Criticism and the Color Line: Desegregating American Literary Studies

By Henry B. Wonham | Go to book overview

excursions into unknown cultural forms or of the critical reconstructions they can inspire. Such works are, it seems to me, indispensable resources in the effort to articulate substantial cultural revision and thus to assist the future in its coming.


Notes
1.
Steven A. Holmes, New York Times News Service, in The Oregonian, February 2, 1994, p. A16.
2.
If not a boy, then we have what might be called an "unauthorized account." The terms and implications change, as do the narrative strategies and generic conventions that amount to experiments in making sense of the conflicting terms involved.
3.
Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery ( 1901, rep. New York: Lancer Books, 1968), pp. 171-172.
4.
Peter Carafiol, The American Ideal: Literary History as a Worldly Activity ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
5.
William C. Spengemann most recently discusses the implications of "America" for developments in English language and literature in A New World of Words: Redefining Early American Literature ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994). That work enforces the point that the narrative characteristics I am describing have, for a long time, been famously associated with romantic writing in general, a point which, as Spengemann shows, suggests that "American" narratives are not confined within the nation's boundaries or to the citizenry of the United States, but are a world-wide response to post-Medieval conditions, prominent among them the idea of a "New World." The other direction in which this cuts is to expand, as I try to do here, the horizon of texts to which the writing conventionally considered ethnic may be connected. Even the insistence of such writing on its own difference--especially that insistence--is not different.
6.
See my earlier essays, "After American Literature," American Literary, History 4 (Fall 1992): 539-549, and "Changing the World: The Rhetoric of Revisionism," ADE Bulletin (Spring 1992): 61-68.
7.
Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick ( 1867; rep. New York: Collier, 1962).
8.
Ibid., p. 2.
9.
Ibid., p. 55.
10.
For a discussion of the problems of imagining an identity around some affirmative model of poverty, see John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1993), p. 13.
11.
Alger, Ragged Dick, p. 72.
12.
Ibid., p. 58.
13.
Ibid., p. 145.
14.
Washington, Up from Slavery. p. 10.
15.
Ibid., p. 120.
16.
Richard Wright, Native Son ( 1940; rep. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1966).
17.
Ibid., p. 31.
18.
Ibid., p. 44.
19.
Ibid., p. 67-68.
20.
Ibid., p. 123.
21.
The murder of Bessie, which many readers would see as intentional and thus inconsistent with the portrait of Bigger I am sketching here, seems to me, on the contrary, the most inescapable example of Bigger's hopeless position, trapped between incompatible

-61-

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