The South’s ‘negligible minorities’ : the influence of whiteness on the Southern construction of race, gender and class in Ellen Glasgow’s novels

2019-06-12T07:46:05Z (GMT) by Amani Abdu
Race remains one of the least discussed topics among Glasgow’s critics and no consensus about her racial politics has been reached. Some critics argue that race is almost absent from Glasgow’s agenda of social criticism compared to her more vocal feminist views. Other critics accuse Glasgow of outright racism, citing what they see as a condescending and racist characterisation of African Americans in her works. A third view defends the existence of a valid impetus against racism in Glasgow’s works but refers to her attitude as ambiguous. While these researchers aid understanding of Glasgow’s fiction, their critique is tied into the more conventional approach to race studies that concentrates on the effect of racism rather than the role of the racist subject.
This study attempts to redress the limitations of the existing studies of Glasgow’s works by incorporating her identity as a white southern woman and the identity of her white characters in the reading of race in her novels. My reading attempts to tease out the subtle or unconscious ideologies and practices of white identity that originated, transformed, and most importantly, naturalised the construct of race, gender, and class in the southern context. Thus, the approach taken is to focus on Glasgow’s characters as identities shaped by a broad white culture that in itself was changing, affecting and effected by the South’s historical, political, and social contexts. My approach is to embed close textual analysis of the novels within whiteness theories and within historical and social studies to render visible the multiple and changing origins of white identity. Focusing on six key novels: The Battle-Ground (1902), The Deliverance (1904), The Voice of the People (1900), One Man in His Time (1922), Vein of Iron (1935), and In This Our Life (1941), this research aims to analyse how Glasgow’s aristocratic characters serve to critique white masculinity as a sustainable identity; how her poor white characters offer strategies to whiteness that challenge class exclusivity; and how her female characters adopt alternative approaches for self-realisation that negotiate with gender determinism.