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Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt$
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Susan Prothro Wright and Ernestine Pickens Glass

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9781604734164

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604734164.001.0001

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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: 26 September 2021

Performing Race

Performing Race

Mixed-Race Characters in the Novels of Charles Chesnutt

(p.84) Performing Race
Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt

Keith Byerman

University Press of Mississippi

This chapter discusses the reasoned arbitrariness of racial identity which piqued Chesnutt’s interest in its stipulations. A Person’s status, with regard to legal restrictions and privileges, varied by state, time period, and, in the case of South Carolina, by reputation. These rules were in place at the very time that the assertion was being made both socially and “scientifically” that “race” was an absolute and fixed biological category. The discussion in this chapter suggests that Chesnutt’s two novels, House behind the Cedars and Paul Marchand, might be considered as thought experiments by Chesnutt that track the meaning of such arbitrariness. It delves into the performance of race in these works rather than into the nature of its reality.

Keywords:   reasoned arbitrariness, racial identity, legal restrictions, South Carolina, race, biological category

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