White Supremacy in Children's Literature: Characterizations of African Americans, 1830-1900

By Donnarae MacCann | Go to book overview

Chapter Two

Sociopolitical and Artistic Dimensions of Abolitionist Tales

The most active abolitionist period in American history, approximately 1830-1865, has been extensively examined by historians, but not in relation to children’s literature. There are two parts of that history that have particular relevance to books for the young: the religious background of the movement and the political concerns that gave focus to abolitionist goals. These have meaning for the children’s book historian because authors writing for young people during this period were typically explicit about their religious and democratic aims. Children were to come away from their story hours with rekindled godliness and patriotic fervor.

The religious and political contexts of the era shed light upon why children’s books contained ambivalent messages about slaves and emancipation. This chapter focuses on these contexts, as well as upon the narrative conventions that influenced the shape of the messages. The overall theme that emerges is that spiritual and human concerns produced a unique antislavery dynamism; however, the egalitarian commitment was undercut by condescension toward people of color. Moreover, that conviction of superiority had an impact upon what the stories were like in a formalistic sense.

To a present-day reader, the early-nineteenth-century literature appears exceedingly superficial, perhaps because the themes were presented more as preachments than as part of lived experience. Black emancipation was handled without sufficient depth. The ambivalence of the message was due in part to the White abolitionists’ social agenda, and to historic religious changes in particular. According to Anne C. Loveland, the new, nineteenth-century intellectual mix was primarily the result of a shift in religious thought. 1 The

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White Supremacy in Children's Literature: Characterizations of African Americans, 1830-1900
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • A Note on Usage xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Notes xxxii
  • Part One - The Antebellum Years 1
  • Chapter One - Ambivalent Abolitionism 3
  • Chapter Two - Sociopolitical and Artistic Dimensions of Abolitionist Tales 25
  • Chapter Three - Personal and Institutional Dimensions 47
  • Part Two - The Postbellum Years 81
  • Chapter Four - Children’s Fiction 83
  • Notes 118
  • Chapter Five - The Social/Political Context 123
  • Chapter Six - Literary Lives 155
  • Notes 182
  • Chapter Seven - Postwar Institutions 185
  • Chapter Eight - Literary Methods and Conventions 211
  • Chapter Nine - Conclusion 233
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 261
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