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Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature

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Overview

The portrayal of black men in our national literature is controversial, complex, andoften contradictory. In Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature, Jeffrey B. Leak identifies some of the long-held myths and stereotypes that persist in the work of black writers from the nineteenth century to the present?intellectual inferiority, criminality, sexual prowess, homosexual emasculation, and cultural deprivation. Utilizing Robert B. Stepto?s call-and-response theory, Leak studies four pairs of ...

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Overview

The portrayal of black men in our national literature is controversial, complex, andoften contradictory. In Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature, Jeffrey B. Leak identifies some of the long-held myths and stereotypes that persist in the work of black writers from the nineteenth century to the present?intellectual inferiority, criminality, sexual prowess, homosexual emasculation, and cultural deprivation. Utilizing Robert B. Stepto?s call-and-response theory, Leak studies four pairs of novels within the context of certain myths, identifying the literary tandems between them and seeking to discover the source of our culture?s psychological preoccupation with black men.Calling upon interdisciplinary fields of study?literary theory, psychoanalysis, genderstudies, legal theory, and queer theory?Leak offers groundbreaking analysis of bothcanonical texts (representing the ?call? of the call-and-response dyad) and texts by emerging writers (representing the ?response?), including Frederick Douglass and CharlesJohnson; Ralph Ellison and Brent Wade; Richard Wright and Ernest J. Gaines; and ToniMorrison and David Bradley. Though Leak does not claim that the ?response? texts aresuperior to the ?call? texts, he does argue that, in some cases, the newer work?such asCharles Johnson?s Oxherding Tale?can address a theme or offer a narrative innovationnot found in preceding texts, such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In these instances, argues Leak, the newer texts constitute not only a response to the call text, but a substantial revision.Leak offers the first in-depth criticism of black masculinity in a range of literarytexts. In a final chapter, he expands his discussion to the emerging field of black masculinity studies, pointing to future directions for study, including memoir, film, drama, and others. Poised on the brink of exciting new trends in scholarship, Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature is a flagship work, enhancing the understanding of literary constructions of black masculinity and the larger cultural imperatives to which these writers are reacting.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781572333574
  • Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2005
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey B. Leak is associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is the editor of Rac(e)ing to the Right: Selected Essays of George S. Schuyler.

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Table of Contents

Prologue : the power of myth and stereotype
Ch. 1 A crisis in the male spirit : slavery, masculinity, and the myth of black inferiority in Charles Johnson's Oxherding tale and Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass 1
Ch. 2 A conflict between the ideological and the biological : the myth of black sexual prowess in Brent Wade's Company man and Ralph Ellison's Invisible man 29
Ch. 3 I want him to be a man : incarceration and the myth of black criminality in Ernest J. Gaines's A lesson before dying and Richard Wright's Native son 59
Ch. 4 It's time you learned the truth about a few things : masculinity and the myth of cultural depravation in David Bradley's The Chaneysville incident and Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon 91
Epilogue : directions for future scholarship in the analysis of black masculinities 133
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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    images of black men in black literature

    By making comparisons between four pairs of literary works by black authors, Leak (associate professor of English at U. of North Carolina-Charlotte) illustrates the multifaceted image and analysis of black men in the literature. Mainly, he shows that the image is not as rigid or stereotypical-like as has been assumed. The author shows that there is a complexity and elasticity to the portrayals which disclose an often-overlooked or dismissed humanity and offer avenues from the situation of inferiority and vulnerability from the historical circumstances of slavery, oppression, and prejudice suffered by black men who like their white counterparts, were nonetheless expected to be the primary supporters of families and when circumstances warranted, face obstacles heroically until they were overcome. But it wasn't that simple for black men, who were never given much power, respect, or acceptance to be able to take on such roles. Leak's is a revealing and thought-provoking study bringing the contemporary interest in men's studies to black men in particular as they have been portrayed in the eight literary works having a significant role in the creation of their image. Among the four pairs of works are 'Oxherding Tale' by Charles Johnson and 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas' and 'The Chaneysville Incident' by David Bradley and Toni Morrison's 'Song of Solomon.'

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