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Bodies of ReformThe Rhetoric of Character in Gilded Age America$
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James B. Salazar

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780814741306

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814741306.001.0001

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“A Story Written on Her Face”

“A Story Written on Her Face”

Pauline Hopkins’s Unmaking of the Inherited Character of Race

(p.157) 4“A Story Written on Her Face”
Bodies of Reform

James B. Salazar

NYU Press

This chapter considers the vexed role played by the rhetoric of character in articulating the physiognomic taxonomies of racial science but also in mobilizing challenges to the corporeal schemas of racial character and the policies of segregation and disenfranchisement they legitimated. It begins by studying the development of the rhetoric of character in both abolitionist discourse and in postbellum discourses of racial uplift in terms of its promise to reinscribe the racialized body with the socially legitimating signs of gender and class. It then presents a reading of Pauline Hopkins's novel Contending Forces (1900) and her response to Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction-era debates over the role of character building in projects of racial uplift. It argues that in its portrait of the critical agency of the heroine Sappho Clark's “sterling character” and queer sexuality, Hopkins's novel offers a critical rejoinder to both the scientific discourses of racial character and the liberationist discourse of the representative man by forwarding, in her transnational, intergenerational tale, a diasporic theory of character formation that centers on the labor of history, rather than the mechanism of inheritance, in the constitution of political agency and social critique.

Keywords:   character, racial science, racial character, segregation, disenfranchisement, abolition, Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces, racial uplift, sexuality

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