Realism, Fetishism, and Genocide: Negro Head Tobacco in and around <i>Great Expectations</i>

Elaine Freedgood

in The Ideas in Things

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780226261553
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226261546 | DOI:
Realism, Fetishism, and Genocide: Negro Head Tobacco in and around Great Expectations

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Repressed horror circulates in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations in many forms, including domestic abuse, state violence, slavery, and cannibalism. This chapter analyzes fetishism, realism, metonymy, and violence in Great Expectations and argues that there is a particularly overwhelming horror that cannot be named but only encoded fetishistically in the most apparently negligible of details. The “negligible” (uninterpretable, insignificant, non-symbolic) detail on which this chapter focuses is “Negro head” tobacco; the horror in question is the genocide of Australian Aborigines during the Victorian period. Negro head tobacco conjures Abel Magwitch's identification of himself as a slave, specifically as the black slave of his erstwhile partner, Compeyson. In the second paragraph of Great Expectations, we find Pip trying to interpret a set of desperately unreaderly texts—the epitaphs on the gravestones of his dead family. He attempts to sketch for himself a portrait of his parents and brothers according to the “evidence” provided by the writing on their gravestones.

Keywords: Charles Dickens; Great Expectations; Negro head tobacco; state violence; slavery; genocide; fetishism; realism; metonymy; Australian Aborigines

Chapter.  9644 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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