The Word in Black and White: Reading Race in American Literature, 1638-1867 / Edition 1

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Dana Nelson provides a study of the ways in which Anglo-American authors constructed "race" in their works from the time of the first British colonists through the period of the Civil War. She focuses on some eleven texts, ranging from widely-known to little-considered, that deal with the relations among Native, African, and Anglo-Americans, and places her readings in the historical, social, and material contexts of an evolving U.S. colonialism and internal imperialism. Nelson shows how a novel such as The Last of the Mohicans sought to reify the Anglo historical past and simultaneously suggested strategies that would serve Anglo-Americans against Native Americans as the frontier pushed farther west. Concluding her work with a reading of Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Nelson shows how that text undercuts the racist structures of the pre-Civil War period by positing a revised model of sympathy that authorizes alternative cultural perspectives and requires Anglo-Americans to question their own involvement with racism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] thoughtful, well-researched, and provocative study....Serves admirably as a primer for reading constructions of race in a variety of primary texts across a significant range of genres in early American literary and cultural history."—William and Mary Quarterly

"Timely....An exemplary work of cultural history and literary criticism....A sophisticated authoritative book valuable to specialists and advanced students."—Choice

"Nelson's well-written book exemplifies the effective use of literary theory. Her analyses of how seemingly opposed statements can support a shared agenda, or of how a single text can simultaneously critique and support a colonialist agenda should become touchstones for future discussions of race in American literature....Nelson's analysis is consistently enlightening and provocative....There is no better book on her subject."—Journal of the Early Republic

"Very interesting and important new look at some old problems in the literary canon and its effects."—Eileen Oliver, Washington State University

"This is a bold and valuable work that deserves the attention of anyone interested in American literature....Nelson's own voice is an important one in American literature and her words deserve serious attention."—Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"Nelson provides the reader with some valuable and stimulating perceptions which will no doubt lead to much more discourse on the subject of race in our critical literature."—MELUS

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195089271
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/28/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Dana D. Nelson is Associate Professor of English at Louisiana State University. She is the editor of the Oxford edition of Rebecca Rush's Kelroy.

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Table of Contents

1. An Uncommon Need: "Race" in Early American Literature 3
2. Economies of Morality and Power: Reading "Race" in Two Colonial Texts 22
3. Romancing the Border: Bird, Cooper, Simms, and the Frontier Novel 38
4. W/Righting History: Sympathy as Strategy in Hope Leslie and A Romance of the Republic 65
5. Ethnocentrism Decentered: Colonial Motives in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym 90
6. "For the Gaze of the Whites": The Crisis of the Subject in "Benito Cereno" 109
7. "Read the Characters, Question the Motives": Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl 131
Notes 147
Bibliography 169
Index 185
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