African American Women's Historical Romances: Race and Gender Revisited

Publication year

Using Beverly Jenkins’ Indigo (1996) and Shirley Hailstock’s Clara’s Promise (1995) as examples, I argue that race and gender function as interrelated narrative strategies in the historical romance plot in which the black woman’s activism is highlighted.
Critical studies on traditional western female plot structure have generally disregarded the role of race even when recognizing gender assertion and aggression. (42)

The black heroine is constructively engaged in a plot, the action of which turns on racial events such as abolition, colonization, or western expansion. Race-specific events function as public forums for the black woman’s freedom struggles and invoke the historical naming of nineteenth-century black activists, real places, and important race-related legislature. The dark-skinned protagonist epitomizes color difference that breeds racism, and she subverts the idealized mulatta character found in African American nineteenth-century historical romances. This narrative strategy more effectively politicizes the black woman’s activism against racism based on color difference rather than on color sameness or similarity and offers a more realistic depiction of the impact of racism on the majority black community. A third-person omniscient female-sensitive narrator recounts and defends the heroine’s fight and relates the complication between race and gender issues. (44)

Strangely, the same paper also appears on pages 1974-1988.