The Language Trap: U.S. Passing Fiction and its Paradox

The Language Trap: U.S. Passing Fiction and its Paradox

University of Kansas
181 pages

Masami Sugimori, Instructor of English
University of South Alabama

Submitted to the graduate degree program in English and the Graduate Faculty of the University of Kansas in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Through exploration of William Faulkner’s, James Weldon Johnson’s and Nella Larsen’spassing novels,” this dissertation points out that narrative representation of racial passing facilitates and compromises the authors’ challenge to the white-dominant ideology of early-twentieth-century America. I reveal that, due to their inevitable dependence on language, these authors draw paradoxically on the white-dominant ideology that they aim to question, especially its system of binary racial categorization. While the “white” body of a “passing” character serves the novelists as a subversive force in white-supremacist society (which depends on the racial other to define “whiteness”), language, which is essentially ideological, traps the writers in racial binary and continually suggests that, while the character looks white, s/he is really black. Accordingly, the authors have to write under the constraints of the problem that American discourse of race must and, for the most part, does systematically suppress its own essential fictiveness.

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The Passing Paradox: Representing Racial Chaos within the Symbolic Order
  • Chapter 1: Racial Mixture, Racial Passing, and White Subjectivity in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!
  • Chapter 2: Signifying, Ordering, and Containing the Chaos: Whiteness, Ideology, and Language in William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust
  • Chapter 3: Narrative Order and Racial Hierarchy: James Weldon Johnson’s Double-Consciousness and “White” Subjectivity in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Along This Way
  • Chapter 4: Ordering the Racial Chaos, Chaoticizing the Racial Order: Nella Larsen’s Narrative of Indeterminacy and Invisibility in Passing
  • Conclusion: Toward a Language for the Real, Chaotic and Unnamable
  • Notes
  • Works Cited

Read the entire dissertation here.

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