Reforming Fictions: Native, African, and Jewish American Women's Literature and Journalism in the Progressive Era

By Carol J. Batker | Go to book overview

4
“An ‘Honest-to-God’ American”
Patriotism, Foreignness, and Domesticity in
Jessie Fauset's Fiction

Jessie Fauset's literary politics draw on journalism during and after World War I to represent a historical crisis over integration among elite African Americans. 1 Specifically, her novels combine discourses of Americanism with a conflicted domesticity to negotiate increasing racism in the United States. Employing a rhetoric of patriotism and “foreignness,” Fauset's fiction argues against exclusion from U.S. society and aims to establish her characters as citizens deserving political rights. Fauset engages in a sophisticated conversation, playing with journalistic discourses that are already dialogic. Her embrace of Americanism does not come at the expense of protest, just as her embrace of bourgeois domesticity does not wholly support white middle-class hegemony. Unlike the relatively straightforward wartime literary propaganda written by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Fauset's integrationist politics combine controversies over patriotism with bourgeois domesticity to weigh individual against group rights and to join debates over the place of African Americans in U.S. society.

Fauset saw herself as a “race woman,” involved in the politics of racial uplift which, at its best, argued for a collective response to U.S. racism but which too often adopted white middle-class values and culture to argue for positions of equality in U.S. society (Sylvander, 40, 67; Wall, 43, 50; Gaines, 1–3). When historian Willard Gatewood

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