“Shaving the Tale”: Barbers and the Narration of Racial Relations in Melville’s “Benito Cereno” and Chesnutt’s “The Doll”

Marta Puxan Oliva

Abstract


This essay argues that Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” (1855) and Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Doll” (1912) elaborate narrative form from the racial US trope of the shaving scene. The stories present innovative uses of narrative frameworks, simultaneous silenced and spoken narratives, and misperception and delusion in order to produce a narrative ambivalence that contains the conflict of African American barbering as a trade. The essay traces the historical controversy about barbering within African American political debates and the development of the trade from the eighteenth century up to the twentieth so as to disclose the ambivalent position of African American barbers serving white costumers. Black barbers saw themselves as businessmen helping to build an African American middle class, but were eventually accused of servilism and compliance with established racial hierarchies. This essay demonstrates that by deploying the shaving scene and the razor as the epitome of this ambivalence, these stories offer a narrative form that singularly expresses this particular conflictive labor and racial situation.


Keywords: African American literature; narrative theory; labor history; barbers; race relations


Full Text:

PDF

References


Austenfeld, Thomas. 2012. “Razor’s Edge: Robert Lowell shaving.” Pacific Coast Philology 47, 1-16. Courtesy of author.

Banta, Martha. 1995. “Razor, Pistol, and Ideology of Race Etiquette.” In Faulkner and Ideology, edited by Donald M. Kartiganer & Ann J. Abadie, 172-216. Jackson: UP of Mississippi.

Bristol, Douglas Walter, Jr. 2009. Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP.

Burkholder, Robert E., ed. 1992. Critical Essays on Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno”. New York: Maxwell Macmillan.

Chesnutt, Charles. 2002. “The Doll.” 1912. In Stories, Novels, & Essays, edited by Werner Sollors, 794-803. New York: Library of America.

De Carvalho Soares, Mariza. 2013. “African Barbeiros in Brazilian Slave Ports.” In The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade, edited by Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Matt D. Childs, and James Sidbury, 207-30. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P.

Duncan, Charles. 1998. The Absent Man: The Narrative Craft of Charles W. Chesnutt. Athens, OH: Ohio State UP.

—, ed. 2004. The Northern Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt. Athens OH: Ohio UP.

Elmer, Jonathan. 2008. “Babo’s Razor; or, Discerning the Event in an Age of Differences.” differences 19 (2): 54-81. [Accessed July 20, 2015].

Harris, Trudier. 1979. “The Barbershop in Black Literature.” Black American Literature Forum, 13 (3): 112-8. [Accessed March 2, 2013].

Herman, David, Manfred Jahn and Marie-Laure Ryan, eds. 2005. Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. London and New York: Routledge.

Horsley-Meacham, Gloria. 1991. “Bull of the Nile: Symbol, History, and Racial Myth in ‘Benito Cereno’.” New England Quarterly 64 (2): 225-42. [Accessed May 2013].

Jahn, Manfred. 1997. “Frames, Preferences, and the Reading of Third-Person Narratives: Towards a Cognitive Narratology.” Poetics Today 18 (4): 441-68. [Accessed July 22, 2015].

Kilgore, John Mac. 2012. “The Cakewalk of Capital in Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition.” American Literature 82 (1): 61-87. [Accessed July 22, 2015].

Lothe, Jakob. 2011. “Conrad and Sebald: Aspects of Narrative Perspective and Exile.” L’Epoque Conradienne 37: 109-22.

Marberry, Craig. 2005. Cuttin’ Up: Wit and Wisdom from Black Barber Shops. New York: Doubleday.

Melville, Herman. 1990. Bartleby and Benito Cereno. 1853/5. New York: Dover Publications.

Paicentino, Edward J. 2011. “Slavery Through the White-Tinted Lens of an Embedded Black Narrator: Séjour’s ‘The Mulatto’ and Chesnutt’s ‘Dave’s Neckliss’ as Intertexts.” The Southern Literary Journal 44 (1): 121-43.

Parker, Patricia. 2004. “Barbers and Barbary: Early Modern Cultural Semantics.” Renaissance Drama 33: 201-44.

Pickens, Ernestine Williams. 1994. Charles W. Chesnutt and the Progressive Movement. New York: Pace UP.

Sawaya, Francesca. 2011. “‘That Friendship of Whites’: Patronage, Philanthropy, and the Charles Chesnutt’s The Colonel’s Dream.” American Literature 83 (4): 775-801. [Accessed July 22, 2015].

Sollors, Werner. 2010. “Charles W. Chesnutt’s Historical Imagination.” In Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt, edited by Susan Prothro Wright and Ernestine Pickens Glass, 3-8. Jackson: UP of Mississippi.

Stuckey, Sterling. 2009. African Culture and Melville’s Art: The Creative Process in Benito Cereno and Moby-Dick. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP.

Sundquist, Eric J. 1993. To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP.

Swann, Charles. 1992. “Benito Cereno: Melville’s De(con)struction of the Southern Reader.” In Critical Essays on Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, edited by Robert E. Burkholder, 168-81. New York: Maxwell Macmillan.

Thornton, Hortense. 1979. “The Barbershop and Beauty Parlor in Afro-American literature.” Pacific Coast Philology 14: 76-83.

Vanderbilt, Kermit. 1992. “‘Benito Cereno’: Melville’s Fable of Black Complicity.” In Critical Essays on Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, edited by Robert E. Burkholder, 65-75. New York: Maxwell Macmillan.

Wonham, Henry B. 1998. Charles W. Chesnutt: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne-Prentice Hall.

Wright, Richard. 2008. Pagan Spain. 1957. Edited by Faith Berry. New York: HarperPerennial Modern Classics.

Wright, Susan Prothro and Erstine Pickens Glass, eds. 2010. Passing in the Works of Charles W. Chesnutt. Jackson: UP of Mississippi.


Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.


Atlantis. Journal of the Spanish Association for Anglo-American Studies
ISSN: 0210-6124. © Atlantis/Aedean 2013.
Contact | Privacy Statement | Copyright notice | Journal Help| Site Map