Transformable Race: Surprising Metamorphoses in the Literature of Early America

ISBN : 9780199313501

Katy L. Chiles
336 Pages
162 x 241 mm
Pub date
Jan 2014
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As surprising as it might seem now, during the late eighteenth century many early Americans asked themselves, "How could a person of one race come to be another?" Racial thought at the close of the eighteenth century differed radically from that of the nineteenth century, when the concept of race as a fixed biological category would emerge. Instead, many early Americans thought that race was an exterior bodily trait, incrementally produced by environmental factors and continuously subject to change. While historians have documented aspects of eighteenth-century racial thought, Transformable Race is the first scholarly book that identifies how this thinking informs the figurative language in the literature of this crucial period. It argues that the notion of "transformable race" structured how early American texts portrayed the formation of racial identities. Examining figures such as Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Franklin, Samson Occom, and Charles Brockden Brown, Transformable Race demonstrates how these authors used language emphasizing or questioning the potential malleability of physical features to explore the construction of racial categories.


Table of Contents
Introduction: Surprising Metamorphoses
1. Becoming Colored in Occom and Wheatley's Early America
To Make Samson Occom "So"
"To Make a Poet Black"
2. The Political Bodies of Benjamin Franklin and Hendrick Aupaumut
You Are What You Eat
or, Franklin's Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect
Hendrick Aupaumut's Own Color
3. Transforming into Natives: Crevecoeur, Marrant, and Brown on Becoming Indian
Passing As, Transforming into
Crevecoeur's American Race
John Marrant Becoming Cherokee
Edgar Huntly's Unsettling Transformation
4. Doubting Transformable Race:
Equiano, Brackenridge, and the Textuality of Natural History
To Quote and to Question: Olaudah Equiano's Provocative Ends
Brackenridge and the Limits of Writing Natural History
Epilogue: Interiorizing Racial Metamorphosis:
The Algerine Captive's Language of Sympathy

About the author: 

Katy L. Chiles is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

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