Mixed-Bloods, Mestizas, and Pintos: Race, Gender, and Claims to Whiteness in Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona and María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s Who Would Have Thought It?

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2011-08-25 23:26Z by Steven

Mixed-Bloods, Mestizas, and Pintos: Race, Gender, and Claims to Whiteness in Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona and María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s Who Would Have Thought It?

Western American Literature
Volume 36, Number 3 (Fall 2001)
pages 212-231

Margaret D. Jacobs, Professor of History & Director, Women’s and Gender Studies
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Since the 1980s, a growing number of scholars in widely different fields have discredited race as a self-evident category of human social relations. Alongside the work of scientists who have found no genetic or biological basis for racial categorization, critical race theorists have looked to changes in legal definitions of race and citizenship to conclude that race is socially and culturally constructed. Historians have contributed to the field by analyzing the history of Whiteness and the so-called White race. Many groups considered “White” today were once deemed non-White; it was only through renouncing common cause with other stigmatized “races” that certain Americans such as Irish and Jewish immigrants were able to attain White status and privilege. Of course, “choosing” to become White has not been an option for some Americans whose skin color is not light enough to allow them to pass for White. But as George Fredcrickson argues, it is not from color alone that race is constructed. He asserts that “theessential element [in notions of race and racism] is that belief, however justified or rationalized, in the critical importance of differing lines of descent and the use of that belief to establish or validate social inequality”.

The social construction of race played out in myriad spaces: in brightly lit courtrooms and dark bedrooms, in factories and fields, in movie theaters and swimming pools, in classrooms and offices, in fast-moving trains and plodding city buses. The realm of literature as well became a space in which various American sought to envision and enforce their notions of race. The literature of the American West offers a particularly rich bounty of competing constructions of race. Until recently it has been all too common in the fields of both western American literature and western history to study Anglo-Americans’ views of the West and its peoples. A growing number of scholars, however, have challenged the ethnocentrism and cultural hegemony of this approach.

Significantly, though, we are not the first to engage in such a critique of Anglo-Americans’ portrayals of the West. Even as Easterners flooded bookstores and literary journals with their accounts of the West in the nineteenth century, an elite and well-educated Californians, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, penned her own challenge to such representations. In 1872, countering Anglo notions that Californians were a “half barbaric” race who were unfit to govern themselves, to hold property, or to occupy professional positions, Ruiz de Burton published Who Would Have Thought It?, a political satire dressed up as a romance novel. Although written twelve years before one of the most famous Anglo novels about nineteenth-century California, Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, Ruiz de Burton’s novel nevertheless reads like a sharp retort and a satire of Jackson’s view of California and the West…

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Blood relations: The cultural work of miscegenation in nineteenth-century American literature

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2011-08-21 02:07Z by Steven

Blood relations: The cultural work of miscegenation in nineteenth-century American literature

University of Pennsylvania
1999, 282 pages
Publication Number: AAT 9937719
ISBN: 9780599389762

Leigh Holladay Edwards, Associate Professor of English
Florida State University

A DISSERTATION in English Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

“Blood Relations” analyzes the way nineteenth-century literary texts use racial mixture to explore cultural anxieties about subjectivity and national identity. As many scholars have detailed, nineteenth century Anglo-America overwhelmingly rejected actual, literal interracial sex and reproduction between white and non-white races. Yet I show that on a symbolic level, the dominant white culture actively invoked metaphors of mixing in order to define itself. While it would be more conventional to argue that nineteenth-century culture ignored or suppressed miscegenation because it wanted to believe in racial purity, I illustrate that the culture shaped notions of race not by repressing mixture but rather by obsessively focusing on it. Intermixture emerges as a popular literary trope in the nineteenth century at the same time that amalgamation was becoming more socially and legally taboo. The literary focus on mixing is a way of micro-managing it, encouraging people to think about the interracial in certain ways, not in others. This process of cultural management through endless discussion is similar to nineteenth-century discourses about sexuality; as Foucault has shown us, the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie did not ignore sex, they endlessly talked about it, and their routinized ways of talking about sex worked to narrow and restrict sexual identities. Similarly, American race consciousness requires a discussion of the interracial in order to sustain itself. If Americans had not had interracial sex, their writers would have had to invent it.

I analyze works by writers such as Hawthorne, Melville, Chopin, Twain, and Helen Hunt Jackson, as well as popular Pocahontas narratives and the 1863 miscegenation pamphlet in which the term was coined. These representations titillated readers with America’s “open secret” of mixture, speaking to its paradoxical status as both social taboo and defining factor of self and nation. While distancing themselves from literal mixing, these writers simultaneously deploy symbolic intermixing, using mixture metaphorically to stage notions of the identity and the relationship between ideas of nation, gender, and race. I argue that we should place representations of mixture not at the periphery, but at the center of accounts of nineteenth-century culture.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Amalgamation and the National Imaginary in Hawthorne and Melville
  • Chapter Two: Tricky Business: Racial Mixture as Hoax in Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson
  • Section Introduction: Gendering Interracial Mixture
  • Chapter Three: Women as the Source of Mixture in “Desiree’s Baby
  • Chapter Four: Women and Assimilation in Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona
  • Chapter Five: The United Colors of Pocahontas: America’s Obsession with Race Mixing
  • Bibliography

Purchase the dissertation here.

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