Passing as autobiography: James Weldon Johnson's 'The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man.'
Criticism of Ex-Coloured Man since 1927 has traditionally focused on the issue of whether the text is autobiographical fiction, a question raised in all its complexity, but left hanging in ambiguity, by Van Vechten in his introduction to the Knopf edition: "The Autobiography, of course, in the matter of specific incident, has little enough to do with Mr. Johnson's own life, but it is imbued with his own personality and feeling, his views of the subjects discussed, so that to a person who has no previous knowledge of the author's own history, it reads like real autobiography" (v-vi). It was not until the appearance of Joseph Skerrett's 1980 article on the ironic detachment between Johnson as author and his unnamed narrator, the Ex-Coloured Man, that the question of the text as autobiographical fiction was definitively answered in the negative.(2) Skerrett interprets the narrator as Johnson's "anti-self" or alter-ego, a figure based on a life-long friend identified by Johnson only as D, but revealed in Eugene Levy's biography of Johnson as Judson Douglass Westmore.(3) Skerrett's article is a brilliant piece of investigative criticism, for which we are in his debt, because he has made it virtually impossible to identify Johnson with the Ex-Coloured Man at the level of biography. But further complications remain to be explored: We underestimate the complexity of the text when we pose the question of the narrator's position as an either/or proposition - either the anonymous narrator is to be taken as the autobiographical mouthpiece of Johnson's conservative views on race and class, or he is to be read as the butt of Johnson's irony, a view that identities Johnson as politically more liberal.(4) There are a number of levels of irony at play here: The narrator is frequently self-consciously ironic in his treatment of significant issues concerning himself and his race, and thus appears to be a subject of considerable self-knowledge; but at other times he is blind to the narrowness and bigotry of his own perspective and thus becomes the object of Johnson's, and our, ironic gaze.
An important part of establishing the text as complexly ironic is an examination of the crucial, but largely ignored, question of why a novel about a black man who passes for white would itself pass as a genre it was not: autobiography. The decision to engage in this generic passing - parallel to the Ex-Coloured Man's genetic passing - was one that Johnson took after a good deal of deliberation, at least according to the account he gives in his own autobiography, Along This Way, published in 1933, in part to prove that he was not the protagonist of his novel. In his autobiography he writes:
I turned over in my mind again and again my original idea of making the book anonymous. I also debated with myself the aptness of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man as the title. . . . In the end, I stuck to the original idea of issuing the book without the author's name, and kept the title that had appealed to me first. But I have never been able to settle definitely for myself whether I was sagacious or not in these two decisions. When I chose the title, it was without the slightest doubt that its meaning would be perfectly clear to anyone; there were people, however, to whom it proved confusing. When the book was published (1912) most of the reviewers, though there were some doubters, accepted it as a human document [i.e., as an authentic autobiography]. This was a tribute to the writing, for I had done the book with the intention of its being so taken. (Along This Way 238; emphasis added)
The deception was, then, clearly deliberate; less clear are Johnson's motivations in perpetrating this literary "hoax."
William L. Andrews speculates, correctly I believe, that one of the reasons was economic: "When the Autobiography appeared in 1912, the publication of African-American novels by Northern commercial publishers was still a new and risky venture" (Introduction xv). Houghton Mifflin of Boston was the first to take such a risk when it published Charles W. Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars in 1900, followed quickly by three other Chesnutt novels; Dodd Mead of New York published Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sport of the Gods in 1902(5); also in 1902, J. S. Ogilvie of New York issued George Langhorne Pryor's Neither Bond nor Free; and A. C. McClurg of Chicago brought out W. E. B. Du Bois's The Quest of the Silver Fleece in 1911. These novels deal with the socioeconomic conditions of African American life in a realistic or naturalistic style and thus provided a brief tradition with which Johnson could have aligned his text; all, however, are written in the third person, unlike Johnson's first-person narrative. More to the point, though, is the fact that none of these books was financially successful (Andrews, Introduction xv-xvi), a situation that must have left publishers wary of this relatively new commercial genre, the African American novel.
Not nearly so new, and far more popular with white audiences, was another African American genre: the narratives of slaves and ex-slaves that dominated black autobiography into the twentieth century. Johnson seems to have attempted to gain credibility and a market for his text by trading on the importance of autobiography in early African American writing. The slave narrative was a politically charged genre that was widely recognized and read in the nineteenth century, during the antebellum and Reconstruction eras, and which was still considered more important than the African American novel at the start of the twentieth century. From the publication in 1845 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself to the appearance in 1901 of Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery, black autobiography had been immensely successful, gaining support for the abolition cause in particular and sympathy for the plight of African Americans in general, making many of the authors famous, and turning a profit for the publishers.(6) Also more popular than the African American novel was the black sociological essay, with its autobiographical overtones, best exemplified by W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903 to great critical acclaim. It is not surprising, then, that Sherman, French, and Company was willing to risk the publication of this text, provided it passed as autobiography.(7)
The reasons for the political, financial, and critical success of the slave narratives have been discussed by many critics(8); suffice it to say here that they appealed to the desire in liberal Northern whites to "know" the Negro race and its "problems" by presenting the life of one individual (ex-)slave as representative of the lives of the mass of black Americans. Thus autobiography, a highly literary genre that produces personal fictions for the purposes of self-fashioning - and, in this case, for liberation - became ethnography, a genre designed to educate white America about its "exotic" and unknown "other."(9) That Johnson was playing on this public demand for cultural knowledge and representativeness in African American texts becomes clear from the Preface to his novel, ostensibly written by "THE PUBLISHERS" (xxxiv) but in fact dictated to them almost verbatim in a letter by Johnson himself dated 2 February 1912. The opening paragraph of the Preface reads as follows:
This vivid and startlingly new picture of conditions brought about by the race question in the United States makes no special plea for the Negro, but shows in a dispassionate, though sympathetic, manner conditions as they actually exist between the whites and blacks to-day. Special pleas have already been made for and against the Negro in hundreds of books, but in these books either his virtues or his vices have been exaggerated. This is because writers, in nearly every instance, have treated the colored American as a whole; each has taken some one group of the race to prove his case. Not before has a composite and proportionate presentation of the entire race, embracing all of its various groups and elements, showing their relations with each other and to the whites, been made. (xxxiii)
Certainly, Johnson's text was revolutionary in its attempt to treat differences and divisions within the black race, as well as those between blacks and whites in America. He thus presented the issue of race in America as much more than a simple binary opposition, introducing into the discussion complicating factors such as class, geography, ethnicity, education, and gradations of color. He demonstrates that the subject positions of black Americans are not fixed by race alone, but are multiple and shifting. Jessie Fauset, herself an astute observer of race issues, in reviewing the book for The Crisis, praised Ex-Coloured Man for dealing with "practically every phase and complexity of the race question" (12), a sentiment that has been echoed by a number of critical commentators since.(10)
But the preface to Ex-Coloured Man is not without its own potential problems. It goes on to promise that "in these pages it is as though a veil had been drawn aside: the reader is given a view of the inner life of the Negro in America, is initiated into the 'freemasonry,' as it were, of the race" (xxxiv). On the surface, this is a simple pledge of cross-cultural education conducted by an "insider." But here the preface has slipped into quasi-anthropological or ethnographic discourse, complete with an assumed view from the position of the white reader, always the viewing subject in such discourse. The promise is that the exotic "other" - "the Negro" -will at last be entirely revealed to the scrutinizing gaze of the dominant culture, which is invited to join what has previously been a closed or secret society. That white America has literally enclosed "the Negro" is not mentioned, nor is the question of whether black America wishes its "inner life" to be exposed considered. The right of white America to "know," and to gain power from knowledge, goes unquestioned. Instead, ethnography verges on pornography in this titillating promise of total revelation, itself verging on parody of Du Bois's promise in his "Forethought" to Souls of Black Folk to lift the veil created by bigotry.(11)
What is worse, the anonymous narrator of the text proper, in aiming for a "detached" or "objective" stance on the "race question" - the position the social scientist conventionally pretends to - not only distances himself from the black America he depicts, but frequently chooses to adopt the gaze of white society. This is evident when, on returning to the South as an adult after having lived a relatively protected life in the North, he launches into a critique of "the unkempt appearance, the shambling, slouching gait and loud talk and laughter" of lower-class blacks in Atlanta (40), and again when he employs white stereotypes of what constitutes beauty among the black students at Atlanta University:
Among the girls especially there were many so fair that it was difficult to believe that they had Negro blood in them. And, too, I could not help noticing that many of the girls, particularly those of the delicate brown shades, with black eyes and wavy dark hair, were decidedly pretty. Among the boys many of the blackest were fine specimens of young manhood, tall, straight, and muscular, with magnificent heads; these were the kind of boys who developed into the patriarchal "uncles" of the old slave regime. (44)
Here the narrator identifies with the girls who are projections of his own self-image, while unwittingly denigrating the "boys" - a highly loaded epithet - as potential "Uncle Toms," even as he pretends to admire their blackness.(12) The narrator's adoption of the white gaze is perhaps most obvious, however, when he analyzes at length the "three classes" of "colored people" in Jacksonville, Florida: "the desperate class - the men who work in the lumber and turpentine camps, the ex-convicts, the bar-room loafers"; "the second class ... the servants, the washerwomen, the waiters, the cooks, the coachmen, and all who are connected with the whites by domestic service"; and "the third class ...of ...independent workmen and tradesmen, and of the well-to-do and educated colored people," with whom the narrator himself identifies (55-57). The question we need to consider is whether Johnson, as dictator of the Preface, falls into the same racist, sexist, and classist stereo-typing that pervades much of his narrator's discourse.
The Preface, after all, not only declares this autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man to be more representative of black life than the earlier narratives of ex-slaves, thus positioning the text as anthropological, but it also consciously evokes the authenticating prefaces common to slave narratives, as Robert Stepto has observed (98).(13) Such prefaces, written by white patrons or publishers, seek to verify the authorship of and the facts presented in the tale; they thus serve as authorizing texts that themselves vie for control of the slave narratives, just as the liberal white publishers of the North reaped profits from anti-slavery and abolitionist writing.
How, then, are we to interpret this problematical Preface? On the one hand, it might be taken as evidence that Johnson had succumbed to the demands of the white publishing establishment, allowing his publishers to seize the role of authority by giving the stamp of approval to his text, or rather to the autobiography of his anonymous narrator, who speaks the language many white readers would want to hear when he disparages the "lower classes" of black Americans. On the other hand, it might be said that Johnson is ventriloquizing his voice through the mouths of his publishers, a view that places him in the position of control, the one who manipulates the illusion, who doubles his voice, albeit as an invisible master, by mimicking the discourse of white authority for purposes other than straight exposition. Has Johnson been co-opted into complicity with the dominant culture by employing its rhetorical tropes, or has he adopted the only discourse available to him - the one likely to attract a wide audience - but channeled it into a highly subversive performance? This is an extremely difficult question to answer definitively, but the fact that Johnson himself wrote the Preface, while allowing it to appear to have been written by his white publishers, serves, I believe, as a hint that he is playing with, ironizing or parodying, the very genre his text is passing as: black autobiography. To be sure, such parody would have been personal and private when the text was first published anonymously as genuine autobiography, but would have become much more obvious when the text was revealed as fiction in 1927, at which point the Preface could not function as a genuine preface, but only as "the image of a" preface, to use Bakhtin's terminology (Dialogic 51). Still, I think there were from the outset in 1912 enough internal clues to suggest that this text - both Preface and "autobiography" - was parodic, a new and radical variation on conventional slave narratives.
Before turning to an examination of some of the parodic elements in the novel, however, I want to state briefly that I employ the term parody not with the more traditional sense of ridicule or "a gross and superficial destruction of the other's language," which Bakhtin labels "rhetorical parody" (Dialogic 364), but in the sense that Bakhtin celebrates: an "internally dialogized interillumination of languages [in which] the intentions of the representing discourse are at odds with the intentions of the represented discourse" (Dialogic 363-64).(14) This coexistent tension of two voices, imitator's and imitated's, in one utterance he labels "parodic stylization" (Dialogic 364), a mode or degree rather than a genre.(15) He continues with an explanation that is both enabling and debilitating:
With such an internal fusion of two points of view, two intentions and two expressions in one discourse, the parodic essence of such a discourse takes on a peculiar character: the parodied language offers a living dialogic resistance to the parodying intentions of the other; an unresolved conversation begins to sound in the image itself; the image becomes an open, living, mutual interaction between worlds, points of view, accents. This makes it possible to re-accentuate the image, to adopt various attitudes toward the argument sounding within the image, to take various positions in this argument and, consequently, to vary the interpretations of the image itself. The image becomes polysemic. (Dialogic 409-10)
It is precisely such "dialogic resistance to the parodying intentions of" Johnson's mischievous preface - and the rest of his novel, including those passages I quoted above that appear to reinforce the dominant culture's stereotypes of African Americans - that makes this text so rich, but which also renders interpretation so difficult. The interpretive problem here is an intriguing one: How do we decide when a text is parodic? And is it possible for a text to "become" parodic as its publication history evolves? Bakhtin himself admits that, "except in those cases where it is grossly apparent, the presence of parody is in general very difficult to identify . . . without knowing its second context. In world literature there are probably many works whose parodic nature has not even been suspected" (Dialogic 374).
In an attempt to gain some leverage on this interpretive crux, I turn to Linda Hutcheon, who views parody in a broader sense as "repetition with difference," a difference signaled by an ironic distance "between the backgrounded text being parodied and the new Incorporating work" (32). She thus draws on Bakhtin's claim that "analogous to parodistic discourse is ironic" discourse (Problems 194) in order to diffuse the element of necessary hostility between incorporating and incorporated texts that Bakhtin stresses in his study of Dostoevsky. By examining Johnson's repetition and revision of some of the tropes from slave narratives, I will attempt to show how he employs parody in the novel proper, which may in turn cast some light back on the Preface, which I see ultimately as part of a whole, integrated text.
Some excellent work has already been done by Robert Stepto and Valerie Smith on Johnson's indebtedness to the slave narratives. Stepto reads Johnson's Autobiography as a response to the call of antedating autobiographical texts by ex-slaves, especially Booker T. Washington, and by W. E. B. Du Bois (97-127).(16) Valerie Smith demonstrates how
the Ex-Colored Man's revision of central tropes from the [slave] narratives . . . exemplif[ies] the way he avoids engaging with the meaning of his racial identity. He leaves undisturbed his present comfort and security, glossing over the political implications of his past circumstance. His choosing to live as a white man is thus the culmination of a series of similar evasions. (52)
But neither Stepto nor Smith attempts to view the Autobiography within the context of parody and its resulting implications.(17) I would stress again, however, that in interpreting Johnson's text as a parody of earlier African American texts, I view the relationship as an interrogative dialogue between two voices, one subsumed within the other, rather than as an attempt to destroy the credibility of the antecedent texts.
Early in the novel, the Ex-Coloured Man narrates his childhood recollections of "a tall man with a small dark mustache" whom he now knows - but didn't at the time - was his white father: "He used to come to the house evenings, perhaps two or three times a week; and it became my appointed duty whenever he came to bring him a pair of slippers and to put the shiny shoes in a particular corner; he often gave me in return for this service a bright coin" (3). Ironically, the son here unwittingly performs the duties of a house servant, not quite a slave yet, because he is paid for his services. That very payment, however, instills in the boy the values of the dominant culture, for when at the end of the novel he decides to pass, he opts for what he identifies as "a white man's success; and that, if it can be summed up in any one word, means 'money,'" a statement he utters with conscious irony (141).(18)
The sense of the mulatto child as slave is driven home when he and his mother are sent north to Connecticut so that his father, the son of a prominent white Southern couple, can marry a suitable white woman. He relates the farewell encounter with his father:
I remember how I sat upon his knee and watched him laboriously drill a hole through a ten-dollar gold piece, end then tie the coin around my neck with a string. I have worn that gold piece around my neck the greater part of my life, and still possess it, but more than once I have wished that some other way had been found of attaching it to me besides putting a hole through it. (3)
The final clause here establishes the older narrator at some ironic distance from himself as a child: He is as an adult aware that power in white society is founded on capital and that his father, while appearing to offer him some of that power, in fact withheld it by deliberately devaluing the coin he gave. What the narrator seems unaware of is another level of irony, by which Johnson parallels this farewell to the auctioning off of the slave-owner's bastard children (born to female slaves) that is a common trope in the slave narratives. Having been auctioned off as a child, the narrator still maintains a misplaced desire for the coin that establishes his value - or, rather, his lack of value - as a human being.
The horrifying import of a slave auction, which de-humanizes those being sold and establishes property rights as the supreme value above all others in an inversion of the norms of human worth, is vividly captured in Frederick Douglass's description of the sale of the property of his deceased master, Captain Aaron Anthony of Talbot County, Maryland, in October 1827:
Then, too, there was the intensified degradation of the spectacle. What an assemblage! Men and women, young and old, married and single; moral and intellectual beings, in open contempt of their humanity, leveled at a blow with horses, sheep, horned cattle and swine! Horses and men - cattle and women - pigs and children - all holding the same rank in the scale of social existence; and all subjected to the same narrow inspection, to ascertain their value in gold and silver - the only standard of worth applied by slaveholders to slaves! How vividly, at that moment, did the brutalizing power of slavery flash before me! Personality swallowed up in the sordid idea of property! Manhood lost in chattelhood! (My Bondage and My Freedom 175)
Read against the "intensified degradation" of this auction "spectacle," the Ex-Coloured Man's decision to adopt his father's value system of "chattel-hood" takes on heightened significance as a tragic betrayal of his black ancestors.
Another common trope in slave narratives is the escape to freedom, usually involving a dangerous journey from South to North. Here, however, the trope is parodied in that, far from gaining hard-won freedom by means of a daring escape, the child is sent from Georgia to Connecticut to save his father from embarrassment. Moreover, he is not free at all, for the coin around his neck symbolically sets his worth and yokes him to the father with whom he continues to identify. The coin represents both the physical shackles that were used to control human bodies and the narrator's enslavement to the system of private property ownership that was the basis of chattel slavery and is still a cornerstone of capitalism. He remains yoked to that system at the close of the novel when he chooses to pass and becomes a land speculator and slumlord (143). Throughout, the Ex-Coloured Man continues unaware of the implications of these revisions of tropes from slave narratives, as Johnson separates himself from his narrator.
A further, albeit less common, trope Johnson may be drawing upon is the ex-slave's journey to Europe, echoed in the Ex-Coloured Man's European travels that occupy chapter nine. The most famous travel writings by fugitive slaves were Frederick Douglass's letters from Britain, written in the mid-1840s and published mainly in William Lloyd Garrison's ardently anti-slavery Boston newspaper The Liberator, and William Wells Brown's Three Years in Europe: or Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met, originally published in London in 1852 and later reissued in an American edition under the title The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People Abroad (Boston, 1855). The final third of Samuel Ringgold Ward's Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro also recounts his experiences in Britain during the mid-1850s. Like the Ex-Coloured Man, all of these observers of European life comment at some length on the customs, characteristics, and mores of different national groups, often succumbing to the kind of stereotyping they were battling against. Unlike Johnson's narrator, however, they were all in Europe as living examples of educated and cultured black humanity - representatives of the race - while they worked vigorously in the cause of abolition, as well as for other social causes, such as the temperance movement. In contrast, the Ex-Coloured Man tours Europe as the hired servant/artist of his white millionaire patron - he has replaced the millionaire's valet, a situation whose irony is completely lost on the narrator (91) - whose sole concern is with personal pleasure and who eschews all moral and social causes. Ironically, in view of Douglass's work with the British temperance movement, the narrator actually takes a positive view of French drinking habits (101). Moreover, it is clear from the final exchange between the narrator and his millionaire that the former has been traveling as a white man (105-07). His act of passing obviates the need to deal with the issue of color in Europe and in America, and gives him a false sense of security and freedom. Although he reports conscientiously on what he calls "racial difference" in Europe, by which he means national characteristics - his shift in terminology is itself a significant indicator of a strategy of evasion - on only two occasions during his almost two years abroad does the Ex-Coloured Man have to face the issue of racial difference based on color: once when he sees his father and half-sister at the Opera in Paris, and again when a French friend questions him about lynchings in America (98-100). On the former occasion the narrator flees from the situation, while on the second he evades the issue, feeling embarrassed at being American rather than expressing outrage at being part of the group victimized by American racism. Finally, in their comparisons of national characteristics, the fugitive slaves always focus on Europe, especially Britain, versus America, boldly proclaiming their sense of genuine liberation, their freedom from racial hatred, while abroad. Brown's statement perhaps best exemplifies this opinion:
No person of my complexion can visit this country without being struck with the marked difference between the English and the Americans. The prejudice which I have experienced on all and every occasion in the United States, and to some extent on board the Canada, vanished as soon as I set foot on the soft of Britain. In America I had been bought and sold as a slave in the Southern States. In the so-called Free States, I had been treated as one born to occupy an inferior position, - in steamers, compelled to take my fare on the deck; in hotels, to take my meals in the kitchen; in coaches, to ride on the outside; in railways, to ride in the "negro-car;" and in churches, to sit in the "negro-pew." But no sooner was I on British soil, than I was recognized as a man, and an equal. (98)(19)
The Ex-Coloured Man, in contrast, compares the French with the British and Germans (100-03), thus eliding the issue of American racism.
Ultimately, the conventions of the slave narratives usually serve one overriding theme: the writing of self into existence. As Andrews explains, "Autobiographers demonstrate through a variety of rhetorical means that they regard the writing of autobiography as in some ways uniquely self-liberating, the final, climactic act in the drama of their lifelong quests for freedom" (Free Story xi). But Johnson employs these tropes only to reverse their traditional results: Instead of a narrative of emancipatory strategies used in the service of identity formation, whereby the autobiographer declares his/her reality, personhood, and visibility in defiance of the dominant culture, we get a narrative in which the construction of a non-self (the narrator is never identified by name) involves perverse blindness, voluntary invisibility, and self-enslavement as the narrator chooses, through his decision to pass as white, his marriage to a white woman, and his career devoted to capitalist speculation, to immerse himself in the ideology of the dominant culture that has oppressed him. Instead of the narrator's mulatto identity becoming a source of strength, a site of what Du Bois calls "double-consciousness" in which to challenge and interrogate the regulatory boundaries of race and class imposed by white culture, it remains a source of embarrassment to be denied and hidden.
But parody, as I have observed earlier, through Bakhtin's theories, is dialogical, a two-way conversation between texts that interrogate each other. Tropes adapted from the slave narratives do not simply reveal the seriousness of the narrator's error in choosing to pass; the Ex-Coloured Man's narrative also calls into question the validity of the idealism and the certitude of identity expressed in many autobiographies of (ex- )slaves. In slave narratives, the North is frequently presented as a utopian space of genuine freedom, where race as a measure of difference is displaced in favor of equality and brotherhood as the ex-slave is incorporated into the community in the North. The Ex-Coloured Man's narrative throws into doubt this optimistic and idealized view of life in the North by illustrating the complex power relations still based on race there. To be sure, the narrator becomes a respected and prosperous member of society in New York, and moves up the social ladder, which is one of the ideals often expressed in slave narratives, even to the extent of some ex-slaves moving in the circles of the English aristocracy. But, in a highly ironizing move, the narrator is shown to achieve such status only by becoming an Ex-Coloured Man, by enslaving himself to whiteness. The text implicitly asks whether ex-slaves were also forced to re-enslave themselves to the values of white society, thus drawing attention to the ideological contradictions of Gronnisaw taking on the trappings of an English gentleman, or even of Douglass becoming a statesman for the abolition movement, a role whose political importance Douglass recognized but which he described as an enormous burden he took on reluctantly. Servitude to a white agenda does not end with "liberation," so that the very black identity generated in the writing of autobiography is placed in doubt.
At the very least, the fact that the narrator and thousands like him feel the necessity to pass for white stands as testament to the fact that the North is not an ideal space where bondage has been exchanged for freedom, where African Americans have changed their status from property to personhood. The American promise of plenitude does not apply to them anywhere. Indeed, when the narrator visits Boston - the seat of much liberal and transcendental American thought, the home of famous fugitive slaves like Douglass and Brown, and the very place where Johnson's novel was published -
he praises the educated black population for its "adaptability": "In speech and thought they were genuine Yankees" (112). This intended commendation, which appears to signal the success of Yankee ideology in integrating African Americans in the North, itself turns out to be an unconsciously ironic utterance, as we see when the narrator expands his praise into a general statement on the African diaspora:
It is remarkable, after all, what an adaptable creature the Negro is. I have seen the black West Indian gentleman in London, and he is in speech and manners a perfect Englishman. I have seen natives of Haiti and Martinique in Paris, and they are more Frenchy than a Frenchman. I have no doubt that the Negro would make a good Chinaman, with exception of the pigtail. (112)
Adaptability may, of course, be a strategy for salvaging some material benefit from an intolerable situation of racial denigration, a way of profiting from impeccable performance, a method, within the limited choices available, of beating the dominant culture at its own game and of "proving" one's humanity in the process. But here Johnson also lets us glimpse the horror of the black colonized subject - who is clearly paralleled to the "liberated" African American - as the absolute mimic man who has become so adept at the art of imitation that his blackness has become blankness, an absence or void waiting to be filled by the identity of the colonizing culture.(20) So complete is the obliteration of an African heritage, so complete is the cultural assimilation to Euro-American values, that physical bondage is obviated; the compliant subject polices himself. What begins as performance becomes an identity. Indeed, successful passing for white by black Americans, to the extent that they lead their lives entirely within Euro-American culture as the narrator does, may constitute the ultimate act of cultural and racial mimicry, the annihilation of a residual African selfhood. While the role-playing may have subversive potential, it also has the ability to contain and transform the actor.
Even in such an apparently liberated, morally fluid, and ideologically liberal space as the bohemian world of New York night clubs, frequented by the narrator in the middle section of the novel (chapters six to eight), race remains a mark of hierarchized difference. And once more, in this world the narrator treads a subtle line between being a keen, critical observer of race relations and being an oblivious dupe who is himself used by whites. He is, for example, enthralled with those African Americans who patronize the clubs - "great prize fighters," "famous jockeys," "stage celebrities," and "noted minstrels" (76) - apparently unaware of what this list reveals: that "success" for African Americans is largely restricted to the worlds of sport and entertainment, where they perform for white society, a role he himself takes on in relation to his millionaire patron.(21) The reputed escape from class and race as dividers in this bohemian society - the narrator thinks that money alone is the indicator of position here (78) - is only an illusion. The narrator seems to see clearly this illusion of equality in his incisive analysis of the types of white patrons who come to the black clubs: There are men and women "out sight-seeing, or slumming"; there are stage performers who come "to get their imitations first hand from the Negro entertainers they s[ee] there," which they can then use to their advantage when performing "darky characters"; and there are sophisticated, educated white women looking for black lovers to keep (78-79). The narrator recognizes that these relations between blacks and whites are based on an asymmetrical distribution of power in favor of the whites(22); this is especially evident when he describes how white men steal the improvised rags of poor black musicians, alter the words slightly, and publish the songs under their own names, thus "earn[ing] small fortunes, of which the Negro originators got only a few dollars" (73). Yet ironically and perversely, the narrator himself reverts to the white gaze when registering his reaction to the relationships between white women and their kept black lovers: "I shall never forget how hard it was for me to get over my feelings of surprise, perhaps more than surprise, at seeing . . . [a wealthy white 'widow'] with her black companion; somehow I never exactly enjoyed the sight" (79). The narrator can recognize these relationships as exploitative, yet he cannot escape the antimiscegenetic attitudes toward sexuality upheld by white men. His dis-ease at the situation is especially ironic in view of his later marriage to a white woman. Clearly, he identifies himself as white here, a position he has already adopted when he speaks earlier of the "barbaric harmonies" (72) of ragtime and when he registers his pride over the acceptance of black music by "the civilized world" (73). How completely he becomes absorbed into the role of white musician exploiting black music can be seen by the fact that he later seeks to earn a handsome profit from recording black music in the South, the very thievery he had been critical of white musicians for.
The interrogative dialogue inherent to parody also extends to Johnson's signifying on nineteenth-century black travel literature. As I observed above, the fugitive slaves wrote glowingly of the lack of racism they perceived in Europe, proclaiming that they felt more liberated there than they had ever felt at home; but their sense of "freedom" was purchased at the cost of their cultural heritage: They could "prove" their black humanity only by conforming to European standards of "civilized" behavior. Douglass himself unwittingly points to the ideological contradictions of the British abolition movement. On the one hand, British abolitionists make excessive claims to being interested in Africans, their exotic Other; Douglass wryly comments: "It is quite an advantage to be a n - r here. I find I am hardly black enough for British taste, but by keeping my hair as woolly as possible I make out to pass for at least half a Negro at any rate" (Life and Writings 136). For political reasons, the abolition movement wants its representatives to appear biologically to be the essence of "pure" Negroness/blackness; but they also wish to dispel the threat of difference so that Douglass, Brown, Ward, and the other black "representatives" must in their behavior measure up to the standards of "educated," "civilized" Europeans, even though they are made constantly to feel the impossibility of measuring up.(23) The African Other must be discovered to be the same as the European Self; any distinct African American traits must be eradicated. Johnson's text makes explicit this imperative to cultural hegemony by taking assimilation to its ultimate extreme: The Ex-Coloured Man is no longer black when he passes for white in Europe, the very origin of "cultured" behavior. His millionaire employer, who has educated, clothed, and nurtured him, has, in the words of the narrator, "made me a polished man of the world" (104). Unlike Douglass, he does not need to pass for black in Europe because he can, by virtue of his successful mimicry, pass for white. Ironically, Johnson's narrator still recognizes and clings to a distinct African American culture when he plays ragtime, but again this difference must be assimilated: He will return to the American South not to learn black music for its own sake, but to follow the example of the German musician who "had taken ragtime and made it classic" (103; cf. 108), in a reflection of his own cultural "progress." Johnson's novel uncovers the cultural imperialism implicit in much of the travel writing of fugitive slaves, thereby throwing into doubt the optimistic views expressed there.
Parody has the ability, then, to call into question the integrity of the original text by interrogating the boundaries between "original" and "copy" on thematic grounds; it can also challenge hierarchies of genre or what Derrida calls "the law of genre." According to Derrida,
As soon as the word "genre" is sounded, as soon as it is heard, as soon as one attempts to conceive it, a limit is drawn. And when a limit is established, norms and interdictions are not far behind. . . . Thus, as soon as genre announces itself, one must respect a norm, one must not cross a line of demarcation, one must not risk impurity, anomaly or monstrosity. (203-04)
Johnson deliberately calls up the notion of genre in the title of his novel, however, in order to respond to it in the register of parody. He is clearly engaged in this kind of playful and productive transgression of the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction when he passes his novel off as autobiography. He effectively demonstrates that autobiography is heavily dependent on the creation of fictions, while realist fiction draws on the techniques of autobiography and sociology to create a sense of truth-value in the text.
Perhaps more important, however, is the parallel he draws between racial and generic passing. The act of racial passing mounts a challenge to the regulatory boundaries imposed between the races by subverting the very notion of racial purity on which such hierarchical divisions are supposedly founded. If the dominant culture fails to identify the black race by the measures of physiognomy it has instituted to define the race, then how can its elaborate system of intellectual and moral inequality based on physical difference be supported? The distinction between the "original" (pure/white/self) and the "copy" (tainted/black/other) can no longer be drawn with certainty, casting into doubt the very notion of an original. Passing, like parody, threatens to dismantle the entire structure of apartheid, "the law of genre" and of genetics; but, paradoxically, it can do so effectively only by revealing itself and thus proving the absurdity of the boundaries imposed by the dominant culture.
At the same time, one might argue that the Ex-Coloured Man's continued passing, with its insistence on the importance of mimicry and his refusal to name himself, becomes an even more threatening position to white society because that society cannot identify and safely control him. He remains an unknown and thus a continually potential subversive force. Once the one who passes reveals himself, his subversive potential is in a sense exhausted; he becomes a known entity and is relegated to his "proper" position. Perhaps the power of passing and parody lies in the very difficulty of identifying them; both maintain their subversive threat by keeping the audience off balance. We as viewers or readers never really know, are never absolutely certain, and so we worry that a joke is being played on us that we cannot quite get.
Johnson's text has it both ways: It passes as autobiography for a long period, until 1927, and then reveals itself as a novel. And it is in the act of revealing itself that it differs, in the end, from its protagonist. Before turning to the act of unveiling itself, however, I want to look briefly at other similarities and differences between the racial passing the narrator engages in and the generic passing the text partakes of. The narrator chooses to pass for white and thus deny his black racial and cultural heritage; his is an act of repression, a movement from the subordinate to the dominant culture performed in order to be financially and socially successful by the standards of white bourgeois society. Johnson's text, however, originally denies its identity as a novel - a genre still, at the start of the twentieth century, almost exclusively reserved for white writers. Instead, it passes as autobiography, a genre identified with the slave narratives that were the primary texts of black culture. Such a move can be interpreted as an act of textual solidarity, or it can be viewed as the adopting of a stereotypical role imposed by the dominant culture, "playing the darky" for the dubious motive of financial success. If this was the primary motivation, however, Johnson must have been disappointed, for The Autobiography did not gain much attention, nor did it have good sales, when it was first published in 1912.
Johnson's text avoids this accusation of succumbing to stereotypes, I believe, by the fact that it parodies - repeats with difference, revises but does not ridicule - the slave narratives it ostensibly imitates, and so, even before it was revealed as fiction in 1927, it was already challenging the generic boundaries imposed along racial lines by the dominant culture. Further, the later public unveiling of the text as a novel by Johnson makes obvious the act of generic passing that readers might have missed. In contrast, the Ex-Coloured Man begins his narrative with a gesture of self-revelation I quote at length:
I know that in writing the following pages I am divulging the great secret of my life, the secret which for some years I have guarded far more carefully than any of my earthly possessions; and it is a curious study to me to analyze the motives which prompt me to do it. I feel that I am led by the same impulse which forces the un-found-out criminal to take somebody into his confidence, although he knows that the act is likely, even almost certain, to lead to his undoing. I know that I am playing with fire, and I feel the thrill which accompanies that most fascinating pastime; and, back of it all, I think I find a sort of savage and diabolical desire to gather up all the little tragedies of my life, and turn them into a practical joke on society. (1)
For those in the know, the autorepresentational nature of this opening paragraph, which draws to our attention the similarities - and the differences - between the strategies that Johnson as author and the Ex-Coloured Man as narrator are engaged in, is fairly obvious. It is the differences I want to stress for the moment. Although the narrator discloses his racially mixed heritage, he never reveals to the reader his own personal identity, his name. In fact, he goes to great lengths to keep his identity a secret - another trope Johnson adapts from slave narratives - purportedly to protect his children, who have always been identified as white, but also to protect his own position in white, middle-class society. Thus the Ex-Coloured Man refuses to utter the punch-line in the "practical joke on society" (1) he claims to be engaged in; instead, by continuing to pretend to be white, the narrator recuperates the very racial boundaries that the act of passing potentially challenges: He lives in the closed world of white society, looking with both disdain and nostalgia at the life of black America that he has repudiated. The joke thus rebounds upon him, as he virtually acknowledges when he expresses regret in the final paragraph of the novel: "I cannot repress the thought that, after all, I have chosen the lesser part, that I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage" (154). The full subversive potential of passing fails to materialize for the Ex- Coloured Man. But by exploring the complexities of this very problem, Johnson's text proves itself revolutionary; it has helped to undermine the traditional generic division between white fiction and black autobiography, has helped to establish the African American novel as much more than simple ethnography, has exposed the hypocrisy of Northern bourgeois values, and has raised significant questions about the nature of parody and of passing.
1. The Amsterdam News, New York's black newspaper, treated the novel as an autobiography and gave it a favorable review, as did the Boston Guardian; the reviewer for the New York Times could not decide whether the story was fact or fiction, a situation that pleased Johnson, who wrote to his wife Grace Nail, on 26 June 1912: "It is proven that I am sufficiently a master of the technical art of writing to make it impossible for even so keen a critic as the one on the Times to say that the story is not true." Jessie Fauset, who would herself go on to become a significant novelist, sensed the truth about this situation when she reviewed the book for The Crisis in the November 1912 issue: "It is indeed an epitome of the race situation in the United States told in the form of an autobiography. The varied incidents, the numerous localities brought in, the setting forth in all its ramifications of our great and perplexing race problem, suggests a work of fiction founded on hard fact" (38).
2. I use the term autobiographical fiction here in a rather too simplistic fashion to mean fiction that is based on the lived experiences and the beliefs of the author projected onto the protagonist of the fiction. As this paper will clearly demonstrate, however, I view both autobiography and fiction as more complicated than this definition implies. For the sake of propelling the argument forward, I adopt this naive definition for the time being.
3. Skerrett was by no means the first to read the text as ironic; as he himself acknowledges, he stands at the end of a line of critics, including Robert Bone (46-49), Edward Margolies (25-27), Euginia Collier, Robert Fleming ("Irony"), and Marvin Garrett, who interpret Johnson's treatment of his narrator as ironic. The counter-tradition, which reads the narrator's views as those of the author, without any suggestion of irony, includes Sterling Brown (104-05), Hugh Gloster (79-83), Stephen Bronz, David Littlejohn (26-27), and Nathan Huggins (144-45, 152-53).
4. To pursue a line of inquiry that compares the political and social ideas expressed in the novel with those put forward by Johnson in his non- fiction writing would no doubt be revealing, but would take my argument into territory far beyond the range of this analysis, and would amount to a reopening of the debate as to whether the novel is autobiographical fiction or not. As I have stated above, I see the question as more complicated than this. Suffice it to say here that Johnson's political and social views were not conservative for his time, as Richard Carroll has demonstrated. See also Johnson's critique of Booker T. Washington's famous Atlanta Exposition speech (Along This Way 311-12).
5. Dodd Mead had published three earlier Dunbar novels, The Uncalled (1898), The Love of Landry (1900), and The Fanatics (1901), but none of them have main characters who are black.
6. William L. Andrews points out that during the 1840s "the publication of American slave autobiographies created a growing international literary sensation" (Free Story 97) that continued at least to the end of the nineteenth century, even though the elements of the slave narratives changed over this period. He traces these changes in "The Representation of Slavery and the Rise of Afro-American Literary Realism, 1865-1920." According to Andrews, "Approximately sixty-five American slave narratives were published in book or pamphlet form before 1865," and "between the Civil War and the onset of the depression, at least fifty more ex-slaves saw their autobiographies in print" ("Representation" 78).
7. Carl Van Vechten states in his introduction to the 1927 edition: "The publishers [of the 1912 edition] attempted to persuade the author to sign a statement to the effect that the book was an actual human document. This he naturally refused to do. Nevertheless, the work was hailed on every side, for the most part, as an individual's true story" (v).
8. In addition to Andrews's definitive study, see, for example, Stephen Butterfield's Black Autobiography in America (9-89), Sidonie Smith's Where I'm Bound: Patterns of Slavery and Freedom in Black American Autobiography, and the essays collected in The Slave's Narrative, ed. Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, as well as the relevant sections of studies by Stepto (3-31), Carby (40-61), Gates (127-169), and Valerie Smith (9-43). This is only a sample of the burgeoning critical literature on slave narratives.
9. This desire among white audiences to "know" America's ethnic "others" through "representative" autobiographies has not abated; see, for example, Maxine Hong Kingston's discussion of misreadings of her Woman Warrior ("Cultural Mis-readings").
10. Sterling Brown comments that "The Autobiography of An Ex-Coloured Man was a ground-breaking novel in its dealing with the 'aristocratic' mulatto, the problem of 'passing,' the Negro artistic world, the urban and European scene" (105); Hugh Gloster claims that it "is ground-breaking in its introduction of a well-realized cosmopolitan milieu. Unlike most earlier Negro fiction, it is not localized in the South but moves out into the broader field of European and Northern urban life" (79). See also Fleming, James Weldon Johnson 24.
11. No reader interested in "the problem of the color-line," which Du Bois had proclaimed the major issue "at the dawning of the Twentieth Century" ("Forethought" to Souls vii) could fall to miss the veil(ed) allusion in Johnson's Preface, as Stepto has pointed out (99). But I consider Johnson to be emphasizing the ironic distance between his narrator and Du Bois's narrative voice. The vaunting confidence of supreme knowledge expressed by "THE PUBLISHERS" echoes the attitude of the Ex-Coloured Man himself, an attitude very different from Du Bois's tone of humility as he asks to be "forgiv[en] mistake and foible" and urges the reader to seek "the grain of truth hidden" in his text (vii). Despite the promise of an "insider's view," the assurance exhibited by the Ex-Coloured Man and his publishers stems from their shared position as outsiders looking in, impresarios organizing rather than actors participating in the drama of black life being rehearsed in these pages. This position is precisely opposite to the one Du Bois insists on at the close of his preface: "And, finally, need I add that I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil?" (viii; emphasis added).
12. His aligning of himself with the girls is obvious when a comparison is made between this description and his earlier confrontation with himself in the mirror as a child: "I was accustomed to hear remarks about my beauty; but now, for the first time, I became conscious of it and recognized it. I noticed the ivory whiteness of my skin, the beauty of my mouth, the size and liquid darkness of my eyes, and how the long, black lashes that fringed and shaded them produced an effect that was strangely fascinating even to me. I noticed the softness and glossiness of my dark hair that fell in waves over my temples, making my forehead appear whiter than it really was" (11). The description conflates narcissism, racial denial, and ambivalent sexuality, as if Johnson is hinting - which is all he can do in 1912 - that the narrator may be as uncertain about his sexual orientation as he is about his racial identity. This confusion is further heightened through the narrator's powerful attraction to his millionaire, whom he describes as "the best friend I ever had, except my mother, the man who exerted the greatest influence ever brought into my life, except that exerted by my mother" (108). By comparison, his wife seems a fairly insignificant character. Johnson may also be parodying the heroes of traditional male slave narratives, who are usually intent on carving out their identities as men.
13. See Stepto for a full-scale discussion of the complex relationship between sieve narratives and their authenticating documents (3-31).
14. In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Bakhtin explains the existence of one voice within the other in more detail: "But the author may also make use of someone else's discourse for his own purposes, by inserting a new semantic intention into a discourse which already has, and which retains, an intention of its own. Such a discourse, in keeping with its task, must be perceived as belonging to someone else. In one discourse, two semantic intentions appear, two voices. Parodying discourse is of this type, as are stylization and stylized skaz" (189).
15. Bakhtin's term parodic stylization needs some explanation because of his own apparently contradictory statements on the subject of parody. In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics Bakhtin draws what appears to be a rigid distinction between parody and stylization: "The situation is different with parody. Here, as in stylization, the author again speaks in someone else's discourse, but in contrast to stylization parody introduces into that discourse a semantic intention that is directly opposed to the original one. The second voice, once having made its home in the other's discourse, clashes hostilely with its primordial host and forces him to serve directly opposing aims. Discourse becomes an arena of battle between two voices. In parody, therefore, there cannot be that fusion of voices possible in stylization . . .; the voices are not only isolated from one another, separated by a distance, but are also hostilely opposed" (193). In The Dialogic Imagination, however, Bakhtin views parody and stylization as the two ends of a continuum on which there is no clear line of demarcation: "Between stylization and parody, as between two extremes, are distributed the most varied forms for languages to mutually illuminate each other and for direct hybrids, forms that are themselves determined by the most varied interactions among languages, the most varied wills to language and to speech, that encounter one another within the limits of a single utterance" (364). The hybrid form of "parodic stylization" thus encompasses a more complex fusion of voices that enables the kind of dialogue - beyond simple hostility - that Bakhtin describes below. It is with this sense that I use the term parody here.
16. Stepto's mapping of the relationship between modem texts and their nineteenth-century predecessors as "responses" to the "calls" of the earlier texts may appear to share certain elements with a Bakhtinian notion of parody, especially in Stepto's claim that the relationship is a "contrapuntal and dialectical" one in which the later texts are not to be viewed as superior to the earlier (xi). Yet Stepto's reading of The Autobiography is remarkably unidirectional in its suggestion that "one of Johnson's key narrative strategies is the illumination of his narrator's failings through presentations of his misreadings and non-readings of 'tribal' texts and contexts" (118). In other words, Stepto always interprets Johnson's allusion to earlier texts, and in particular their slave heroes, as a method of establishing the narrator's lack of heroism (104). I hope to establish the relationship between these texts as more complex and dialogical.
17. It is not my intention to identify specific background texts against which Johnson's parody is working; rather, I am concerned with explicating certain common tropes from slave narratives that he plays upon in The Autobiography. That Johnson, as one of the leading black intellectuals of his day, was familiar with slave narratives is not in dispute: He won a copy of Douglass's Life and Times as a school prize at Stanton College and, as a teenager, had actually heard Douglass speak at the SubTropical Exposition in Jacksonville (Along This Way 60-61); as a student at Atlanta University's prep school, he also met Booker T. Washington (102).
18. Compare Samuel Ringgold Ward's claim, in his Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro published in 1855, that whites "are given almost solely to the acquisition of money" (100). The Ex-Coloured Man seems also to be responding to Du Bois's claim that "to be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships" (Souls 8).
19. Compare Douglass's very positive comments on his position as a black man in Britain in his letters of 16 September 1845 (Life and Writings 120) and of New Year's Day 1846 (126-28), both written to Garrison from Dublin.
20. As the novel moves toward its conclusion, the narrator ceases to cast blackness simply as absence and instead, alluding to the myths of Cain and the Wandering Jew, presents it as the sign of a perpetual curse when he declares: "There is nothing I would not suffer to keep the brand from being placed upon" his children (153).
21. For a positive interpretation of black artists performing for white audiences, donning the mask as a profitable strategy within very limited choices, see Houston Baker's analysis of Trueblood's performance in Invisible Man (193-99).
22. All of these descriptions of interracial relationships within the club scene prefigure the most important such relationship - that between the narrator and his white millionaire patron - but the narrator remains most blind to his own exploitation based on racial and class difference, always choosing to believe that he is being treated as an equal by his employer, even when it is patently obvious that no such equality exists.
23. Ward's groveling dedication of his Autobiography "To Her Grace the Duchess of Sutherland," replete with statements like "I cannot address your Grace as an equal" even as he proclaims his inability to "give flattering titles, or employ the language of adulation" (i), exemplifies the tone of much of this travel writing, whereby the fugitive slave is kept in a perpetual state of gratitude and servility to white patrons, even though that attitude of servility may itself become a trope necessary for the gaining of access to a wide audience.
Andrews, William L. "Introduction." Johnson, Autobiography vii-xxvii.
-----. "The Representation of Slavery and the Rise of Afro-American Literary Realism, 1865-1920." African American Autobiography: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Andrews. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1993. 77-89.
-----. To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1986.
Baker, Houston A., Jr. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.
Bakhtin, Mikhail M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
-----. Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984.
Bone, Robert. The Negro Novel in America. Rev ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1965.
Bronz, Stephen. Roots of Negro Social Consciousness: The 1920's: Three Harlem Renaissance Writers. New York: Libra, 1964.
Brown, Sterling. The Negro in American Fiction. 1937. New York: Argosy-Antiquarian, 1969.
Brown, William Wells. The Travels of William Wells Brown, including Narrative of William Wells Brown, A Fugitive Slave, and The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People Abroad. Ed. Paul Jefferson. New York: Markus Wiener, 1991.
Butterfield, Stephen. Black Autobiography in America. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1974.
Carby, Hazel V. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro- American Woman Novelist. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.
Carroll, Richard A. "Black Racial Spirit: An Analysis of James Weldon Johnson's Critical Perspective." Phylon 32 (1971): 344-64.
Collier, Eugenia. "The Endless Journey of an Ex-Coloured Man." Phylon 32 (1971): 365-73.
Davis, Charles T., and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed. The Slave's Narrative. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.
Derrida, Jacques. "The Law of Genre." Trans. Avital Ronell. Glyph 7 (1980): 203-04.
Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass: Early Years, 1817-1849. Ed. Philip S. Foner. New York: International, 1950.
-----. My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Arno P, 1968.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. 11th ed. Chicago: McClurg, 1918.
Fauset, Jessie. Rev. of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Crisis 5 (Nov. 1912): 38.
Fleming, Robert E. "Irony as a Key to Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man." American Literature 43 (1971): 83-96.
-----. James Weldon Johnson. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
Garrett, Marvin P. "Early Recollections and Structural Irony in The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man." Critique 13 (Summer 1971): 5-14.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Gloster, Hugh M. Negro Voices in American Fiction. 1948. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965.
Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford UP, 1971.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. New York: Methuen, 1985.
Johnson, James Weldon. Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson. New York: Viking, 1933.
-----. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Ed. with intro. by William L. Andrews. New York: Penguin, 1990.
Kingston, Maxine Hong. "Cultural Mis-readings by American Reviewers." Asian and Western Writers in Dialogue: New Cultural Identities. Ed. Guy Amirthanayagam. London: Macmillan, 1982.55-65.
Levy, Eugene. James Weldon Johnson: Black Leader, Black Voice. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1973.
Littlejohn, David. Black on White: A Critical Survey of Writing by American Negroes. New York: Grossman, 1966.
Margolies, Edward. Native Sons: A Critical Study of Twentieth-Century Black American Authors. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1968.
Skerrett, Joseph T., Jr. "Irony and Symbolic Action in James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man." American Quarterly 32 (Winter 1980): 540-58.
Smith, Sidonie. Where I'm Bound: Patterns of Slavery and Freedom in Black American Autobiography. Westport: Greenwood, 1974.
Smith, Valerie. Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.
Stepto, Robert B. From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1979.
Van Vechten, Carl. "Introduction to Mr. Knopf's New Edition." The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, by James Weldon Johnson. New York: Knopf, 1927. v-x.
Ward, Samuel Ringgold. Autobiography of a Fugutive Negro. New York: Arno P, 1968.
Donald C. Goellnicht, Associate Professor of English at McMaster University in Canada, teaches and publishes in Asian American, African American, and British Romantic literature. Most recently he has co-edited New Romanticisms: Theory and Critical Practice (U of Toronto P, 1994). Professor Goellnicht wishes to thank Lesley Douglass, Mary O'Connor, and Teresa Zackodnik, who generously read drafts of this article and offered valuable suggestions for its improvement.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Goellnicht, Donald C.|
|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1996|
|Previous Article:||Popular fronts: 'Negro Story' magazine and the African American literary response to World War II.|
|Next Article:||'To Disembark': the slave narrative tradition.|