Introduction: Determinism, Double Consciousness, and the Construction of Subjectivity in American Protest Novels
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The historic and cultural “inheritance” of African Americans has customarily excluded them from their “birthright,” an American identity that in the minds of the earliest settlers was intimately connected to the vast spaces of “unpeopled” land they claimed as their own. Social power has everything to do with the control of space, as Houston Baker notes, describing dominant society as “those who maintain place” and tradition, and the socially powerless as “placeless,” “nomadic, transitional” (Baker 202). James Baldwin recognizes implicitly that the American birthright has been claimed for the exclusive use of “people,” meaning whites, while those in the category of “ranging” non-people are denied membership in the transcendent human community constituted through and symbolized by free space, defined instead by their compulsory racialness. Recognizing that their culture and history are vital, neither Du Bois nor Baldwin demands to be “raceless”1 or “melted” in the American “pot,” but both lay claim to that American space (Du Bois’ “world” and “house”) and human community (Baldwin’s “all that lives, and everyone”). Ultimately, though, neither can clearly articulate how one might move freely between inheritance and birthright. The opposition is constructed between a supposedly limiting racial identity and an unlimited “human” identity,2 so that to be “raced” in the United States is in practice to be viewed categorically, through the lens of stereotype, which dehumanizes the individual being viewed.
KeywordsLiterary Naturalism Racial Oppression Interracial Relationship Social Oppression Double Consciousness
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