Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine's Text at the Turn of the Century

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Oxford University Press, Jan 7, 1993 - Literary Criticism - 312 pages
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Why did African-American women novelists use idealized stories of bourgeois courtship and marriage to mount arguments on social reform during the last decade of the nineteenth century, during a time when resurgent racism conditioned the lives of all black Americans? Such stories now seem like apolitical fantasies to contemporary readers. This is the question at the center of Tate's examination of the novels of Pauline Hopkins, Emma Kelley, Amelia Johnson, Katherine Tillman, and Frances Harper. Domestic Allegories of Political Desire is more than a literary study; it is also a social and intellectual history--a cultural critique of a period that historian Rayford W. Logan called "the Dark Ages of recent American history." Against a rich contextual framework, extending from abolitionist protest to the Black Aesthetic, Tate argues that the idealized marriage plot in these novels does not merely depict the heroine's happiness and economic prosperity. More importantly, that plot encodes a resonant cultural narrative--a domestic allegory--about the political ambitions of an emancipated people. Once this domestic allegory of political desire is unmasked in these novels, it can be seen as a significant discourse of the post-Reconstruction era for representing African-Americans' collective dreams about freedom and for reconstructing those contested dreams into consummations of civil liberty.

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A Highway through the Wilderness of PostReconstruction
1 Maternal Discourses as Antebellum Social Protest
2 Legacies of Intersecting Cultural Conventions
Locating a Gendered and Historicized Model of Interpretation
4 Allegories of Gender and Class as Discourses of Political Desire
5 Sexual Discourses of Political Reform of the PostReconstruction Era
6 Revising the Patriarchal Texts of Husband and Wife in Real and Fictive Worlds
7 From Domestic Happiness to Racial Despair
8 Domestic Tragedy as Racial Protest
Selected Bibliography

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Page 3 - Ah wanted to preach a great sermon about colored women sittin' on high, but they wasn't no pulpit for me. Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah said Ah'd take a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through de wilderness for her. She would expound what Ah felt. But somehow she got lost offa de highway and next thing Ah knowed here you was in de world. So whilst Ah was tendin' you of nights Ah said Ah'd save de text for you.

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About the author (1993)

Claudia Tate is Professor of African-American and American Literatures at George Washington University. She is the author of the forthcoming Desire and the Rituals of Race (OUP, November 1996) and editor of The Works of Katherine Davis Chapman Tillman (OUP, 1991).

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