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AfriGeneas World Research Forum

The "white" to pass:...


The "white" to pass: Miscegenation, mimicry, and masquerade in Chesnutt, Johnson, Larsen, and Faulkner

Thompson, Carlyle Van. Proquest Dissertations And Theses 1997. Section 0054, Part 0591 404 pages; [Ph.D. dissertation].United States -- New York: Columbia University; 1997. Publication Number: AAT 9809790.

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation examines the too often paradoxical phenomenon of black individuals passing for white in American literature. By focusing on four novels of the first third of the twentieth century, it argues that black individuals assuming a white identity represent a paradox, in that passing for white represents a challenge to the hegemonic ideology of biological white supremacy. Yet these individuals who pass for white also represent the denial of blackness in terms of their family, history, and culture. I examine the issues of "race," gender, class, and law in the literature of passing involving the tropes of miscegenation, mimicry, and masquerade. The dynamics of skin color, hair texture, and language are equally critical to my examination. These three dynamics suggest how interracial conflict produces, perpetuates, and propagates intraracial conflict.

The narratives of passing examined here are
Charles Waddell Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars (1900),
James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912), Nella Larsen's Passing (1929), and
William Faulkner's Light in August (1932).
The theoretical works of Frantz Fanon, Ralph Ellison, Jacques Lacan, bell hooks, Patricia Williams, Marjorie Garber, and Judith Butler form the basis for my critical examination.

These four novels of black individuals assuming a white identity reveal that the too often tragic and comic performance of passing occurs not because of self-hatred, but because of America's inherently racist society and the need for economic survival. Further, the literature of passing suggests the larger issues of national identity formation in America. More often than not to be an American (too often meaning white) inherently means to pass--giving up one's culture, language, and history. Thus black individuals who pass for white become tragically and comically characterized as outsiders having the illusion of inclusion


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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