Surprising Metamorphoses: Transformations of Race in Early American Literatures

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>"Surprising Metamorphoses: Transformations of Race in Early American Literatures," analyzes early American literary representations of race within the context of contemporaneous belief systems. Contrasting sharply with subsequent periods, much late eighteenth-century thought conceptualized race as an external, mutable bodily condition that could change over time. Identifying how this thinking informs a symbolics at work in literature, this dissertation argues that the notion of transformable race structures how early American literary texts depict the production of racial identities. In comparative chapters on Samson Occom and Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Franklin and Hendrick Aupaumut, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur and John Marrant, and Royall Tyler, this dissertation demonstrates how these authors use language emphasizing the potential malleability of physical features--what I call a symbolics of metamorphosis--to portray the production of racial identities. While many critical race studies of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American cultural production show how racial identities develop in opposition to each other, this project examines the cultural logic by which they take form through one's potential to metamorphose from one race into another. To prevent scholars from anachronistically reading later understandings of race back onto these earlier texts, this dissertation posits a historically-specific, transformational model of critical race theory that rewrites the way we understand racial formation in early American literatures.

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  • 09/13/2018
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