Steven

Violent Disruptions: Richard Wright and William Faulkner’s Racial Imaginations

Harvard University
September 2013
177 pages

Linda Doris Mariah Chavers

A dissertation presented to The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of African and African American Studies

Violent Disruptions contends that the works of Richard Wright and William Faulkner are mirror images of each other and that each illustrates American race relations in distinctly powerful and prescient ways. While Faulkner portrays race and American identity through sex and its relationship to the imagination, Wright reveals a violent undercurrent beneath interracial encounters that the shared imagination triggers. Violent Disruptions argues that the spectacle of the interracial body anchors the cultural imaginations of our collective society and, as it embodies and symbolizes American slavery, drives the violent acts of individuals. Interracial productions motivate the narratives of Richard Wright and William Faulkner through a system of displacement of signs. Though these tropes maintain their currency today, they are borne out of cultural imaginings over two hundred years old. Working within the framework of the imaginary, Violent Disruptions places these now historical texts into the twenty-first century’s discourse of race and American identity.

In the first part of the dissertation, I show in detail the various narratives at work in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) in order to portray the imaginations shared by the white characters and disrupted by the interracial body as spectacle. Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) depicts a similar racial imaginary but with more focus on its violent, corporeal effects. By contrast, in the second half of the dissertation, I demonstrate the writers’ central and racially charged characters from their earlier works, Light in August (1932) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin [Children] (1938; 1940) and look at how the figures of Joe Christmas and Big Boy, respectively, work as literary prototypes for their version in later works.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Blood Work: Imagining Race in American Literature, 1890-1940

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2015-03-29 20:12Z by Steven

Blood Work: Imagining Race in American Literature, 1890-1940

Louisiana State University Press
January 2015
240 pages
5.50 x 8.50 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780807157848

Shawn Salvant, Assistant Professor of English and African American
University of Connecticut

The invocation of blood—as both an image and a concept—has long been critical in the formation of American racism. In Blood Work, Shawn Salvant mines works from the American literary canon to explore the multitude of associations that race and blood held in the consciousness of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Americans.

Drawing upon race and metaphor theory, Salvant provides readings of four classic novels featuring themes of racial identity: Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894); Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood (1902); Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892); and William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932). His expansive analysis of blood imagery uncovers far more than the merely biological connotations that dominate many studies of blood rhetoric: the racial discourses of blood in these novels encompass the anthropological and the legal, the violent and the religious. Penetrating and insightful, Blood Work illuminates the broad-ranging power of the blood metaphor to script distinctly American plots—real and literary—of racial identity.

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Literature and Racial Ambiguity

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2012-10-13 01:25Z by Steven

Literature and Racial Ambiguity

Rodopi
2002
320 pages
8.7 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
Hardback ISBN: 978-90-420-1428-2 / 90-420-1428-8
Paperback ISBN: 978-90-420-1418-3 / 90-420-1418-0

Edited by:

Teresa Hubel, Associate Professor of English
Huron University College in London, Ontario

Neil Brooks, Associate Professor of English
Huron University College at Western University, London, Ontario

Contents

  • Neil Brooks and Teresa Hubel: Introduction
  • 1. Peter Clandfield: “What Is In My Blood?”: Contemporary Black Scottishness and the work of Jackie Kay
  • 2. Neluka Silva: “Everyone was Vaguely Related”: Hybridity and the Politics of Race in Sri Lankan Literary Discourses in English
  • 3. Teresa Zackodnik: Passing Transgressions and Authentic Identity in Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun and Nella Larsen’s Passing
  • 4. Myriam Perregaux: Whiteness as Unstable Construction: Kate Pullinger’s The Last Time I Saw Jane
  • 5. Bella Adams: Becoming Chinese: Racial Ambiguity in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club
  • 6. Jennifer Sparrow: Strategic CrĂ©olitĂ©. Caliban and Miranda after Empire
  • 7. Jennifer Gibbs: White Identity and the New Ethic in Faulkner’s Light In August
  • 8. Elizabeth DeLoughrey: White Fathers, Brown Daughters: the Frisbie Family Romance and the American Pacific
  • 9. Rita Keresztesi Treat: Writing Culture and Performing Race in Mourning Dove’s Cogewea, The Half-Blood ‘(1927)
  • 10. Kathryn Nicol: Visible Differences: Viewing Racial Identity in Toni Morrison’s Paradise and “Recitatif”
  • 11. Yvette Tan: Looking Different/Rethinking Difference: Global Constants and/or Contradictory Characteristics in Yasmine Gooneratne’s A Change of Skies and Adib Kalim’s Seasonal Adjustments
  • 12. Margaret D. Stetz: Jessie Fauset’s Fiction: Reconsidering Race and Revising Aestheticism
  • 13. Paul Allatson: “I May Create A Monster”: CherrĂ­e Moraga’s Transcultural Conundrum
  • 14. Michele Hunter: Revisiting the Third Space: Reading Danzy Senna’s Caucasia
  • Notes on the Authors
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Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2012-09-30 03:58Z by Steven

Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture

Oxford University Press
May 1997
356 pages
Paperback ISBN13: 9780195134186; ISBN10: 0195134184

Susan Gubar, Distinguished Professor Emerita and Ruth N. Halls Professor Emerita of English
Indiana University

When the actor Ted Danson appeared in blackface at a 1993 Friars Club roast, he ignited a firestorm of protest that landed him on the front pages of the newspapers, rebuked by everyone from talk show host Montel Williams to New York City’s then mayor, David Dinkins. Danson’s use of blackface was shocking, but was the furious pitch of the response a triumphant indication of how far society has progressed since the days when blackface performers were the toast of vaudeville, or was it also an uncomfortable reminder of how deep the chasm still is separating black and white America?

In Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture, Susan Gubar, who fundamentally changed the way we think about women’s literature as co-author of the acclaimed The Madwoman in the Attic, turns her attention to the incendiary issue of race. Through a far-reaching exploration of the long overlooked legacy of minstrelsy–cross-racial impersonations or “racechanges”—throughout modern American film, fiction, poetry, painting, photography, and journalism, she documents the indebtedness of “mainstream” artists to African-American culture, and explores the deeply conflicted psychology of white guilt. The fascinating “racechanges” Gubar discusses include whites posing as blacks and blacks “passing” for white; blackface on white actors in The Jazz Singer, Birth of a Nation, and other movies, as well as on the faces of black stage entertainers; African-American deployment of racechange imagery during the Harlem Renaissance, including the poetry of Anne Spencer, the black-and-white prints of Richard Bruce Nugent, and the early work of Zora Neale Hurston; white poets and novelists from Vachel Lindsay and Gertrude Stein to John Berryman and William Faulkner writing as if they were black; white artists and writers fascinated by hypersexualized stereotypes of black men; and nightmares and visions of the racechanged baby. Gubar shows that unlike African-Americans, who often are forced to adopt white masks to gain their rights, white people have chosen racial masquerades, which range from mockery and mimicry to an evolving emphasis on inter-racial mutuality and mutability.

Drawing on a stunning array of illustrations, including paintings, film stills, computer graphics, and even magazine morphings, Racechanges sheds new light on the persistent pervasiveness of racism and exciting aesthetic possibilities for lessening the distance between blacks and whites.

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Crimes of passing: The criminalization of blackness and miscegenation in United States passing narratives

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-07-18 01:09Z by Steven

Crimes of passing: The criminalization of blackness and miscegenation in United States passing narratives

University of California, Los Angeles
2005
158 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3175169
ISBN: 9780542133046

Susan Elaine Bausch

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature

Between approximately 1880 and 1925, large numbers of legally black Americans crossed the color line and identified as white; in common parlance, they “passed.” After Reconstruction, the South attempted to legislate the separation of the races by enacting “Jim Crow” laws that mandated segregation and prohibited miscegenation (at least within marriage). This meant that many passers were not just violating a social taboo by crossing the color line, they were also breaking the law. Even in the North, there were some anti-miscegenation laws on the books, although convention and prejudice probably played a bigger role in limiting mixed-race marriages. In effect, these laws made it a crime for a black person to do what a white person did, which means that blackness itself was criminalized.

Crimes of Passing explores the overlap between racial passing and criminality as it plays out in three passing narratives that are also crime stories: Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), and William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932), as well as James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912). In the first three novels, the protagonist is a passing figure who also commits murder (and sometimes other crimes). The final novel in my study deviates from this pattern in that the protagonist’s passing is successful and he commits no crimes (other than periodically violating Jim Crows laws); his narrative is about freedom from legal and extralegal harassment (in other words, about not being treated like a criminal), rather than the danger involved in crossing (and policing) racial boundaries.

Read together, these novels create a compelling critique of America’s history of criminalizing blackness and the crossing of racial boundaries. My methodology is primarily historical; to inform my reading of fictional representations of passing, I rely on court records and contemporary newspaper accounts of relevant court cases, race-based lynchings, and common attitudes towards miscegenation, as well as the novelists’ autobiographies (when available). Placing these narratives in a legal and socio-historical context reveals their participation in a fascinating inter-textual dialogue between art, public opinion, and the law that is still ongoing.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Imitation White and Secret Murderers: The Criminalization of Blackness in Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson
  • Chapter Two: Feminine Transgressions: Crossing Racial and Sexual Boundaries in Nella Larsen’s Passing and the Rhinelander Case
  • Chapter Three: Passing for What?: Joe Christmas’s Racial Uncertainty and Criminal Fate in William Faulkner’s Light in August
  • Chapter Four: A Passing Success: The Cost of Mobility in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

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