The Shadow of Lynching in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2017-03-19 20:14Z by Steven

The Shadow of Lynching in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Women’s Studies: An inter-disciplinary journal
Published online: 2017-02-22
pages 1-22
DOI: 10.1080/00497878.2017.1285767

Kangyl Ko
Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea

Since Deborah E. McDowell’s groundbreaking essay on the representation of black female sexuality in Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), many scholars have discussed how the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality unfolds throughout the novel. In her compelling reading of Passing, McDowell examines the hidden lesbian narratives beneath “the safe and familiar plot of racial passing” on which previous scholars have focused (xxx). McDowell’s excavation of the tale of sexual passing within the tale of racial passing has since inspired many scholars to further examine the novel’s exploration of black female sexuality, especially in terms of lesbian desire, and its appropriation and negotiation of the literary convention of the tragic mulatto—“the safe and familiar plot of racial passing,” as McDowell refers to it. The continuous trend in scholarship of Passing, whether it focuses on lesbian desire and/or the appropriation of the tragic mulatto narrative, links discussions of black female sexuality directly with racialized popular discourses about black female bodies in Jim Crow America. As a result, one of Larsen’s rhetorical and thematic threads that runs through her second novel has remained underexplored: lynching.

Following Grace Elizabeth Hale’s formulation of lynching as “cultural form” that “existed as both physical practice and as written and photographic representations” (360), I read Passing as a discursive platform where Larsen explores and challenges not only the dominant white lynching narrative, but also its counter-lynching narrative created by black male writers. As an iconic “cultural form” of Jim Crow America, lynching played a crucial role in defining and shaping interracial relations in the United States. Within criticism, lynching as a form of physical violence and a discourse has been addressed largely in terms of the black male body alone. However, black women were victims of lynching as well. They were “routinely lynched, burned, and summarily mutilated” (Wiegman 84)…

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“Nearly White” and Clinging to “Bits of Finery”: Jim Crow Logic, Brazil, and Evelyn Scott’s Escapade

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-04-25 21:15Z by Steven

“Nearly White” and Clinging to “Bits of Finery”: Jim Crow Logic, Brazil, and Evelyn Scott’s Escapade

Women’s Studies: An inter-disciplinary journal
Volume 41, Issue 4, 2012
Special Issue: Women and Travel
DOI: 10.1080/00497878.2012.663249

Amy Schmidt, Supervisor of Supplemental Instruction
Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas

Evelyn Scott’s Escapade (1923) illustrates both the similarities and the differences between the U.S. South and South American Brazil, highlighting the former’s privileged position as part of the U.S.  Through depictions of elite southern American women living in Brazil, Scott’s Escapade demonstrates how identity performances are disrupted when the stage for them changes and denaturalizes identity through parody, revealing how performances depend upon material means. However, it also demonstrates how the ideology governing performances remains, unfortunately, quite consistent; while her critiques of American capitalism reveal its international consequences, Scott inadvertently illustrates how Jim Crow logic translates rather easily into other regions and countries. Scott’s text demonstrates an impulse towards social justice but simultaneously reveals ambivalence about relinquishing privilege.

Scott left the South to escape the constraints of Jim Crow logic, which entails more than racial segregation laws; as all identities intersect with one another under a “matrix of domination,” race- cannot be divorced from gender, class, or nationality (see Collins 228). Thus, the gender constraints Scott faced in the U.S. South are just as much a part of Jim Crow logic as racial segregation is. and travel taboos are a notable illustration of how Jim Crow governs both race and gender. When Scott left the South in 1913, elite white women were not allowed to travel without a white male chaperone; despite the energy while southerners spent on…

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