The Politics of Color in the Fiction of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen

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University of Virginia Press, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 142 pages
Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen played prominent roles in the black literary heyday known as the Harlem Renaissance. Revived by feminists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, their novels raise important questions about gender and race. In this book Jacquelyn McLendon looks at Jessie Fauset's Plum Bun (1929) and Comedy: American Style (1933) and Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) and finds them revisionary and subversive. She goes beyond previous feminist criticism to focus on the authors' works rather than their lives and moves toward developing new theoretical ways of looking at black women's writing. McLendon shows how the nineteenth-century stereotype of the tragic mulatto as invented by white writers became both a political tool and an artistic device in the capable hands of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen. Using black female protagonists who often passed as whites, Fauset and Larsen showed that blacks were despised not for their lack of education or money or manners, but simply because they were black. Fauset and Larsen attempted to blur the lines of distinction between classes and to counter racist representations of blackness and black female sexuality by satirizing the middle class and using the tragic mulatto and passing as metaphors. Focusing on the psychology of black women, they brought up issues of identity and difference for both blacks and women and insisted on the authenticity of the black experience of mulattoes and black middle-class society.


Ironic Inversion
Color Mania
Social Nightmare in Quicksand
Re Shaping Content in Passing or This

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About the author (1995)

Jacquelyn Y. McLendon is Associate Professor of English at the College of William and Mary.

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