Criticism and the Color Line: Desegregating American Literary Studies

By Henry B. Wonham | Go to book overview
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rial one: both depend on persuasive speech's emancipating power. Madison's liberatory strategy reflects Douglass's rendition of the slave who counters his master's arguments about the peculiar institution and persuades his master to grant him his freedom in Douglass first formal primer, "The Columbian Orator." Each of the narratives and the novella he writes during what I call "Douglass's decade" seeks to convert whites through language that touches their core and compels them to work for abolition. Douglass offers affectional means of relation, voice, and sentiment as the medium for change.

Sentimental abolition is an important critical category because it names the models and mechanisms of domesticity that inform, but are not limited to, moral suasion. Domestic ideology's influence--which is not simply contained in the bodies and presences of women--provides the weft between sentiment and standing, between the fraternal and the feminized. Moreover, in antislavery writings that deal with the erotically charged representations of Black bodies engaged in transracial relations, affectional discourse acts as a catalyst for further sexualization, whether the object of desire be a man or a woman, whether the subject of desiring be a woman or a man.


At the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, I would like to thank the Center for African- American and African Studies (CAAS) for the fellowship that allowed me to research and write this paper. The University of Chicago's CAAS invited me to present an earlier draft, and I appreciate the helpful feedback I received. I would also like to thank Arthur Aubin Saint-Flannigan, Tyler Steben and especially Jacqueline Goldsby and Eric C. Williams for their useful suggestions at the final stages of this piece.

Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom ( New York: Dover, 1969). All subsequent Douglass quotations are cited as follows: MB: My Bondage and My Freedom; N: The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, ed. Houston Baker ( New York: Penguin Books, 1982); HS: "The Heroic Slave" in Three Classic African-American Novels, ed. William L. Andrews ( New York: Mentor, 1990).
See William Andrews, "My Bondage and My Freedom and the American Literary Renaissance of the 1850s," in Critical Essays on Frederick Douglass, ed. William Andrews ( Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1991), 133-147; Eric J. Sundquist, ed., Frederick Douglass: New Literary, and Historical Essays ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass ( New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1991).
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin ( 1852; rpt. New York: Macmillan, 1962). Subsequent references are cited UTC within the text. Slave narrators in the fifties often make explicit reference to Uncle Tom or to Stowe. Solomon Northup's 1853 narrative is dedicated to Stowe. "The Heroic Slave" and A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin also appear in the same year. Harriet Beecher Stowe, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1969); J. Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave ( Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968).
I refer most recently to Richard Yarborough, Eric Sundquist, and William Andrews. The latter two lament that Douglass's second narrative has been largely overlooked, and


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