The South in Black and White: Race, Sex, and Literature in the 1940s

The South in Black and White: Race, Sex, and Literature in the 1940s

by McKay Jenkins


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If the nation as a whole during the 1940s was halfway between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the postwar prosperity of the 1950s, the South found itself struggling through an additional transition, one bound up in an often violent reworking of its own sense of history and regional identity. Examining the changing nature of racial politics in the 1940s, McKay Jenkins measures its impact on white Southern literature, history, and culture.

Jenkins focuses on four white Southern writers—W. J. Cash, William Alexander Percy, Lillian Smith, and Carson McCullers—to show how they constructed images of race and race relations within works that professed to have little, if anything, to do with race. Sexual isolation further complicated these authors' struggles with issues of identity and repression, he argues, allowing them to occupy a space between the privilege of whiteness and the alienation of blackness. Although their views on race varied tremendously, these Southern writers' uneasy relationship with their own dominant racial group belies the idea that "whiteness" was an unchallenged, monolithic racial identity in the region.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807847770
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 09/20/1999
Edition description: 1
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

McKay Jenkins teaches journalism and American literature at the University of Delaware. He is editor of The Peter Matthiessen Reader and also has written a natural history of avalanches

Table of Contents

Introduction: Whatever Else the True American Is, He Is Also Somehow Black
Chapter 1. Moving among the Living as Ghosts: A Historical Overview
Chapter 2. Private Violence Desirable: Race, Sex, and Sadism in Wilbur J. Cash's The Mind of the South
Chapter 3. Men of Honor and Pygmy Tribes: Metaphors of Race and Cultural Decline in William Alexander Percy's Lanterns on the Levee
Chapter 4. I Know the Fears by Heart: Segregation as Metaphor in the Work of Lillian Smith
Chapter 5. The Sadness Made Her Feel Queer: Race, Gender, and the Grotesque in the Early Writings of Carson McCullers
Conclusion: Thirteen Ways of Looking at Whiteness

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Jenkins offers some perceptive analyses. . . . He shows how issues of race are never that far from the surface in American books, and Southern ones in particular.—Times Literary Supplement

An intelligent discussion of the way the subject of race has dominated white southern expression.—The Journal of American History

[This book] should be bought, discussed, argued about, and taught.—Journal of Southern History

McKay Jenkins offers a fresh understanding of the psychosocial tensions that crippled white Southerners for so long, and which indeed have haunted the entire nation, as Toni Morrison so persuasively argues in Playing in the Dark. Cash, Percy, Smith, and McCullers are all important chroniclers of their region's hidden life in the pre-Civil Rights twentieth century, and they have not previously been seen in this kind of rewarding conjunction. Especially refreshing is the complexity of Jenkins's arguments, with their resistance to doctrinaire theoretical positions.—Louise Westling, University of Oregon

[An] erudite and thought-provoking book.—Newark Star-Ledger

Lillian Smith's arresting analysis of the ways in which the 'drug of whiteness' functioned in the Southern past is brilliantly contextualized in this exciting book. Concentrating on Smith and three other white antiracist writers, Jenkins explores the ways in which they struggled to capture the terrible effects of racism in suppressing awareness of misery among whites, even as they fought and narcotized their own demons by thinking through race.—David R. Roediger, University of Minnesota

This thoroughly researched book enters the contemporary literary and cultural discussion in an up-to-date, highly relevant fashion which makes it central to modern studies of race, sex, and culture in Southern literature.—Virginia Quarterly Review

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