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The "New Negro" in the Old World: Culture and Performance in James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen

Ahlin, Lena LU (2004)
Abstract (Swedish)
Popular Abstract in Swedish

I denna avhandling studeras europaskildringarna i James Weldon Johnsons The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Jessie Fausets There Is Confusion (1924) och Nella Larsens Quicksand (1928) och hur dessa speglar afrikansk-amerikanernas roll i den västerländska civilisationen. I 1800-talets afrikansk-amerikanska litteratur figurerar Europa ofta som symbol för frihet och kultur. Detta synsätt förändras dock i Johnsons, Fausets och Larsens romaner, där Europa förknippas på ett mer tvetydigt sätt med idéer om vithet och civilisation.



Huvudpersonerna i romanerna är aktörer som uppträder på scen, såsom musiker och dansare, men de spelar också sociala roller som har att göra med... (More)
Popular Abstract in Swedish

I denna avhandling studeras europaskildringarna i James Weldon Johnsons The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Jessie Fausets There Is Confusion (1924) och Nella Larsens Quicksand (1928) och hur dessa speglar afrikansk-amerikanernas roll i den västerländska civilisationen. I 1800-talets afrikansk-amerikanska litteratur figurerar Europa ofta som symbol för frihet och kultur. Detta synsätt förändras dock i Johnsons, Fausets och Larsens romaner, där Europa förknippas på ett mer tvetydigt sätt med idéer om vithet och civilisation.



Huvudpersonerna i romanerna är aktörer som uppträder på scen, såsom musiker och dansare, men de spelar också sociala roller som har att göra med deras position i samhället. På så sätt återspeglar dessa roller konstruktionen av begrepp som ”svart,” ”vit” och ”kulturell autenticitet.” De sociala roller som svarta och vita spelar analyseras i avhandlingen med hjälp av konceptet performance.



Huvudpersonernas sociala och sceniska ”performances” tolkas här i relation till Europas geo-kulturella symbolik. Denna diskussion berör uppdelningen mellan populär och fin kultur, euro-amerikansk och afrikansk-amerikansk kultur, folkkultur och nationell kultur. I denna diskussion spelar även musik en viktig roll. Romanernas hänvisningar till afrikansk-amerikansk musik, som blues, ragtime och jazz analyseras i avhandlingen med avseende på deras identitetsskapande funktion. (Less)
Abstract
This thesis investigates the relationship between the “New Negro” moment of the early twentieth-century America and the Old World of Europe, as represented in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Jessie Fauset’s There is Confusion (1924), and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928). In the nineteenth century, Europe functioned as a symbol of freedom, education and art in the African-American literary imagination. It is my contention that these notions are questioned in the novels of Johnson, Fauset and Larsen.



The episodes set in Europe are seen as a lens through which the role of the African-American in Western civilization can be studied. The African-American artist/protagonists are seen as... (More)
This thesis investigates the relationship between the “New Negro” moment of the early twentieth-century America and the Old World of Europe, as represented in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Jessie Fauset’s There is Confusion (1924), and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928). In the nineteenth century, Europe functioned as a symbol of freedom, education and art in the African-American literary imagination. It is my contention that these notions are questioned in the novels of Johnson, Fauset and Larsen.



The episodes set in Europe are seen as a lens through which the role of the African-American in Western civilization can be studied. The African-American artist/protagonists are seen as cultural intermediaries, who bridge Euro-American and African-American culture, national and folk culture, high and low culture. Their performances are here understood as crucially related to the geo-cultural symbolism of Europe. Performance is considered as a vital part of African-American identity formation, tallying with the double consciousness that DuBois identified as characteristic of the African-American. I suggest that in these novels, the trope of performance (based on double consciousness) is used to critique the notions of race and culture, whereby conceptions of racial essentialism and cultural authenticity are questioned. The novels themselves are also considered as performative acts that helped form the concept of a New Negro in the 1920s.



To approach the social meaning of these novels, they can be contrasted with vernacular African-American art forms, here represented by music, such as blues, ragtime and jazz.Music, which plays an important part in all the novels, is analyzed in relation to the European-derived novel. This is a discussion in which the notion of authenticity surfaces, with regard to what constitutes a black identity and a “black text.” I argue that music here functions as an index of cultural identity and a motif through which this identity could be re-imagined. However, instead of offering simple affirmations of a shared black identity, the novels initiate discussions of what can and cannot signify “blackness.” The texts of Fauset and Larsen are particularly ambiguous in this respect, indicating the authors’ sensitiveness to the combined limitations of race and gender. (Less)
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author
opponent
  • professor Wedin, Carolyn, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, USA
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Europe in African-American literature, English language and literature, Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, James Weldon Johnson, minstrelsy, whiteness, performance, cultural authenticity, New Negro, Harlem Renaissance, African Americans in Europe, Engelska (språk och litteratur)
pages
176 pages
publisher
English Studies
defense location
Sal 239 (the Shakespeare Room), Engelska institutionen, Helgonabacken 14, Lund
defense date
2004-06-05 10:15
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
e41f87c8-e7ee-480f-8dba-01e5784cf2a2 (old id 21813)
date added to LUP
2007-05-28 12:01:15
date last changed
2016-10-11 08:32:49
@misc{e41f87c8-e7ee-480f-8dba-01e5784cf2a2,
  abstract     = {This thesis investigates the relationship between the “New Negro” moment of the early twentieth-century America and the Old World of Europe, as represented in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Jessie Fauset’s There is Confusion (1924), and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928). In the nineteenth century, Europe functioned as a symbol of freedom, education and art in the African-American literary imagination. It is my contention that these notions are questioned in the novels of Johnson, Fauset and Larsen.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
The episodes set in Europe are seen as a lens through which the role of the African-American in Western civilization can be studied. The African-American artist/protagonists are seen as cultural intermediaries, who bridge Euro-American and African-American culture, national and folk culture, high and low culture. Their performances are here understood as crucially related to the geo-cultural symbolism of Europe. Performance is considered as a vital part of African-American identity formation, tallying with the double consciousness that DuBois identified as characteristic of the African-American. I suggest that in these novels, the trope of performance (based on double consciousness) is used to critique the notions of race and culture, whereby conceptions of racial essentialism and cultural authenticity are questioned. The novels themselves are also considered as performative acts that helped form the concept of a New Negro in the 1920s.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
To approach the social meaning of these novels, they can be contrasted with vernacular African-American art forms, here represented by music, such as blues, ragtime and jazz.Music, which plays an important part in all the novels, is analyzed in relation to the European-derived novel. This is a discussion in which the notion of authenticity surfaces, with regard to what constitutes a black identity and a “black text.” I argue that music here functions as an index of cultural identity and a motif through which this identity could be re-imagined. However, instead of offering simple affirmations of a shared black identity, the novels initiate discussions of what can and cannot signify “blackness.” The texts of Fauset and Larsen are particularly ambiguous in this respect, indicating the authors’ sensitiveness to the combined limitations of race and gender.},
  author       = {Ahlin, Lena},
  keyword      = {Europe in African-American literature,English language and literature,Nella Larsen,Jessie Fauset,James Weldon Johnson,minstrelsy,whiteness,performance,cultural authenticity,New Negro,Harlem Renaissance,African Americans in Europe,Engelska (språk och litteratur)},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {176},
  publisher    = {ARRAY(0x5c0b570)},
  title        = {The "New Negro" in the Old World: Culture and Performance in James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen},
  year         = {2004},
}