PJAS 12 Spring-8

Anna Pochmara
Enslavement to Philanthropy, Freedom from Heredity: Amelia E. Johnson’s and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Uses and Misuses of Sentimentalism and Naturalism
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 12 (Spring 2018) pp. 113-128


The article analyzes dialogical relations between Amelia E. Johnson’s Clarence and Corinne, or God’s Way (1890), an evangelical conversion narrative of the Black Woman’s Era, and The Uncalled (1898), the first novel of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As both texts feature racially indeterminate protagonists, draw on the drunkard’s story, are set in small northern towns, and were published by African American writers within the space of less than a decade, they encourage an intertextual reading. Clarence and Corinne and The Uncalled recast the themes of reform, uplift, and charity and the ways in which these functioned in the sentimental and naturalist aesthetics. Representing the tension between the lower class and its reformers, Dunbar’s and Johnson’s narratives embrace social determinism and effectiveness of reform work yet they also demonstrate the limitations of sentimental empathy and problematize the opposition between the benevolent agency of the reformer and the helplessness of the brutalized victim.

Keywords: the Black Woman’s Era, naturalism, sentimentalism, temperance, conversion narrative

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.12/1/2018.08

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