In the Master's Eye: Representations of Women, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Antebellum Southern Literature

Synopsis

This book explores the way in which literature can be used to reinforce social power. Through rigorous readings of a series of antebellum plantation novels, Susan J. Tracy shows how the narrative strategies employed by proslavery Southern writers served to justify and perpetuate the oppression of women, blacks, and poor whites. Tracy focuses on the historical romances of six authors: George Tucker, James Ewell Heath, William Alexander Caruthers, John Pendleton Kennedy, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, and William Gilmore Simms. Using variations on a recurring plot - in which a young planter/hero rescues a planter's daughter from an "enemy" of her class - each of these novelists reinforced an idealized vision of a Southern civilization based on male superiority, white supremacy, and class inequality. It is a world in which white men are represented as the natural leaders of loyal and dependent women, grateful and docile slaves, and inferior poor whites. According to Tracy, the interweaving of these themes reveals the extent to which the Southern defense of slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War was an argument not only about race relations but about gender and class relations as well.