Black and White Both Cast Shadows: Unconventional Permutations of Racial Passing in African American and American Literature
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation proposes to build upon a critical tradition that explores the formation of racial subjectivity in narratives of passing in African-American and American literature. It adds to recent scholarship on passing narratives which seeks a more comprehensive understanding of the connections between the performance of racial norms and contemporary conceptions of "race" and racial categorization. But rather than focusing entirely on the conventional mulatta/o performs whiteness plot device at work in passing literature, a device that reinforces the desirability of heteronormative whiteness, I am interested in assessing how performances of a variety of racial norms challenges this desirability. Selected literary fiction from Herman Melville, Mary White Ovington, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and ZZ Packer provides a rich opportunity for analyzing these unconventional performances. Formulating a theory of "black-passing" that decenters whiteness as the passer's object of desire, this project assesses how the works of these authors broadens the framework of the discourse on racial performance in revelatory ways. Racial passing will get measured in relation to the political consequences engendered by the transgression of racial boundaries, emphasizing how the nature of acts of passing varies according to the way hegemonic society dictates racial enfranchisement. Passing will be situated in the context of various modes of literary representation - realism, naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism - that register subjectivity. The project will also explore in greater detail the changing nature of acts of passing across gendered, spatial, and temporal boundaries.
Degree ProgramGraduate College