DIRTY LITTLE PRETTY: CONSTRUCTIONS OF RACE AND CLASS THROUGH THE FIGURE OF THE BLACK CHILD IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AFRICAN-AMERICAN LITERATURE
Hopkins, Paula Elizabeth
Merish, Lori A
This project examines the under-theorized figure of the free black child in Harriet Wilson's Our Nig and Frank J. Webb's The Garies and Their Friends. While foregrounding the figure of the free black child, I also use, as points of contradistinction, Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, to discuss the rhetoric surrounding black childhood in these texts as an absence or negation. Moving from enslavement to freedom, I propose that representations of the free black child in nineteenth-century African-American texts critiques the idea of childhood as a time of innocence and the innocence of whiteness, as well as notions of freedom, citizenship, and inclusion. I contend that the manner in which the black children in these texts attract mentors and patronage and subsequently, gain socioeconomic mobility, occurs through moments of abjection, pain and suffering. I question what this seemingly racialized dynamic might indicate, in terms of the efficacy of benevolence and inclusion in the American story of upward mobility. And, drawing from Judith Butler's theorization of the potential for disruption through the constitutive-exclusion, I question whether the free black child, made abject through her occupation of the mutually informing sites of childhood, blackness and domestic labor, acts as a disruptive figure through which these authors gain agency.
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