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