"'I wouldn't have believed it -- even of a white man'" : critiquing whiteness in Charles Chesnutt's "The house behind the cedars" and Nella Larsen's "Passing" Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/zs25xc14q

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  • In their respective novels, The House Behind the Cedars (1900) and Passing (1929), both Charles Chesnutt and Nella Larsen utilize racial passing, the process of a mixed-race individual living as "white," to explore the relations between black and white people during early-twentieth century America. This thesis specifically argues that Chesnutt and Larsen use passing to critique "whiteness." In other words, passing allows Chesnutt and Larsen to investigate, through their light-skinned female characters, the racial biases of the white worlds into which these near-white passers enter. Within this discussion of racial passing and whiteness, I also place the near-white female historically as a figure in American literature, tracing her beginnings as the "tragic mulatta" to her evolution as a strong and no longer "tragic" type. In short, this thesis provides a definition of whiteness and racial passing, offering an inter-related analysis of the changes and revisions of literature's tragic mulatta. This work, then, pulls together how racial passing and the ever-evolving tragic mulatta figure actually serve to critique the demands and bigotries of whiteness.
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