To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature

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9780674893306: To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature

This powerful book argues that white culture in America does not exist apart from black culture. The revolution of the rights of man that established this country collided long ago with the system of slavery, and we have been trying to reestablish a steady course for ourselves ever since. To Wake the Nations is urgent and rousing: we have integrated our buses, schools, and factories, but not the canon of American literature. That is the task Eric Sundquist has assumed in a book that ranges from politics to literature, from Uncle Remus to African American spirituals. But the hallmark of this volume is a sweeping reevaluation of the glory years of American literature--from 1830 to 1930--that shows how white literature and black literature form a single interwoven tradition.

By examining African America's contested relation to the intellectual and literary forms of white culture, Sundquist reconstructs the main lines of American literary tradition from the decades before the Civil War through the early twentieth century. An opening discussion of Nat Turner's "Confessions," recorded by a white man, Thomas Gray, establishes a paradigm for the complexity of meanings that Sundquist uncovers in American literary texts. Focusing on Frederick Douglass's autobiographical books, Herman Melville's Benito Cereno, Martin Delany's novel Blake; or the Huts of America, Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, Charles Chesnutt's fiction, and W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk and Darkwater, Sundquist considers each text against a rich background of history, law, literature, politics, religion, folklore, music, and dance. These readings lead to insights into components of the culture at large: slavery as it intersected with postcolonial revolutionary ideology; literary representations of the legal and political foundations of segregation; and the transformation of elements of African and antebellum folk consciousness into the public forms of American literature.

"Almost certainly the finest book yet written on race and American literature," writes Arnold Rampersad of Princeton University. To Wake the Nations "amounts to a startlingly penetrating commentary on American culture, a commentary that should have a powerful impact on areas far beyond the texts investigated here."

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About the Author:

Eric Sundquist is UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature at UCLA.

From Library Journal:

Multiculturalism is a burning issue in literary study nowadays, and Sundquist has written a substantial and provocative piece devoted to the influence of African Americans on the national literature. The works he uses to illuminate his thesis are unusual and apt. His thesis, that African American influence permeates the culture to such a great extent that it cannot and should not be separated out in any study of American literature, is both intriguing and convincing. Were it not for the dense writing style and exceedingly scholarly language used (making frequent recourse to a dictionary necessary for even the informed reader), this work would find a wide audience of interested readers. Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries collecting strongly in American literature.
- Denise Johnson, Bradley Univ. Lib., Peoria, Ill.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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