Mark Twain and Paul Laurence Dunbar Race and the Politics of Memory Research Paper

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Ark Twain and Paul Laurence Dunbar, Race and the Politics of Memory

It is a confirmed fact that even the most rudimentary foundations of racial equality within the United States, as it specifically applies to African-Americans and to Caucasians, did not occur until the midway point of the 20th century when the Civil Rights movement began in earnest and advances towards a full-fledged integration were made. It is also noted within Fishkin's text that there were a number of ex-slaves who were decidedly nostalgic regarding the institution of chattel slavery of which they were a part. These slaves perhaps fancied the feeling of the lash on the back, or the welcome sight of their supposed masters raping, torturing, and killing women at their whim while such slaves were powerless to stop them. Or perhaps they simply had privileged positions of fetching the food and cleaning the filth of slave owners in their homes, instead of toiling in the fields all day (literally).

Still, the length of time in which racial equality was achieved (if it truly has been achieved, an increasingly dubitable fact as recent headlines on the subject would indicate), which took place nearly 100 years after slavery was officially abolished, suggests that no sentiment on the part of African-Americans impacted such equality. The reality is that regardless of how African-Americans felt about slavery or about anything else, they were still in positions of disenfranchisement in which there was truly no need to grant parity between the races -- for the simple fact that their socio-economic position was so far beneath that of many Caucasians. The subsequent quotation indicates this fact. "Freed without being given any land, many former slaves were forced to work the farms of their former masters for wages so low that each year found them deeper in debt, bound more deeply to the masters who called them sharecroppers but treated them as slaves"( Fishkin). These financial realities superseded any sentiment that ex-slaves may have had regarding racial equality. Quite simply, there could be no such equality in these disparate conditions in which African-Americans and Caucasians existed.

The prudent reader can infer that Fishkin does believe that African-Americans could have made political giants if the literary works of Mark Twain and Paul Lawrence Dunbar were not misunderstood. However, it is crucial to note the fact that such a misunderstanding on the part of the majority of Americans (most of whom were Caucasian) was very deliberate. As Fishkin himself denotes, one of the "major lies of silent assertion" that were prevalent during the time both of these authors were writing was the "denial of what white America was doing to black America at the time" (Fishkin). It is this feeling of denial that largely enabled Americans to deliberately misinterpret what the aforementioned writers were publishing about the state of race relations, which contributed to the fact that these works were not able to make substantial political gains for African-Americans.

Fishkin's conviction regarding the political gains that African-Americans could have made due to the works of Twain and Dunbar is fairly apparent after reading his article. They used a couple of different literary and rhetorical devices that were particularly effective in depicting the evils of slavery and the time period after reconstruction. For instance, both writers were able to vividly portray the state of affairs in the country in its southern region by employing southern dialect in their pieces (something which Twain was especially noted for. They also were able to encapsulate potent imagery of the wrongs of the state of race relations as well as the history…

Sources Used in Document:


Fishkin, Shelley. "Race and the Politics of Memory': Mark Twain and Paul Laurence Dunbar." Journal of American Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (Aug., 2006) pp. 283-309. JSTOR. Cambridge University Press.

Oswald, Emily. " 'Imagining Race': Illustrating the Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar." Book History Vol 9, (2006), pp. 213-233. JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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