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Domestic Allegories of Political Desire

Claudia Tate

Published in print September 1996 | ISBN: 9780195108576
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199855094 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195108576.001.0001
Domestic Allegories of Political Desire

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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 19th 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 centre of this book’s examination of the novels of Pauline Hopkins, Emma Kelley, Amelia Johnson, Katherine Tillman, and Frances Harper. The book is a literary study, but also a social and intellectual history—a cultural critique of a period that historian Rayford W. Logan has called “the Dark Ages of recent American history.” Against a rich contextual framework, extending from abolitionist protest to the Black Aesthetic, the book 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.

Keywords: women novelists; bourgeois courtship; social reform; Pauline Hopkins; Emma Kelley; Amelia Johnson; Katherine Tillman; Frances Harper; domestic allegory; political ambitions

Book.  312 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literature

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Table of Contents

Maternal Discourse as Antebellum Social Protest in Domestic Allegories of Political Desire

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Legacies of Intersecting Cultural Conventions in Domestic Allegories of Political Desire

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From Domestic Happiness to Racial Despair in Domestic Allegories of Political Desire

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Domestic Tragedy as Racial Protest in Domestic Allegories of Political Desire

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