Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930 by Michele Birnbaum

By Michele Birnbaum

Race, paintings and hope analyses literary representations of labor relationships around the colour-line from the mid-nineteenth century to the early 20th century. Michele Birnbaum examines inter-racial bonds in fiction and literary correspondence via black and white authors and artists - together with Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E. W. Harper, W. D. Howells, Grace King, Kate Chopin, Langston Hughes, Amy Spingarn and Carl Van Vechten - exploring the way in which servants and employers, medical professionals and sufferers, and consumers and artists negotiate their racial variations for creative and political ends. Situating those relationships in literary and cultural context, Birnbaum argues that the literature finds the complexity of cross-racial family within the office, which, even supposing frequently represented as an oasis of racial concord, is in reality the very web site the place race politics are such a lot fiercely engaged. This research productively complicates present debates approximately cross-racial collaboration in American literary and race reviews, and should be of curiosity to students in either literary and cultural reviews.

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Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930

Race, paintings and hope analyses literary representations of labor relationships around the colour-line from the mid-nineteenth century to the early 20th century. Michele Birnbaum examines inter-racial bonds in fiction and literary correspondence by means of black and white authors and artists - together with Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E.

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Lincoln sold her presidential finery and clothes in 1867 in order to pay off her notorious debt of $70,000 to seamstresses, milliners, and shopkeepers, Keckley – as her dressmaker – risked appearing vicariously responsible for the scandal. Readers of Keckley’s expos´e, it turned out, did not hold her responsible for her patron’s weaknesses; nevertheless, her narrative had a unanimously hostile reception on all political sides. Attempting to explain why both erstwhile abolitionists and secessionists alike condemned her, James Olney has limned the complex rhetorical angling involved in “writing within, and simultaneously against”2 the literary tradition of Southern apologism in the postbellum era.

The black men are in sexual relations with white women, but their intimacy is always informed by historical racial and class differences. As her chauffeur, Bigger shares “seesaw” relations with Mary, a debutante and political dilettante, in Native Son: “never were they on a common level; either he or she was up in the air” (72). In Light in August Joe is Joanna’s lover but symbolically turned into a “slave” serving (and servicing) his “mistress” (247), who eventually leaves meals for him in the kitchen like “food set out for a nigger” (263) and sends notes no longer of “rich and unmentionable delights” but with orders “more terse than commands” (263).

An idol . . a demi-god” (190). What sympathetic feminine reciprocity exists is linked to her allegiance to her race rather than to her employer, Keckley explains, because Mrs. Lincoln was the wife of the President, “the man who had done so much for her race,” and thus she “could refuse to do nothing for her” (269). Racial sympathy is cautiously extended to Mrs. Lincoln by other African Americans for similar reasons. Although Mrs. Lincoln recognizes that “most of the good feeling regarding her straitened circumstances proceeds from the colored people” (Keckley, Behind The Scenes, 35), the letters from Frederick Douglass and Henry Garnet reveal the extent to which they, too, distanced themselves from a cause that might prove “ridiculous” (319) and jeopardize the pressing interests of the race.

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