Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race

Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race

Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race

Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race

Synopsis

Edgar Allan Poe's strength as a writer lay in fabricating fantisies in settings far removed from his own place and time. This dislocation renders the attitudes embedded in his fiction open to interpretation, and over the years some readers have found Poe to be virulently racist, while others found him morally conflicted, and still others detected a subversion of racism in his works' subtle sympathies for non-white characters. As a nineteenth-century Southerner, Poe was a deeply ambiguous figure, evading race issues while living among them, and traversing the North-South border with little sensitivity to its political implications. In this tightly organized volume, a handful of leading Americanists revisit the Poe issue, re-examining what it means to speak of an author and his work as racist, and where the critic's responsibility lies.

Excerpt

Such recent events as the torching of black churches across the South, the hate crime in Jasper, Texas, and threatening, anonymous letters to the heads of minority colleges and universities remind us that racial differences continue to stir fear and loathing in a republic dedicated to “liberty and justice for all.” The monstrous paradox embedded in the Declaration of Independence and incompletely resolved by the Civil War haunts the millennial United States with a long legacy of injustice and resentment. In Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Derrick Bell has expressed the bleak conclusion that racism is an “integral, permanent, and indestructible component” of American society (ix), and observers such as journalist Carl Rowan have predicted a latter-day “race war.” Ostensibly to curb racism, some public officials have called for the elimination of ethnic and racial legal categories and the dismantling of programs such as affirmative action. Labeling efforts to achieve a “color-blind” democracy as misguided, however, Michael Eric Dyson has asserted that “we cannot overcome the history of racial oppression in our nation without understanding and addressing the subtle, subversive ways race continues to poison our lives” (223–24). Dyson insists that “because skin, race, and color have in the past been the basis for social inequality, they must play a role in righting the wrongs on which our society has been built,” and he urges Americans to “strive for a society where each receives his or her just due . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.