Honors: All College Participants

Title

Passing: Novels of the Harlem Renaissance

Academic Level at Time of Presentation

Senior

Major

English Education

Minor

n/a

List all Project Mentors & Advisor(s)

Dr. Laura Dawkins

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

Both African American men and women “passed” for white during the racially volatile decades of the early twentieth century, but their motivations often varied. In “passing” novels of the era, Fauset, Larsen, and Johnson focus on individuals of mixed race practicing (either unintentionally or intentionally) passing. These novels detail the import carried by each act of passing, for post-slavery America focused on the “one drop rule.” Although a person appeared light-skinned, or white,“one drop” of African American blood, if known, rendered one socially and politically stigmatized or targeted. Overwhelmingly, for both genders, passing is motivated by a desire to escape sexual stereotyping and the distortion of sexuality. This distortion is evidenced differently for the male and female genders, leading to the lynching of black men based on apocryphal claims of sexual aggression and to the fetishizing of black women because of the stigmatization of promiscuity and immorality, respectively. Larsen, Fauset, and Johnson subvert the conventions of the romance novel in order to shed light on deep-rooted prejudices and the intertwined complexities of gender, sexual, and racial politics. The female authors explore what it means to pass while female and to gain or to possess power as a female of color, as juxtaposed with Johnson's example of male passing. In exploring these themes through the lens of feminist criticism, this thesis will analyze the craft, motivation, and import of each novel, the novels’ relationships, and the weight their themes carry in today’s society.

Location

Classroom 211, Waterfield Library

Start Date

November 2016

End Date

November 2016

Affiliations

Honors Thesis

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Nov 16th, 9:00 AM Nov 6th, 12:30 PM

Passing: Novels of the Harlem Renaissance

Classroom 211, Waterfield Library

Both African American men and women “passed” for white during the racially volatile decades of the early twentieth century, but their motivations often varied. In “passing” novels of the era, Fauset, Larsen, and Johnson focus on individuals of mixed race practicing (either unintentionally or intentionally) passing. These novels detail the import carried by each act of passing, for post-slavery America focused on the “one drop rule.” Although a person appeared light-skinned, or white,“one drop” of African American blood, if known, rendered one socially and politically stigmatized or targeted. Overwhelmingly, for both genders, passing is motivated by a desire to escape sexual stereotyping and the distortion of sexuality. This distortion is evidenced differently for the male and female genders, leading to the lynching of black men based on apocryphal claims of sexual aggression and to the fetishizing of black women because of the stigmatization of promiscuity and immorality, respectively. Larsen, Fauset, and Johnson subvert the conventions of the romance novel in order to shed light on deep-rooted prejudices and the intertwined complexities of gender, sexual, and racial politics. The female authors explore what it means to pass while female and to gain or to possess power as a female of color, as juxtaposed with Johnson's example of male passing. In exploring these themes through the lens of feminist criticism, this thesis will analyze the craft, motivation, and import of each novel, the novels’ relationships, and the weight their themes carry in today’s society.