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What Do We Want From Harriet Wilson?

  • Michael Borgstrom
Chapter
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Part of the The Future of Minority Studies book series (FMS)

Abstract

The challenge (and promise) of epistemic identification within nineteenth-century American literature might be summed up in a single question about a single author: what do critics want from Harriet Wilson? If the voluminous scholarship produced over the past quarter-century on Wilson’s 1859 novel Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black is any indication, the answer, in short, is everything. Celebrated variously, and often simultaneously, as a “missing link” in the development of the African American literary tradition, as an early declaration of black feminist thought, as a polemic against racism, and as an ideological critique of American democracy, Wilson’s book faces enormous literary and cultural demands.1 Yet such expectations are understandable. Because Our Nig is one of the most powerful early texts by a black female author, scholars committed to antiracist and feminist inquiry have justifiably claimed the book as a crucial representation of its era’s ideological and social concerns. Indeed, Wilson’s text appears to possess precisely what critics would most desire from a seminal archetype of minority discourse in the antebellum United States: it is smart, it is subversive, and it is very angry.

Keywords

Personal Identity Cultural Analysis Identity Category Early Declaration White Folk 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the “Racial” Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 147.Google Scholar
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    Linda Martin Alcoff and Satya P. Mohanty, “Reconsidering Identity Politics: An Introduction,” in Identity Politics Reconsidered, ed. Linda Martin Alcoff et al. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 7Google Scholar
  3. 20.
    Priscilla Wald, Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995), 168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 27.
    Linda Martin Alcoff, “Who’s Afraid of Identity Politics?,” in Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism, ed. Paula M. L. Moya and Michael R. Hames-García (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 335.Google Scholar
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    Alison Wylie, “Why Standpoint Matters,” in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies (New York: Routledge, 2004), 344.Google Scholar
  6. 31.
    Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997), 246.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Borgstrom 2010

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  • Michael Borgstrom

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