Criticism and the Color Line: Desegregating American Literary Studies

By Henry B. Wonham | Go to book overview

The Politics of Mourning: Cultural Grief-Work from Frederick Douglass to Fanny Fern

In the mid- nineteenth century, the figure of the mourner carried powerful cultural resonances. Familiar icons of mourning art channelled grief into recognizable and controllable patterns, defining it as one of the most "natural" human feelings. Representations of mourners draped over coffins or tombs appealed to people who needed reassuring postures in an age of high mortality rates. The domestication of mourning--in new "garden" cemeteries, ritualized patterns of dress, and popular narratives--gave a comfortable structure to encounters with death. This process is particularly evident in the imagery associated with the female mourner, who was transformed into a powerful cultural emblem.1 In numerous finishing schools, girls were taught how to compose mourning pictures and samplers-training that imprinted on them the image of the female mourner as the natural signifier of grief. One widespread emblem was modeled upon an engraving by James Akin and William Farrison Jr., entitled "America Lamenting Her Loss at the Tomb of General Washington." Beneath a weeping willow, a grieving woman leans against a pyramid emblazoned with the bust of Washington.2 Both the drapery and posture of the female mourner suggest grief but also total submission to an absent (yet omnipresent) male authority. Such images remind us that mourning represented a major transition in most adult women's lives, since widows--who often lost their primary means of financial support-- were ecomically vulnerable.

In many ways, the mourner is an ideal figure for a writer bent on expressing his or her sense of personal damage and loss. Mimicking a culturally sanctioned role, it can be used to blur the distinction between grief occasioned by specific deaths and a more general sense of pain motivated by the awareness of being oppressed. Through images of mourning, women writers could parody everyday postures of grief, seeming to promise a continuing subservience at the same time they indicated specific areas of oppression and discontent. According to Lauren Berlant, such a literary position, manifested in "modes of containment," was typical of nineteenth-century women's writing. Disguising social critique beneath a mask of "sentimentality," numerous women writers used apparently artless representations of "feminine" feeling to express "complaint" and "injury."3

One of the most familiar, and yet functional, images of female feeling was that of mourning. Traditionally, Juliana Schiesari argues, men have had greater access than women to the public representation of loss--most notably through

-95-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Criticism and the Color Line: Desegregating American Literary Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
/ 300

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.