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date: 18 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Realism as it has been articulated by white, middle-class literary gatekeepers since its heyday in the early twentieth century (and frequently into the present) has failed to address racism and imperialism of the era. Gene Jarrett describes black authors developing new literary forms in order “to re-create a lived or living world according to prevailing ideologies of race or racial difference.” This chapter expands Jarrett’s definition of “racial realism” beyond the black-white binary in order to show how writers of color from a variety of backgrounds crafted their own versions of realism, deploying allegory and making strategic use of stock genres such as the oriental romance and the western. For white readers in particular, these seemingly “nonrealist” plot elements provided intellectual distance from the contemporary injustices of racism in the age of US imperialism. However, for in-group readers, racial realism functioned both literally and figuratively to highlight experiences of racism and to legitimize histories too often ignored, misunderstood, or misrepresented in mainstream literary realism. Writers such as Winnifred Eaton and Mourning Dove created their own texts that were shaped by multiple literary ancestors and spoke simultaneously, though distinctly, to white readers and to their own communities of color.

Keywords: racial realism, allegory, oriental romance, western, US imperialism, racial difference

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