Mar Gallego. Passing Novels in the Harlem Renaissance: Identity, Politics and Textual Strategies [Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2011-05-03 02:21Z by Steven

Mar Gallego. Passing Novels in the Harlem Renaissance: Identity, Politics and Textual Strategies [Review]

African American Review
Volume 38 (Winter 2004)
pages 720-723

Mar Gallego. Passing Novels in the Harlem Renaissance: Identity, Politics and Textual Strategies. Hamburg: Lit Verlag Munster, 2003. 214 pp.

Zhou Yupei

Until very recently, novels of passing that appeared during the Harlem Renaissance had been viewed as either assimilationist or collaborative with racist ideology. Mar Gallego’s Passing Novels in the Harlem Renaissance offers an opposing view by providing a detailed account of the subversive and parodying strategies employed in novels by four representative and controversial African American writers: James Weldon Johnson, George Schuyler, Nella Larsen, and Jessie Fauset. Gallego considers these authors’ parodying strategies as responses not only to social realities but to the idea of double consciousness and other literary traditions.

Gallego’s book opens with a rereading of Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness” that reveals both the positive and the negative perspectives contained in the theory and connects it with the motif of passing. The positive refers to the notion of the “third self,” which results from the union of an African American ethnic identity and an American national identity, a notion that implies the possibility of a society in which African culture and American culture co-exist. The negative refers to the metaphor of the “veil,” which means the distorted and stereotypical image imposed upon African Americans, a metaphor that may produce negative duplicity in African American life. Gallego’s account of these contradictory perspectives achieves a dual purpose. First, it explains Du Bois’s inner conflict between his realistic conception of American society and his idealistic notion of double consciousness. Second, it alludes to the multiple and indeterminate character of double consciousness and links this notion to the Yoruba tradition of Esu-Elegbara, in which Henry Louis Gates, Jr. locates the “Signifying Monkey,” and finally the idea of double-voicedness central to Bakhtin’s theories of “heteroglossia” and “dialogization.” Such connections expose the parodying nature of double consciousness in spite of the inner conflict contained in it. Gallego’s reading of the notion of double consciousness constitutes a reasonable starting point and a convincing rationale for Gallego’s argument that the novels of passing under study respond in a complex way to double consciousness and strategically hide their negative attitudes toward racism under the cover of various means of seemingly cooperative representations. Gallego also lays out a theoretical framework of exploration in his subsequent chapters, each of which locates a writer’s parodying strategies in the historical context of the representation of African Americans and in the literary context of the genres of Western literature employed and subverted by the writer.

To incorporate issues of race and gender, Gallego also identifies in the first chapter double consciousness with the feminist notion of “divided identity,” designating, as Mary Hairston McManus does, the latter as “double double consciousness.” Reviewing earlier African American feminist criticism, Gallego concludes that this discourse involves “the subversion, inversion or variation of other discourses that marginalize African American women.” This summary anticipates his statement that the characterization of Larsen’s and Fauset’s mulatta figures of passing also involves the subversion, inversion, or variation of other racist or sexist discourses in literary tradition.

Each subsequent chapter is devoted to one of the four authors. In chapter two, Gallego argues that James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) innovates the tradition of slave narratives by endowing it with subversive and ironic overtones, and revises Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness by calling into question the negative perspective of the theory. For Gallego, Johnson’s novel represents a new stage of the narrative tradition that traces its origin to Equiano’s “integrated narrative,” which integrates different voices, and Douglass’s “generic narrative,” which makes the narrator eventually dominate the different voices integrated by the narrative. Johnson uses such techniques as duality of voices, control over the narration, fictionalization of the narrative “I,” and rhetoric as a mask for subversion, techniques often found in either Equiano or Douglass. With these techniques Johnson effectively but trickily conveys his ironic and multivocal vision and makes his narrator successfully write himself into the text. The connection discovered by Gallego between Johnson’s text and Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk leads to the conclusion that Johnson’s novel negates both the positive image of the “Talented Tenth” and the idealistic possibility of a “third self.” Gallego states that Johnson’s representation of the phenomenon of passing questions cultural and racial categories and promotes heterogeneity. With abundant historical and textual evidence, Gallego defines Johnson as an important African American writer who initiates a model for the depiction of the mulatto condition and anticipates other novels of passing in the following decade…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Passing Novels in the Harlem Renaissance: Identity Politics and Textual Strategies

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2011-05-03 01:45Z by Steven

Passing Novels in the Harlem Renaissance: Identity Politics and Textual Strategies

Lit Verlag Munster
224 pages
ISBN 3-8258-5842-1

Mar Gallego, Associate Professor of American Studies
University of Huelva (Spain)

Passing Novels in the Harlem Renaissance offers an insightful study of the significance of passing novels for the literary and intellectual debate of the Harlem Renaissance. Mar Gallego effectively uncovers the presence of a subversive component in five of these novels (by James Weldon Johnson, George Schuyler, Nella Larsen, and Jessie Fauset), turning them into useful tools to explore the passing phenomenon in all its richness and complexity. Her compelling study intends to contribute to the ongoing revision of the parameters conventionally employed to analyze passing novels by drawing attention to a great variety of textual strategies such as double consciousness, parody, and multiple generic covers. Examining the hybrid nature of these texts, Gallego skillfully highlights their radical critique of the status quo and their celebration of a distinct African American identity.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Race Passing and American Individualism

Posted in Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2011-01-17 00:19Z by Steven

Race Passing and American Individualism

University of Massachusetts Press
February 2003
176 pages
Cloth ISBN: 1-55849-377-8 (Print on Demand)

Kathleen Pfeiffer, Professor of English
Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan

A literary study of the ambiguities of racial identity in American culture

In the literature of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, black characters who pass for white embody a paradox. By virtue of the “one drop” rule that long governed the nation’s race relations, they are legally black. Yet the color of their skin makes them visibly-and therefore socially-white.

In this book, Kathleen Pfeiffer explores the implications of this dilemma by analyzing its treatment in the fiction of six writers: William Dean Howells, Frances E. W. Harper, Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen. Although passing for white has sometimes been viewed as an expression of racial self-hatred or disloyalty, Pfeiffer argues that the literary evidence is much more ambiguous than that. Rather than indicating a denial of “blackness” or co-optation by the dominant white culture, passing can be viewed as a form of self-determination consistent with American individualism. In their desire to manipulate personal identity in order to achieve social acceptance and upward mobility, light-skinned blacks who pass for white are no different than those Americans who reinvent themselves in terms of class, religion, or family history.

In Pfeiffer’s view, to see race passing as a problematic but potentially legitimate expression of individualism is to invite richer and more complex readings of a broad range of literary texts. More than that, it represents a challenge to the segregationist logic of the “one drop” rule and, as such, subverts the ideology of racial essentialism.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral

Posted in Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, United States, Women on 2010-08-30 22:00Z by Steven

Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral

Beacon Press
Published in 1929
408 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-080700919-2
Size: 5-3/8″ X 8″ Inches

Jessie Redmon Fauset

Written in 1929 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance by one of the movement’s most important and prolific authors, Plum Bun is the story of Angela Murray, a young black girl who discovers she can pass for white. After the death of her parents, Angela moves to New York to escape the racism she believes is her only obstacle to opportunity. What she soon discovers is that being a woman has its own burdens that don’t fade with the color of one’s skin, and that love and marriage might not offer her salvation.

Tags: , ,

Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

Posted in Arts, Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-24 19:27Z by Steven

Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

Duke University Press
July 2000
272 pages
12 b&w photographs
Cloth ISBN: 0-8223-2479-2, ISBN13: 978-0-8223-2479-9
Paperback ISBN: 0-8223-2515-2, ISBN13: 978-0-8223-2515-4

Gayle Wald, Professor of English
George Washington University

As W. E. B. DuBois famously prophesied in The Souls of Black Folk, the fiction of the color line has been of urgent concern in defining a certain twentieth-century U.S. racial “order.” Yet the very arbitrariness of this line also gives rise to opportunities for racial “passing,” a practice through which subjects appropriate the terms of racial discourse. To erode race’s authority, Gayle Wald argues, we must understand how race defines and yet fails to represent identity. She thus uses cultural narratives of passing to illuminate both the contradictions of race and the deployment of such contradictions for a variety of needs, interests, and desires.

Wald begins her reading of twentieth-century passing narratives by analyzing works by African American writers James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen, showing how they use the “passing plot” to explore the negotiation of identity, agency, and freedom within the context of their protagonists’ restricted choices. She then examines the 1946 autobiography Really the Blues, which details the transformation of Milton Mesirow, middle-class son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, into Mezz Mezzrow, jazz musician and self-described “voluntary Negro.” Turning to the 1949 films Pinky and Lost Boundaries, which imagine African American citizenship within class-specific protocols of race and gender, she interrogates the complicated representation of racial passing in a visual medium. Her investigation of “post-passing” testimonials in postwar African American magazines, which strove to foster black consumerism while constructing “positive” images of black achievement and affluence in the postwar years, focuses on neglected texts within the archives of black popular culture. Finally, after a look at liberal contradictions of John Howard Griffin’s 1961 auto-ethnography Black Like Me, Wald concludes with an epilogue that considers the idea of passing in the context of the recent discourse of “color blindness.”

Wald’s analysis of the moral, political, and theoretical dimensions of racial passing makes Crossing the Line important reading as we approach the twenty-first century. Her engaging and dynamic book will be of particular interest to scholars of American studies, African American studies, cultural studies, and literary criticism.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Race, Passing, and Cultural Representation
  • 1. Home Again: Racial Negotiations in Modernist African American Passing Narratives
  • 2. Mezz Mezzrow and the Voluntary Negro Blues
  • 3. Boundaries Lost and Found: Racial Passing and Cinematic Representation, circa 1949
  • 4. “I’m Through with Passing”: Postpassing Narratives in Black Popular Literary Culture
  • 5. “A Most Disagreeable Mirror”: Reflections on White Identity in Black Like Me
  • Epilogue: Passing, “Color Blindness,” and Contemporary Discourses of Race and Identity
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2009-10-15 17:58Z by Steven

Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature

Oxford University Press
March 1997
592 pages
Hardback ISBN13: 9780195052824; ISBN10: 019505282X

Werner Sollors, Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and Afro American Studies; Director of the History of American Civilization Program
Harvard University

Why can a “white” woman give birth to a “black” baby, while a “black” woman can never give birth to a “white” baby in the United States? What makes racial “passing” so different from social mobility? Why are interracial and incestuous relations often confused or conflated in literature, making “miscegenation” appear as if it were incest? When did the myth that one can tell a person’s race by the moon on their fingernails originate? How did blackness get associated with “the curse of Ham” when the Biblical text makes no reference to skin color at all?

Werner Sollors examines these questions and others in Neither Black Nor White Yet Both, a new and exhaustively researched exploration of “interracial literature.” In the past, interracial texts have been read more for a black-white contrast of “either-or” than for an interracial realm of “neither, nor, both, and in-between.” Intermarriage prohibitions have been legislated throughout the modern period and were still in the law books in the 1980s. Stories of black-white sexual and family relations have thus run against powerful social taboos. Yet much interracial literature has been written, and this book suggests its pervasiveness and offers new comparative and historical contexts for understanding it.

Looking at authors from Heliodorus, John Stedman, Buffon, Thomas Jefferson, Heinrich von Kleist, Victor Hugo, Aleksandr Sergeevic Puskin, and Hans Christian Andersen, to Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wells Brown, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, Cirilo Villaverde, Aluisio Azevedo, and Pauline Hopkins, and on to modern writers such as Langston Hughes, Jessie Fauset, Boris Vian, and William Faulkner, Sollors ranges across time, space, and cultures, analyzing scientific and legal works as well as poetry, fiction, and the visual arts, to explore the many themes and motifs interwoven throughout interracial literature. From the etymological origins of the term “race” to the cultural sources of the “Tragic Mulatto,” Sollors examines the recurrent images and ideas in this literature of love, family, and other relations between blacks, whites, and those of “mixed race.”

Sollors’ interdisciplinary explorations of literary themes yield many insights into the history and politics of “race,” and illuminate a new understanding of the relations between cultures through the focus on interracial exchanges. Neither Black Nor White Yet Both is vital reading for anyone who seeks to understand what has been written and said about “race,” and where interracial relations can go from here.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction:
  • Black—White—Both—Neither—In-Between xv
  • 1. Origins; or, Paradise Dawning 31
  • 2. Natus Æthiopus/Natus Albus 48
  • 3. The Curse of Ham; or, from “Generation” to “Race” 78
  • 4. The Calculus of Color 112
  • 5. The Bluish Tinge in the Halfmoon; or, Fingernails as a Racial Sign 142
  • 6. Code Noir and Literature 162
  • 7. Retellings: Mercenaries and Abolitionists 188
  • 8. Excursus on the “Tragic Mulatto”; or, the Fate of a Stereotype 220
  • 9. Passing; or, Sacrificing a Parvenu 246
  • 10. Incest and Miscegenation 285
  • Endings 336
  • Appendix A: A Chronology of Interracial Literature 361
  • Appendix B: Prohibitions of Interracial Marriage and Cohabitation 395
  • Notes 411
  • Selected Bibliography 523
  • Index 561
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Portraits of the New Negro Woman: Visual and Literary Culture in the Harlem Renaissance

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States, Women on 2009-09-25 23:13Z by Steven

Portraits of the New Negro Woman: Visual and Literary Culture in the Harlem Renaissance

Rutgers University Press
224 pages
b&w illustrations
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-3977-5
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8135-3976-8

Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, Professor of English
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Of all the images to arise from the Harlem Renaissance, the most thought-provoking were those of the mulatta. For some writers, artists, and filmmakers, these images provided an alternative to the stereotypes of black womanhood and a challenge to the color line. For others, they represented key aspects of modernity and race coding central to the New Negro Movement. Due to the mulatta’s frequent ability to pass for white, she represented a variety of contradictory meanings that often transcended racial, class, and gender boundaries.

Portraits of the New Negro Woman investigates the visual and literary images of black femininity that occurred between the two world wars. Cherene Sherrard-Johnson traces the origins and popularization of these new representations in the art and literature of the Harlem Renaissance and how they became an ambiguous symbol of racial uplift constraining African American womanhood in the early twentieth century.

In this engaging narrative, the author uses the writings of Nella Larsen and Jessie Fauset as well as the work of artists like Archibald Motley and William H. Johnson to illuminate the centrality of the mulatta by examining a variety of competing arguments about race in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Mulatta and the Politics of Race

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2009-09-01 04:01Z by Steven

The Mulatta and the Politics of Race

University Press of Mississippi
272 pages
bibliography, index
ISBN: 157806676X (9781578066766)

Teresa C. Zackodnik, Professor of English
University of Alberta, Canada

An analysis of how black women used the mulatta figure to contest racial barriers.

From abolition through the years just before the civil rights struggle began, African American women recognized that a mixed-race woman made for a powerful and, at times, very useful figure in the battle for racial justice.

The Mulatta and the Politics of Race traces many key instances in which black women have wielded the image of a racially mixed woman to assault the color line.  In the oratory and fiction of black women from the late 1840s through the 1950s, Teresa C. Zackodnik finds the mulatta to be a metaphor of increasing potency.

Before the Civil War white female abolitionists created the image of the “tragic mulatta,” caught between races, rejected by all. African American women put the mulatta to diverse political use.  Black women used the mulatta figure to invoke and manage American and British abolitionist empathy and to contest racial stereotypes of womanhood in the postbellum United States.  The mulatta aided writers in critiquing the “New Negro Renaissance” and gave writers leverage to subvert the aims of mid-twentieth-century mainstream American culture.

The Mulatta and the Politics of Race focuses on the antislavery lectures and appearances of Ellen Craft and Sarah Parker Remond, the domestic fiction of Pauline Hopkins and Frances Harper, the Harlem Renaissance novels of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen, and the little-known 1950s texts of Dorothy Lee Dickens and Reba Lee.  Throughout, the author discovers the especially valuable and as yet unexplored contributions of these black women and their uses of the mulatta in prose and speech.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,