Reconfiguring Religion, Race, and the Female Body Politic in American Fiction by Women, 1859-1911
AuthorTanglen, Randi Lynn
Temple, Judy Nolte
Committee ChairKolodny, Annette
Temple, Judy Nolte
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation demonstrates the ways in which nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American women writers employ Christian discourse in order to affirm, contest, or even expand--sometimes concurrently--conceptualizations of power, race, and gender. Furthermore, this project argues that feminist critics need to integrate the examination of the encodings of religion in literature into already existing modes of analysis such as those that take into consideration the significance of gender, race, class, and sexuality. The four authors considered in this study all make use of religious discourse as a political strategy for manipulating positions of female cultural authority and white racial privilege. Each author uses inflections of Christianity in order to claim or contest the privileges of whiteness, assumptions about female sexual purity, and competing visions of women's role in the nation's putative millennial destiny. In her 1859 The Minister's Wooing, Harriet Beecher Stowe develops mutually reinforcing theological, romantic love, and antislavery plots in order to valorize America's Puritan heritage while attempting to establish a providential place for the problem of slavery in the nation's millennial destiny. Harriet E. Wilson's 1859 Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black portrays a black woman with a tumultuous, but nonetheless profound, affiliation with Christianity. Wilson uses a religious framework to expose the national sin of racism and to hint at the latent redemption available to those oppressed by the racial prejudice of hypocritical, white Christians. In her 1872 Who Would Have Thought It?, MarÃa Amparo Ruiz de Burton inverts the structures of nineteenth-century nativist anti-Catholic rhetoric to make a case for her Mexican protagonist's white racial and aristocratic cultural purity. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's secular and scientific ideology of womanhood, which she articulated in eugenic narratives such as her 1911 The Crux, echoes the religiously-infused domestic ideologies of her great-aunt Catharine Beecher. Indeed, by foregrounding religious historical and cultural contexts, this dissertation offers comparative readings of these novels and authors and exposes the ways in which the manifestations of religion in American literature interlock with the social discourses of race and gender.