Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African American and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937
Julia H. Lee
This book works well in conversation with Molly Crumpton Winter’s American Narratives and also features analysis of Nella Larsen, W.E.B. Du Bois as well as Supreme Court cases such as Plessy vs Ferguson.
Lee opens with a quotation from a speech bade by Charles Chestnut in which he claims, “The Negro is a hard pill to swallow. The Chinese we have sought to keep out–the Negro is too big to throw up” (Lee 1). Lovely, huh? Her framing assertion is that African American identity is structured partially by its relationship to Asian others. She claims, “these lines suggest how closely connected African Americans and Asians are to each other, not just in the nation’s mind but within the author’s own” (3). This connection is not straightforward, but ambivalent.
I was especially intrigued by Lee’s reading of Nella Larsen’s Quicksand in “Quicksand and the Racial Aesthetics of Chinoiserie.” She tracks the depiction of Chinoiserie or Oriental objects in Quicksand and argues that Helga’s attraction to these objects helps to portray how Helga’s movement in the novel is an effort to “radically decontextualize” herself, just as the Oriental rugs and Chinoiserie are decontexutalized as objects of consumption in middle-class American homes. She finds, however, that just as the objects cannot be detached from their racial connections, she cannot escape her own racialized identity.
Lee, Julia H. Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African American and Asian American Literatures, 1896-1937. New York: New York UP, 2011.
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