Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine's Text at the Turn of the Century
by Claudia Tate
Why did African-American women novelists use idealized stories of bourgeois courtship and marriage to mount arguments on social reform during the ... Show synopsis 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 - a time when resurgent racism conditioned the lives of all black Americans? Such stories now seem like apolitical fantasies to contemporary readers. In this study, Tate explores this apparent paradox through an 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. Instead, 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, 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 fictive consummations of civil liberty. Domestic Allegories of Political Desire is cultural criticism, cutting across the traditional disciplines of history, sociology, literature, and ethnology. By examining lost works, this book recovers the domestic heroine as a signifier of citizenship for African Americans, and domesticity as a discourse ofblack political agency. With this important work, Tate joins the ranks of leading scholars of African-American culture. It is essential reading for those interested in the intersection of race, gender, and class in American, African-American, and women's studies.