Synopses & Reviews
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."
Thus instead of literary history that invokes the same, shopworn links between old world and new, readers of To Wake the Nations will discover a not-so-subtle change in the frame of reference from Europe to Africa
This radical reconstruction of American literary history results in a dazzling if somewhat humbling experience for readers schooled in the European tradition. Sundquist's conscientious scholarship and immense learning set a high standard for future scholars that will not soon be matched. Jonathan Veitch
To Wake the Nations brilliantly [weaves Sundquist's] analysis of African American 'sorrow songs' with textual material. CLIO
impact on areas far beyond the texts investigated here.
This text, winner of the 1993 Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa, presents a major re-evaluation 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. He considers each text he discusses against a background of history, law, literature, politics, religion, folklore, music, and dance to produce a commentary on the American literary tradition.
1993 James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Association
1993 Christian Gauss Award, Phi Beta Kappa Society
About the Author
Eric Sundquist is UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature at UCLA.
Table of Contents
PART I: SLAVERY, REVOLUTION, RENAISSANCE
1. Signs of Power: Nat Turner and Frederick Douglass
San Domingo and Its Patriots
Nat Turner, Thomas Gray, and the Phenomenology of Slavery
Blackhead Signpost: Prophecy and Terror
Frederick Douglass's Revisions
Iron Sentences: Paternity, Literacy, Liberty
Broken Fetters: The Right of Revolution
2. Melville, Delany, and New World Slavery
Memory, Authority, and the Shadowy Tableau
The Play of the Barber
Ashantee Conjurors: Africanisms and Africanization
The Law of Nature or the Hive of Subtlety
"It Is Wrote in Jeremiah": American Maroons
Sugar, Conspiracy, and the Ladder
El Dia de los Reyes
PART II: THE COLOR LINE
3. Mark Twain and Homer Plessy
The Second Slavery
The Badge of Servitude: Homer Plessy and the Rise of Segregation
Blaspheming Colors, Extraordinary Twins
A Whisper to the Reader
4. Charles Chesnutt's Cakewalk
The Origin of the Cakewalk
Word Shadows and Alternating Sounds: Folklore, Dialect, and Vernacular
Uncle Remus, Uncle Julius, and the New Negro
"De Ole Times," Slave Culture, and Africa
Talking Bones: Conjure and Narrative
White Weeds: The Pathology of the Color Line
Fusion: The Marrow of Tradition
A Great Black Figure and a Doll
PART III: W. E. B. DU BOIS: AFRICAN AMERICA AND THE KINGDOM OF CULTURE
5. Swing Low: The Souls of Black Folk
In the Kingdom of Culture
"This Wonderful Music of Bondage"
Bright Sparkles: Music and Text
Black and Unknown Bards: A Theory of the Sorrow Songs
6. The Spell of Africa
The Color Line Belts the World
"Ethiopia Shall Stretch Forth Her Hands": Toward Pan-Africanism
Africa: The Hidden Self and the Pageant of Nationalism
The Burden of Black Women
The Black Christ and Other Prophets