A rule of thumb


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A rule of thumb objectivity, racial classification and the politics of genre
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vi, 286 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Hardwig, William
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2000.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 274-285).
Statement of Responsibility:
by William Hardwig.
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University of Florida
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First, I would like to thank David Leverenz. Without David's willingness to read

all my misled ideas and to provide suggestions for their improvement, this project would

never have come together. He also gave me invaluable assistance in tightening up and

refining my ideas once they were slightly less misled. I thank the other members of my

committee Pamela Gilbert, Debra King, Louise Newman, and Stephanie Smith for

challenging me to see the bigger picture behind my work. John Van Hook helped me find

my way around the literary databases at the library. I am grateful to the people at the

Charles Chesnutt Special Collection at Fisk University for all their assistance during my

week at Fisk. And, finally, I'd like to thank Peggy, who helped me edit and rethink this

project at times, and helped me forget all about it at others. Peggy has shared many a

celebratory drink as a result of this project, and a fair amount of consolatory ones as well.

I'm not sure which group tasted better.


ACKNOW LEDGMENTS ................................................ ii

ABSTRACT ....................................................... v


IN TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY AMERICA ........................... 1

Once Upon a Time: The Fictionalization of Science ....................... 5
Sticks, Stones, and Names: The Metaphor of Race ....................... 14
What's In a Name?: Genre and the Politics of Race ...................... 22
"I'm Not Racist, Honest": The Politics of Interpretation ................... 27

IRONY AND THE MISCEGENATION TABOO ...................... 33

A "Trace" of Fear: Mark Twain and the Logic of Miscegenation ............ 39
Stitching Up the Seams: Hopkins' Mending of the Reputation
of Black Women ...................... .................. 51
Irony-ing Out the Difference: Pauline Hopkins' Scientific "Specimens" ...... 60
The Sticky Residue of Blood: Hopkins, Miscegenation and Pan-Africanism .. 73
Happy Endings?: Narrative Closure and the Comforts of Race ............. 89

ROLE OF LITERATURE ................. .................... 93

The Science of Difference: Empirical "Truth" and Racial Classification ...... 99
The Manly Scribblers: Art and the Projection of Manhood ................ 106
Publish or Perish: Racial Prejudgement and the Publishing Community ..... 112
No, No Do It Like This: White Authors and the "Race Problem" ......... 135
Where Do We Go From Here?: Chesnutt and Literary Tradition(s) ......... 139

READING PUBLIC ................... ....................... 144

"You Can't Handle the Truth": Fiction and the Planes of Reality ........... 150
Reforming the Truth: Sociology and Philanthropy ...................... 154
The "True" Beauty of Art: The Transcendence of Culture ................ 162
Getting High on Art, or "Tears, Idle Tears": The Aesthetics
of Literary Evaluation ..................... ............... 167
Accessing the "Female Within": DuBois and the African
American Sentimental Tradition ............................ 188
And They Live Happily Ever After?: Sentimental Conclusions ............ 197

RECONSTRUCTION JUSTICE ................................... 200

My Name is Everything I Own: Tourg6e and the Property of Reputation ..... 207
Sneaky Justice: Chesnutt and the Aesthetics of Subversion ............... 218
The Same Difference: Chesnutt, Tourg6e, and the Plessy Decision ......... 234
Keeping It Real or Making Romance: The Politics of Genre .............. 238
A Hero's Welcome (A Romantic Tale): Chesnutt and the Ideal
of Leadership ............................ ............. 250

AND THE HUMAN GENOME PROJECT .......................... 259

Stand By Me: Battling the "New Racism" ............................ 271

WORKS CITED .............. .... ............. ............... 274

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ......................... .............. 286

Abstract of a Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



William Hardwig

December 2000

Chairman: David Leverenz
Major Department: English

My dissertation examines the turn-of-the-century rhetoric of "truth" and

"objectivity" in relation to the era's obsession with racial definition and categorization.

Whether these definitions were based on biology, sociology, psychology or law; whether

they opposed or encouraged social equality; and whether they questioned the notion of

racial difference itself, they relied almost exclusively on a rhetoric of objectivity. My

project attempts to chart how writers of fiction Charles Chesnutt, W.E.B. DuBois,

Frances Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Mark Twain, and Albion Tourg6e borrowed,

amended, and rejected these varying notions of truth in order to give their own texts an

"objective" authority, particularly as this authority pertained to racial classification.

The claim that turn-of-the-century debates about race hinged on contested

definitions of truth is, in itself, no startling revelation. Scholars such as Hazel Carby,


George Fredrickson, Kevin Gaines, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stephen Jay Gould, Susan

Gillman, Sandra Gunning, Evelyn Higginbotham and Eric Lott, just to name a few, have

in recent decades contributed significantly to the project of documenting and historicizing

the racial dynamics of the period. Yet, the unique ways in which writers of fiction

marshal the rhetoric of objectivity to defend, resist, edit, or avoid contemporary racial

definitions remain largely unexplored. This study examines how different genres,

philosophies and methodologies of writing affect writers' conceptions and treatments of

racial "truth." The study also examines how access to privileged literary communities

such as publishing houses and magazines influences the negotiation of racial definitions,

how the rhetoric of objectivity can be used to manufacture as well as resist established

ideologies of racial difference, and how these negotiations adopt and amend

contemporary views of gender and class. By looking closely at the genres with which

various authors align themselves, I simultaneously demonstrate how different genres

often identify competing sites of authority and contrasting conceptions of Truth.


You and we are different races.... We have a broader difference than exists
between any other two races.
Abraham Lincoln in 1862, explaining to
black leaders his support of the removal
of African Americans to Africa

We must recognize race as providing sites of dialogic exchange and contestation,
since race has constituted a discursive tool for both oppression and liberation.
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

[S]lavery only dogs [the black artist] when he is denied the right to tell the Truth
or recognize the ideal of Justice... The white public today demands from its
artists, literary and pictorial, racial prejudgement which deliberately distorts
Truth and Justice, as far as colored races are concerned, and it will pay for no
W.E.B. DuBois'

This project examines the turn-of-the-century rhetoric of "truth" and "objectivity"

in relation to the era's obsession with racial definition and categorization. Whether they

were based on biology, sociology, psychology or law; whether they relied on polygenetic,

monogenetic or cultural theories of racial histories; whether they opposed or encouraged

social equality; and whether they questioned the notion of racial difference itself or not,

these definitions relied almost exclusively on a rhetoric of objectivity. This study charts

i Citations for the epigraph are as follows: 1) Henry Louis Gates, "Race," Writing and
Difference, pg. 3; 2) Evelyn Higginbotham, "African-American Women's History and the
Metalanguage of Race," pg. 252; 3) W.E.B. DuBois, "Criteria of Negro Art," pgs. 66-67.

how writers of fiction borrowed, amended, and rejected these varying notions of truth in

order to buttress their own texts with an "objective" authority.

The claim that turn-of-the-century debates about race hinged on contested

definitions of truth is in itself no startling revelation. Scholars such as Hazel Carby,

George Fredrickson, Kevin Gaines, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stephen Jay Gould, Susan

Gillman, Sandra Gunning, Evelyn Higginbotham, Eric Lott and Claudia Tate have in

recent decades contributed significantly to the project of documenting and historicizing

the racial dynamics of the period. Yet the unique ways in which writers of fiction

marshal the rhetoric of objectivity literarily in order to defend, resist, edit, or avoid

contemporary racial definitions remain largely unexplored. This study examines how

different literary genres and methodologies affect writers' conception and treatment of

racial "truth," how access to privileged literary communities, such as publishing houses

and magazines, influences the negotiation of racial definitions, how the rhetoric of

objectivity can be used to manufacture as well as resist established ideologies of

difference, and how these negotiations adopt and amend contemporary views of gender,

race, and class. By looking closely at the genres with which various authors align

themselves, I simultaneously demonstrate how different genres identify competing sites

of authority and contrasting conceptions of Truth.

Rather than simply exposing the biased logic of turn-of-the-century racist science

and/or literature and replacing it with a paradigm that espouses the social constructedness

of race, I interrogate what we mean by the "social construction" of race. Through this

interrogation I ultimately suggest that as many conflicts about race arise from competing

social definitions of race as arise from the clash between the belief in absolute biological

difference and a cultural model of race. When we look at the specific rhetoric

undergirding claims of the construction of racial identity and racial classification,

traditional alignments between the "good guys" those who work for progress in the

nation's racial dynamic by exposing the cultural basis of racial definition and the "bad

guys" those who depend upon a biological understanding of race in order to forward a

racist agenda begin to disappear, or at the very least, become extremely fuzzy.

Similarly, when we account for the multivalent rhetoric of racial classification, we can no

longer easily divide the literature into a "black" camp of progressive social agitators and a

"white" camp of oppressive social conservatives. With this said, my project also

maintains the belief that racial issues were often divided upon precisely these black and

white lines. For example, when examined through their reliance on the rhetoric of

objectivity, supposedly "progressive" white liberals exhibit many of the same

unexamined assumptions and beliefs as do their racist white counterparts, even as they

espouse conflicting values and ideas.

Although at times I deal with very fixed racial notions that resist our critical

interest in destabilizing and de-essentializing the "fact" of race, I do so intentionally and

for important reasons. First of all, this study's outlining and documenting of the racial

"truths" of the era stand in strict opposition to any belief that racial lines are rigidly fixed

or that there exists some essential "whiteness" or "blackness." At times, these racial lines

were maintained precisely to deflect attention from, and destabilize, class and gender

lines. In fact, DuBois noted in his sociological writings that race and racist propaganda

such as Dixon's The Clansman were often used to undermine cross-racial labor


movements a point he also makes in his novel The Quest of the Silver Fleece.2 Rather

than "correct" the errors in the definition of race that existed a century ago, this project

seeks to identify, chart and unravel the conflicting "attitudes" of racial difference in order

to understand "race" in a more historically complex manner.

Even as much of the nation's literature, legislation, and scientific research served

to segregate the races in predictable ways, when we look at the ideologies, politics, and

rhetoric behind racial definitions, traditional separations and alignments are no longer so

easily maintained. For example, while I discuss how black authors' publishing

possibilities were constrained severely by the era's dominant social and political powers

of the time and how established literary genres fail these writers, I also explore how

authors coming from different sides of the race debate often rely on a very similar rhetoric

of "truth." In this study, I juxtapose literary texts authored by black and white writers in

an attempt to redraw, or at least reconsider, how we understand the relationship among

the rhetoric of objectivity, genre, and the metaphor of racial difference.

2 In the chapter titled "The Cotton Mill" (a fitting title for a chapter principally about
labor issues), John Taylor, the white owner of the cotton mill, says to the all-white labor
union, "If you don't want to work, quit. There are plenty of others, white and black, who
want your jobs." DuBois continues, 'The mention of black people as competitors for
wages was like a red rag to a bull.... The result was curious. From two sides, from
landlord and white laborer, came renewed oppression of black men" (393). In this novel,
DuBois also invokes the African American protagonist Bles Alwyn's "manhood" in
stern opposition to the effete Southern aristocrat Harry Cresswell as a means of
destabilizing racial difference and establishing lines of difference along class and gender

Once Upon a Time: The Fictionalization of Science

Perhaps the best way to begin an examination of the rhetoric of racial difference is

to examine briefly two of the era's most provocative "race" novels, Thomas Dixon Jr.'s

The Clansman and Charles Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition. Even a cursory glance

at these novels' invocation of the specter of racial classification begins to illuminate how

writers used the rhetoric of objectivity in similar ways to advance very dissimilar ideas.

These novels' disparate histories of reception also reveal how ostensibly "objective"

aesthetic evaluations of literature often rely on what DuBois terms "racial prejudgement."

While these two texts were judged by the white literary community in terms of their

artistic qualities, these judgements both reflect and depend upon existing normative

notions of entrenched racial difference.

Dixon's enormously successful and frankly racist 1905 novel The Clansman

relied on two of the most inflammatory stereotypes fueling the turn-of-the-century racial

debates: the radical, "meddling," northern politician and the increasingly "uncontrollable"

Southern black man. Dixon presented both of these stock characters as threats to the

prosperity and stability of the "honest" white South. In order to give credence/legitimacy

to his romantic tale of the mythic rejuvenation of the Old South, Dixon leans on the era's

preoccupation with the scientific verification of racial difference. In The Clansman,

where Reconstruction and its carpetbag supporters principally the Northern

"Commoner" Austin Stoneman are mercilessly vilified, the African Americans gain

control of governmental positions, and immediately abuse their power. Predictably, given

Dixon's racist philosophies, as soon as the regulatory positions of power such as the

police chief and Mayor are occupied by African Americans, the white heroine of the

novel, Marion, is raped by "four black brutes," causing her and her mother to jump to

their death from the precipice aptly named Lover's Leap. When Ben Cameron finds the

house in mysterious silence and the women missing, he immediately searches the

premises. Dixon infuses the scene with a formulaic detective rhetoric, replete with

"scientific" clues:

At the house he could find no trace of the crime he had suspected. Every room
was in perfect order. He searched the yard carefully, and under the cedar by the
window he saw the barefoot tracks of a negro. The white man was never bor
who could make that track. The enormous heel projected backward, and in the
hollow of the instep where the dirt would scarcely be touched by an Aryan was the
deep wide mark of the African's flat foot. He carefully measured it, brought from
an outhouse a box, and fastened it over the spot. (309-10, emphasis added)

Here we see Dixon use the rhetoric of objectivity to forward a very biased racial agenda

in a supposedly unbiased manner. The crime is revealed, documented, and partially

solved by Ben's ability to discern the assailant's race. Once Ben's measurement of the

foot identifies the criminal as a black man, the text precludes the possibility of the scene

pointing to anything except a rape/murder. Furthermore, the footprint suggests not only

the identity of the attacker, but the barbarity of the African American race in general.

With the "deep wide mark of the African's foot," this clue becomes what one critic terms

a "monstrous sign of primitive physical development" (Gunning 34).

Of course one crucial difference between The Clansman and a traditional

detective plot is that in this novel the reader has already witnessed the crime, and has

identified the criminal, an African American named Gus. Therefore, rather than giving

the reader conventional clues concerning the crime, in this instance the detective and

scientific discourses serve to legitimate the suspicions of the guilt of black men to

"prove" absolute racial difference. Further following a detective style, Dixon introduces

a forensic expert, Dr. Cameron, into the scene. Here we see Dixon manipulate a

scientific discourse reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes in order to put a quantifiable

biological stamp on his desire to put African Americans "in their place."' After one

skeptic claims that "there is no trace of [the killer] here," Dr. Cameron uses a microscope

- with his "brilliant eyes [that] flashed with a mystic light" to examine the victims' eyes

so that he can see the imprint of the killer (the victims' last images) recorded on the

retinas of the deceased. Dr. Cameron explains, "Impressions remain in the brain like

words written on paper in invisible ink. So I believe of images in the eye if we can trace

them early enough. If no impression were made subsequently on the mother's eye by the

light of day, I believe the fire-etched record of this crime can yet be traced" (313,

emphasis added).

If the eyes are traditionally the windows to the soul, in this instance they are

literally the windows to the brain's memory or "records." Although what the microscopic

images reveal remains incomprehensible to the untrained eye Ben looks into the

microscope and sees "nothing" for Dr. Cameron they leave a scientific "record" that can

be used to document the crime and expose the criminal. Not surprisingly, he sees in Mrs.

Lenoir's eyes the "bestial figure of a Negro" (313). Here, we see Dixon adopting the

mantle of objective science in order to give credence to his use of a racist stereotype,

proving its veracity with scientific "Truth." Mrs. Lenoir ("the black" in French) becomes

3 It is quite possible that the connection to Sherlock Holmes is more than incidental.
Arthur Conan Doyle published his first story in 1887, and his most famous mysteries
were published in the two decades prior to The Clansman. The Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes was first published in 1891-2 and The Hound of the Baskervilles was published in
1901-2. Both books originally appeared serially in The Strand magazine.

the sacrificial victim to the terror of untethered blackness the image of the black rapist

is forever etched on her brain.4

Perhaps Dixon is here responding to arguments, such as those levied by Ida B.

Wells, that innocent African Americans have been lynched for fictitious crimes of rape

and murder. To counter this logic, he depicts the Ku Klux Klan as just, discerning, and

objective vigilantes rather than conniving and insecure tyrants. Instead of simply killing

Gus or any black man who is convenient, as white supremacists typically did during that

era, Dixon's Klan kidnaps Gus and takes him to their secret lair in order to further

"prove" his guilt.

Once again, in order to document the crime, Dixon relies on a scientific

methodology that implicitly advances his racial agenda. Dr. Cameron reemerges,

appearing like an "ancient alchemist ready to conduct some daring experiment in the

problem of life." Just as alchemists sought to transform commonplace materials into

valuable metals, Dr. Cameron will produce the most precious of treasures for the

incensed Ku Klux Klan members irrefutable proof of the guilt of a black rapist. He

informs the hooded audience of the case history: "His feet have been measured and they

exactly tally with the negro tracks found under the window of the Lenoir cottage... I will

not relate to you the scientific experiment which first fixed my suspicion of this man's

guilt. My witness could not confirm it, and it might not be to you credible" (321,

4 Interestingly, while le noir translates as "the black" or "blackness" (le is the definite
article for a masculine noun), the translation for "negro" is gender specific-le noir for a
male and la noire for a female. If we see her name as symbolizing an intrusive African
American presence, then we could say that not only does Dixon offer up Mrs. Lenoir's
white "purity" to the rapist, but her femininity as well. Her body is colonized by a black
male presence.


emphasis added). With this possible doubt still within the realm of reason (for Dixon the

Klan is eminently rational), Dr. Cameron turns to another form of scientific

documentation. With his "rigid gaze" he hypnotizes Gus, who confesses to the entire

crime, reenacting it to the horror of the audience. With this irrefutable evidence, the Klan

is free to kill the rapist with impunity and a clean conscience. Furthermore, when the

white aristocracy regains power of the town, Dixon is able to forward this usurpation as a

just and divine occurrence. After all, the town has systematically and fairly proven the

inability of African Americans to handle positions of authority.

As offensive and irrational as this tale strikes us today, much of the era's scientific

studies came to similar conclusions. Not surprisingly, such "scientific" indications of the

potential threat from African Americans became increasingly prevalent as, in the climate

of Reconstruction, African Americans began to assume positions of power. In his 1896

book Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro, Frederick Hoffman writes, "Rape is

only one of the many manifestations of an increasing tendency on the part of the negro to

misconstrue personalfreedom into personal license, and this tendency, persisted in, must

tend towards creating a wider separation of the races" (234, emphasis mine). Coming to a

conclusion very similar to Dixon's, Hoffman argues, with the support of a plethora of

statistical evidence, that African Americans remain incapable of responsibly handling

anything but subservience that they need to be controlled in order to maintain a

coherent social order.

In both The Clansman and Hoffman's social science, racial difference can be seen

clearly in qualitative terms, documenting the "superiority" of white blood. In these most

racist of books, science becomes an extremely useful tool. It records essential racial

difference, reveals the "essence" of African American males their uncontrollable

criminal and sexual desires and protects violent white supremacists from accusations of

wrongdoing. I have used this example illustratively in order to illuminate the intersection

of the rhetoric of objectivity and racial agenda. My project traces the manipulation of the

rhetoric of truth by members of disparate literary communities in order to reveal some of

the era's implicit and hidden notions of racial difference. I also suggest in the conclusion

that this rhetoric remains very prevalent today, and is used similarly to undergird

contemporary ideas of race. While Dixon's novel may seem kooky to us today, his logic

remains imminently and frighteningly popular and effective.

The Clansman built on the success of Dixon's earlier novel The Leopard's Spots

(1902), and garnered popularity due as much to its contentious topic as to its perceived

literary merits. An anonymous reviewer for a 1905 edition of the Bookman captured the

complex reception of Dixon's novel: "The Clansman may be summed up as a very poor

novel, a very ridiculous novel, not a novel at all, yet a novel with a great deal to it" (Clark

v). The comment suggests some of the tensions my project explores. How can a novel be

simultaneously a "very poor novel" and "a novel with a great deal to it"? In this instance,

the reviewer seems to be making a distinction between the craft (execution) of the novel

and its message (politics). While Dixon relied on familiar generic formulae commonly

associated with melodrama, such as peerless heroes and "pure" heroines, sentimental

marriages, and the intrigue of a mysterious murder, he also touched the raw nerve center

of the nation's fears and insecurities about the "race problem." His use of

romance/melodrama only intensified this irritation of the nerve center, since the crude and

violent racial clash stood out against the ancillary plot about the genteel union through

two aristocratic marriages of the South and a sympathetic North.

If The Clansman has interest for us today, its chief value may be in its fusion of a

"moonlight and roses" melodrama with a vicious race hatred. While this combination

seems odd, it reveals much about the era's racial Zeitgeist. Though the novel was not

considered a literary masterpiece by its reviewers, neither was it considered particularly

inappropriate or offensive to an alarmingly large percentage of the nation's white

population "liberal" and "conservative." U.S. Representative Edgar Crumpacker had

earlier declared that Dixon's The Leopard's Spots "ought to be read by every man in

America" (H. Chesnutt 181), an opinion apparently shared by much of white society.

Later, in 1915 Dixon help convert The Clansman into a script for one of the nation's

earliest and most popular motion pictures, D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. The

movie adaptation of Dixon's work was so popular, in fact, that the NAACP fought to

have it censored for decades after its release (Lewis, W.E.B. DuBois 506).5

If Dixon used the rhetoric of objectivity to forward his thesis of the inherent

danger and bestiality of African American men, then Charles Chesnutt sought to access

an alternate site of objectivity/truth in his fictional response to the logic of absolute,

biological racial difference, his 1901 novel The Marrow of Tradition. For Chesnutt, a

"realistic" depiction of the nation's racist policies would expose the fallacies,

s President Woodrow Wilson, after seeing a private screening of the movie in 1915,
commented that the movie was "like writing history with lightning" and "all so terribly
true" (cited in Lewis, W.E.B. DuBois 506).

assumptions, and lies within Dixonesque depictions of the nation's racial dynamic.6 If

Dixon and similar turn-of-the-century racist writers sought to give their racist diatribes an

air of truth by relying on contemporary "empirical" science, then Chesnutt sought to

expose the half-truths and illogical foundations holding up the nation's perception of the

difference between the races.

After experiencing an unprecedented amount of success writing within (and

revising) the plantation literary tradition with his conjure tales, by 1900 Charles Chesnutt

had become alarmed by the frequency of, and the respect given to, racist policy-makers

and writers such as Congressman Edgar Crumpacker and Dixon.7 As Chesnutt would

later write, "Thomas Dixon was writing the Negro down industriously and with marked

popular success. Thomas Nelson Page [a leading member of the plantation school of

literature] was disguising the harshness of slavery under the mask of sentiment" (cited in

Heermance 19). For Chesnutt, the respect given to Dixon's work required immediate

attention and rebuttal. Writing to Crumpacker about the correlation between "Negro

rights" and the corruption of "pure" white blood in Dixon's The Leopard's Spots,

Chesnutt exclaims,

There has always been a great deal of Southern claptrap about the disastrous
results that would follow the intermingling of blood. Such intermingling as there
has been, and there has been a great deal, has been done with the entire consent

6 Chesnutt describes his book in a 1901 letter to Booker T. Washington: "It discusses...
miscegenation, lynching, disfranchisement, separate cars, and the struggles for
professional and social progress in an unfriendly environment. .. It is, in a word, our side
of the Negro question" (Chesnutt, To Be an Author 160).

7 Before he became a fiction writer, Dixon served as a member of the North Carolina
state legislature from1884 to 1886 and as a Baptist minister from 1886 to 1899 (Clark


and cheerful cooperation of the white race, and I am unable to see any disastrous
results that have followed so far." (cited in Keller 236)8

While this letter was written in 1902, one year after the publication of Chesnutt's Marrow

of Tradition, we can see Marrow espousing this very attitude, and as such responding to

the views of people such as Dixon.

While Marrow met with some critical resistance, as Chapter Three discusses,

what Chesnutt found most perplexing and disappointing was the relative apathy towards

his novel. Despite an aggressive advertising campaign by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. that

included window displays in prominent bookstores across the country, and despite the

critical attention it received in certain literary circles, Marrow failed to make an impact

on the American commercial market (Andrews 205). Chesnutt clearly linked his novel to

the tradition of protest novels in America, and for the book to accomplish this goal it had

to have a large public readership. Before the book was released, Chesnutt wrote to

Houghton Mifflin, "If The Marrow of Tradition can become lodged in the popular mind

as the legitimate successor of Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Fool's Errand as depicting an

epoch in our national history, it will make the fortune of the book and incidentally of the

author, which would be very gratifying" (To Be an Author 162). Where Stowe fought

against slavery and Tourgee condemned the repealing of Reconstruction legislation,

Chesnutt hoped to fight against the logic espoused by Dixon, Crumpacker, et al that

suggested turn-of-the-century America was entering into a new era of "negro

8 Chesnutt entered into correspondence to voice his indignation at Crumpacker's public
declarations that Dixon's work was extremely valuable as an example of the frightening
racial dynamics in the post-Reconstruction.

domination," a domination that needed to be met with swift and decisive reactions from

the white community.

The disparate receptions of Dixon's and Chesnutt's novels suggest the shifting

grounds of evaluation applied to works of literature coming from those in different social

positions. Dixon's The Clansman remained valuable to a white readership because of the

horrible "truths" it told about the evolving racial dynamics in the South. Chesnutt's

novel, on the other hand, according to the Cleveland World, "teems with fine writing and

a masterly handling of incident, yet it is a wanton attack upon something that the South

holds as sacred" (To Be an Author 166). The fact that Dixon's book remained popular in

both the North and South and Chesnutt's novel met a cold reception in both sections of

the country suggests that racial opinions, especially when dealing with touchy subjects

such as miscegenation and "social equality," were not nearly as divided along regional

lines as we might think.

Sticks, Stones, and Names: The Metaphor of Race

In her essay, "African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of

Race," Evelyn Higginbotham argues that race "serves as a 'global sign,' a

metalanguagee,' since it speaks about and lends meaning to a host of terms and

expressions, to myriad aspects of life that would otherwise fall outside the referential

domain of race.... Race not only tends to subsume other sets of social relations, namely

gender and class, but it blurs and disguises, suppresses and negates its own complex

interplay with the very social relations it envelops" (95). For Higginbotham, this

metalanguagee" influences the way that we make value judgements, for example what is

"good" hair and what are "correct" speech patterns. In short, race is such a powerful

metaphor because it affects the manner in which we see everything, not just topics that

overtly deal with "race." I argue that the metalanguagee of race" specifically influences

scientific and literary discourses by creating or reflecting a racial prejudgement that filters

into "empirical" studies that claim to provide objective examination. In so doing, it

racializes bodies and stigmatizes race in a way that often suppresses (or mutes) other

demarcations of difference, such as gender and class.

Of course, labeling race as a sign or metaphor hardly does away with the troubling

issues one encounters when discussing race in modem, or postmodem, society. For, if

race is a sign, then it would seem people designate different signifiers to this sign, even as

we admit the relationship between these two is unreliable or nonexistent. Even if we

agree that race is a social construct, there seem to be a variety of opinions about which

materials will be used in its construction. Is race an ethnic identity? Is it a destructive

tool of oppression? Is it undergirded and enabled by implied class relations? Or is it

some diaphanous mixture of all the above? If it is a mixture, which ratio do we use in the

combination? The answers we get to these questions depend upon who you ask, and the

circumstances and audience in which they are asked.

In their book Racial Formation in the United States, Michael Omi and Howard

Winant claim that there are three rough "paradigms" through which race has been

discussed in the past several decades: ethnicity, class and nation. While Omi and Winant

do not claim that these paradigms are exhaustive or absolute, they "do think that they

embrace the vast bulk of [racial theories] and demarcate the major lines of debate" (11). I

briefly outline these paradigms in order to show the multivalent nature of the discourse

behind the social construction of race. According to Omi and Winant, the ethnicity

theory arose from the 1920s response to biological essentialism, where race "was equated

with distinct heredity characteristics." This paradigm adopted the concept of cultural

pluralism espoused by sociologist Horace Kallen, and became "an insurgent theory which

suggested that race was a social category" (15). In other words, the term "ethnicity"

served to recuperate discussions of difference in a way that removed this discussion from

racist attempts to assert absolute racial separation. This ethnicity paradigm evolved into

what is now commonly referred to as multiculturalism.

For Omi and Winant, the class paradigm tends to "explain race by reference to

economic processes, understood in the standard sense of the creation and use of material

resources" (24). They develop this idea by outlining three approaches to a class theory of

race. The "market relations" approach challenges the neoclassical notion of economics

that avoids race by focusing on "taste for discrimination," monopolistic practices, and

disruptive state practices. The stratification theory focuses on the social distribution of

resources and often "detaches 'class' (i.e., status) categories from racial ones. Finally, the

class conflict theory recognizes "the existence of racial oppression, but regard(s) class

divisions as the fundamental source of exploitation in society" (24-29).

Finally, Omi and Winant outline the "nation paradigm" of race. This paradigm

primarily encompasses the ascension of black nationalism: "The rise and popularity of

black nationalism initiated an intense theoretical and strategic debate about the nature of

racism and the future of black politics in the U.S." (36). Although it emerges from a long

history of black nationalist impulses, the nation-based theory "is fundamentally rooted in

the dynamics of colonialism." This paradigm relies on "organizations and movements


uniformly composed of the 'colonized'... the need for 'cultural autonomy' to permit the

development of... unique characteristics ... [and] the necessity of 'national liberation'

to uproot colonial heritage and restructure society on a non-racial basis" (36-38).

I introduce these theories of racial definition in order to emphasize that while

most modern scholars agree that race is best conceived of as a social construct, we get a

very different view of race depending on how we construct it. It is not my intention to

declare my "colors" and side with a particular paradigm. Instead, I would like to suggest

that many of the tensions in black literature and racialized political thought arise in part

from conflicting theories of race not necessarily crude conflicts between biological and

social racial definitions, but between competing versions of the social constructedness of

race. For example, much of the contemporary debate about Charles Chesnutt, like the

roller-coaster history of his reception, seems to emanate from whether one ascribes to him

an ethnicity, class or national paradigm of race. From an ethnicity perspective, we can

see Chesnutt manipulating black cultural history and practices to undermine white forms

of writing or "signifyin(g)" on them, in Gates' language and, in so doing, exposes the

illogical basis of biological definitions of race. If we see Chesnutt adopting a class-based

paradigm, we could claim he implies that class exploitation creates racial

inequalities/inferiority, and therefore that upper-class African Americans deserve to be

placed with other upper-class Americans. From this perspective, one would figure

Chesnutt as an assimilationist: if class inequalities would disappear, so would racism and

eventually race. Chesnutt certainly believed in the social construction of race, but what

he chose to do with that belief remains very much up to debate.

Rather than solve these discrepancies, in this project I explore them as tensions,

not merely as they affect us as readers today, but as they influenced the literary choices

and strategies that African American and white American writers made a hundred years

ago. As Omi and Winant mention, a fairly coherent sense of black nationalism can be

found at least as early as DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk (1903). Yet, one could read

DuBois' classic text through the ethnicity and class paradigms just as easily and just as

fruitfully. This fact does not suggest a problem with Omi's and Winant's argument.

Instead, it shows the multilayered richness of black texts from this era. It also

demonstrates what Higginbotham has called "the multiple determinations that make race

such a complex lived social reality" (35). These "multiple determinations" make it

entirely possible to invoke all three of Omi's and Winant's paradigms simultaneously, on

different levels and in different registers, a possibility that they do not deny.

Henry Louis Gates writes that raceae is the ultimate trope of difference because it

is so very arbitrary in its application" (Introduction 5). This very arbitrariness in selecting

from the multitudinous meanings of race makes it such a dangerous and stubborn

metaphor. Its strength lies in its elusiveness, its adaptability. To this degree, the

ascendance of our current belief in the social constructions of race over the belief in its

biological "truth" has made racism, through race's very illusiveness, increasingly hard to

identify and combat. For if race has become in our society increasingly invisible, it is

still very much there. Gates reminds us that race "has become a trope of ultimate,

irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific belief

systems which more often than not also have fundamentally opposed economic

interests" (5). In order to understand more fully how this trope has functioned and


functions today, we need to reconstruct historical conceptions of differing discourses of

"truth," even as we show these differences to be fraught with contradictions. In short, it

becomes increasingly necessary to document and historicize turn-of-the-century "truths"

(including racial "truths") to reconstruct the racial, literary, and social dynamics of the

period before we can adequately expose these views as limiting and seek alternative


In his thoughtful analysis of antebellum minstrelsy, Eric Lott claims that "the

minstrel tradition is still too present for us to take antiracist critiques of it for granted."

Instead, he argues, "we must better historicize the minstrel show, for in fact we remain

ignorant of exactly what its antebellum political range happened to be" (35). I believe

this contention to be true of racial classification more generally. Rather than simply

glossing over the racist and racialist attitudes of turn-of-the-century America, or using

what Lott calls "outmoded antiracist strategies of reversal and inversion," we need to

examine the ways in which race became fixed as a metaphor of difference, recognizing

how this metaphor shifted throughout time. So, while this project takes for granted the

contention of Higginbotham, Omi and Winant, and Gates that race is a trope, a discursive

tool, and a social construct, we must also explore in detail the historical perception of its

rootedness and concreteness. Rather than striving to be a definitive analysis of the "the

multiple determinations that make race such a complex lived social reality"

(Higginbotham 35), this study seeks to contribute to an ancillary process of discovery.

The rhetoric of objectivity and Truth stands as one of the "multiple determinations" of the

era's conception of race and racial classification. In examining how that rhetoric became

so prominent, I demonstrate how the binary constructions behind the rhetoric of both

"truth" and "race" ultimately undermine themselves.

Since the marshaling of race by turn-of-the-century authors often reflects very

static definitions of racial categories, we run the risk of replicating turn-of-the-century

racial binaries by arguing that white authors construct racist or racialist definitions that

black authors resist or subvert. In response to Gates' challenge to explore how racial

differences influence literary texts, Tzvetan Todorov recognizes the danger and asks, "[I]f

'racial differences' do not exist, how can they possibly influence literary texts" (371)?

Gates uses the enviable advantages of being the editor of their debate to get in the last

word: "Todorov is being disingenuous here, and is guilty of shallow thinking about a

serious problem of all theorists of so-called 'noncanonical' literatures. Todorov attempts

nothing less than a neo-colonial recuperation of the sense of difference upon which a truly

new criticism of world literature must be granted" ("Talking That Talk" 404-5). Gates

explains that he pursues not absolute racial difference, but attitudes about racial

difference, "how attitudes toward [pointed or purported] racial differences generate and

structure texts by us and about us" (405). While Gates' response speaks to a critical

imperative with which I agree, the debate shows the uncertain definitions and applications

of "race," even among those that agree about its social construction.

The concept of literary access helps to explain how authors in different social

positions responded to rigid racial classification through the medium of fiction. In his

book Cultures of Letters, Richard Brodhead argues that an examination of the scenes of

reading and writing "offers to recognize the reality of literature's different availability but

also to understand that difference historically, as a culturally mediated historical product"

(115). Such an analysis would necessitate "a systematic asking by what means and by

what virtue of what circumstances different potential authors have been able to lay claim

to different powers in the literary realm" (109-110). What avenues of access are closed to

certain writers because of culturally determined preconceptions, restrictions, or opinions?

How do these writers respond to such pressures? In what ways do they resist these

pressures, and how are they complicit with them?

While Brodhead focuses primarily on the cultural situations that influence the

scenes of writing ["no one comes to authorship out of nowhere" (183)], I apply this idea

of literary access more directly to the scenes of reading the ways the reception and

acceptance of works are influenced by a host of cultural and racial preconceptions.

Combining Brodhead's notion of "literary access" with an attention to the history of

reception of African American writers suggests an alternative means of looking at how

literature reflects the racially obsessed culture in which it is enmeshed, the manner in

which the turn-of-the-century literary and cultural expectations condition how literary

access/acceptance become racially coded. I examine the white literary establishment's

reception of "race writing" in order to reveal how its expectations of literature and what

qualifies as literature are racially determined. This racial prejudgement does not

necessarily depend upon a crude racism that disavows literary contributions by African

Americans, but upon the more subtle way in which one's understanding of racial

boundaries and characteristics influences his/her aesthetic evaluation of literary texts that

depict non-white subjects.

What's In a Name?: Genre and the Politics of Race

I specifically explore the issues I have thus far raised through a juxtaposition of

works of black authors and white authors, men and women, works that were popular at

the time of their release and those that were largely ignored. I discuss at length the fiction

of Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, Charles Chesnutt, William Dean Howells, W.E.B.

DuBois, Frances Harper, and Albion Tourg6e, attempting to reconstruct the historical

specificities of their interaction with, and espousal of, theories of race and the nation's

racial dynamic. While these authors may seems to be odd bed-fellows in one sense, they

all enter into the contemporary field that has at times been labeled "racial literature." In

her essay, "The Mulatto, Tragic or Triumphant? The Nineteenth-Century American Race

Melodrama," Susan Gillman attempts to provide a rationale for the modern tendency to

discuss these authors together. To do so, she invents a new genre, which she terms "the

American race melodrama": "Encompassing literary, sociological, and scientific texts by

both black and white writers," Gillman writes, "the race melodrama focuses broadly on

the situation of the black family almost always of an interracial genealogy and

specifically on the issue of 'race mixture,' as a means of negotiating the social tensions

surrounding the formation of racial, national, and sexual identity in the post-

Reconstruction years" (222).

Gillman attempts to recuperate the term "melodrama" from the pejorative

associations of a didactic and formulaic literary form, "flat" literary characters, and an

avoidance of "serious social criticism." She explains, "Far... from providing simply the

sense of order associated with the formulaic conclusion of the melodrama, the race

melodrama acknowledges, even embraces, everything that is most unsettling about this


period and its cultural expression" (223). Although I balk at Gillman's attempt to create

theoretical room for her new genre by dismissing the "formulaic conclusion" of

traditional melodrama a move that minimizes the complexity of other texts labeled as

melodramatic I agree that these texts can and should be grouped together because they

all negotiate the tensions "surrounding racial, national, and sexual identity."

Even so, my study expends much energy attempting to show how generic

categories repeatedly fail to make sense. When we look closely at what we mean by a

genre, whether it be realism, sentimentalism, romance, or melodrama, the definitions

become increasingly murky and contradictory. If, for example, realism supposedly

represents a harsher look at the "real facts" of American culture, why is it dismissed by

proponents of naturalism as "tea-party" drama? Ultimately, any genre, no matter how

revised and refined, limits our reading and understanding of texts by giving us a filter

through which to view them. In this regard, Gillman's "race melodrama" ultimately

proves no more helpful than earlier conceptions of genre.

Yet genre remains a very central aspect of this study, as my title would suggest,

because to examine what genres meant to the authors remains a valuable line of inquiry.

If writers believed they were writing in a particular genre, as Chesnutt did with realism in

his later writings, what does this belief reveal about the authors' perception of the stakes

involved in their projects and the desired effects that these projects would have on the

reading public? What can we learn, for example, by noticing that DuBois' novel The

Quest of the Silver Fleece unfolds along the lines of what has been termed a sentimental

format? How does this "sentimental" text relate to, and influence our understanding of,

his "empirical" scientific texts?

In Chapter 2, "The 'Amalgamation' of Science and Literature: Irony and the

Miscegenation Taboo," I examine the rhetoric of racial "purity," its basis in scientific

theories of race, and how Pauline Hopkins and Mark Twain incorporate and resist these

theories within their turn-of-the-century fiction. In this process I point towards some of

the literary possibilities and limitations of social commentary coming from very different

societal positions. How would someone occupying Mark Twain's social space have a

different relationship to the rhetoric of racist science than someone occupying the social

position of Pauline Hopkins, even as both authors seek to criticize this rhetoric? This

chapter suggests that Twain and Hopkins ultimately rely on very similar notions of

miscegenation as a trope of social disorder to make their not-so-similar declarations about

the nation's "race problem."

In Chapter 3, entitled "The Veiled Truth: Objectivity, Race and the Role of

Literature," I continue my exploration into race and class as influences on authors'

publishing possibilities, by demonstrating how an author's preconceived societal position

and race condition his/her reception by the literary establishment. As his journals, letters,

and novels all demonstrate, Charles Chesnutt understood literature as a means of resisting

the static and predetermined social status of African Americans. While he attempts to

redefine constricting racial definitions, in his novels The House Behind the Cedars and

The Marrow of Tradition Chesnutt relies on a masculinized rhetoric of Truth (through a

faith in Howellsian realism) that is closely aligned with the scientific discourse of racial

classification discussed in Chapter 2. Scientific discourse marshals racial difference, and

racializes bodies in a way that often fends off (or mutes) other demarcations of difference,

such as gender and class. As Higginbotham puts it, "Race not only tends to subsume

other sets of social relations, namely, gender and class, but it blurs and disguises,

suppresses and negates its own complex interplay with the very social relations it

envelops" (255). For this reason, Chesnutt perceives the need to adopt a competing

rhetoric of "Truth" in order to establish a solid foundation for his claims of racial


If Chapter 3 demonstrates how Chesnutt relies on notions of a masculinized Truth

and the "real" in order to resist contemporary racial definitions, then Chapter 4, entitled

"The Sentimental DuBois: Genre, Race, and the Reading Public," qualifies this statement

and explores the generic differences between DuBois' political/sociological writing and

his fiction. This chapter questions conventional definitions of "realism" and

sentimentalismm" by exploring DuBois'1911 novel The Quest of the Silver Fleece in the

context of "sentimental literature." Turn-of-the-century writing by black women,

specifically Frances Harper, reveals that "sentimental literature" makes some of the same

claims as does realism, particularly in speaking for the voiceless, avoiding the trappings

of "High Art," and transcending the limitations of social difference and the status quo.

And yet these two "genres" claim to be speaking to very different audiences and registers.

What is at stake in DuBois' and Chesnutt's claim to be speaking the "real" Truth when

the distinctions between realism and sentimentalism are no longer so clear? How do we

understand these claims when DuBois' fiction in many ways appears to be almost

formulaically sentimental? How are these lines of inquiry affected when we consider that

DuBois and Chesnutt rely on very masculine values in their definitions of "Art,"

especially when American sentimental fiction has traditionally and stereotypically been

defined as belonging to the sphere of women?

In Chapter 5, "Who Owns the Whip?: Chesnutt, Tourg6e, and Reconstruction

Justice," I return to the fiction of Chesnutt this time focusing on his collection The Wife

of His Youth and Other Stories. This chapter focuses on the notion of objectivity,

specifically legal objectivity and "right reason." Reconstruction lawyer and fiction writer

Albion Tourg6e once claimed, "Justice is pictured blind and her daughter, the law, ought

at least to be color-blind." I examine the concept of legal objectivity by looking at the

paradoxical relationship between the writings of Tourg6e and Chesnutt. It is well known

that Tourg6e sparked Chesnutt's career as a writer. However, if we consider Tourg6e's

line of argumentation as the chief defense lawyer in Plessy v. Ferguson and his ideas of

justice in A Fool's Errand, we can see that Chesnutt's collection The Wife of His Youth

and Other Stories challenges the very tenets upon which Tourg6e's political convictions

rest. Especially in "The Web of Circumstance," Chesnutt contests the Enlightenment

belief in a "blind" or, in this case, "color-blind" legal system to which Tourg6e so

devoutly clung.

My Conclusion, Chapter 6, entitled "Black Men Thinking, White Men Jumping

and the Human Genome Project," brings back into focus the many disparate issues

surrounding racial definition and the rhetoric of objectivity explored in this study by

examining how they are still relevant today. The turn-of-the-century debate surrounding

objectivity and scientific discourses on race remains particularly important today because

as George Levine puts it, "'scientific realism' remains alive" (14). By exploring how the

rhetoric of objectivity continues to hold its sway in our collective imagination, whether

through new scientific "discoveries," such as The Bell Curve, or the logical consequences

of the Human Genome Project, I argue that such "scientific" modes of racial classification

as craniology, racial eugenics, and biological essentialism are not as much of a memory

as we wish them to be.

"I'm Not Racist, Honest": The Politics of Interpretation

One of the principal problems with a project like this is that in constructing my

argument about the fallacies inherent in "truth" claims, I simply add my version of the

"truth" to the mix. My study, like almost all academic work, implies that it reveals the

"true" or "right" analysis of the contestable material with which I've been wrestling, even

if it ends up being the "truth of truth's absence." On one level, the nature of constructing

an academic argument lends itself to such a discourse of truth. Certainly I understand that

my argument presents only one interpretation of the materials and ideas I've collected,

that many others will develop and have developed competing arguments, and that this

disagreement questions the idea of absolute truth. Even so, I find the contradiction within

constructing my "truth" about the failure of the rhetoric of truth unsettling.

One way of resisting this truth-telling is to recognize and admit my own stakes in

this project. Without a doubt, my position as a white male writing about race and gender

issues complicates my relation to a discourse of truth about these subjects; I am always

open to the charge that I'm an outsider, or the ultimate insider, who just "doesn't get it."

While I don't believe African Americans have an inherent ability to "get it" and white

people never can, I do think my "race" matters, and influences the manner in which I

construct my argument. To deny this and to claim I'm developing a "color-blind"

argument would only reinforce the logic I attempt to work against in this project. First of

all, it would replicate the rhetoric of color-blindness, and the attendant implication of an


unmediated access to the "real" story, that I seek to contest. Secondly, it would suggest

that race is a condition that applies only to people of color that my position as a white

American doesn't influence my work, while my argument shows how African

Americans' positions in society affect their work.

In his book Negotiating Difference, Michael Awkward asks, "[h]ow does race

direct, influence, or dictate the process of interpreting both black texts and Western

theories? Is there a politics of interpretation that is determined or controlled by race in

ways that can be compared to the ideologically informed readings of, for example, white

American feminist critics?" Awkward asks these questions to explore "the impact of

categories of difference such as race and gender have upon the interpretive and artistic

processes" (25). If my study claims to deal with these issues as they affect turn-of-the-

century "interpretive and artistic processes," it would be disingenuous to proceed as if

these categories of difference what Awkward calls "positionality" do not affect my

own argument.

Of course, it proves to be monumentally more difficult to discover one's own

assumptions and biases than to uncover those of other people. Nonetheless, I will provide

a brief personal history of my interest in African American literature as an attempt to

provide at least a glimpse into my stakes in this project. When I was in middle school

and high school in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the 1980s, I attended very integrated schools,

principally consisting of white, black, and Asian kids. As anyone familiar with the city

would know, Knoxville is very segregated racially. In fact, one white supremacist leader

recently pronounced it one of the last bastions of white society left in the South. So, this

integration came primarily from an aggressive busing program. From my perspective as a

white student, the busing was by and large a success. There were not huge, impassable

racial rifts in the school, although divisions definitely existed. I developed friendships

with a number of black students, friendships that continued well past my high school

days. I do not bring up this fact to demonstrate that by virtue of my friends, I can prove

I'm not racist. Some of the most acutely racist moments I witnessed at school happened

between "friends." Rather, I mention this because with a few exceptions, during high

school these friendships never extended outside school. On Friday, I would say goodbye

to Ren6e, Jon6e, and Mark as they got on the bus or in their parents' cars, and I wouldn't

see them until Monday morning.

What strikes me most about this situation is that at the time it didn't seem that

unusual. It was just "the way things were." It wasn't as if I wouldn't have enjoyed seeing

them over the weekend, or that our parents would have objected. It just didn't happen. I

have often thought about this dynamic recently. I wonder, for example, if it felt to my

African American friends as if "it just didn't happen." Or did it feel to them that there

were certain barriers other than the geographical distance between our homes that would

not make meeting on the weekends appropriate or feasible? In some ways, this

segregation seems to be one of the most virulent forms of racial separation, not because it

reveals anything overtly racist on any of our parts. Rather, it shows how internalized and

invisible the idea of racial difference becomes. My friends and I didn't avoid each other

because of "race." But, it seems to me now that race was the chief reason we never went

for pizza, or played ball, or went to the movies on the weekends.

In college, I began studying African American literature for two reasons. First,

the classes I took in African American literature seemed to "matter"; they seemed to deal


with issues that affected my negotiation of society. (I see now that this has as much to do

with the teachers as it did the subjects.) We had discussions about situations that I dealt

with daily. Undoubtedly, these classes gave me the interpretive skills and perspective

that allowed me to understand my relationship with my high school friends in a more

complex manner. Second, the literature affected me more deeply than anything I had read

until that point. I still remember shaking with intensity and not with the caffeine

overdose that in college was often the cause as I first read Native Son by Richard

Wright. That book taught me how deep the ideas of racial difference and racism ran. I

suddenly understood to some extent the looks I received when I traveled for sporting

events to Austin East and Rule high schools, the schools from which my black friends

were bused. I ended up writing my senior thesis on the writing of Richard Wright. I

believe this project taught me more about myself than it did about Richard Wright, or

literature, or academic writing.

As I studied black literature in college and graduate school, I was trained by a

number of leading scholars of African American writing. These scholars trained me in

the analysis of African American literature, and I learned many of the interpretive tools

that I use in this study. In a graduate seminar titled "Reading Black Women Writing,"

Mae Henderson assigned a paper topic requiring that we examine one of the novels we

had read in class from a black feminist perspective. Suddenly, I was uncertain. Could I,

the only white male in the class, write a black feminist critique? Could I become a black

feminist? While I had read the same criticism as everybody else in the class, and while I

had a deeper background in the reading than many of the other students, and despite the

fact that I felt I understood the theory that we'd studied, I wasn't sure that I could provide

a black feminist reading. When I went to her office with these insecurities/fears, Dr.

Henderson told me that she had trained me and taught me the skills necessary to write

such a paper, that I had the requisite tools to write it. But, at the same time, she brought

up the concept of "positionality" that in her opinion my position as a white male did, in

fact, matter. My task, as she presented it, was to negotiate these conflicting aspects of the


In some ways, this study serves as a continuation of that assignment. I feel that,

due to my training and research, I can write about African American literature without

reproducing the white critical tendency to enter the field as, in Houston Baker's words, a

"superordinate authorityy" (84). On the other hand, I am wary of Awkward's reminder

of the racialized stakes behind what Gates' calls racial "attitudes" and what we might call

perspective. Awkward writes, "I believe we must concede that a white critic is differently

invested in Afro-American texts than a black critic because of what Sue-Ellen Case terms

'racial privilege,' which is characterized by a lack of 'experience of racial oppression' ...

. Even in self-reflexive white critical acts, racial privilege may create interpretive

obstacles or, more important, points of resistance that color, in racially motivated ways,

the effects of an exploration of blackness" (60).9 I agree whole-heartedly with Awkward

here, and this acknowledgment has made my work on this project extremely

uncomfortable and, at the same time, absolutely essential.

9 Later in the text, Awkward more pessimistically adds, "[I]nterpretive differences
between white and black critics may result... from a desire on the part of the former to
limit, circumscribe, or otherwise control the range of black discourse in order that this
discourse can be made to act in accordance with existing caucacentric formulations of
race and difference" (85).


I have striven as meticulously as I can to avoid the assumptions that arise from my

position as a white male scholar writing about black literature. Nonetheless, perhaps the

potential for "interpretive obstacles" and "points of resistance" in my work means I can

never be an "authority" on African American literature. While I feel free to write about

black texts, perhaps African American scholars should be the primary ones to judge this

writing and point out its blind-spots and "racial prejudgment," to echo DuBois' quote in

the epigraph. But, even so, I hope it continues a dialogue that will illuminate intellectual

affinities as well as disparities. I also hope that if fifteen years from now, my daughter

doesn't spend the weekend with her school friends, it won't be because that is "just the

way things are."


Rape is only one of the many manifestations of an increasing tendency on the part
of the negro to misconstrue personal freedom into personal license, and this
tendency, persisted in, must tend towards creating a wider separation of the
Frederick Hoffman

Emancipation has done much, but time and moral training among the white men
of the South are the only cures for concubinage.
Pauline Hopkins

**America in 1885. (Negro supremacy the whites underfoot.)
Mark Twain'

In the final decades of the nineteenth century, the tenor of the discourse

surrounding racial politics and race in general changed dramatically. Not only had much

of the Reconstruction legislation been repealed, but new means of discussing race

empirically were being created. While by this time phrenology and similar mid-century

scientific theories of racial classification had been largely discounted, new theories arose

to reestablish the comparative differences between races that phrenology, and earlier the

lineage of slavery, initially affirmed. The debate surrounding these issues intensified as

disciplines such as criminal anthropology sought for the first time to evaluate and identify

the biology and heredity of criminals. Since this research into heredity unsurprisingly

i Citations for the epigraph are as follows: 1) Frederick Hoffman, Race Traits and
Tendencies of the American Negro, pg. 234; 2) Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces, pg.
332; 3) Mark Twain, Journals and Notebooks, Vol. III.



hinged on racial difference, reformers used pseudo-scientific "discoveries" to reexamine

the social and legal systems in terms of the ramifications that biology would have on

racialized human behavior (Gould 17). If criminal activity proved to be more pronounced

in certain races, as many scientists theorized, then the legal system and social codes

would have to be adapted to reflect this difference.

As a result of the search for the biological underpinnings of racial traits, the body

and the power to define and categorize the body, rather than traditional notions of

ancestry, became a key site of contestation in the debate over racial classification. That is

to say, the debate often revolved around whether or not racial identity could be revealed

through an empirical examination of the body, and often individual body parts. In short,

as it became increasingly difficult in social situations to determine race, these discourses

that purported to demonstrate veracity gained cultural legitimacy because they seemed to

resolve (or at least address) the question of racial identity/identification.2 Two novels,

Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) by Mark Twain and Contending Forces (1900) by Pauline

Hopkins, entered into this debate by invoking the rhetoric behind contemporary scientific

discourses of racial classification.

In this chapter, I will argue that by turning our attention to the use of scientific

rhetoric in these texts, we can see how Twain and Hopkins deal explicitly and implicitly

2 In an attempt to contest the value given to, and strength of, this rhetoric, the groups
responsible for challenging Jim Crow segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
intentionally chose a very light-skinned man with African American ancestry, Homer
Plessy, to be arrested in the "whites only" train car. The prosecuting attorneys hoped that
such a move would prove the impossibility of determining race in such a situation. For a
more detailed examination of this case in relation to Charles Chesnutt's concept of Justice
and the United States' judicial system, see Chapter Three of this work.

with one of the era's most threatening and unspeakable topics miscegenation.

Although Twain satirizes some of the time's racial hysteria, his reliance on Wilson's

scientificc" of fingerprinting to establish the "truth" about Tom Driscoll's ancestry

exposes his reluctance to deal in any substantive way with the topic of miscegenation and

its attendant suggestion of "social equality." As Twain does, Pauline Hopkins mobilizes

the rhetoric of scientific racial classification to explore the racial dynamics of the period.

However, Hopkins makes ironic use of the key terms and concepts of scientific discourse

- such as the distinction between biological "traits" and cultural "tendencies" to resist

the racist conclusions of this science and to illuminate the social anxieties surrounding the

nation's obsession with racial and sexual identity.

Nancy Stepan and Sander Gilman have pointed out that irony ultimately proved

ineffective for many late nineteenth century authors writing from "disadvantaged and

problematic positions... because [it] did not fit the depersonalized, nonauthorial style of

modern science" (83). As modem science gained a more authoritative position in

American culture, and as much of this science was tied more firmly to racial

classification, scientific claims could be "effectively rebutted," in the words of Stepan

and Gilman, only by competing scientific discourses. Obviously, marginalized voices

such as Hopkins could not easily enter into these fields. If irony often proved impotent in

the face of the authority of science because it was either missed by the dominant public or

it was dismissed as bitter and inappropriate, and black women were largely excluded from

the scientific community, how then could a writer like Hopkins create a text that would

"faithfully portray the inmost thoughts and feelings of the Negro with all the fire and

romance which lie dormant in our history," to quote Hopkins' preface (14, emphasis in


Hopkins' mention of the dormant nature of this fire and romance illuminates the

vexed nature of her project. After all, these aspects of African American culture

remained dormant in large part due to the desires and prejudices of a politics that also

served to buttress the scientific classification of race. If "fire" proves to be dangerous and

"romance" causes one to drop his/her defenses, then we can see the white community's

reluctance to touch either one of these aspects of African American culture. Furthermore,

racist science often attempted to negate by claiming they did not exist these types of

"feelings" within the black community.

In this paper I use the term "irony" when discussing Hopkins' text, because irony

creates a linguistic space for contesting established norms by suggesting a fundamental

incongruity or duplicity which leads to multiple interpretations. Because it fragments or

divides its topic, irony can be used to destabilize, or at least question, culturally

established structures of meaning. If Stepan and Gilman argue that irony proved largely

ineffective, I would claim that it remained one of the few tools available to writers of

color who sought to argue against rigid social and political norms. While this irony may

have been missed or ignored by the dominant society, surely it served a vital purpose to

the African American readership who doubtlessly "got" it. This idea of multiple

audiences seems to be at the heart of Henry Louis Gates' notion of a double-voiced

discourse, one that speaks to two audiences and in two registers simultaneously. In fact,

we could take it one step further and suggest that writers such as Hopkins depended upon

the white community's misreading of the irony. As Gates claims, "Free of the white


person's gaze, black people created their own unique vernacular structures and relished in

the double play that these forms bore to white forms" (xxiv). While Gates' figuration

does not allow us to recognize Hopkins' struggle with the internalization of white racist

pronouncements of racial difference, it does illuminate her strategy of resistance against

dominant racial paradigms.

At times, Hopkins' critique of racial classification seems to share much with

Twain's dismantling of racial categories in Pudd'nhead Wilson. Both authors, after all,

expose the illogical foundations upon which claims of racial difference are based.

However, this chapter argues that while Twain and Hopkins both use irony/satire to

critique turn-of-the-century racial hysteria, this use is inevitably affected by their

positions in a racist and sexist society Twain as a prominent and well-liked white male

and Hopkins as a relatively obscure (except in African American circles) black woman.

Nineteenth-century American society (specifically white society) was undoubtedly more

inclined to accept Mark Twain criticizing the nation's obsessions than it would Pauline

Hopkins.3 For this reason, I will use the word "satire" when discussing Twain, as

opposed to Hopkins' irony, in order to distinguish between the stakes for Twain and

Hopkins in writing a parodic critique of society. In Pudd'nhead Wilson Twain freely

satirizes the nation's racial dynamics from the position of a famous writer known for his

3 In much the same way, our society tends to chuckle, and nod our collective head, at
Dave Barry's satirical comments on, for example, our nation's technological obsession
and the resulting labor dynamics, but we dismiss as unruly comments from the labor
unions or from strident minority factions. Obviously, I understand that there are
numerous substantial differences between Twain and Barry, but I do think the fact that
their satire is "loved" by American society does to some degree depend upon their
position as relatively comfortable white men. This comfort allows these men to poke fun
at certain aspects of our society without questioning their foundations.

indecorous observations of American culture. Because of his position as a respected if

iconoclastic white author, Twain can satirize the "fiction" of racial classification while

using the discourse of scientific ethnology without deeply alarming his audience or

undermining significantly the more deeply-ingrained social codes behind this discourse,

such as defacto segregation and the miscegenation taboo. I do not wish to digress into a

lengthy philosophical discussion about the difference between satire and irony. Instead, I

use these terms simply to recognize and turn our attention to the different reception their

parodic commentaries would encounter. In short, although both Twain's satire and

Hopkins' irony critique the logic of post-Reconstruction racial classification, they do so

in different registers.4

4 To see the importance of the difference between what I'm calling irony and satire in the
context of public reaction one need only to compare the response to Hopkins' book with
that of the black journalist Alexander Manly's notorious 1898 reply to Rebecca Latimer
Felton's speech on lynching. In this speech Manly uses what I have termed "satire" to
attack the logic of Felton's argument for need of increased lynching to protect "woman's
dearest possession." Manly counters Felton by suggesting that white men should:
guard their women more closely... thus giving no opportunity for the human
fiend, be he white or black... Every negro lynched is called a Big Burly Black
Brute, when, in fact, many of those who have been dealt with had white men for
their fathers, and were not only not black and burly, but were sufficiently
attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them, as is
very well known to all.(cited in Sundquist 411-12)
While Manly addresses the same topics as do Hopkins (miscegenation and the rape of
black women) and Twain (consensual sexual relations across racial lines), the white press
used Manly's article as a call-to-action for reestablishing white supremacy in political,
social, and economic arenas. Although there are doubtless many reasons why Manly's
article was vilified and Hopkins' text was not (in fact, it was barely noticed by the white
community), one can see the ways in which the different rhetorical routes taken by these
writers, and the white response to their critiques of racist dogma, affect their reception.

A "Trace" of Fear: Mark Twain and the Logic of Miscegenation

In Pudd'nhead Wilson Twain initially satirizes the discourse of racial purity

through his use of an overly-determined conception of inherited "blood." From the

beginning of the text, the narrator informs the reader of the biracial "blood" of the

principal enslaved characters. This sardonic observer of the events of Dawson's Landing

meticulously (and a bit facetiously) breaks down the characters' lineage according to their

racialized ancestry, emphasizing the fact that Roxana is one-sixteenth "black," and as

Roxana herself claims "thirty-one parts o'" her son are "white" (109). This information

provides a frame of reference to help clarify the intricate relationships between the

characters in the novel and emphasizes the extent that miscegenation was a reality in the

pre-Emancipation South. It also evokes the terminology of the legal racial classification

of the 1890s. As with the "one-drop" theories, whereby a person is labeled black by

virtue of any identifiably black ancestors at all, Roxana and her son Tom are

overwhelmingly "white," both in terms of ancestry and appearance Roxana's "one

sixteenth" does not show (29), while Tom is successfully switched with a "white" boy,

Chambers. However, by a "fiction of law and custom" (29), society defines both

characters as black.

In the first half of the book, Twain seems to advance the notion that race is a

social construction, that environment (training) determines the "racial" characteristics that

are so often attributed to heredity. Soon after Roxy switches Chambers and Tom, the

reader sees the effect that environment has on the two boys: "Tom got all the petting,

Chambers got none. Tom got all the delicacies, Chambers got mush and milk, and

clabber without sugar. In consequence Tom was a sickly child and Chambers wasn't.


Tom was 'fractious,' as Roxy called it, and overbearing; Chambers was meek and docile"

(41). Here, Twain clearly appears to be taking issue with the rhetoric of inherited racial

traits that was so prevalent in the 1890s. He remarks with irony that "by the fiction

created by [Roxy], [her son] was her master." This satirical reevaluation of the rhetoric

of biological difference that so pervaded the era's scientific discussions of racial

classification is a potentially radical one, calling into question the foundational logic of

the society's institutional racism.5

Many scholars have commented on Twain's exposure of this legal "fiction" the

ways in which he demonstrates the cultural construction of racial identity. For example,

in her illuminating essay "Sure Identifiers: Race, Science, and the Law in Pudd'nhead

Wilson," Susan Gillman states, "For Twain the apparent precision implied by minute

fractional divisions (one-sixteenth, one thirty-second) only underscores their disjunction

from reality" ("Identifiers" 90). By reading this "fiction" of law and custom alongside the

murder plot in which Tom becomes both "property (an extension of the master's will) and

nonproperty (in that he can be tried for very willful, antisocial acts, such as murder)"

Gillman concludes that Twain undermines absolute racial categories. In Pudd'nhead

Wilson, thoseoe categories are not biologically fixed but rather culturally determined"

(90). Similarly focusing on Wilson's line of argumentation in the climactic court case,

Eric Sundquist argues that "Wilson's triumphant display of Tom's identity as a 'negro

5 For some salient examples of the scientific theories of the time, see Daniel Aaron's
"The 'Inky Curse': Miscegenation in the White Literary Imagination," George
Frederickson's The Black Image in the White Mind, Stephen Jay Gould's "Politics of
Evolution," John Haller, Jr.'s Outcasts from Evolution, Frederick Hoffman's Race Traits
and Tendencies, and chapter five of James Kinney's Amalgamation.

and slave' shows ... that those two categories are social constructions that have been

wrongly construed as natural" (252). Thus, Sundquist builds his argument around the

idea that Twain "subverted the category of instinct and portrayed race as a role" (231)'6

Gillman and Sundquist expertly illuminate Twain's satirizing of the era's rhetoric

of racial essentialism. However, I would claim that, while Twain may uncover the fictive

nature of racial identity, he does not ultimately delegitimate this fiction as these critics

claim. By having Wilson's science ultimately "reveal" Tom's status as an African

American and a slave, Pudd'nhead Wilson suggests that racial classification may be hard

to identify, but it nonetheless remains. As one critic phrases it, "People may appear to be

equal, [the novel] says, but they are really not" (Jehlen 50). In short, although Twain may

want to claim that racial classification is a fiction that depends upon training and role-

playing, it appears to be a fabrication that he is finally unable to dismiss. Or to put it

another way, while Twain seems interested in illuminating the absurdity of the racial

dynamics in pre-Emancipation America (and by extension the 1890s), he ultimately shies

away from the logical consequences of a raceless society.7

6 For several differing interpretations of Twain's racial theories in Pudd'nhead Wilson,
including Gillman's and Sundquist's, see Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson: Race,
Conflict, and Culture, edited by Susan Gillman and Forrest Robinson.

7 Here I differ from the argument advanced by Brook Thomas in his article "Tragedies of
Race, Training, Birth, and Communities of Competent Pudd'nheads." While I follow his
lead in reconstructing the novel's engagement of the logic of "one-drop" theories of race,
I part with Thomas with his assertion that Twain does not reconstruct the prevailing
societal order at the end of the text. He writes, "For both Twain and Roxy, tragedy
replaces comedy/farce because of cultural circumstances beyond their control. The
traditional plot of European comedy in which confusion over identity disrupts a
hierarchical order that is restored when true identity is revealed does not seem to work in
democratic America at least not when the confusion of identity involves race" (754).
While I do not wish to claim that this ending makes Twain's novel a comedy, when

In keeping with the era's scientific attempt to document physically identifiable

racial characteristics, Wilson's quest to measure empirically fingerprints shifts the debate

and determination of individual identity firmly onto one's physical characteristics. While

a person's "true race" may be nearly invisible, and constructed socially, his/her body

contains subtle clues which proclaim his/her racial identity. In this text, the hand

(through Wilson's fingerprinting) initially works to accentuate one's embodiment to

forge the connection between personal identity and the body's physicality. Throughout

the story, Wilson industriously circulates throughout Dawson's Landing, collecting

fingerprints of all the townspeople. From Judge Driscoll to Roxana's infant, Wilson

"records," identifies, and stores all the fingerprints identically, as a chronicle of each

subject's unchanging individuality. This new science of fingerprinting sought to insure

one's individuality, as Francis Galton explains in his 1892 Finger Prints: "To fix the

human personality, to give to each human being an identity, an individuality that can be

depended upon with certainty, lasting, unchangeable, always recognizable and easily

adduced, this appears to be in the largest sense the aim of the new method" (cited in

Gillman, "Identifiers" 98).

Whatever Galton claims to be "in the largest sense" the goal of fingerprinting, he

also believed that some universal racial traits could be discerned in his new science.

Although he ultimately admitted that his method could not indicate "Race and

Temperament," he initially believed that essential racial characteristics, such as

"intelligence," could be identified in fingerprints ("Identifiers" 100). In this instance, we

Tom's "true identity" his status as "black" slave is revealed he is "sold down the
river" and the "correct" hierarchy is reestablished.


see society's unquestioned belief in the hierarchical distribution of intelligence amongst

the races influencing Galton's "objective" science. His theory that racial characteristics

would show up in fingerprints did not come from his scientific research; it came from his

preconceptions. Fittingly, after completing his work on fingerprints, Galton went on to

become one of the leading proponents of eugenics, which strove for a "progressive

breeding" and "an improved society" (Sundquist 251-2).

The idea that intelligence is an empirically identifiable racial trait also proves

crucial to the political milieu of the era. Twain was writing Pudd'nhead Wilson at a time

when the scientific community was linking political rights to racial abilities/traits. If

Galton's assumption of racial difference ultimately compromised his scientific accuracy

(as he eventually admitted), this science nonetheless undergirded and legitimate racist

social policy. In 1890, four years before Pudd'nhead Wilson was published, D.G. Brinton


The adult who retains the more numerous fetal, infantile or simian traits, is
unquestionably inferior to him whose development has progressed beyond them..
.. Measured by these criteria, the European or white race stands at the head of the
list, the African or negro at its foot. ... All parts of the body have been minutely
scanned, measured, and weighed, in order to erect a science of the comparative
anatomy of the races." (cited in Gould, Mismeasure 21-22)

At the end of this passage Brinton is talking about quantitatively categorizing individual

bodies in order to develop a racial hierarchy scanning, measuring, and weighing bodies

in order to create ethnological distinctions between races. While such a claim

demonstrates the perceived scientific value of one's physical measurements, perhaps we

could turn our attention to Brinton's earlier metaphorical invocation of the body the

European stands at the "head" and the negro at the "foot" to claim that such a racial

science has severe implications for the body politic. If African Americans are linked

through their bodies with children, with their "infantile or simian traits," then they can,

like children, be denied political rights, a political voice, and due process. In short,

physical traits, such as the flat foot, become loaded signifiers for claims of the inferiority

of the black population, which places them "naturally" at (under?) the "foot" of society.

Although fingerprinting and eugenics begin to enter the discursive fields of the

scientific community dominated by the likes of Brinton at the turn of the century, Twain

anachronistically places Wilson's fingerprinting scientificc" in the 1840s. We can see

this move as Twain's way of dealing cautiously with the volatile subject of miscegenation

by placing it at a historically safe distance, where the reality of "race mixing" was

undeniable but the rules governing it clearly determined the offspring would generally

be remanded to slavery. In this way, he remains free to explore the subject of racial

classification in a contained way without opening up the questions of racial identity that

so disturbed the white public of the 1890s.

As the science of fingerprinting can be linked to eugenics through Galton, perhaps

it is no coincidence that Twain describes Wilson's project in terms that resonate with past

eugenic endeavors. Wilson's science, while it claims to reveal one's personal identity,

actually serves to classify the townspeople of Dawson's Landing according to race. When

Goading Wilson about his fingerprints, Tom quips, "Here they don't give shucks for his

scientific, and they call his skull a notion factory... he'll make his mark someday -

fingermark" (81-2). By calling attention to Wilson's "skull" in the context of the science

of classification, especially racial classification, the narrative invokes ideas of

phrenology, a "science" that measured the skull in hopes of establishing, like Galton's


fingerprints, an essential and quantifiable racial difference. By the 1890s phrenology was

largely understood as a pseudo-science of "notions," rather than a legitimate method of

distinguishing the races.8 At the time Twain was writing Pudd'nhead Wilson, Galton's

fingerprinting had surpassed this obsolete science. Fittingly, Wilson will "make his

mark" through a science that, in the context of the book, discerns a person's "appropriate"

place in society. In this context, fingerprinting performs the task that phrenology was

unable to do. Wilson's "records" ultimately indicate precisely this racial classification.

The fingerprints, which should establish individual identity apart from racial identity,

actually prove and solidify racial distinctions.

If Twain exposes the "fiction" of racial classification, his book only strengthens

the force of this fiction by having Wilson discover and reveal scientifically Tom's black

ancestry, thus casting him back into his "place" slavery. In this light, Roxy's switching

of the children (a potentially subversive act of racial mixing) is canceled by Wilson's

science.9 Before he is caught and labeled as "black," Tom confidently gloats in what he

8 While I have used the term "pseudo-science" to identify the changing scientific
sensibilities of the late nineteenth century (the ways in which scientific theories of
classification were debunked and supported), we should also keep in mind Stepan's and
Gilman's claim that scientists have historically used this term to ignore the political
ramifications of their theories, particularly with regard to racial difference. They write,
"[C]alling scientific racism a pseudoscience... allows scientists to refuse to confront the
issue of the inherently political nature of much of the biological and human sciences, and
to ignore the problem of the persistence of racial metaphors of inferiority in the sciences
of today" (76).

9 Myra Jehlen argues similarly that Wilson "counters, then surpasses Roxy's authority"
(53). For Jehlen, Wilson, by asserting a "godlike authority," reestablishes white
patriarchy, although Twain does not relish this restoration of the status quo. She writes,
'This is a familiar dilemma in his works, which frequently end, as does Pudd'nhead
Wilson, in a stalemate between radical criticism and an implicit conservatism expressed
in the refusal, or the inability, to imagine significant change" (52-55).


believes to be his flawless murder of Judge Driscoll: "All the detectives on Earth couldn't

trace me now" (142). "There's not even the faintest suggestion of a trace left" (150).

Although Tom is alluding to how expertly he covered his tracks during the murder, the

word "trace" hints at how closely this trial hinges on racial purity and classification. For

in the context of the book there are several ways he may be traced. Firstly, one could

trace his lineage as Roxana does,

My great-great-great-gran'father en yo' great-great-great-great-gran'father was Old
Cap'n John Smith, de highest blood dat Ole Virginny every turned out, en his
great-great-gran'mother, or somers along back dah, was Pocahontas de Injun
queen, en her husband' was a nigger king outen Africa. (109)

Secondly, one could identify the "trace" of "black" blood that denies him the entitlements

of aristocratic whiteness; lastly, one could trace the lines of his fingerprint (as Wilson

does with the pantograph). All three examples, though different in methodology, come to

the same conclusion that Tom is "black" and "belongs" with the black community.

Although Tom feels his crime is flawless, Wilson eventually uncovers his crime in these


In the concluding courtroom scene, Tom ironically the most skeptical heckler of

Wilson's "black magic" (85) is betrayed by his body (hand), and is revealed to be a

"black" imposter. Earlier in the text, when Tom receives his first up-close demonstration

of Wilson's science, he exclaims in horror, "Why, a man's own hand is his deadliest

enemy. .. a man's own hand keeps a record of the deepest and fatalest secrets of his life,

and is treacherously ready to expose him to any black magic stranger that comes along"

(84-5, emphasis mine). On a literal level, this quote acts as foreshadowing, ironically

commenting on Tom's ultimate downfall. If we look at the quote in terms of the rhetoric


of racial purity we have been exploring, however, it also indicates a more subtle aspect of

Twain's novel. Tom's body (hand) is uncontrollable, unable to hide his "blackness." As

he comments in the courtroom, "A body can't win every time; you'll hang somebody yet"

(152, emphasis mine). His uncontrollable body (hand), with the prodding of a science of

classification, has revealed his essential blackness, his invisible drop of black blood. At

the end of Pudd'nhead Wilson, Twain seems to be saying that even if race is ultimately a

social construction, white society needs the fabrication of absolute racial difference to

indulge its fantasies of racial purity.

After Wilson's triumph at the trial, he loses the nickname Pudd'nhead, as Dawson

Landing "came to serenade Wilson... for all his sentences were golden, now, all were

marvelous" (165). Even as Twain satirizes the flippant reactions of the community, his

text seems to share its relief. Perhaps we can see Dawson Landing's post-trial exaltation

of Wilson as the end of Twain's satire, as the citizenry finally realizes the value of

Wilson's scientificc" to the maintenance of social order. We can see a similar hesitancy

to undermine established social roles on Twain's part in A Connecticut Yankee at King

Arthur's Court. Indeed, in both Connecticut Yankee and Pudd'nhead Wilson, Twain

reverses the roles of slave and master suggesting the arbitrary nature of these

distinctions but both novels seem uneasy with this reversal and finally re-establish the

"appropriate" hierarchy at the end.'0

10 Both books also look back historically to eras of forced servitude/slavery, but have
very real connections to Twain's own time, including details of post-slavery America.
(Pudd'nhead Wilson contains Galton's fingerprinting, which wasn't developed until the
1870s, while Connecticut Yankee focuses on late nineteenth-century labor issues and
industrialization, but places them in the time of King Arthur's Court.) For a discussion
of Connecticut Yankee in connection to post-Emancipation America, see Richard


Needless to say, two inevitable casualties of a raceless society, even a theoretical

one, would be the taboo against miscegenation and the strictly-enforced segregation that

served the white elite power structure. After all, the miscegenation taboo and the

attendant slogan of "social equality" served as crucial lynchpins holding together the

entire scaffolding of "white supremacist ideology" (Gaines 58). When we examine

Twain's commentary on the "fiction" of racial categories not in terms of his discussion of

slavery's inconsistencies/contradictions from the distance of fifty years, but in terms of

the logical extension of these inconsistencies i.e., miscegenation in the 1890s, we see a

very different side of Twain's satire.

Although the very plot of Pudd'nhead Wilson seems to demand attention to the

topic of miscegenation, Twain never addresses the issue in any substantive way. All of

the "race mixing" in Twain's narrative occurs well before the opening of the book. We

learn second-hand of Roxana's relationship with Colonel Burleigh Essex of "ole Virginny

stock" (73). From the scant details that Twain provides, we learn that Roxana remains

proud of her association with Colonel Essex, with Tom apparently the result of a

consensual affair between slave and master. This history removes the topic of

miscegenation from all but the distant memory of Twain's text, thus displacing it from

the center of the narrative. It also implies that, even during slavery, miscegenation was a

harmless and mutual display of affection and/or passion. Whereas the reality of

miscegenation for the overwhelming majority of the enslaved community was the

institutional rape of black women by white masters, as critics such as Hazel Carby, Ann

Slotkin's article, "Mark Twain's Frontier, Hank Morgan's Last Stand." Here, he argues
that Morgan functions in the novel as a Reconstruction carpetbagger.

duCille, Kevin Gaines, and Sandra Gunning have pointed out, for Twain it remains a

harmless and perhaps even tender meeting of a passionate slave and her obliging master -

an image we will see that Hopkins emphatically challenges. In fact, with the exception of

Percy Driscoll, who indirectly threatens to sell her child, Roxana almost unanimously

supports the white aristocrats as noble and gentlemanly leaders.

Even if we bracket Twain's avoidance of the "amalgamation" that resulted in the

birth of Tom, the text has other moments when the topic of miscegenation is

conspicuously absent. While Pudd'nhead Wilson has undergone numerous and mercurial

reevaluations, critics have consistently returned to the manner in which Twain invokes

and satirizes the sentimental romance. We could take issue with the idea of

sentimentalism as a stable genre the ways in which it elides disparate textual strategies

within a static transhistorical category and excludes others. Even if we leave aside the

critical problems that this genre raises, we would expect a novel dealing with traditional

sentimental plots, even a satire of the convention, to deal with one of the genre's most

established tropes the marriage plot. For example, even as Charles Chesnutt challenges

and satirizes the notion of the Southern romance as filtered through Sir Walter Scott in

his bitingly ironic and condemnatory novel The House Behind the Cedars (1900), he

advances his critique of Southern honor in terms of its marriage customs and the

miscegenation taboo.

Similarly, if Twain mocks the conventions of the romance in Pudd'nhead Wilson,

he would seemingly have to address one of its most crucial themes love and marriage."

n For a compelling discussion of the ways in which the literary conventions of love and
marriage are racially inflected, and particularly how these conventions are reproduced and

Certainly, Tom Driscoll, as a young and apparently financially "set" aristocrat, would

seem to fit perfectly into this role. However, Twain does not mention any romantic

interludes, amorous intentions, or desires on Tom's part at all; to do so would be to

position the topic of miscegenation firmly at the center of the novel. Because Tom is a

slave switched with the "true"aristocrat, any mention of love or marriage would

inevitably lead to the accidental mixing of the races. Twain seems to balk at this

possibility the threat of inadvertent miscegenation. Instead of finding a suitable "mate"

either in Dawson's Landing or his bachelor haunts in St. Louis, Tom falls in love with a

pursuit that is traditionally segregated along gender lines gambling. In fact, Tom rarely

even speaks to a white woman. If Twain critiques the "fiction" of racial science, he

rigorously maintains the social customs which this science buttresses.

Given the political connections that marriage conventionally provides in

"romance" texts such as familial alliances and social introductions, Twain's failure to

deal openly with the subject of miscegenation allows his text to bolster the political and

economic status quo. After all, while both Roxana, as a mistress of a member of the

Virginia aristocracy, and Tom, as a slave adopting the position of the master, have the

potential to forge economic, social and political connections across racial lines, Twain

snubs the radical possibilities inherent in the theme of miscegenation, and instead prefers

to dabble in a temporary racial confusion, one that is clearly rectified by the end of the

altered in turn-of-the-century black women's fiction, see the introduction and first chapter
of Ann DuCille's The Coupling Convention. She writes, "[W]hile the marriage plot has
been coded as white, female, and European, its relationship to the African American
novel has always been highly political. Making unconventional use of conventional
literary forms, early black writers appropriated for their own emancipatory purposes both
the genre of the novel and the structure of the marriage plot" (3).


text. In his article "The 'Inky Curse': Miscegenation in the White Literary Imagination,"

Daniel Aaron claims that we can understand Twain's reticence on the subject of

miscegenation by placing him in a tradition of white Southern authors, which for Aaron

means white Southern male authors. We must understand that while Northern writers,

according to Aaron, "had no first hand knowledge of interracial unions, Southern writers

did. Miscegenation for them was a fact of life enmeshed in family history." Given

Twain's Southern background, "his reluctance to speak candidly about miscegenation is

understandable" (178-79). Not only does Aaron's assertion excuse Twain's omissions by

placing them in the context of Southern codes of gentlemanly honor and decorum -

"Mark Twain confined his comments on sexual matters to the smoking room" it also

obscures the political ramifications of Twain's decision to render miscegenation

unspeakable. However, as his 1885 journal entry on race relations which reads

"**America in 1885. (Negro supremacy-the whites under foot.)" demonstrates, Twain

was clearly not immune to the hysteria surrounding the changing racial dynamics.

Stitching Up the Seams: Hopkins' Mending of the Reputation of Black Women

If Mark Twain initially satirizes the "fiction" of racial categories, but ultimately

keeps them firmly in place by eschewing the topic of miscegenation, then in Contending

Forces Pauline Hopkins seems to refocus traditional depictions of racial difference,

ironically commenting on them, in order to magnify the illogical foundations of the

science of racial classification and segregation more generally. As I mentioned earlier,

Hopkins' use of irony depends upon its covert or understated nature to advance its

commentary. While Hopkins challenges many of the racialist assumptions which gird the

traditional figuration of a race hierarchy, her text superficially seems to support the

scientific rhetoric of an absolute disparity between the races. Certainly, if we do not

recognize Hopkins' ironic use of scientific discourse, some of her descriptions of the

"white blood" of the "superior race" are hard to read for contemporary readers looking for

a liberatory message in Hopkins' work. As Richard Yarborough comments in his

introduction to Contending Forces, "we must reluctantly conclude that in striving to

convince the skeptical white reader that 'valuable specimens' like Will and Dora do exist,

Hopkins never challenges the basic assumption that races can be ranked qualitatively"

(xxxvi). While Yarborough's comment turns our attention to Hopkins' engagement with

the topic of miscegenation, I believe Hopkins provides an ironic commentary on the

scientific discourse of racial classification that does in fact challenge the basic assumption

that races can be ranked qualitatively.

As I mentioned earlier, Stepan and Gilman see satire, wit, and irony for their

purposes these terms are interchangeable as inadequate tools for a strategy of resistance

to the authority of scientific racism. These critics suggest that the most effective response

to this racism resided in what they term a "recontextualization" of scientific data. By

meeting scientists on their own terms, "'recontextualization' resulted in new

interpretations, new narratives of self and identity, which amounted to a scientific

counterdiscourse" (95). Since we have already seen the difficulties that members of a

marginal community had in publicly mounting such a challenge, it is not surprising that

all of the evidence that Stepan and Gilman cite as successful African American


"recontextualization" of scientific racism comes exclusively from black males.2 While

these critics point out the obstacles Miller and DuBois overcame, surely black women

faced sterner tests. We could certainly ask whether Pauline Hopkins could have

published vitriolic manifestos attacking the scientific analysis of African Americans, as

did Du Bois.

Whereas Wilson's scientificc" render visible the invisible but unalterable

physical racial determiners on the bodies of Twain's "white" and "black" characters,

Hopkins relocates the debate surrounding the corporeality of difference by turning the

issue inward (beneath the skin) with the trope of racialized blood. Contending Forces

contains two distinct storylines and eras, which merge at the novel's end. The book

begins in 1800 in Bermuda with Charles Montfort claiming he is moving his family and

his slaves to the States to avoid the increasing British pressures on slavery. Montfort

claims that after he becomes financially set, he plans to manumit his slaves and retire to

England. Once settled in North Carolina, Montfort discovers that his plan to free his

slaves does not sit well with the Southern white population. The tension between

Montfort and the U.S. slaveholders increases until his supposed friend, Anson Pollock,

orchestrates the murder of Montfort and the whipping of his wife, Grace. Unable to

endure the disgrace, Grace drowns herself in the local sound. Due to research that points

to Grace's alleged "black blood," their children, Charles and Jesse, become slaves.

12 Stepan and Gilman mention Dr. Kelly Miller's critique of Fredrick Hoffman's Race
Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro and W.E.B. DuBois' "The Conservation of
Races" and The Health and Physique of the Negro American as texts that successfully
reject the interpretations of dominant scientific discourses (93-99).

The second half of the story follows Dora and Will Smith, and their mother Ma

Smith, as they run a tur-of-the-twentieth-century boarding house in Boston. A beautiful

Southern mulatta, Sappho Clark, shows up at the boarding house, becoming close friends

with Dora, and attracting the interest of every young male, including Will. We eventually

discover that, while in New Orleans, Sappho, known then as Mabelle Beaubean, was

kidnapped by white folks jealous of her father's successful store. She was then "sold" into

"service" at a brothel, where she became pregnant. After she escaped from the brothel

she gave her child to a convent and reinvented herself in Boston, changing her name to

Sappho Clark. When John Langley, a friend of Will's and Dora's betrothed, discovers

her history, he attempts to blackmail Sappho into sleeping with him. The Smith family

discovers this plan and Dora and Will break off associations with Langley, but not before

Sappho, who has recently accepted Will's proposal of marriage, leaves without a trace

and hides herself in New Orleans. The Smith family look for her in vain; after graduating

from Harvard, Will goes dejectedly off to Heidelberg to continue his studies, and Dora

marries her childhood sweetheart, Dr. Lewis, and moves with him to the South."

The two stories merge and the novel comes to a conclusion as we learn that the

mulatto Smiths are direct descendants of the Englishman Charles Montfort, who is the

grandson of Charles and Grace Montfort, and as such they are entitled to a large sum of

money. They also discover that Langley is an ancestor of Anson Pollock, thus

confirming, through the novel's neo-Lamarckian philosophy, his degenerate character.

13 Hopkins gives Will a biography and a philosophical perspective that has much in
common with that of W.E.B. DuBois, while Dr. Lewis runs a Southern industrial school,
and is clearly meant to represent the philosophy of Booker T. Washington.


Dora and Dr. Lewis settle in New Orleans, where Will finds Sappho while visiting. Will

and Sappho marry, and Alphonse, Sappho's child, joins them in what the book suggests

can only develop into a close-knit and happy family. And, fitting with the novel's moral

economy, John Langley freezes to death alone in a greedy attempt to finds gold in Alaska.

Hopkins attempted to pitch this story of "mixed" blood lines to both black and

white audiences. Contending Forces was aggressively advertised in the Colored

American Magazine, a periodical over which Hopkins was serving as editor, and was

touted "the greatest race book of the year" (Peterson 177). In 1903, Hopkins wrote in a

letter to Cornelia Condict, claiming, "My stories are definitely planned to show the

obstacles persistently placed in our paths by a dominant race to subjugate us spiritually"

(Shockley 25). Despite this "radical" agenda and Hopkins' close ties with the Colored

American Magazine, the novel was clearly targeted to white audiences as well. Two

advertisements in the magazine claimed the novel was a "book that will not only appeal

strongly to the race everywhere, but will have a large sale among the whites" (Peterson

177); and, similarly, "The book will certainly create a sensation among a certain class of

'whites' at the south, as well as awaken a general interest among our race, not only in this

country, but throughout the world" (Shockley 25).

Perhaps this two-sided agenda of the novel to serve both as a radical tale of

subjugation and as a best-seller among white audiences can explain Hopkins' complex

relationship to the era's scientific rhetoric. Writing about what he terms Hopkins' "self-

contradictory narrator," Thomas Cassidy states, "[Hopkins'] white audience, she

apparently hopes, will be comforted and flattered by [the novel's] non-threatening

reassurances of [the] general superiority [of the white race]; her black audience will

understand her double-voicedness and will find the other scenes of portrayal of black life

to be worth their patience" (664). While such a figuration begins to account for some of

Hopkins' troubling rhetoric of a racial hierarchy, I would claim that we do not need to

look to separate scenes, or bracket off certain quotations, in order to see Hopkins' dual

objectives. They occur, I would argue, within the book simultaneously.

In short, the book juxtaposes what I will call her intercommunal message aimed at

comforting, and eliciting empathy from, the white community and an intracommunal

expression of the unity and progress of the black community designed to inspire and

educate the black community. Perhaps the best place to see these two registers at work

would be the chapter entitled "The Sewing-Circle." In this chapter, and in the related

section on the American Colored League, Hopkins presents an alternative vision of the

African American race, one that exists outside the domain of science's cold glare and

relies on a different site of authority than does science. Mrs. Willis directs the sewing

circle, and Hopkins describes her as a "shrewd woman" who outmatches "subtle

businessmen" with "her apparent womanly weakness and charming simplicity" (144).

Under Mrs. Willis' direction, the sewing circle represents the values of the black

woman's club movement. As Hopkins explains, "the first business of the meeting was to

go over events of interest to the Negro race which had transpired during the week

throughout the country" (143).

In this context, the sewing circle functions much like a teach-in, as informed

individuals teach others about injustices committed against and triumphs within the


African American community. We might think of this as the intracommunal function of

the sewing circle. Hopkins explains that the work of Mrs. Willis and other like-minded

black women "bore glorious fruit in the formation of clubs of colored women banded

together for charity, for study, for every reason under God's glorious heavens that can

better the condition of mankind" (147). This rhetoric of uplift was meant to inspire and

educate, to provide examples and patterns of success to "striving" black women.

Hopkins' inclusion of "study" in this list of activities is crucial to the rhetoric of uplift:

"Describing a group struggle for freedom and social advancement," writes Gaines, "uplift

also suggests that African Americans have, with an almost religious fervor, regarded

education as the key to liberation" (1). By claiming that the women had "banded

together" for a unified purpose, Hopkins emphasized the intracommunal role that the club

movement played in her notion of uplift.

Even as she advances this vision of a tight-knit group of women assembled for the

purpose of education, the lessons learned at the sewing circle seem to be pitched at white

readers, as well as members of the black clubs. Mrs. Willis opens the meeting by turning

the women's attention to the "great cause of the evolution of true womanhood" and "the

place which the virtuous woman occupies in upbuilding the race" (146, 148). In short,

the women are being educated about Victorian womanliness/purity. Mrs. Willis explains,

"it will rest with you and your children to refute the charges brought against us as to our

moral irresponsibility, and the low moral standard maintained by us in comparison with

other races" (148). While Hopkins clearly sees this idea of true womanhood as a valuable

one for all black women, the manner in which she presents this message seems aimed at

the white readership in order to convince them that their stereotypes of licentious black

womanhood are just that false and damning stereotypes. In this "lesson," Hopkins,

through Mrs. Willis, directly contradicts the legacy of a racist science that constructs

black women as inherently sexual beings.'1 While not invoking the rhetoric of science,

this "moral" message directly confronts its findings.

This lesson, then, would be her intercommunal message, designed to

educate/convince white readers of their erroneous beliefs. Hopkins presents us with the

roots of these scientific conclusions, roots that disprove them. Mrs. Willis informs us,

"Travelers tell us that the native African woman is impregnable in her virtue" (149).

Slavery, then, and the institutional rape of black women before and after Emancipation

become the base of the rumors of black women's licentiousness. To be sure, the sewing

circle forwards a paradigm of womanhood that closely mirrors what Gaines terms, "the

Victorian myth of women's moral superiority" (142).15

Black women, Hopkins implies, "naturally" contain the same desire for purity as

do white women. The difference for Hopkins, and this constitutes the basis of her

14 For an in-depth examination of the scientific obsession with black female sexuality,
see Sander Gilman's "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female
Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature."

15 To see a clearer example of how black women writers used Victorian notions of
femininity to advance the cause of African American women's uplift, look at Anna Julia
Cooper's "Womanhood a Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race." In
this essay, originally read before the "colored clergy" of the Protestant Episcopal Church,
Cooper asks the clergy, "Will not the aid of the Church be given to prepare our girls in
head, heart, and hand for the duties and responsibilities that await the intelligent wife, the
Christian mother, the earnest, virtuous, helpful woman, at once both the lever and the
fulcrum for uplifting the race?" (Cooper 568).

intercommunal message, is that, due to white men's actions, black women have been

denied the ability to pursue and fulfill this desire. For this reason Hopkins presents a

redefined, relative notion of purity that has much in common with that of Harriet Jacobs.

Responding to Sappho's fears about black women being blamed by God and we could

add the white community also for their illegitimacy, Mrs. Willis answers, "I believe that

we shall not be held responsible for wrongs which we have unconsciously committed, or

which we have committed under compulsion. We are virtuous or non-virtuous only when

we have a choice under temptation" (140, emphasis in original). Hopkins appeals to the

broader issue of morality to circumvent science's tendency to reduce African American

women to their bodies, including bodily measurements, and bodily urges. While her

appeal to a moral standard may appear a subjective concept tied to religiosity today,

Hopkins seeks to align her morality to similar claims that yoke morality and respectable

humanity. In other words, to be moral, in the era's conception of the term, is to be fully

human in the eyes of society, an elusive goal for tur-of-the-century African Americans.

Fitting under the mantle of morality not only gets one into heaven; it allows one to take

part in American society. When in 1872 Charles Loring Brace refers to the "moral and

fortunate classes" who direct and govern American society (Trachtenberg xiii), he defines

the very communities in which racialist science claimed African Americans did not

belong. Race science asserted that African Americans were not "fit" for handling

positions of power; morality became a powerful tool for blacks to prove they were.

The myth of black women's licentiousness, Hopkins argues, stems from three

causes: 1) erroneous reports and lies about African American women's sexual mor6s; 2)

the white community's denying the black populace the opportunity for education and a

stable social structure that enable the practice of "purity" thus leading to unconscious

"wrongs"; and 3) the rape of black women by white women, as in Sappho's example -

"wrongs" committed "under compulsion." While providing an intracommunal paradigm

of uplift education, Hopkins' example of the sewing circle simultaneously presents an

intercommunal declaration of the connections between the rhetoric of purity and the

oppression of black women. In the words of Gaines, "the proverbial sanctity of white

womanhood was intertwined with the moral devaluation of black women, all of which

abetted the terroristic component of white supremacy, and the dispossession of blacks,

practiced in the name of 'civilization'" (149).

Irony-ing Out the Difference: Pauline Hopkins' Scientific "Specimens"

Without a doubt, one of the most deleterious prongs of the racist discourse of

civilization is the rhetoric of scientific racial classification. Hopkins enters into this

discourse by describing John Langley, perhaps the "whitest" of the mulatto characters, in

terms of the scientific rhetoric so often marshaled to isolate and identify the empirical

difference of blackness, which became equated with criminality and inferiority. In fact,

Hopkins accounts for Langley's moral delinquency in terms of the racialist pseudo-

science of phrenology: "Sensuality was prominent in the phrenological development of

his head, although no one of his associates would have called him a libertine.

Nevertheless, there it lurked ready to assert itself when the conditions were ripe to call it

into action" (226). Here Hopkins invokes phrenology to bind together quantitative


physical attributes with qualitative moral faculty. Relying on a neo-Lamarckian concept

of heredity, Hopkins suggests that Langley's licentious behavior is rooted in his biological

make-up. Even if his "conditions" (training) allow such behavior to remain latent, it will

one day emerge, revealing his "true" degenerate self. In this instance, it appears as though

"training" does not supercede heredity. Rather, it merely drapes a facade over Langley's

biological "essence." One wonders why Hopkins would give credence to phrenology, a

science that both provides so much damaging "evidence" against the black populace and

inevitably calls into question the very sorts of reevaluations of African Americans in

which Hopkins so ardently partakes.

Recalling how intrinsically phrenology was related to racial classification and

racist characterizations of African Americans, as well as Hopkins' comments on the

superiority of the white race, one might assume that what John Langley lacks is a quantity

of "white blood" that would push him further up the evolutionary chain-of-being and

presumably alter his cranial dimensions. Indeed, Hopkins says as much earlier in the text.

As she argues against white skeptics who doubt the plausibility of morally-refined

African Americans, she states, "We do not allow for the infusion of white blood, which

became pretty generally distributed in the inferior black race during the existence of

slavery.... Surely the Negro race must be productive of some valuable specimens, if only

from the infusion which amalgamation with a superior race must eventually bring" (87,

emphasis mine). While this quotation surely served to jab at an uneasy white audience,

reminding them of how often white masters procreated with (raped) their slaves, the

statement troubles the modem reader even more. If extended to its logical extreme, this

quote suggests that the institutional rape of black women ultimately benefitted African

Americans, that this rape "infused" positive qualities into their illegitimate off-spring,

helping to "uplift" the race.

Susan Gillman reads this passage as proof of Hopkins' belief in the value of

miscegenation as a tool of racial uplift. She writes, "Countering the one-drop ideology of

miscegenation law, the narrator now asks how the infusion of blood from the 'superior'

race could result in anything other than a superior 'specimen' that would affirm the

scientific law of evolution. She extends the logic of the post-Darwinian 'blood mixture'

arguments to their logical extreme: the production of an evolved Negro race" (Gillman,

"Occult" 78). To come to this conclusion, however, one must fail to take into account

Hopkins' ironic commentary on the entire scientific discourse concerning miscegenation.

Even as this passage seems to undermine her goal to "raise the stigma of

degradation from my race" (13), by suggesting its improvement through miscegenation

Hopkins cleverly aligns the rhetoric of the quotation with that of white observers in a way

that unsettles the biological essentialism it initially advances. The "if only" in this

passage acts as an ironic qualifier that distances its meaning from the narrator. The

sentence could be re-phrased as follows: "The Negro race undoubtedly produces people

who cannot be characterized as 'inferior.' This fact cannot be disputed, even if one must

resort to the logic of improvement through amalgamation (a logic which this book clearly

demonstrates to be unnecessary) ." While I have been quite liberal in my transcription, I

have been so in order to demonstrate the careful manner in which Hopkins formulates her

argument. The scientific term "specimens," used to describe "uplifted" African


Americans, further aligns the reader with a white audience as Hopkins adopts the rhetoric

of biological classification. Indeed, we as readers become the white scientist who studies,

charts, and classifies the African American populace, accounting for different

"specimens" within the species, presumably to provide empirical evidence of a

polygenetic separation of the races. The "surely" which begins the sentence only serves

to heighten the irony of the passage. Hopkins seems to suggest that the debate over

whether or not "Negroes" are capable of producing "valuable specimens" comes from the

same, or at least a similar, inane source as the attempt to determine whether "white

blood" helps or harms the African American population. Through her use of irony in this

passage, Hopkins clearly refrains from using miscegenation as a tool for upward mobility.

After all, in order to claim that lighter-skinned African Americans were more equipped to

fight the battles of uplift, one would have to fall back on the scientific reasoning which

Hopkins resists.

Perhaps we can further understand the ways in which Hopkins reconfigures the

discourse of science by looking at two more instances where Hopkins discusses

phrenology and "pure" blood lines. Before her comments about Langley's phrenological

deficiencies, Hopkins writes,

Superstition is supposed to be part of the Negro's heritage... In these days of
palmistry, phrenology, card-reading, mind-reading, lucky pigs, rabbit's feet worn
on the watch-chain for luck, and four-leaved clover encased in crystal and silver
for the same reason, who shall say that the Negro has not lost his monopoly of one
great racial characteristic? (198-99)

In this instance, phrenology, rather than a "rational" science of measurements and

research, is lumped in with various other "superstitions." In Hopkins' formulation,

phrenology, like lucky "rabbit's feet," may be valuable to the believer "proving" his/her

own notion of truth, but it does not reveal absolute truth, as science traditionally purports

to do. While she labels superstition as "one great racial characteristic," she attributes it to

the "Negro's heritage." The term "heritage" is more comprehensive than traditional

scientific terms of racial difference, suggesting not only biologically innate traits, but the

influence of cultural traditions and customs as well. By blurring the lines between race

and ethnicity, between traits and tendencies, between biology and culture lines so

crucial to the logic of scientific racism, Hopkins suggests the subjectivity and cultural

relativity of traditional racial classifications, even as she uses them. Although science

may purport to reveal the "Truth," Hopkins implies that the scientific discourse

surrounding racial "traits and tendencies" withstands interrogation no better than does

fortune-telling. In giving the science of racial classification an ambiguous position within

her text, she weakens the scientific discourse that so vilifies African Americans.

This notion of "traits" and "tendencies" resonated deeply in turn-of-the-century

American culture, as debates raged around which "racial characteristics" could be

considered "traits" (inherited) and which could be seen as "tendencies" (learned/cultural).

Fredrick Hoffman provides the most salient example with his study, Race Traits and

Tendencies of the American Negro (1896). In this book Hoffman seeks to isolate

empirically fundamental African American characteristics. Not surprisingly he fails,

although he attributes this failure to miscegenation, rather than considering the role of

acculturation or questioning the validity of racial categories. He writes, "The [African

American] race is so hopelessly mixed that it is difficult to arrive at a clear definition" of


what is meant by the category of "colored" (177). Whether or not Hopkins was aware of

this book, which appeared four years prior to Contending Forces, she indubitably plays

with the rhetoric of Hoffman and like scientists. In light of Hoffman's attempt to isolate

the "racial traits and tendencies of the Negro," Hopkins' comment that the "Negro" may

have "lost his monopoly of one great racial characteristic" (superstition) seems all the

more ironic. In this instance, Hopkins isolates the lynchpin of scientific discourse the

distinction between biological "race" and cultural "ethnicity" in a manner that unsettles

what these terms signify.

If we recall Hopkins' earlier comments about the superiority of "white blood,"

when we find out that Langley is hurt by "a bad mixture of blood," we might naturally

assume that his African ancestry is what damages his biological worth. Not so at this

point, Hopkins subtly alters the discourse of racial difference. While his black ancestors

may have benefitted from the infusion of white blood, Langley's white blood proves to be

his shortcoming:

Natural instinct for good had been perverted by a mixture of "cracker" blood of
the lowest type of his father's side with whatever God-saving quality that might
have been loaned the Negro by pitying nature. This blood, while it gave him the
pleasant features of the Caucasian race, vitiated his moral nature and left it
stranded high and dry on the shore of blind ignorance. (221)

In a dramatic reversal of previous discussions of white and black blood, Hopkins

condemns Langley's "cracker" blood, his "white trash" ancestry. Her use of the idea of

"cracker" blood, like her use of the term "heritage," undermines the dichotomies upon

which scientists such as Hoffman depended. Nevertheless, her reliance on the rhetoric of

blood aligns her text with the racist science that she contests. This contradiction or


tension shows how deep the belief in the authority of science ran. Even as Hopkins tries

to undermine this authority through her ironic mention of "cracker blood," she

internalizes the concept upon which racist science depended the idea of privileged


Writing three decades earlier than both Hopkins and Hoffman, Sanford Hunt, a

surgeon in the United States Volunteers, wondered how physiological difference

influences, or is influenced by, "civilizing" education. In his 1867 article "The Negro as

a Soldier" in the Quarterly Journal of Psychology, Hunt states, "Between the two races,

the problem is: Does the large brain by its own impulses create education, civilization and

refinement, or do education, civilization and refinement create a large brain?" (cited in

Haller 32). For Hunt, the best way to answer this query was to examine the poor white


This problem might be solved by a series of researches in the weight of brain of
the poor whites of the south, known as "sand hillers," "low-down people," or
"crackers." With them civilization has retrograded. They came of a good stock
originally, but have degenerated into an idle, ignorant and physically and mentally
degraded people. Their general aspect would indicate small brains. If they are
small, it is due to the absence of educational influences." (32)

Hunt's suggestion opens up the very possibilities that Hoffman's study tries to foreclose,

namely that physical difference could be culturally determined and independent of race.

Just as Hunt's introduction of the Southern "cracker" calls into question the methodology

of scientists such as Hoffman, so too does Hopkins' invocation of Langley's "cracker"

blood resist the discourse of biological essentialism, at least as it pertains to race.

Commenting on Hopkins' depiction of Langley's inherited evil nature, Ann

duCille argues that Langley serves as an example of the "era's preoccupation with

heredity and genetics." For duCille Langley produces a "polemic of identity" in which

"the implication of evil (like intelligence) is heredity and both class and race-determined"

(40). Although duCille perceptively focuses on the issue of "heredity and genetics," it

seems to me that this passage, alongside earlier discussions of the superiority of "white

blood," renders ambiguous the distinctions upon which theories of racial classification

rest. In this instance, Hopkins' blood qualifications seem to rest much more firmly on

notions of class, gentility, and honor, than on staunch racial difference. To claim that

Langley's "cracker" blood harms him undermines the entire register of racist white

discourse surrounding the races, even as it replicates its theoretical and rhetorical

structures, such as blood as an identifiable marker of difference.

At a time where the discourse surrounding "Negro education" was centered

around the issue of moral training and moral capability, Hopkins suggests that it is often

white people who lack the moral faculty that comes from "pure" blood lines. Or to put it

another way, she articulates a moral universe in which character is defined by issues of

class that transcend racial lines. Hazel Carby attributes Langley's loathsome demeanor to

precisely such class issues. For Carby, Hopkins "re-created in Langley a representative

figure of the 'Gilded Age,' manipulating and monopolizing unbridled power" (139).

Certainly, Langley's search for unimaginable wealth in the Klondike and his eventual

death in a blizzard there would seem to support such a reading. Not only does this

scenario evince a fable-like morality about the evils of greed, a "tendency" Hopkins

generally aligns with the white populace, Langley literally dies in an overpowering storm

of whiteness.


These implications of class-based morality open up troubling issues of their own.

In this rather covert commentary on the cultural underpinnings of racial definition,

Hopkins disables, or at least deflects, claims of the inherent inferiority of African

Americans. In fact, for Carby this reevaluation proves to be one of the chief messages of

the book. She claims that Hopkins "attempted to demonstrate the importance of social,

political, and economic interests in determining human behavior in order to negate

contemporary propositions of the danger of the degeneracy of a social group through its

amalgamation with another" (140). Carby's argument that Hopkins sought to disarm the

perceived threat of mulatto degeneracy is a valuable one. The "mixed-blood" heroes in

Contending Forces Sappho, Will, and Dora provide Hopkins the opportunity to

envision alliances across racial borders, an idea that would be anathema to the majority of

the most vocal scientists of racial classification, even if these alliances must be formed

outside of the particular racist ideology of the United States.

While Hopkins may use the topic of miscegenation in order to suggest an alliance

between black and white characters, however, she emphasizes the fact that this "mixing"

generally comes from the rape of a black women. If Twain describes a consensual union

between a slave, Roxy, and a slave-holder, Colonel Essex, then Hopkins' text serves as a

chilling reminder of the harsher realities of "race mixing." At the beginning of the text,

when Mr. Montfort threatens to manumit his slaves, the local white men kill him and

torture his wife, Grace, in a ritualized manner that Hazel Carby calls a metaphoric rape

(Carby 132). Seeing this beating in terms of a rape as Carby suggests allows the reader to

understand the ways in which for Hopkins sexual and racial dynamics become

intertwined. Hopkins writes,

In those days, if accused of aiding slaves in a revolt, a white man stood no more
chance than a Negro accused of the same crime. He forfeited life and property.
This power of the law Anson Pollock has invoked [and] had used Bill Sampson's
suggestion of black blood in Mrs. Montfort, to further his scheme for possessing
her. (70)

The perceived threat of miscegenation Mrs. Montfort's "black blood" becomes Anson

Pollock's excuse in his quest to "possess" Grace Montfort. In this instance, Pollock

invokes the issue of race to dominate her sexually. Or to put it another way, Hopkins

demonstrates the manner in which for women labeled as "black" racial threats become

inextricably connected with sexual abuse. Furthermore, Pollock expresses, and acts

upon, this desire to "possess" her precisely at the moment when he is contesting the

patriarchal power of Montfort, specifically his legal and social right to free his slaves.

Grace Montfort's "black streak," which is never confirmed or dismissed in the text,

denies her the protection of white womanhood, and her skin serves as a visible reminder

of miscegenation, connecting her with what Pollock terms a slave revolt. Carby states,

"The actual and figurative ravishing of 'grace' at the hand of Southern brutality

established the link that Hopkins believed existed between the violent act of rape and its

specific political use as a device of terrorism" (132).

Whereas Carby attributes this "rape" to "the possibility that Grace Montfort was

black," it seems to me that in this instance the issue involves the possibility that she was

black and white. As a symbol of a violation of the miscegenation taboo, Grace Montfort

represented the social equality or to use terminology more consistent with pre-

Emancipation America the freeing of slaves, that the racist Anson Pollock was so

adamantly resisting. As one critic puts it, "Using rape in place of 'passing' as a figure for

the relations between the races, Hopkins self-consciously underscores the ways in which

the white American imagination had linked sexuality to racial identity and had, moreover,

figured a racial 'threat' in sexual terms" (McCullough 25).

Like Twain, Hopkins explores contemporary issues about miscegenation by

placing them within the system of slavery. Whereas Twain does so in a manner which

displaces the ramifications of this issue for 1890s racial politics, Hopkins' text invites a

discussion of the ways in which miscegenation signifies the rape of black women after

Emancipation. In short, she emphasizes the continuity of the exploitation of African

American women within a racist patriarchal structure. She say as much in the preface to

Contending Forces: 'The atrocities of the acts committed one hundred years ago are

duplicated today, when slavery is supposed to no longer exist" (15). In this regard, the

Emancipation Proclamation has not accomplished much. Sappho's kidnapping, rape, and

impregnation at the hands of her father's white half-brother refocuses the topic of

miscegenation firmly on the defenseless position African American women held in post-

Emancipation America. Clearly, there exists no legal system in which to prosecute the

rape of a black women, and no space in the social register for a pregnant unmarried

African American to occupy other than the stereotypical lascivious black woman.

Even Sappho's name aligns her superficially with this stereotype. As Sandra

Gunning points out, in some 1890s male artist circles, the figure of the Greek Sappho

came to represent "a sexual hedonist with a darkened face 'burned under the sun of

passion'" (101). Sappho Clark and her bastard son are seen by the male-determined

society as symbolically dead, "burned under the sun of passion." In fact, after Sappho is

raped, her father leaves her in a convent, claiming that she died there "when her child was

born" (261, emphasis in the text). If society has no symbolic space for a raped black

women, then we see her father contributing to her silencing/death. Nonetheless, while

society may not recognize the institutional rape of black women and the ways in which

these women responded, Hopkins details Sappho's successful life after "death" as a

reminder of the fact that African American women persevered in the face of societal


Although Sappho, Will, and Dora function in Hopkins' text as the "mixed-race"

heroes, as the noble characters that will help to uplift the African American populace, we

must not too hastily conclude that Hopkins uses the trope of miscegenation as a means of

promoting equality for the lighter-skinned African Americans. Critics have made much

out of Will Smith's "white" appearance, suggesting that his physical appearance of

whiteness makes him a more suitable leader of the uplift movement. For example, Lois

Lamphere Brown argues that "our attention is directed to the visual signs of Smith's

physical form, and Hopkins proposes that his appearance is proof of whiteness" (67).

Brown cites Hopkins' comment that his hair had "just a tinge of crispness to denote the

existence of Negro blood" as proof that the narrator emphasizes his whiteness in order to

displace the African background that would align him with the text's darker characters

(66). However, we must also consider that John Langley was "very fair" and "his hair

had no indication of Negro blood in its waves" (70). If whiteness is the standard by


which mulattos are seen in the text as worthy to promote the goals of uplift, then we must

conclude that Langley would be the text's messiah. Clearly, Hopkins is not using the

notion of miscegenation as a signal of racial progress in such an uncomplicated manner.

For even as Hopkins uses the trope of miscegenation in order to destabilize the

rhetoric of biological essentialism that led to racial classification, she observes the

cultural value of "light-skinned" mulattos. That is to say, while she ironically undermines

the very foundation that scientists relied on to construct their hierarchy of the races, she is

acutely aware of the societal advantages provided lighter-skinned mulattos such as Will

Smith. Even as Smith announces, "Miscegenation, either lawful or unlawful, we do not

want. The Negro dwells less on such a social cataclysm than any other race" (264,

emphasis in text), Hopkins uses miscegenation to suggest precisely the type of "social

equality" that Smith denies in this speech. While Hopkins resists the logic of racial

difference and the implications of the erosion of these differences by way of "race-

mixing" after all, to use miscegenation as a symbol of progress is to fall into the

dichotomy of racial exclusivity against which Hopkins fights she nonetheless

implements the trope of miscegenation to highlight and indict the American racial

hysteria that motivates precisely these debates.

Her condemnation of American racial politics intensifies at the conclusion of the

novel, and we finally see miscegenation forging the type of cross-racial bonds that

Hopkins suggests throughout the book. As the book concludes, Will, Sappho, her child

Alphonse, Dora and Ma Smith finally reunite with their lost white relatives. This ending

suggests a utopia of racial harmony, one in which the gap of racial difference is bridged.

Hopkins tempers this utopia by reminding us of the scathing racism still present in

America. In this respect, nothing has changed; the Smiths must leave the country to

recognize, and be recognized by, their white English relatives. The novel concludes with

Will and Dora watching the shoreline of the United States, and presumably the racial

essentialism therein, disappear: "They stood on the deck that night long after the others

had retired to their staterooms, watching the receding shores with hearts filled with

emotion too deep for words." Hopkins suggests here that the racial dynamics that she has

been ironically commenting upon, and the scientific discourse that girds these dynamics,

are particular to the United States. Certainly, she is not alone in this contention. As

several critics have noted, the empirical attempts to document "separate and unequal"

racial origins, to use Gillman's term, through the theory of polygenesis is a fundamentally

American pursuit (Fredrickson 74, Gould, Mismeasure 42, and Gillman, "Occult" 68).

Perhaps, then, we could say that, for Hopkins, while irony may be able to unsettle the

terms of the scientific discourse it critiques, it can never defeat them. Like the African

American expatriate presence in Paris several decades later, Hopkins' heroes must leave

the United States to escape its constricting racial delineations.

The Sticky Residue of Blood: Hopkins, Miscegenation and Pan-Africanism

If Contending Forces uses irony and the trope of miscegenation to call into

question the fundamental logic behind scientific theories of racial classification, Hopkins'

novel Of One Blood, serialized in 1902-03 in the Colored American Magazine, combats

this classification by providing alternative scientific paradigms that allow for a broader


conception of race. Of One Blood is a quirky novel, one that deals with mysticism, occult

sciences, pan-African unity, and the results of miscegenation. On one level, in this

novel, Hopkins seems to utilize Stepan's and Gilman's ideas about "scientific

counterdiscourse." In Of One Blood, Hopkins looks to the alternative science of occult

phenomena to invert the idea of racial hierarchy. While today we don't tend to think of

the occult particularly as it appears in late-night TV advertisements for 1-900 numbers

offering over-the-phone psychic readings as affiliated with rigorous scientific study,

Susan Gillman reminds us that "the phrase 'occult science' was regularly used at the

time" that Of One Blood was published ("Occult" 62). Gillman demonstrates the value

given to the occult science by quoting the mission statement of the Society for Psychical

Research, which claimed to examine "without prejudice or prepossession and in a

scientific spirit, those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable

on any generally recognized hypothesis" (62). This statement reveals nicely some of the

value Hopkins might have seen in yoking the occult to contemporary racial debates. First

of all, psychical research, as defined in this quote, seeks to explore what is inexplicable in

traditional scientific contexts. In other words, it seeks to destabilize the ossified and

"objective" Truth of modern science, and to expose this Truth as emanating from

"prejudice[d]" and "prepossesse[d]" perspectives. Such an idea seems perfectly suited to

Stepan's and Gilman's notion of a "recontextualization" of scientific methodology that

would result in new interpretations of, and new ways of seeing, racial difference (95).

Before we examine how Hopkins seeks to destabilize the rhetoric of racialized

science, I will provide a brief synopsis of Of One Blood. The book begins in the lab of a


lonely Harvard medical student, Reuel Briggs, who is, unbeknownst to his colleagues, of

African descent he is passing as white. The book opens with Reuel working tirelessly

on a scientific experiment involving the connection between "personal magnetism" and

"the reanimation of the body after seeming death" (464). Convinced by his friend Aubrey

Livingston to take a break from his studies, Reuel joins some friends and goes to a club,

where he hears a black woman singing "in a grand minor cadence that told of deliverance

from bondage and homage to God for his wonderful aid" (453). Becoming entranced

with the voice, which fell "in celestial showers of silver that passed all conceptions,"

Reuel inquires about her and learns that the jubilee singer's name is Dianthe Lusk.

Shortly after this outing, Reuel attends a "Hallow-Eve" party, where the guests

visit a haunted house one by one. When Reuel goes to the house, he sees Dianthe, who

replies to Reuel's offer of assistance: "You can help me, but not now; tomorrow" (461).

The next day, Dianthe shows up at the hospital in a coma, or dead as the other doctors

pronounce her, after being in a train wreck. Using his as-of-yet untested theories, Reuel

resuscitates Dianthe, but she has amnesia and cannot remember her identity, which Reuel

withholds for her "protection." At this point, Dianthe adopts the social position of a

white woman. Reuel nurses her back to health, and she becomes attached to and

dependent upon him. After she regains her health, they marry. However, Reuel worries

about being able to provide financially for Dianthe, and at the urging of Aubrey accepts a

position with an expedition to discover wealth in the ruins of Ethiopia. Leaving Dianthe

in the care of Aubrey, Reuel departs for Africa immediately.


When Reuel's party comes to the ruins of the ancient city of Telassar, the "queen

city" of the Meroe civilization, which the book presents as the cradle of all civilization,

he learns through a letter that Aubrey has acted as a traitor, and that Dianthe is dead.

After a short period of mourning, he recklessly explores the hidden city, for he has lost

his will to live. While in the caves of the mountains, he is kidnapped by the city's

inhabitants, who have been living in secrecy, thanks to the shelter of a virtually

unpassable swamp and desert, for 6000 years in the opulent and lush lands surrounding

the pyramids. In this hidden city, the civilization's leaders inform Reuel informed that he

is Ergamenes, the long awaited savior of the Ethiopian peoples, the destined leader who

will "begin the restoration of Ethiopia" and free it from the "scourge" of the "white

stranger" (555). While the water-lily birthmark on his breast identifies Reuel as the

messiah, his knowledge and belief in the occult powers make him exceedingly qualified

for the job. We learn from the current leader Ai John the Baptist to Reuel's Jesus that

the Telassaran people have mastered the powers of occult and mysticism; in fact, "it was

the shadow of Ethiopia's power" (558), a power that has not yet been attained by so-

called "modern" culture.

As the future king of Ethiopia, Reuel naturally becomes paired with the city's

queen, Candace, who "reminded him strongly of Dianthe" (568). Their marriage is

quickly arranged. However, before the ceremony, Reuel learns through divination he

looks at a mystical disk that tells the future and the past that Dianthe is not dead, that

Aubrey had faked her death, kidnapped her, and killed his own fiancee, Molly, in order to

take Dianthe as his wife. If Candace's Dido-like temptations temporarily distract our

Aeneas-like hero, he now understands his purpose; he returns to the United States,

accompanied by Ai, to exact revenge on Aubrey and save Dianthe. While he proves too

late to save Dianthe after she drinks poison intended for Aubrey, he casts a spell which

causes Aubrey to kill himself in the same manner that he murdered Molly.

Throughout the text, Reuel is guided by his muse, an apparition named Mira. We

eventually learn from an old "voodoo doctor," Aunt Hannah, who was living outside

Boston in a "typical Southern cabin," that a slave concubine named Mira was the mother

of Dianthe and Reuel they are brother and sister! Furthermore, their slave-owning

father was the same as Aubrey's he is their half-brother! Using this plot twist as an

opportunity to comment on the logic of miscegenation, Hopkins writes, "The slogan of

the hour is 'Keep the Negro down!' but who is clear enough in vision to decide who hath

black blood and who hath it not? ... No man can draw the dividing line between the two

races, for they are both of one blood!" (607).

After exacting his revenge on Aubrey, Reuel takes Aunt Hannah, his grandmother

as it turns out, and returns to his throne in Telassar, where he is "united" with Candace.

The novel ends with an uncustomary narrative diatribe condemning prejudice and greed

in modem society and lauding the omniscient plan of God: "To our human intelligence

these truths depicted in this feeble work may seem terrible even horrible. But who shall

judge the handiwork of God, the Great Craftsman! Caste prejudice, race pride, boundless

wealth, scintillating intellects refined by all the arts of the intellectual world, are but

puppets in His hand, for His promises stand, and He will prove His words, 'Of one blood

have I made all races of men'" (621).

Perhaps seeking to establish a scientific "counterdiscourse" that refigures the

relationship between the races, Of One Blood immediately legitimizes "alternative"

science and places it at the center of its narrative. Hopkins does not present Reuel's

intense studying of the occult, of mesmeric forces and personal magnetism, as a

hindrance to his scientific reputation in America. In fact, his classmates at Harvard "all

voted him a genius in his scientific studies" (445) and in "brain diseases he was an

authority" (462). As I mentioned earlier, this focus on the "inexplicable" ends up saving

Dianthe's life and in the process establishes a scientifically-verifiable precedent:

"Advancing far afield in the mysterious regions of science, [Reuel] has stumbled upon the

solution of one of life's problems: the reanimation of the body after seeming death" (464,

emphasis in original). When Reuel explains that he has been able to bring Dianthe "back

to life" because of his understanding of "volatile magnetism," a traditional surgeon quips,

"Your theory smacks of the supernatural, Dr. Briggs, charlatanism, or dreams of lunacy..

.. We leave such assertions to quacks, generally, for the time of miracles is past." Reuel

quietly responds, "The supernatural presides over man's formation always." So in

command of his science and his words is Reuel that he quickly converts the skeptical

masses: "There radiated from the speaker the potent presence of a truthful mind, a pure,

unselfish nature, and that inborn dignity which repels the shafts of lower minds as ocean's

waves absorb the drops of rain" (469-70). Through Reuel's conversion of his scientific

colleagues, Hopkins aligns the alternative occult sciences with a "potent," "truthful mind"

and an "inborn dignity."


While this synopsis clearly allows us to see how Hopkins attempts to destabilize

the accepted "truths" of science, we don't yet see how this applies specifically to theories

of racial difference. For this, we must wait until Reuel travels to Africa. Just as Reuel

denies his "drop of black blood" he passes as white until he goes to Africa and

embraces his heritage, so too is Reuel's occult science presented as a Western science,

albeit one that strays far from the mainstream, until Reuel discovers its roots and

refinement in the supposedly "primitive" Meroe civilization. In Ethiopia we learn that his

expertise in mysticism comes more from his "inborn" African ancestry than his studying

of Western occult scientists, such as Alfred Binet."l

He has carefully hidden his Ethiopian extraction from the knowledge of the world.
It was a tradition among those who had known him in childhood that he was
descended from a race of African kings. He remembered his mother well. From
her he has inherited his mysticism and his occult powers. The nature of the
mystic within him was, then, but a dreamlike devotion to the spirit that had
swayed his ancestors; it was the shadow of Ethiopia's power. (558)

This quotation immediately shifts our understanding of the role of mysticism in the text.

First of all, rather than attributing Reuel's proficiency in the occult to his tireless and

16 Alfred Binet (1857-1911) was a French psychologist specializing in the study and
quantification of intelligence. Early in his career, Binet was a proponent of craniometry,
although by the time Hopkins was writing Of One Blood, he had proclaimed craniometry
unreliable and distanced himself from the field of study (Entine 163-4). Denise Fallon
explains Binet's connection to the "occult sciences": "Binet worked with [Jean-Martin]
Charcot and [Charles] Fere at the Salpetriere, a famous Parisian hospital, where he
absorbed the theories of his teachers in regards to hypnosis, hysteria and abnormal
psychology. During the following seven years, he continuously demonstrated his loyalty
in defending Charcot's doctrines on hypnotic transfer and polarization." Binet eventually
split with Charcot's work, due in large part to his inability to disregard the counterattacks
levied by J.R.L. Delboeuf and the Nancy School (Fallon).

"lonely" study at Harvard, it emanates from his connection, through his mother, with a

"race of African kings." To emphasize this point, Hopkins invokes the discourse of

science that debated whether "traits" (heredity) or "tendencies" (environment) create

racial difference. In this case, Reuel "inherited" his mysticism; it was his "nature." If

racialist scientists such as Hoffman traditionally yoked "inherited" deficiencies with

African inferiority and degeneracy, then Hopkins inverts the hierarchy, while retaining

the same vocabulary of absolute biological difference.

Gillman claims that Hopkins attempts to "join the two mystical traditions, the

Western and the African, under the rubric of 'the abstract science of occultism'": "The

novel ... twins rather than opposes Euro-American science and African spiritualism,

offering different traditions or systems of the occult as the syncretic meeting ground

between the two civilizations" (72). While this twinning doubtlessly occurs in the text, it

seems to me that Hopkins does not seek to show the syncretic relationship between Africa

and Euro-American traditions. Rather, Of One Blood posits African mysticism as the

originary source of subsequent Euro-American forms of occult. Just as Thoreau uses the

metaphor of a stream emanating from a spring in order to suggest we must travel

upstream to get the "pure" spiritual powers, Hopkins suggests that American forms of

mysticism are both diluted and polluted. We must return to Africa to learn/experience the

powers of "pure" occult science. As Reuel listens to Ai talk about the refinement of the

occult power in Meroe, he "was awed into silence. He could say nothing, and listened to

Ai's learned remarks with a reverence that approached almost to worship before this

proof of his supernatural powers. What would the professors of Harvard have said to

this, he asked himself. In the heart of Africa was a knowledge of science that all the

wealth and learning of modern times could not emulate" (576). All the King's horses and

all the King's men couldn't recreate Africa's splendor again.

When Reuel discovers this connection, he finally becomes able to accept his

African ancestry and quit passing for white. Presented with the cultural sophistication of

the people of Telassar, Reuel will never again hide his "Ethiopian extraction" or his sense

of connection with the African peoples. He "felt keenly now the fact that he had played

the coward's part in hiding his origin" (560). In this scene, Hopkins not only inverts the

racial hierarchy generally associated with scientific advancement, but she also connects

the ability to claim and recognize one's marginalized heritage with the dismantling of

traditional figurations of racial difference. As Carby notes, the novel "is an early fictional

response to the philosophy of Pan-Africanism in the United States" ("Introduction" xlv).

Gillman also notices the novel's Pan-Africanist impulse and seems to imply that

Hopkins' "multivalent Ethiopianism" espouses an ideology that prefigures the "black is

beautiful" slogan that would gain so much currency two decades later during the Harlem

Renaissance. In other words, Hopkins' focus on blood lines and ancestry resists

traditional racist hierarchies that are generally associated with the rhetoric of biological

difference. She writes, "Hopkins enlists the polygenetic affirmation of separate racial

origins but counters its assumption of 'black' inferiority" (66). While the text

superficially supports such a reading, Hopkins' vision of an Ethiopia-based sense of

heritage becomes increasingly complicated when we examine the role that Reuel plays as

King of Telassar. Even the fact that the savior of Ethiopia will be an American man who

was passing for white at Harvard University begins to muddle the claim that the novel

subverts black/white, Africa/America figurations of superiority and inferiority.

In fact, in the first description that we get of Reuel, Hopkins emphasizes his

whiteness, and his European features: "His head was that of an athlete, with close-set

ears, and covered with an abundance of black hair, straight and closely cut, thick and

smooth; the nose was the aristocratic feature, although nearly spoiled by broad nostrils, of

this remarkable young man; his skin was white, but of a tint suggesting olive, an almost

sallow color which is a mark of strong, melancholic temperaments" (443-44). With all

the racist stereotypes swirling around the turn of the century about African Americans'

"thick lips" and "flat noses," we might wonder why Hopkins describes her Ethiopian

savior as having a nose, his "aristocratic feature," that was "nearly spoiled" by broad

nostrils. Furthermore, his skin is described as "white." Even if we acknowledge its

"olive" tint, the addition of the descriptor "sallow" undermines this nod to a darker

complexion. While Hopkins' use of "sallow" serves on one hand to emphasize Reuel's

sickly countenance he spends too much time studying his books in this context it

suggests an absence of color, an odd description of an African king. It appears as though

it is Reuel's "European" features that raise him above the crowd. On one hand, Hopkins

challenges racist figurations by privileging Ethiopia over Western culture. On the other,

she still relies on Western notions of superiority even as she counters this superiority. Or,

as Gaines puts it more generally, "Hopkins' use of 'race' cuts both ways, both resisting

and replicating racist mythologies" (434).

Even though she hauntingly renders the "minor cadences" of African American

spirituals as the star of the Fisk Jubilee singers, Dianthe is described with similar

characteristics of refinement and beauty: "She was not in any way the preconceived idea

of a Negro. Fair as the fairest woman in the hall, with wavy bands of chestnut hair,

melting eyes of brown, soft as those of childhood" (433). Is this the "polygenetic

affirmation of separate racial origins" that Gillman lauds? On one hand, these

descriptions seem to attempt to invoke contemporary notions of heroes and heroines.

Claudia Tate and Hazel Carby have expertly demonstrated how Hopkins and Frances

Harper adopted and adapted normative turn-of-the-century gender constructions,

including "white" bourgeois notions of purity and beauty, in order to create tales of

"heroic virtue" that would avoid the "tragic consequences of excessive passion" usually

attributed to black women (Tate 172). However, in Of One Blood something else seems

to be going on. After all, Reuel and Dianthe through her reincarnation as Candace -

supposedly represent notthe epitome of American bourgeois refinement, but an African

alternative to Western concepts of beauty and Truth. Why, we might ask, does Hopkins

emphasize Reuel's and Dianthe's whiteness, even as she connects them to an African

civilization that predates European culture?

Carby claims that these descriptions disappear once Reuel goes to Ethiopia and

accepts his African heritage. She writes, "Concomitant with Hopkins' desire to advocate

an identification with an African heritage was the need to confront Western ideologies of

beauty. Candace ... appeared as a reincarnation of Dianthe, but was 'bronze,' not white.

Their union was intended to 'give the world a dynasty of dark-skinned rulers, whose

destiny should restore the prestige of an ancient people"' (Reconstructing Womanhood

159). Ever the perceptive reader, Carby complicates her argument by claiming that the

"idealization of black beauty within the text was classic in its pretensions rather than

African ... [PJrofiles and bone structure remained Athenian" (159). Even so, it seems

odd that a book that disparages the devaluation of those of the "darker hue" by those of a

"fair hue" chooses light-skinned heroes, even if they are eventually given a "bronze" tan.

In fact, Hopkins describes Candace's beauty and value, while presented as Ethiopian, in

distinctly Euro-American terms, perhaps showing her reliance on uplift ideology's notion

of refinement. Candace appears to us as the epitome of turn-of-the-century Western

womanhood: "Her loveliness was absolutely and ideally perfect. Her attitude of

unstudied grace accorded well with the seriousness in her face; she seemed the

embodiment of all chastity" (569). This description, with its hagiographic invocation of

"grace" and "chastity," could just as easily refer to a queen of England as it does to

Hopkins' alternative African queen.

Reuel's qualities as the "king of Ethiopia" prove more telling. While his

knowledge and command of mysticism garner respect in the Meroean people, his

espousal of Western values signal to the Africans his ability to rule. Early in his first visit

to Telassar, the Ethiopian leaders explain to Reuel their religious views: "Our religion is a

belief in One Supreme Being, the center of action in all nature. He distributed a portion

of Himself at an early age to the care of man who has attained the highest development of

any of His terrestrial creatures. We call this ever-living faculty or soul Ego" (562). After

listening to the explanation of this decidedly Eastern religion, Reuel asks, "What of the


Son of man? Do you not know the necessity of belief in the Holy Trinity? Have not your

Sages brought you the need in the belief in God's Son?" With this question, one can

imagine Reuel placing quotation marks around the word "Sages." When the abashed

Telassarans ask in what Reuel/Ergamenes believes, he states, "In Jesus Christ, the Son of

God," to which the natives respond "O Ergamenes, your belief shall be ours; we have no

will but yours. Deign to teach your subjects." The section concludes with Reuel

ruminating on his new-found purpose: "When at last Reuel closed his eyes in slumber, it

was with a feeling of greater responsibility and humility than he had ever experienced.

Who was he that so high a destiny as lay before him should be thrust upon his

shoulders?" (563).

We see here how deep the currents of the Euro-American discourse of Civilization

run. Even as she seeks to present African culture as equally advanced and cultured as

American society, Hopkins creates an Egyptian king who proselytizes the African people

under the banner of the Holy Trinity. We are thrown back into the paradigm of the

American Christian missionaries converting the African barbarians. So, while Hopkins

seeks to destabilize traditional notions of racial difference, she ultimately relies on a

Western framework to do so. Reuel's value as the leader of the African nation becomes

his ability to make them better Christians. After this exchange, the leaders of Meroe

immediately pay homage not to the "One Supreme Being," but to the blessed "Trinity"

(571, 573). As the book ends, Reuel returns to Telassar and dedicates himself to a

mission of uplift, as the role of a member of DuBois' "talented tenth" helping to raise the

ignorant masses: "There he spends his days teaching his people all that he has learned in

years of contact with modern culture. United to Candace, his days glide peacefully by in

good works" (621).17

For Gaines, this ending represents Hopkins' assimilationistt perspective." He

explains, "Hopkins' elite, Western vision of African heathenism was meant to enhance

17 As Carby nicely turns our attentions to Hopkins' reliance on Mediterranean forms of
beauty and culture, so too could we read this book as a rewriting of the Mediterranean
epic. Certainly, Reuel's adventures have much in common with Aeneas' journey, as he
must acquire the skills and knowledge to become an appropriate leader of his people. In
The Aeneid, Virgil describes Aeneas' destiny (as related by Anchises):
Roman, remember by your strength to rule
Earth's peoples -- for your arts are to be these:
To pacify, to impose the rule of law,
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud. (VI, 1152-1154)
Aeneas' "arts" involve the pacifying and conquering of new nations. While Hopkins
tempers such a view quite a bit Reuel is not to conquer the Ethiopians exactly we
nonetheless learn that his role as leader is to, among other things, inculcate Christian
ethics into their society. In doing so, Reuel initially seems to suggest the "twinning" of
American and Ethiopian cultures that Gillman describes (72). He will teach them of
modernr culture," while they will teach him the profundity of the Meroe civilization. In
this respect, Hopkins' text seems to once again invoke Virgil's epic. In describing the
interaction between the Ausonian (Latin) people with the Teucrians, Virgil announces:
Let both nations, both unconquered, both
Subject to equal laws, commit themselves
to an eternal union. (XII, 257-9)
Just as Reuel's union of cultures ultimately seems to replace the African value system
with a Christian ethics, however, Virgil establishes an unequivocal hierarchy of status and
Ausonion folk will keep
Their fathers' language and their way of life,
And, that being so, their name: The Teucrians
Will mingle and be submerged, incorporated. (XII, 1131-34, emphasis added)
What we see in Of One Blood is nothing less than the "submerging" and "incorporating"
of African values and spirituality to a "wiser" American sensibility. Hopkins seems more
than willing to create a tension between American and African science and, at times, she
posits African science as superior to Western materialism. When it comes to religion,
however, Hopkins asserts an imperialist version of Christianity closely aligned with the
18" century colonialist "conversions" of the dark continent. This contradiction between
the superiority of certain African customs and the "truth" of Christianity remains
unresolved throughout the text.

black Americans' race pride, but at the expense of the autonomy of African peoples,

whose cultures and histories remained a blank page for imaginary conquest" (435).

While this imperialist ethos certainly exists in Of One Blood, my focus on the novel's

scientific rhetoric of mysticism attempts to complicate this idea by showing how this

assimilationistt perspective" exists concomitantly with a more "revolutionary" stance that

depicted African science and culture as foundational, as superior to Western materialism.

These two impulses do not merge (or "twin" in Gillman's language); rather, they are in

constant tension with each other, a tension which the book seems unable to resolve. Or

perhaps we could say the vexed nature of these issues makes the dichotomy of

assimilation/revolution less tenable, less able to account for the multiple meanings of

civilization and racial heritage in Hopkins' text.

Gaines further sees Of One Blood as "part of a broader tendency among

marginalized racial, religious, and gender minorities who used the idea of civilization at

the turn of the century to give credence to their own aspirations of status, power, and

influence" (435). For Gaines, Hopkins' reliance on the "male persona as scientific

expert" exemplifies her deferral "to the black community's assumptions of male

leadership" and to the rhetoric of a male-dominated Western civilization more generally

(434). Such a deferral to male leadership seems odd, particularly if we keep in mind that

Contending Forces so assiduously resists a male-centered narrative. In fact, Tate looks at

the marriage convention in the novels of Hopkins and Harper more generally in order to

argue that these writers resist the limiting effects of male leadership: "Rather than adopt

the dominant society's stringent ideology of male superiority, the idealized family

discourse in the domestic novels of post-Reconstruction black women emphasizes a

compassionate companionship among spouses and what we late-twentieth-century readers

would probably regard as relative spousal equality" (149).

Why, then, would Hopkins so readily defer to male superiority in Of One Blood?

It seems to me that she makes Reuel the novel's protagonist in order to critique the

colonialist/imperialist desire, which she does figure as a masculine ideal. After all, it is

an all-male expedition that goes to Ethiopia to steal the riches of the Meroean civilization

- Reuel leaves his vulnerable wife, Dianthe, behind.'8 When Reuel is first captured by

the Telassarans, Ai condemningly asks him, "Are you, too, one of those who seek for

hidden treasure" (546)? As Ai tells of the fall of the Ethiopian dynasty several thousand

centuries ago, the explanation for this fall resounds with the language used to excoriate

zealous nineteenth-century colonial pursuits: "Stiff-necked, haughty, no conscience but

that of intellect, awed not by God's laws, worshiping Mammon, sensual, unbelieving,

God has punished us as he promised in the beginning" (558). So, while this speech

is The novel presents this abandonment in much the same way as does another prominent
turn-of-the-century black woman activist, Anna Julia Cooper. In her speech,
"Womanhood a Vital Element in Regeneration and Progress of a Race," Cooper states
that the Christian Church has failed to "protect and elevate women" (556). To present her
vision of a properly functioning society, Cooper merges the example of Jesus Christ, who
was "never too far to come down to and touch the life of the lowest in days the darkest"
(557) with the Feudal system of medieval "chivalry" which "no institution has more
sensibly magnified and elevated woman's position in society" (556). While such a call
for chivalric protection, whether it come from a reformed Church or Hopkins' male
heroes, may seem dated today, we should put both Cooper's and Hopkins' call for
protection within the larger context of the institutional rape of black women. Certainly,
black women needed protection from some part of society, a protection that the white
community and the legal system, as an extension of that community, had consistently
proven unwilling to give.

initially functions in the novel as a justification of the "extinction" of Ethiopian culture,

surely the anti-greed message would reverberate with contemporary readers well-versed

in the spoils of nineteenth-century imperialism.

Whenever Hopkins presents the misdirected lust for wealth and material gain in

the novel, she always associates it with male characters, and the masculine ego. In a book

that so ardently attempts to realign traditional definitions of race, perhaps we could say

that for Hopkins greed becomes a masculine value that transcends racial boundaries. If

Of One Blood presents Reuel as a hero, he remains an ambiguous one. After all, the

novel ends with the reminder that "the shadows of great sins darken [Reuel's] life" (621)

- that he chose material prosperity through colonial raiding over the "protection" of his

sickly wife. Rather than claim that Hopkins defers to male leadership in the novel as

Gaines argues, we can say instead that she uses a central male character to illustrate the

damning effects of a masculinized Western imperialism. From this perspective, the book

ends with Reuel learning the most valuable of lessons: "He views... with serious

apprehension, the advance of mighty nations penetrating the dark, mysterious forests of

his native land. 'Where will it stop?' he sadly questions. 'What will the end be'" (621)?

Happy Endings?: Narrative Closure and the Comforts of Race

As in Contending Forces, Hopkins creates a Utopian community at the end of

Of One Blood. Also as in Contending Forces, Hopkins places this Utopia outside the

reaches of American racism. In both books, she seems unable to envision an idealized

future upon American soil. If the United States in Hopkins' novels represents gradual

progress and some modicum of hope, it always remains an uncomfortable place, one in

which African Americans must tread lightly. Herein lies one of the fundamental

discrepancies between Hopkins' use of irony and alternative forms of racial definitions

and Twain's satire of the nation's racial mores. Although Twain satirizes many of the

same issues which Hopkins refigures and upon which she comments ironically, for Twain

such a critique does not entail an elemental reconceptualization of American society; it

merely points out its foibles and inconsistencies, while retaining its basic values and

structures. Or to put it another way, Twain shakes things up, but reinstates a comfortable

America where all the white people can go to sleep at night feeling assured that their

blood is pure and the blacks are "in their place." To be sure, Pudd'nhead Wilson and his

scientificc" are certainly not the novel's heroes, and Wilson's calendar, which runs in

epigraph form at the beginning of each chapter, creates a more detached and cynical

observer of the goings-on at Dawson's Landing than we get in the text."' Even so, for all

its tensions, its uncomfortable and awkward moments, Pudd'nhead Wilson ends up in a

place that is very comfortable for a white readership uneasy about the consequences of


19 Brook Thomas takes this idea further and suggests that Twain consciously forces the
reader to question the rhetoric of scientific objectivity. He writes, "If Pudd'nhead makes
fingerprints legible, Twain makes visible the cultural narrative in which Pudd'nhead's
scientific professionalism objectively helps to restore order temporarily disrupted by a
black woman's attempt to advance her son. Insofar as our society continues to grant
authority to Pudd'nhead's scientifically trained professionalism, Twain's narrative invites
us to scrutinize its accepted standards of reasonableness even if it offers no guarantee as
to what the results of that scrutiny will be" (780-81).

Hopkins, on the other hand, reaches for something much deeper. Because she

understands so lucidly the authority of racist scientific discourse, the power it has to

define and circumscribe the African American body and by extension the African

American body politic, she uses a narration that superficially acknowledges contemporary

scientific theory and contemporary notions of Beauty and Worth. In so doing, she seems

to adopt what Stepan and Gilman call "the most pernicious effect of racial science"-the

"internalization" of its values and norms (89). When we look at her use of irony,

however, we see that she undermines this superficial complicity with the racist theories

by opening up possibilities, creating multiple meanings, and blurring the lines between

the categories that buttress the science of difference. Perhaps Stepan and Gilman are

correct in asserting that the use of irony was not ultimately an effective tool to resist racist

science. But we should also ask: what other possibilities did black women writers of the

era have? Certainly the fact that Ida B. Wells was run out of Memphis for publishing her

"empirical" studies of lynching suggests that open defiance or "counterdiscourse" was not

particularly effective either.

When Hopkins does present a counterdiscourse with her occult science, it is

veiled within a mystical/spiritual overtones. These overtones were not generally

considered to be scientific or empirical by a turn-of-the-century reading public. As a

result, they were not likely to be construed as threatening in the same way that

"traditional" empiricism would. This fact says more about the limited and limiting

"acceptable" registers of protest for black women writers of fiction and science than it

does about a failure to choose an appropriate medium of resistance. If the scientific


discourse of the 1890s depended upon supposedly empirical measurements of the body to

affirm racial difference, we could say that Hopkins introduces a variety of alternately

calibrated measuring sticks that, if nothing else, complicated the nation's search for racial



All subjective ideas become more distinct, palpable and strong by the habit of
rendering them objective.... This weapon can be potent in the hands of the bigot
and fanatic or in the hands of the liberal and enlightened.
Frederick Douglass

Immortality and the Atlantic Monthly are all right in a way, but in order to
sustain our mortal part we must have money.
Charles Chesnutt

I subjected myself to an objective examination, I discovered my blackness, my
ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism,
intellectual deficiency, fetichism, racial defects, slave ships, and above all: "Sho'
good eating. "
Frantz Fanon'

As Douglass' quote in the epigraph suggests, turn-of-the-century debates

surrounding race and racial categorization hinged in large part on contested definitions of

objective truth. While racial definitions were by no means settled in America during this

period in fact the fervor behind racial science existed because of ambiguous or

conflicting notions of race the rhetoric of objectivity depended upon, and contributed to,

static racial definitions. These distinctions of racialized "Truth" resonated so fiercely at

this time because race served as such an overpowering and overwhelming metaphor of

difference. Although racial classification became increasingly fixed during the late

nineteenth century as much of the Reconstruction legislation was repealed, the rhetoric

i Citations for the epigraph are as follows: 1) Stephanie A. Smith, Conceived By Liberty,
pg. 131; 2) Charles Chesnutt, Unpublished Letter to Robert E. Park of Tuskegee Institute;
3) Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, pg. 112.


through which this classification was debated became increasingly complex and

multidirectional.2 Contemporary notions of Truth (such as those found in contemporary

descriptions of art and those within scientific discourse) helped both to contest and

solidify racial difference.

In this chapter, I examine how Charles Chesnutt attempts to redefine objective

truth as well as how the concept of Truth is understood more generally in turn-of-the-

century America. This redefinition gives Chesnutt a means of resisting the proclamations

of a racialist scientific community which announced that racial difference and a racial

hierarchy could be empirically measured and proven. In order to establish a solid

foundation on which to base his claims of racial equality, Chesnutt relies on notions of

"objective truth" that have much in common with the scientific discourse that he opposes,

even as his message and politics are radically different. These revisions, however, met

with stern opposition from the publishing community, which had preconceived notions of

how race and racial difference should be portrayed in literature.

As Gail Bederman has pointed out in Manliness and Civilization, Charlotte

Perkins Gilman used the scientific discourse of absolute racial difference to anchor her

claim of gender equality (124-150). In 1892 Gilman wrote, "The dominant soul-the clear

strong accurate brain, the perfect service of a healthy body-these do not belong to sex-but

to race!" While Gilman recognizes the way theories about gender and race mingle

2 We can think here of the way this science is used to reaffirm racial distinctiveness in
the face of claims of racial indeterminacy, such as Booker T. Washington's quip about
examining feet on a Jim Crow train to determine one's racial status or Albion Tourgee's
line of argumentation in Plessy v. Ferguson, which hinged upon the inability to determine
- casually or definitively racial boundaries. For an in-depth look at the Plessy v.
Ferguson case, see Chapter 5.

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