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William Wells Brown's Economy of Entertainment.

William Wells Brown wrote his final book, My Southern Home: or, the South and Its People, following his 1879 tour of the American South. Published in 1880, the book makes an odd coda to a prolific literary career during which Brown authored numerous versions of his autobiography, four books of black history, one published drama, and three editions of his groundbreaking novel, Clotel. Though much of this work has been subjected to intense scholarly scrutiny, My Southern Home has been all but ignored. (1) One reason for this is that since it was written several years after Emancipation, My Southern Home was motivated by different political and aesthetic goals than those that spurred Brown's antebellum writings, and therefore doesn't fit into typical critical paradigms. My Southern Home also perplexes readers with its form, for though it announces itself as an autobiography in which "earlier incidents were written out from the author's recollections," the text does not deliver on that promise (113). In fact, when readers visit Brown's old home, they find a racially indeterminate narrator, a parade of stereotypical illustrations, and the promised "recollections" of slavery copied verbatim (or slightly altered) from Brown's antebellum writings such as the Narrative of William Wells Brown (1847), Clotel (1853), or The Escape (1855). This recycling and retooling of old material in the antebellum chapters of the book precedes a postwar section featuring loosely connected sketches set in various Southern locales. None of the characters in the first section of My Southern Home appear in the second section, and the narrator himself appears and disappears without accounting for his own movements or actions.

Scholars who have reckoned with Southern highlight the many confusions and dead-ends endemic to the text. William L. Andrews admires the work, but rightly notes that it is nearly impossible to "read into My Southern Home a consistent and verifiable sociopolitical message" and that "the narrator's identity and purposes are ... hard to pin down" (Introduction 11). John Ernest accepts Andrews's arguments and posits that Brown's book is "less memoir than sociology" ("Maps" 91). According to Ernest, Brown's method led him to present all the flaws, contradictions, and pleasures that defined the author's Southern home. Ultimately, Ernest argues, Southern "make[s] the object of the observations the observing subject himself, William Wells Brown" ("Maps" 103). Ernest is correct to note that Brown positions himself at the center of Southern, though I argue that he does so by revealing many of the methods that made him a successful author. Throughout his final work, Brown reveals his ability and dynamism as he both revises old material and creates new scenes, many of which feature songs, antics, and performances that illuminate the workings of an economy of entertainment. (2)

Within Brown's economy of entertainment, black characters use performance to rebalance the economic scales, and to highlight the uncertainty of racial signifiers. The characters in Brown's My Southern Home show that performing rather than working is what defines white power under the slave system and is, concomitantly, one way to reverse the economic inequalities of slavery and Jim Crow. Because it was obvious to Brown that work did not correspond to wealth for the white slaveholders who lived off the fruits of chattel labor, he crafted representations of slavery in which blacks mastered the art of not working. Moreover, as the only autobiography Brown authored after Emancipation, Southern illuminates the economic benefits of entertainment for former slaves within postwar America. (3) Though Brown features free men and women who use performance to realize economic gain in the postwar economy, he also inserts himself into a book that is itself an important postwar performance in order to prove that new economic arrangements necessitate the revision--but not the abandonment--of the economy of entertainment.

William Wells Brown illuminates the importance of performance from the beginning of Southern, as he abandons the moralizing abolitionist speakers of his antebellum works in favor of a racially indeterminate narrator who describes the slaveholding Dr. Gaines as a "sunny-sided old gentleman." (4) Continuing in this vein, the narrator expresses a peculiar kinship with Dr. Gaines, calling him "one of the planters of our section," and claiming that he "always regarded him as a truly pious and conscientious man" (120). An assertion like this one (that is not unique in the text) may discomfit modern readers, for it suggests that Brown is posing as a white man in his own autobiography. (5) Rather than being a flaw in the book, though, or evidence of an old man's slipping into his dotage, this racial masking represents one of Brown's great literary achievements. His masquerade enables him to embody and criticize white assumptions, and it amplifies his longstanding belief in the constructed nature of "race." Though he did not disguise his own race (or write from a white perspective) in his antebellum writings, Brown insisted throughout his career that race was inessential. For example, in Clotel, Brown's alter ego Pompey works for the slave trader Walker, and prepares slaves for the market by "blackening" them with shoe polish. As he works, Pompey informs the slaves that he (at least) is "no counterfeit" (Clotel 51). Citing this scene (a scene also featured in My Southern Home), Paul Gilmore argues that the juxtaposition of the "real" black with the painted slaves being prepared for market "reveals race as an illusion, as a mask that one puts on, while acknowledging the ways in which that mask makes race very real" (Gilmore 749). (6) By masking both himself and his characters, and by toying with ideas of blackness and whiteness, Brown imagines racial identity as a performance, a tool to be manipulated and utilized within the economy of entertainment.

The racial masking and manipulation featured in Southern recalls the nineteenth-century minstrel shows that perpetuated the stereotypes Brown both employs and lampoons. In recent years, W. T. Lhamon, Eric Lott, David Roediger, and Alexander Saxton have argued that the minstrel show was not only a racist, dehumanizing popular entertainment, but a political spectacle that redefined relationships between blacks and whites, between workers and employers, and between men and women. All of these critics would agree with Lhamon's contention that "after about 1845, minstrelsy became a complexly contested field" (Lhamon 74), and that white and black minstrel characters working within this field revealed both the reality of race as a divisive force and the performative nature of race itself. (7) Minstrel shows offered opportunities for black characters to mock their white counterparts, and to bring white characters on stage (and white viewers in the audience) into carnivalesque rituals that lampooned black and white racial identities.

In Raising Cain, Lhamon argues that while minstrelsy acknowledges and even reinforces discrimination, it also creates something new and useful:

Cultural encounters bequeath their messages down generations as ghosting codes that fade, pulse, peek through erasure, and sometimes recover.... Since fugitives often remain unacculturated even as they and their society pretend they are assimilated, their physical presence and their residual codes continually excite the old grudges. Excite: sometimes in actuality, more often in symbolic action, in displaced dramas, songs, dances and farces, enjoined whenever two or three are gathered together. These rehearsals seize what vengeance is possible and smile at the rest. (Lhamon 147)

Such "dramas, songs ... and farces," appear and reappear throughout Brown's canon, and in Southern, Brown recycles them in order to craft scenes that function as doubled performances. Such scenes highlight the simultaneous functioning of the economy of entertainment within slavery (the performance itself) and freedom (Brown's reuse of the performance). These scenes also suggest the reproduction (but not replication) of certain "gestures of expressive behavior." These gestures make up what Lhamon names a "lore cycle" that never stops, but "sustain[s] complex meaning over time ... the turns of a lore cycle convert the dead hands of the past into living presences that deviate from what went before" (69, 71).

An example of Brown's ability to recycle past writing in order to craft something new and vital appears in chapter three of Southern, wherein he inserts a scene that had appeared in two earlier works. This scene makes its debut in Clotel, in which the sober-minded Sam performs as Dr. Gaines's surrogate while the Doctor himself attends to other business; Sam prescribes the same remedy that Gaines would have and is praised for his efforts. The Clotel version includes the image "Negro Dentistry," which seems oddly suited for the action in the text since its grotesque figures and mocking caption suggest that the highly capable Sam is something of a buffoon. When Brown revised this scene for The Escape, Sam became the proud, but incompetent Cato, who muses to himself, "Ef any niggers comes in, I wants to look suspectable. Dis jacket don't suit a doctor; I'll change it" (139). Cato looks the part, but he cannot fulfill Dr. Gaines's orders, and he harms several of the patients he treats. Ultimately, Cato's mistakes initiate a protracted fistfight well suited for the stage, though oddly suited for an abolitionist drama.

When Brown included the "Negro Dentistry" scene in Southern, he copied The Escape version indeed, the scene is printed in dramatic form complete with stage directions--but included the picture that first appeared in Clotel (see Fig.). While Southern is not a drama, the picture works with the dramatic dialogue to remind readers that they have been watching a minstrel show featuring a self-important slave, exaggerated physical representations, a credulous and befuddled slave master, and uproarious physical comedy. Brown's self-plagiarism reminds readers of the replication and dissemination of racial stereotypes so important to the minstrel show, but by reusing an old image and story in a new context, he reveals the inadequacy of iconic representations. For just as one minstrel type cannot stand in for an entire ethnic group, neither can one picture stand for both Sam the respectable doctor and Cato the "suspectable" doctor. Though Brown's target in his early works may have been racism and its attendant representations of race, in his final book he initiates an attack on racial representation itself. (8) As he reuses images and scenes authored during the antebellum period, Brown matches his authorial performance to slaves' performances and invites readers to question both textual and racial authenticity. (9)


Southern also includes an important scene from Brown's 1847 Narrative, wherein Brown himself tricks a free black man into receiving a whipping intended for Brown. The 1847 version is narrated without dialect and includes Brown's mea culpa as a gloss on what occurs. Embarrassed by his deception, Brown claims that he included the incident in his book only because it "shows how it is that slavery makes its victims lying and mean for ... had I entertained the same views of right and wrong which I now do, I am sure I should never have practiced the deception upon the poor fellow which I did" (Narrative 51). In Southern, Brown removes himself and inserts Pompey, a character who speaks in dialect and shows no regret for tricking another man into taking a beating. Whereas Brown wished he could make amends to the man he deceived, Pompey "would enjoy a hearty laugh, saying, 'He was a free man, an' could afford to go to bed, an' lay dar till he got well'" (198). In this new version, Brown does not bother to show that Pompey has a fully developed moral sense but does show that he understands dollars and cents, for the slave knows who can "afford" a beating. Furthermore, as he changes a scene from one autobiography to another, Brown decenters the actions of William Wells Brown the character, and focuses on the achievements of William Wells Brown the author. As the author, Brown blurs the line between himself and Pompey, between fact and fiction, and ultimately, between black and white.

Another of Brown's revisions comes in chapter four of Southern, wherein he again alters a scene from The Escape. In both versions of this scene, the slave mistress Mrs. Gaines plots to ensure that Cato will be wed to the comely Hannah after her husband Sam has been sold to a slave trader. Mrs. Gaines muses to herself, "I'11 make Hannah marry Cato and I'll have them both in the house under my eyes" (146). Once the mistress makes this pronouncement, Hannah begs Cato to stop the marriage, but he demurs and says to himself, "Now, ef I could only jess run away from ole massa, an' get to Canada wid Hannah, den I'd show 'em who I was. Ah! dat reminds me of my song 'bout ole massa and Canada, an' I'll sing it" (147). At this point in The Escape, Cato sings a didactic antislavery song that Brown first printed in his 1848 songbook, The Anti-Slavery Harp, but since Cato's primary emotion is joy and expectation of the union about to take place, the polemical song in The Escape seems more suited to Brown's abolition agenda than to the drama unfolding on stage. (10) Freed from his antebellum political agenda when he wrote Southern, Brown imagines Cato singing a very different song:
 De happiest day I ever did see
 I'm bound for my heavenly home,
 When missis give Hannah to me,
 Through heaven dis chile will roam.
 CHORUS.--Go away, Sam, you can't come a-nigh me,
 Gwine to meet me friens in hebben,
 Hannah is gwine along;
 Missis ses Hannah is mine,
 So Hannah is gwine along.
 CHORUS repeated
 Father Gabriel, blow your horn,
 I'll take wings and fly away,
 Take Hannah up in the early morn,
 An' I'll be in hebben by de break of day.
 CHORUS repeated

Cato's obvious excitement is not based solely on a hope that he will be able to escape with Hannah, but also on his visit to a "heavenly home," a term rife with meanings. Heaven might be a synonym for Canada, or it might suggest the possibility of salvation and eternity with the comely Hannah; however, Cato seems most eager to "be in hebben by the break of day" as he consummates the marriage, and he reinforces the authority that has allowed the marriage when he sings, "Missis ses Hannah is mine," in the chorus.

Cato's song does not demonstrate his complete submission, however. As he sings in Southern, Mrs. Gaines "heard [his] musical voice and knew that he was in high glee" (147). When she reappears to speak with Cato, the servant reaffirms his commitment to "mind" his mistress and is praised by her for his dutiful devotion. Though Mrs. Gaines arranges the marriage to keep Cato "under her eyes," Cato uses his song to demonstrate his obedience and thus mitigates his mistress's concern over his escape. By seeming to acknowledge the right of Mrs. Gaines to arrange a marriage, Cato is able to make slavery more bearable for himself (though, it is true, less so for Hannah). Moreover, he crafts his subversive song within a religious framework that satisfies the master's expectation of a "sacred" song while voicing the slave's more mundane concerns.

In reimagining Cato's song from The Escape for inclusion in Southern, Brown highlights his changing political and aesthetic motivations. He owns black music and entertainment and refuses to let whites to define it for their own purposes. This marks an important contrast with Brown's earlier work (and Cato's earlier song) and with the view expressed most famously in Douglass's 1845 Narrative, in which the narrator denies that slaves' songs were ever a sign of happiness: "[They] breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish.... Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy" (Douglass 38). Though Douglass is surely fight that slave songs were not proof of joyfulness, his description simply places song on the other side of the binary: Songs are evidence of deepest sadness. Those who accept the happiness/sadness binary assume that songs reveal authentic emotion, and that song is an index to feeling. (11) This is a view echoed by the kind Georgiana in Brown's Clotel, who listens to slaves singing and opines, "It is from ... unguarded expressions of the feelings of the negroes.., that we should learn a lesson" (Clotel 125). Sympathetic white listeners like Georgiana do not mistake happiness for sadness, but they do presume that slave songs are authentic expressions of true feelings. In Southern, Brown's black characters use song and other entertainments to satisfy such uncomplicated assumptions of white listeners, and thereby profit themselves.

Perhaps most important, as Brown recasts the artful deceptions of slaves for Southern, he performs (and profits) as an author in the literary marketplace. Like the blacked-up slaves on Walker's boat, the "suspectable" Cato, or Brown's alter-ego Pompey, Southern is a book wearing a mask. Occasionally a white man's apology for slavery, sometimes a slave narrative, now and then a collection of black folklore, the text and its origins are difficult to pin down, but the book works as a whole precisely because it refuses unity. For just as many of the vignettes in Southern emphasize the problem of racial absolutes, so too does the hodgepodge of literary and visual material in the text remind readers that books, like bodies, are difficult to categorize. Brown's book is a masquerade that capitalizes on the racial identity of its author even as it reconstructs the very idea of static racial identification through the economy of entertainment.

Though Brown's depictions of performance and entertainment in Southern highlight the power and ingenuity of black characters, I agree with those critics who argue that slave entertainment should not be understood as panacea or as a universally effective mode of resistance. In this vein, Paul Gilroy claims that while music, dance, and entertainment can be imagined as "artistic performance in the process of struggles toward emancipation, citizenship, and eventually autonomy ... art ... was offered to slaves as a substitute for the formal political freedoms they were denied under the plantation regime" (Gilroy 56-57). Saidiya Hartman extends and expands this critique in her Scenes of Subjection, wherein she claims that slave entertainments for slaveholders necessarily presume that the white master had the right to judge entertainment and that his (or her) judgments mattered. Thus, even when slaves were laughing, singing, or joking, they were actually cementing the rights of their enslavers. I take Hartman's objections seriously, and I am not inclined to celebrate, uncritically, the subversive potential of slave entertainments since, as she contends, "enjoyment ... was attributed to the slave in order to deny, displace, and minimize the violence of slavery" (Hartman 25). Brown seems to offer something a bit different, though, for the unique economy he imagines destabilizes the racial categories that enabled the peculiar institution in the first place--that is, his entertainments do not offer space for enjoyment or resistance within slavery, but rather destroy the black/ white distinction at its very foundation. Moreover, Brown marks the differences between slaves' enjoyment and that attributed to them by their masters, and shows that "enjoyment" rarely took the forms the master presumed.

Significantly, slaves find their enjoyment not in performance itself, but in the economic leveling attending their performances. Soon after the narrator introduces readers to the benevolent master on Poplar Farm, he links economy and performance through depictions of pretended black buffoonery. The first example features the young slave Billy, who shoots a shotgun into a box of caps and cuffs belonging to his mistress. When he is discovered, "[a] light whipping was all that he got ... for which he was well repaid by having an opportunity of telling" his story (124). Billy's mild punishment pales in comparison to the economic benefit of his actions. Not only has he cost his mistress some of her ill-gotten lucre, but by making fun of whites and recounting the story for his fellow slaves, Billy obtains "payment" from his peers. Refusing to focus on the "light whipping" as he might have during the antebellum years, Brown notes the rewards attending Billy's "mistake."

Billy wants to share his story because, as the narrator relates, "blacks felt that when they could get the advantage of their owners, they had a perfect right to do so" (137). Still, this taking advantage had a possible drawback, because it could cause the economic hardship that might lead the master to sell his slaves. Throughout the first section of the novel, the specter of the slave trader Walker--"the terror of the whole South-west amongst the black population, bond and free"--looms above much of the revelry on Poplar Farm (143). Slaves are sold as a means of satisfying gambling debts, paying creditors, or simply overcoming difficult financial circumstances. The slaveholders who resort to selling their chattel are little better than Walker, a man "with no conscientious scruples" for whom "money was his God" (143). To combat those who "worshipped at the altar" of Mammon, slaves pursued (whenever possible) entertainments that allowed for economic leveling while preserving the plantation community.

These twinned motives are on display throughout chapter five, wherein Dr. Gaines and his wife bring a plow and a washing machine to Poplar Farm and Mrs. Gaines explains the labor arrangements to the women: "'instead of six of you great, big women to do the washing, two of you with the "washer," can do the work.' And out she went, leaving the negroes to the contemplation of the future." Given that Brown's discussion of Walker the slave trader occupies the previous chapter, it is not hard for readers to contemplate the future along with the slaves: the washing machine will allow Dr. Gaines to sell his slaves and break up the farm community so important to the Southern home in first part of Brown's book. When Mrs. Gaines arises one day the following week, "instead of finding the washing out on the lines, she saw, to her great disappointment, the inside works of the "washer" taken out, and Dolly, the chief laundress, washing away with all her power, in the old way, rubbing with her hands" (151). Here, work cannot be avoided, but Dolly has ensured that the same slaves will continue to labor at the same pace as they had before. The dismayed Mrs. Gaines "sat down, and had a good cry, declaring her belief that 'negroes could not be made white folks, no matter what you should do with them'"; indeed, to Mrs. Gaines, the slaves seem unmotivated by profiteering that might benefit the plantation owners. Actually, the slaves behave exactly like their white masters: they make the best economic bargain for themselves by preserving the community threatened by both profit and loss.

This same communitarian ethos is evident when Nancy volunteers to make a cheese for Mrs. Gaines, saying she needs a sheep's "runnet" to do so. After the slaves discover that a calf's runnet (and not a sheep's) was required for cheese-making, they laugh at the error and
 [t]he laugh was then turned upon Nancy, who, after listening to all
 sorts of remarks in regard to her knowledge of cheese-making, said,
 in a triumphant tone, suiting the action to the words,--
 "You niggers rink you knows a heap, but you don't know
as much as
 you rink. When de sheep is killed, I knows dat you niggers would
 git de meat to eat. I knows dat."
 With this remark Nancy silenced the entire group. (152-53) 

The reason the group stops laughing is, of course, because they all benefit from Nancy's clever scheme; after she acquires the proper runnet, she produces a foul cheese "exhibited ... to the great amusement of the blacks and the disappointment of the whites" (153-54). The cheese press ends up under the shed alongside the plow and the washer. This contraption graveyard reminds readers that the black slaves, just like their white masters, are always seeking out the best bargain.

Economic leveling motivates slaves' more hilarious strategies of work avoidance as well, especially in the case of Peter (the slave who destroyed the new plow purchased by Dr. Gaines), and the attack on the ram:
 Peter would get down on his hands and knees and pretend that he was
 going to have a butting match with the sheep. And when the latter
 would come full tilt at him, Peter would dodge his head so as to
 miss the ram, and the latter would jump over the boy, turn around
 angrily, shake his head and start for another butt at Peter.
 This kind of play was repeated sometimes for an hour or more, to
 the great amusement of both whites and blacks. (173) 

Though Peter eventually suffers a severe blow to the head, the fact that he had successfully performed in this way before his accident suggests that he had gained hours of work-free time for his trouble. Peter takes on the role of an animal in this game in order to demonstrate his inferiority to the white masters; he becomes a piece of livestock playing for the pleasure of both the free and the enslaved. One would assume that since none of the slaves are working, the whites would demand that the slaves return to their labors, yet Peter's ridiculous antics serve to disarm the masters. Though a slave's outright resistance might instigate a violent outburst, resistance through entertainment has a completely different effect. The whites laugh at the slave who is reinforcing their conception of blacks as beasts, but the slaves laugh at the fact that they don't have to work while Peter performs.

The connection between labor and performance is made explicit when the master, Dr. Gaines, asks that his slave Cato deliver a toast for Gaines's dinner guests. Cato takes the glass and "began to show his ivory," before speaking:
 De big bee flies high
 De little bee makes de honey,
 De black man raise de cotton,
 An' de white man gets de money. (162) 

Expected to play the simple and appreciative darky, Cato uses his opportunity to criticize, in generic terms, the economic injustice of slavery. Despite the fact that blacks do the work of the plantation, whites reap the economic (and concomitant social and political) rewards. Not only have whites like Dr. Gaines completely subverted the Franklin myth, in which work and moral rectitude correspond to economic success, but they have achieved respectability and prominence by doing so. Cato's little joke certainly undercuts white respectability, but does not criticize the labor practices or harsh treatment on display in Brown's 1847 Narrative, in which a tyrannical overseer abuses and subdues both Brown's mother and a recalcitrant slave named Randall. Southern replaces such scenes of victimization and inhumanity with slaves' plantation antics and four lines of doggerel bemoaning economic injustice. (12) As he does throughout his final book, Brown shows us that performance was an important part of plantation slaves' labor.

Gaines's response to Cato's performance is not recorded in the text, though by rendering the toast in dialect and focusing on the "ivory" teeth that link Cato to an African beast, Brown has classified Cato in the much the same way as Gaines and his dinner companions might. This consistent typing of blacks by whites allows Cato (and Peter) the relatively minor freedom to transgress, for simple beasts can do no real harm to white slaveholders. It is Brown's typing of black characters that renders his critique of economic and racial inequality so powerful, for Brown--a well-known black author whose picture adorns the first page of Southern--shows that he could write like a white man if he chose. This being the case, Cato's toast is no more authentically "black" than Brown's narrator is authentically "white." Ultimately, authenticity is irrelevant, for Billy, Peter, Cato, and Brown seek economic reward, whether in the house, in the fields, or in the literary marketplace.

Though Brown shows himself and his characters to be masters of the economy of entertainment, white characters seem unable to grasp the centrality of performance in black/white relations in the slave south, perhaps because their lives and fortunes depend on a delusional belief in absolute racial difference. Brown reveals that spirituality offers white characters another way imagine such absolute difference, and he also reveals that white characters' beliefs provide an opening for black characters to perform. After Dr. Gaines learns that his slave, Ike, has been stealing Gaines's clothes and horse to attend dances in another town, he confronts his disobedient servant. Ike initially defends himself by claiming he has visited a prayer meeting, but Gaines discovers the truth and prepares to punish the slave, whereupon Gaines receives a visit from Col. Lemmy, a fellow slaveholder and a stern disciplinarian. Lemmy ridicules Gaines for ever believing that slaves have any interest in religion except to dupe their masters; he even imitates a revival song to show that anyone can have "true religion":
 I'm a-gwine to keep a-climbin' high
 See de hebbenly land;
 Till I meet dem er angles in a de sky
 See de hebbenly lan'. (158) 

Lemmy's dialect underscores the performative nature of black speech and song, and he explicitly links the blacks' use of song with subterfuge, yet Gaines is unyielding--he proclaims the "good effects of religion upon ... our negroes" (158). Lemmy himself is no rationalist, though. As he attempts to disabuse Gaines of his trust in slaves and their religion, we learn that the Colonel is notorious for his belief in ghosts and spirits; he even cites old Frank, "the nigger fortune-teller," as a source. Though both Gaines and Lemmy acknowledge the trickery slaves practice, they confirm their continuing susceptibility to that trickery. Significantly, Ike is never punished for his transgression (indeed, unconsummated threats recur throughout Brown's book), for both his master and Col. Lemmy are too busy debating blacks' powers of religion or foreknowledge to remember to discipline the slave.

At the conclusion of this scene, Brown suggests that the economy of entertainment had its roots in longstanding plantation practices, for most whites' superstitious beliefs evolved as a "result of their close connection with the blacks; for the servants told the most foolish stories to the children in the nurseries, and they learned more as they grew older, from the slaves in the quarters" (159). This is most likely true of Miss Martha Lemmy (the Colonel's niece), who proves far too credulous during a visit to Poplar Farm's resident conjure man, Dinkie. Miss Martha is desperate to find out if her love for the dashing Mr. Scott is requited, and she implores Dinkie to tell her what she wants to hear. Though Brown says nothing about Dinkie's ability to divine the future, the old conjure man certainly divines the situation and encourages Miss Martha to give freely from her pocketbook while he whiles the time away:
 "De web looks a little smoky, an' when I gets to that
spot, I can't
 get along till a little silver is given to me."
 Here the lady drew forth her purse and gave the old man a half
 dollar piece that made his one eye fairly twinkle. (173) 

Dinkie continues his masterful performance (earning himself a dollar) until he is interrupted by Ike and Cato, who bring in the injured Peter following his game with the ram. On Brown's Poplar Farm, the slaves seem to be moving from one escapade to the next, always performing in order to rebalance the economic ledgers that have been skewed by the peculiar institution.

Remembering the utility of both Christianity and folk religion in surviving slavery the narrator muses, "Wit and religion have ever been the negro's forte while in slavery. Wit with which to please his master, or to soften his anger when displeased, and religion to enable him to endure punishment while inflicted" (154). Certainly, Southern gives testament to the power of wit, but the religious sentiments voiced in the antebellum portions of the book are muted at best. Far more useful to slaves than religious comfort are white assumptions about black religion that allow slaves to benefit by performing "faith." In Brown's world, wit and religion are not separate salves, but comparable tools put to use by savvy slaves. Moreover, while Cato's song and Ike's shuffling excuse-making might echo minstrel performances, the dialect and superstitions that mark these characters as "black" are replicated by white characters as well, notably in the sermon of the poor white preacher, Rev. Louder. If Brown did not alert readers to the title and color of the men singing or speaking, we would be unable to distinguish the language of Lemmy or Louder from that of Cato. Thus, the slaves not only highlight the utility of entertainment, they also suggest that the true nature of blackness is little more than blackface; that is, a mask that any character can wear. Having brown skin is not a choice, but when slaves perform "blackness," it is in many cases, a matter of economics.

As My Southern Home transitions from depictions of slavery to representations of freedom, the narrator gradually reveals himself" to be William Wells Brown himself ("Maps" 100). A more certain presence in the postwar sections, Brown presents himself as a community-oriented figure, and he speaks with a more didactic, directive voice than does the flitting persona of the prewar sections. On several occasions, this narrator vents his frustration with various economic failings of black men and women and encourages them to modify their habits. At one point he notes that blacks "are improvident and ignorant sometimes," and goes on to bemoan their general susceptibility to gaudy finery, whiskey, and salesmen's' trickery (235). Brown praises the Freedman's Bank and encourages blacks to utilize banks in order to realize greater financial independence, points out the necessity of saving money to allow for home purchases and education, and promotes the virtues of thrift, industry, and sobriety. Though he continues to explore and extol the economy of entertainment, the narrator urges his readers to perform in a way that might benefit all black citizens. He laments that while "taught from an early experience to have no confidence in the whites, we have little or none in our own race, or even in ourselves," and goes on to aver that "no race ever did or ever will prosper or make a respectable history which has no confidence in its own nationality" (282, 284). After explaining the psychological and behavioral roots of the economic problems that plagued black men and women in the postwar South, Brown addresses those root causes in the remainder of Southern as he models the dynamism and community orientation central to the new economy of entertainment.

Some aspects of this new economy come to the fore in Brown's chapter describing "nigger day" in Huntsville, Alabama. Brown plagiarized the first few pages of the chapter (including his description of blacks as "improvident and ignorant") from a November 30, 1874 article in the New York Times, entitled "Nigger Day in a Country Town." (13) The Times article documents the failings of newly freed blacks and presents them as immoderate, unconcerned with the future, and therefore ill-suited for the economic challenges concomitant with freedom. Though Brown copied whole paragraphs from the article for Southern, he did make some small modifications to the bits he plagiarizes; gone are the "dirty ribbons" on black women's clothes, and absent is the intensifying "sometimes brutally so" that describes blacks' ignorance. He thus generally offers a more sympathetic look at the black men and women of Huntsville.

The most important modification Brown makes to the Times article, however, is his addition of the black peddlers to the scene; these clever peddlers show readers that some black men and women deploy entertainment to benefit themselves economically, as is the case for a street peddler whose song helps him sell his product in a scant thirty minutes:
 "Here's yer chitlins, fresh an' sweet,
 Who'll jine de Union?
 Young hog's chitlins hard to beat
 Who'll jine de Union?
 Methodist chitlins, jest been biled,
 Who'll jine de Union?
 Right fresh chitlins, dey ain't spiled,
 Who'll jine de Union?
 Bapfst chitlins by de pound,
 Who'll jine de Union?
 As nice chitlins as ever was found,
 Who'll jine de Union?" (238) 

As the seller peddles chitlins, he reveals both the gustatory and religious instincts that whites attributed to blacks through lyrics that reflect a close tie to the songs of the slave era. His message, however, is one of economic liberty. Repeating the refrain, "Who'll jine de Union?," he signals the economic motives that spur his performance. Though the act of purchasing from him would create a union between consumer and seller, the fact that Brown uses the proper noun "Union" indicates that the Union the peddler envisions is larger than two people. By entering into economic exchange, customers will give the peddler capital that will allow him to be a more important part of the Union. (14)

In later chapters, Brown describes several vendors who use song to sell their products, including a clever saleswoman who advertises her products by singing; the narrator notes that interest in the woman's song "centered more upon the manner than the matter," suggesting that it was performance rather than product that helped her make sales (266). Like the slave who gains mastery by outwitting the whites who symbolize economic and political power, the peddlers gain mastery by outwitting other vendors (and customers), making sales thereby. The sellers' ability to integrate him/herself into the economic fabric of the Union speaks to his/her potential equality with white businessmen, for the marketplace offers an arena wherein money, as opposed to tenuous definitions of race, serves as an arbiter of success and a sign of ability. Still, though their talents as singers and tricksters mark them as favored characters in Brown's topsy-turvy South, the peddlers Brown encounters are not the heroes of the new postwar economy, for their performances do little to advance the common interests of black men and women.

Brown emphasizes the need for new types of performance as he decries the religious practices of the free black men and women he meets in the South. Whereas Brown celebrates the slaves in Southern who perform "faith" in order to make slavery more bearable, he later acknowledges the problems caused by those same performances when he writes that "it will be difficult to erase from the mind of the negro of the South, the prevailing idea that outward demonstrations, such as, shouting, the loud 'amen,' and the most boisterous noise in prayer, are not necessary adjuncts to piety" (253). Brown also complains about "the determination of late years to ape the whites in the erection of costly structures to worship in," which he finds "very injurious to our people," since it hampers their economic advancement (254). Since Southern documents countless instances of "outward demonstrations" and "aping," Brown's newfound concern must be reckoned with. Why has the narrator of this book changed so dramatically? What motivates his newfound veneration for inward piety? The economy of entertainment offers a possible answer to these questions, for Brown's criticisms of certain religious performances encourage blacks to consider how faith might best be practiced (and performed) in a time of new economic and social concerns. Indeed, Brown notes that Reconstruction-era blacks were turning to the Catholic Church, perhaps because success for black men and women "will not depend so much upon their matter as upon their manner; not so much upon their faith as upon the more potent direct influence of their practice" (263). Manner still trumps matter, but the manner of performance must now serve new ends; the economy of entertainment must change with the times.

Throughout his final book, then, Brown asks his black readers not believe in their own performances but in their ability to perform. This distinction informs my reading of Southern as a literary performance that allows Brown to offer himself as a master of the postwar economy of entertainment. As he reshapes and recasts his own experiences in slavery as well as songs, sermons, and newspaper articles from other sources, Brown shows his control over the text and (finally) positions himself at the center of his text. As an author, collector, organizer, and relentless reviser, Brown--just like Aunt Nancy, Cato, or Pompey--flips the script he has been given and insists that manner matters, that the ability to reuse or reinvent what has come before evidences the dynamism required to prosper in the postwar United States. But as John Ernest notes, most Reconstruction-era writers (like the author of "Nigger Day") "characterized black communities as anything but dynamic" ("Maps" 102) Brown does just the reverse in Southern and thereby undercuts the plantation tales that celebrated unchanging and authentic black characters that have no place in his Southern home.

Though the Southern plantation appeared in writings from the seventeenth century onward, the white-authored, romantic works of post-Civil War authors continue to define the genre of "plantation fiction." (15) Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus--who first appeared in the Atlanta Constitution in the 1876 story, "Uncle Remus and the Savannah Darkey"--is the character most often associated with the genre. Harris published scores of his popular tales in the Constitution, and eventually collected them in Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings in 1880; several more volumes would follow, all featuring the kindly ex-slave as both storyteller and character. While neither the stories nor the storyteller are uncomplicated, Harris suggests that even as he tells the old folktales to a young boy, Uncle Remus "has nothing but pleasant memories of the discipline of slavery" (Harris 12). The former slave, who still lives in a plantation cabin, looks more often backward than forward, and when he ventures away from his cabin and interacts with whites in his town, he endorses a sort of enlightened paternalism as he decries education and celebrates the end of Reconstruction.

This backward-looking impulse also animates Irwin Russell's famous poem "Christmas Night in the Quarters," first published in Scribner's Monthly Magazine in January of 1878. The white speaker of the poem peeks in on various slaves during the Christmas holidays, and as he depicts their revels, he also avers that blacks were "Original in act and thought, / Because unlearned and untaught" (Russell 4). Imagining the slaves enjoying their idyllic celebrations in a pastoral world long since gone, Russell fixes characters in a particular time and place; though he wrote his poem in 1878, the characters therein are forever "in the Quarters." When Joel Chandler Harris introduced an 1888 edition of Irwin Russell's collected poems, he claimed that Russell "was among the first ... of Southern writers to appreciate the literary possibilities of the negro character" and he celebrated Russell's depiction of "the old life before the war" and of "the old-fashioned, unadulterated negro, who is still dear to the Southern heart" (Introduction x-xi). For Harris and Russell, what makes plantation literature significant (and worthwhile) is its presentation of "authentic" black characters who entertain white observers without taking advantage.

As I have argued, William Wells Brown shows readers the economy of entertainment in order to revise nostalgic depictions of plantation life and thereby destabilize the idea of racial authenticity embraced by Harris and Russell. Perhaps more importantly, though, My Southern Home undercuts the Reconstruction-era political agenda that motivated much plantation fiction, for it is the work of a dynamic and capable black author who has emerged from slavery and adapted to the economic and social exigencies in the postwar United States. There is nothing elegiac about Southern, and as Brown revises his old works throughout the book and reinterprets black life in slavery and freedom, he constructs himself as a dynamic figure, contra Uncle Remus in his plantation cabin, or Russell's slaves living forever in the quarters. Neither Brown nor his characters are "unlearned," "untaught," or even "original;" rather, Brown insists that performing "untaught" originality is evidence of careful study and much practice. Thus, his revisions and reevaluations affirm Brown's dynamism as an author and reveal the very idea of "race" is to be as multifarious as the people marked by it.

Even more important to Brown is that his final book represents a positive intervention in the lives of blacks in the United States, for as he suggests near the end of Southern, "we should give our principal encouragement to literature, bringing before our associations the importance of original essays, selected readings, and the cultivation of the musical talent." Literature, Brown claims, will "encourage, and assist to the fullest emancipation of the human mind from ignorance, inviting the largest liberty of thought, and the utmost possible exaltation of life into approximation to the loftier standard of cultivated character" (288). Brown links literature to "emancipation" and "liberty" in the postwar era, hinting that a search for freedom shapes both sections of Southern. This parallel confirms the importance of the economy of entertainment both before and after the war, though antebellum antics, through another revolution of the lore cycle, have yielded to literary entertainments.

Charles Chesnutt began his writing career soon after publication of My Southern Home, and Chesnutt (like Brown, a former Southerner writing in the North) affirms the power and versatility of the economy of entertainment in much of his work, perhaps most notably in "The Passing of Grandison." This meditation on slavery, performance, and authorship highlights the power of masking and the importance of revision for both the fictional slave in the story and for the author himself. Chesnutt's tale tells the story of the faithful slave Grandison--a character straight out of Thomas Nelson Page's In Ole Virginia--who lives on the Owens plantation. The master, Colonel Owens, allows his scheming son Dick to take Grandison to the North, where the son gives the slave every chance to escape. Frustrated by the slave's unwillingness to run away, Dick eventually runs away from Grandison, leaving the loyal slave on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. In a few weeks, the bedraggled Grandison reappears on the Owens plantation; he has run back south and returned to the benevolent paternalism of slavery. As E Jay Delmar writes, "It]he reader is thoroughly puzzled, as Chesnutt intends. Has this Black author written a story extolling slavery?" (374) The answer, unsurprisingly, is no: Grandison has used his time in the North to prepare the way for his escape, and as Chesnutt's story ends, Grandison and his entire family are aboard a ship headed across Lake Erie. As Delmar's question indicates, though, Chesnutt's story is remarkable not because the Colonel thinks that Grandison is a faithful slave, but because readers think the same thing. Just as the Colonel is lulled to sleep by Grandison's "passing" as a Sambo character, so too are readers lulled to sleep by Chesnutt's "passing" as Thomas Nelson Page or one of his ilk. (16) Thus, Grandison's final unmasking coincides with Chesnutt's authorial unmasking--both character and author have learned the script only to flip it, and readers are reminded of the value of performance for both slaves and postwar authors. (17)

Chesnutt's story also reminds readers of the power and subtlety of the economy of entertainment, and it affirms the fluidity of racial categories by presenting a protagonist who is, in the words of Martha Cutter, "both a Sambo and a cunning resister of slavery" (50). As William Wells Brown closes My Southern Home with a puzzling anecdote, he returns to these ideas of racial indeterminacy that undergird the economy of entertainment and suggests that acknowledging that economy might be an important part of "owning" oneself, of becoming a dynamic citizen in the postwar United States. In the final scene, Brown speaks to a black man and wonders why the man doesn't want to be identified based on an external characteristic such as color when Irish Americans can be identified by their brogues:
 [Said] I, "why is your color not enough to tell that
you're a
 negro?" "Arh!" said he, "that's a horse of
another color," and left
 me with a "Ha, ha, ha!" Black men, don't be ashamed to
show your
 colors, and to own them. (296) 

Since the colors Brown has described are based, in large part, on white stereotypes and black appropriations of those stereotypes for personal benefit, the meaning of the final sentence is difficult to apprehend. William Andrews posits that the ending engages the "idea of claiming and displaying 'colors' other than black, other than the one ... allotted to blacks by white American culture" ("Mark Twain" 16). Certainly, Andrews is right to focus on the plural "colors" here, and his argument would also explain why Brown persistently confounds white stereotypes of blacks throughout the work. The narrator may also be exhorting black men to embrace the economy of entertainment that served them within slavery in order to benefit them outside of slavery: By "showing" one's colors, one would demonstrate the ingenuity and cleverness of the blackface trickster, and by "owning" those abilities, one could realize ownership and mastery in the postwar economy.

Perhaps the most important part of these final lines, though, is the sound of laughter that closes the book. The black man is laughing at the narrator and at the idea of racial essentialism itself. The joke here, if we have read carefully, is obvious: Neither accent (the Irish brogue) nor color (black skin) is enough to identify a particular ethnic type. In My Southern Home, white and black characters speak and sing in different dialects and accents, rendering language an unreliable index to identity. Even color is an unreliable marker of ethnicity as black characters "black up" with shoe polish and show ivory while white characters take on the superstitious habits they attribute to blacks. Ultimately, there are no authentic racial groups, no coherent definitions. Though he was well aware of the very real problems attending racial identification, Brown insists that those identifications are tenuous, slippery, and incomplete. Using performance and entertainment, he makes his final "autobiography" a protracted example of the instability and unreliability of both blackness and whiteness. Thus, the sound of the black man laughing at the idea of static racial identification is not merely an appropriate ending for William Wells Brown's final book, but the only ending that makes any sense at all. The echoes of that laughter linger on even after readers close the book on Brown's final entertainment.

Works Cited

Andrews, William, L. Introduction. Brown, My Southern Home 1-12.

--. "Mark Twain, William Wells Brown, and the Problem of Authority in New South Writing." Southern Literature and Literary Theory. Ed. Jefferson Humphries. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1990. 1-21.

--. "Toward a Poetics of Afro-American Autobiography." Afro-American Literary Study in the 1990s. Eds. Houston A Baker, Jr., and Patricia Redmond. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989.78-91.

--, ed. From Fugitive Slave to Free Man: The Autobiographies of William Wells Brown. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2003.

Brown, William Wells. The Anti-Slavery Harp; A Collection of Songs. 1848. Philadelphia: Historic Publications, 1969.

--. Clotel; Or, the President's Daughter. 1853. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

--. The Escape, Or, A Leap for Freedom: A Drama in Five Acts. 1855. Ed. John Ernest. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2001.

--. My Southern Home: or, the South and its People. 1880. Andrews, From Fugitive Slave to Free Man 110-296.

--. Narrative of William W Brown, a Fugitive Slave. 1847. Andrews, From Fugitive Slave to Free Man 14-109.

Chesnutt, Charles. "The Passing of Grandison." 1899. The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1969. 168-202.

Cutter, Martha. "An Intricate Act of Passing: Strategies of Racial and Textual Subversion in Charles Chesnutt's 'The Passing of Grandison.'" CEA Critic 70.2 (Winter 2008): 46-57.

Delmar, P. Jay. "The Mask as Theme and Structure: Charles W. Chesnutt's 'The Sheriff's Children' and 'The Passing of Grandison.' "American Literature 51.3 (November 1979): 364-75.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. 1845. The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader. Ed. William L. Andrews. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. 23-97.

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of BlackFolk. 1903. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1994.

Ernest, John. Resistance and Reformation in Nineteenth-Century African-American Literature: Brown, Wilson, Jacobs, Delany, Douglass, and Harper. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1995.

--. "William Wells Brown Maps the South in My Southern Home." Or, The South and Its People." Southern Quarterly 45.3 (Spring 2008): 88-107.

Gates, Jr. Henry Louis. Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.

Gilmore, Paul. "'De Genewine Artekil': William Wells Brown, Blackface Minstrelsy, and Abolitionism." American Literature 69.4 (December 1997): 743-80.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic." Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

Harris, Joel Chandler. Introduction. Russell ix-xi.

--. Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation. New York: D. Appleton, 1881.

Hartman, Saidiya V. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.

Lamplugh, George R. "The Image of the Negro in Popular Magazine Fiction, 1875-1900." Journal of Negro History 57.2 (April 1972): 177-89.

Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Lhamon, W. T. Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

Mackethan, Lucinda. "Plantation Fiction." The History of Southern Literature. Ed. Louis Rubin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1985. 209-18.

"Nigger Day in the South." New York Times 30 Nov. 1874: 1.

Roediger, David. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. London: Verso, 1991.

Russell, Irwin. Poems by Irwin Russell. New York: Century Company, 1888.

Saxton, Alexander. The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. 2nd ed. London: Verso, 2003.

Silber, Nina. The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1993.


I would like to extend my sincere thanks to William L. Andrews, who introduced me to My Southern Home and has encouraged me in this scholarly endeavor for many years, and John Ernest, who offered substantial and challenging comments that helped me improve the essay. Thanks are also due to Jennifer N. Brown, Maura D'Amore, and William Major, all of whom read drafts of this piece.

(1.) Andrews wrote, "When William Wells Brown ... wrote the fulsome My Southern Home in 1881 [sic], he played havoc not only with a literary tradition but also with his own authority as a charter member of the heroic fugitive school of Afro-American autobiography. Maybe this is why no one writes about Brown's post-bellum slave narrative ..." ("Toward A Poetics" 87-88). In the nearly twenty years since Andrews noted this lack of critical attention, Brown has been the subject of over fifty editions, monographs, dissertations, and articles, only three of which treat My Southern Home. Ernest's article "William Wells Brown Maps the South in My Southern Home," and M. Clay Hooper's "'It is Good to Be Shifty': William Wells Brown's Trickster Critique of Black Autobiography," set the stage for further exploration of Brown's engaging work. See Hooper in Modern Language Studies 38.2 (Winter 2009): 28-45.

(2.) Levine writes of the "Economy of Laughter," though the economy to which he refers is one of both distillation (i.e., economizing a range of frustrations into a joke or story) and "expenditure of energy used for the purposes of inhibition or suppression by liberating feelings which normally had to be contained" (321). This psychic benefit is important, and is certainly a yield of the performances I discuss in this essay; however, the economy of entertainment should be understood primarily as an economy in which entertainment yields or encourages a monetary outlay or economic leveling.

(3.) For a discussion of postbellum depictions of slavery, see William L. Andrews, "The Representation of Slavery and the Rise of Afro-American Literary Realism, 1865-1920," in Slavery and the Literary Imagination, Deborah E. McDowell and Arnold Rampersad, eds. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989), 62-80. As I have argued, Brown's later work demonstrates a completely different relation to the slave past than his works written when slavery was still the law of the land.

(4.) Brown's early works were stridently political, and they highlight the horror and brutality of slavery through passages like the one at the beginning of The Narrative of William Wells Brown that describes the "negro-whip": "The handle was about three feet long, with the butt-end filled with lead, and the lash six or seven feet in length, made of cowhide, with platted wire on the end of it" (Narrative 27-28). The whip is the emblem of enslavement--a symbol of power, punishment, and domination central to slavery and the perpetuation of racial violence, and Brown's description of the whip precedes his dramatization of a merciless beating. Intent on adding his voice to the abolitionist chorus, Brown begins Clotel in a similar fashion as he depicts a slave auction and bemoans "the degraded and immoral condition of the relation of master and slave in the United States" (Clotel 41).

(5.) Andrews argues (convincingly) that Brown is posing as a white man in his text in order to highlight the difference between the narrator's viewpoint and the true state of things on Poplar Farm ("Mark Twain"). John Ernest agrees with Andrews and writes "Brown provides readers with the narrative form and content similar to a great number of publications after the Civil War that approached life on the antebellum plantation with a kind of idealized fascination" ("Maps" 90).

(6.) As Gilmore argues, many of Brown's writings suggest that racial counterfeiting was in fact more "real" than the genuine blackness which was itself a performance staged for the benefit of white masters. On this point, see Jean Fagan Yellin, The Intricate Knot." Black Figures in American Literature, 1776-1863 (New York: New York UP, 1972), 159-60; William L. Andrews, To Tell A Free Story." The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1986), 144-49.

(7.) See W. T. Lhamon, Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998); Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford UP, 1995); David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1991); Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2003).

(8.) Writing about Brown's pre-emancipation works, Gilmore has argued that they "[undermine] the idea of one authentic representation" of blackness (750). I agree with Gilmore, though I think My Southern Home realizes Brown's most withering critique of racial representation.

(9.) Though this is not true of the specific episode I discuss above, Nina Silber indicates that "many postwar minstrel shows depicted former slaves as excited and willing participants in the new free labor arrangements" (128). Minstrelsy was instrumental in reuniting a divided nation as it allowed audiences north and south to celebrate racial similarities contrasted to the grotesque Other on stage.

(10.) See William Wells Brown, The Escape, or, A Leap for Freedom: A Drama in Five Acts, ed. John Ernest (Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2001).

(11.) As I mention above, Frederick Douglass used his 1845 Narrative to destroy pervasive myths about slave happiness, particularly as expressed in song. The sadness Douglass hears in the slave songs (38) is the same sadness to which W. E. B. Du Bois would testify in The Souls of Black Folk: "These songs are the articulate message of the slave to the world.... They are the music of an unhappy people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death, and suffering, and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways" (156). On the subversive potential and possibilities of slave songs, see also Robert H. Cataliotti, The Music in African American Fiction (New York: Garland, 1995); Levine; and Gates. Levine explains that the coded language of song provided "occasions for the individual to transcend, at least symbolically, the inevitable restrictions of his environment and his society by permitting him to express deeply held feelings which ordinarily could not be verbalized" (8). Gates writes in a similar vein: "Within slavery and the evolution of the slave songs in to the spirituals, the mask was utilized in a political context--indeed as a matter of personal safety--to say one thing, all the while meaning another" (175).

(12.) See, for example, Brown, Narrative 28-29. There are no such "field scenes" in My Southern Home, and whatever whippings do occur in the story are simply alluded to and not dramatized.

(13.) I would like to thank John Ernest, who located the Times article during the course of his own research and was kind enough to bring it to my attention.

(14.) Dana D. Nelson is one of many critics to argue that engaging in competition within the capitalist marketplace is one way that men could demonstrate their civic engagement. This phenomenon is what she names "capitalist citizenship." See Nelson, National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men (Durham: Duke UP, 1998).

(15.) Mackethan notes, "A predilection for local color dominated literary tastes in the major popular magazines of the North immediately following the Civil War, but this new way of dealing fictionally with regional material ... incorporated a sentimental rather than a critical vision of life in the Old South" (210-11). Lamplugh concurs with this opinion in his survey of magazine fiction written between 1875-1900, and goes on to conclude "the stereotyped Negro was portrayed as unable to cope with freedom in the post-war period" (178).

(16.) Both Sarah Meer and Cutter link "The Passing of Grandison" to postwar plantation fiction and show how Chesnutt's story subverts popular stories like those in Page's In Ole Virginia. See Meer, "The Passing of Charles Chesnutt: Mining the White Tradition," Wasafiri 27 (Spring 1998): 5-10.

(17.) Though I see a number of similarities between some of Chesnutt's best work and My Southern Home, Chesnutt was apparently no admirer of Brown's final book. Writing in his journal in 1881, Chesnutt remarked that Brown's book reminded him of "a man in a dirty shirt."
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Date:Mar 22, 2012
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