One of those Fortuitous Endowments of the Gods': Black to White Passing in Late 19th- Early 20th-Century American Literature.
Tuller, Alanna D.
- The color line is defined by dominant white society as a clearly delineated and permanent divide between white and black Americans. This barrier is not meant to be crossed or passed and racial identities can exist on only one side of the line. The fact that the distinction between black and white exists at all presents a larger issue because it eliminates the possibility of the more fluid or mixed... read moreracial identities that can exist outside of a binary. For some Americans, however, having African ancestry does not mean that their socially assigned race corresponds to their racial optic. In spite of the color line's attempt to separate Americans into distinct racial categories, centuries of sexual violence and forced interracial unions resulted in a group of optically white Americans with African ancestry. This contradiction between white bodies and legal or social blackness exposes the myth of a racial binary because in order to fully express his or her identity, an optically white and legally black American would need to exist on both sides of the color line simultaneously, an impossible feat given the binary's goal of racial separation. This thesis considers African Americans passing for white in /An Imperative Duty/" (1891) by William Dean Howells /"Iola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted/" (1892) by Frances Harper /"Pudd'nhead Wilson/" (1894) by Mark Twain /"Of One Blood or The Hidden Self/" (1903) by Pauline Hopkins /"Plum Bun/" (1928) by Jessie Fauset and /"Passing/" (1929) by Nella Larsen. Furthermore this thesis examines the distinction between unintentional and intentional passing and specifically discusses how each text uses passing as a means of responding to questioning and fighting back against racism in American society. "read less