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Haunted PropertySlavery and the Gothic$
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Sarah Gilbreath Ford

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781496829696

Published to University Press of Mississippi: May 2021

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496829696.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM Mississippi SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mississippi.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University Press of Mississippi, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MSSO for personal use.date: 27 September 2021

Playing Con Games in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, and Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose

Playing Con Games in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, and Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose

Chapter:
(p.62) Chapter Two Playing Con Games in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, and Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose
Source:
Haunted Property
Author(s):

Sarah Gilbreath Ford

Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
DOI:10.14325/mississippi/9781496829696.003.0003

This chapter focuses on confidence games played in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno (1855), Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), and Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose (1986). These con games expose the weakness in the legal construction of people as property. In each novel, white characters conflate enslaved people with animals, but this conflation allows black characters to hide their agency. Blinded by racism, white characters become the dupes of con games in which black characters outwardly perform the identity of property while covertly taking on the agency of people. Despite legal resolutions that seem to restore order in Melville’s and Twain’s texts, lingering haunting reveals that the racial categories destroy everyone. Williams offers a twentieth-century answer to this destruction by imagining people formerly enslaved escaping to the West, thereby crafting the only con game that works.

Keywords:   Herman Melville, Benito Cereno, Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose, Con game

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