Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature

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Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2005 - Literary Criticism - 160 pages
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The portrayal of black men in our national literature is controversial, complex, andoften contradictory. In Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature, Jeffrey B. Leak identifies some of the long-held myths and stereotypes that persist in the work of black writers from the nineteenth century to the present?intellectual inferiority, criminality, sexual prowess, homosexual emasculation, and cultural deprivation. Utilizing Robert B. Stepto's call-and-response theory, Leak studies four pairs of novels within the context of certain myths, identifying the literary tandems between them and seeking to discover the source of our culture's psychological preoccupation with black men.Calling upon interdisciplinary fields of study?literary theory, psychoanalysis, genderstudies, legal theory, and queer theory?Leak offers groundbreaking analysis of bothcanonical texts (representing the ?call? of the call-and-response dyad) and texts by emerging writers (representing the ?response?), including Frederick Douglass and CharlesJohnson; Ralph Ellison and Brent Wade; Richard Wright and Ernest J. Gaines; and ToniMorrison and David Bradley. Though Leak does not claim that the ?response? texts aresuperior to the ?call? texts, he does argue that, in some cases, the newer work?such asCharles Johnson's Oxherding Tale?can address a theme or offer a narrative innovationnot found in preceding texts, such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In these instances, argues Leak, the newer texts constitute not only a response to the call text, but a substantial revision.Leak offers the first in-depth criticism of black masculinity in a range of literarytexts. In a final chapter, he expands his discussion to the emerging field of black masculinity studies, pointing to future directions for study, including memoir, film, drama, and others. Poised on the brink of exciting new trends in scholarship, Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature is a flagship work, enhancing the understanding of literary constructions of black masculinity and the larger cultural imperatives to which these writers are reacting.
 

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Contents

Slavery Masculinity and
1
Incarceration and the Myth
59
EPILOGUE Directions for Future Scholarship in the Analysis
133
Notes
141
Index
157
Copyright

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About the author (2005)

Jeffrey B. Leak is associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is the editor of Rac(e)ing to the Right: Selected Essays of George S. Schuyler.

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