“Is There a Self in This Text? Satire, Passing, and Life in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia”

“Is There a Self in This Text? Satire, Passing, and Life in Danzy Senna’s Caucasia

Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Published online 2020-06-25
DOI: 10.1080/00111619.2020.1784083

Myers Enlow
University of Memphis , Memphis, Tennessee

In this paper, I argue that Danzy Senna’s Caucasia is a satirical passing narrative that exposes the tragedy of traditional passing novels as archaic for relying on racial binaries and perpetuating white desirability. I draw on the existing scholarship surrounding satire and traditional passing narratives and apply it to Senna’s work to analyze the ways this novel differs from traditional, early 20th-century passing narratives to comment on the absurdity of white desirability and the racial binary through the American Dream. Specifically, I look at Caucasia as a location in which the main characters – biracial Birdie and Cole Lee; their white mother, Sandy; and their black father, Deck – must find a way to live. The all-white space the characters are forced to inhabit informs their racial identities and desires and leads to a double consciousness within the narrator, Birdie. Ultimately, Senna’s satire illuminates the tragic passing narrative as complicit in upholding and reinforcing assumptions of a binary world. Additionally, Senna shows the double consciousness African Americans and biracial individuals embody because of America’s fixation on the white, American Dream that manifests itself as life in Caucasia.

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