The South in Black and White

If the nation as a whole during the 1940s was halfway between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the postwar prosperity of the 1950s, the South found itself struggling through an additional transition, one bound up in an often violent reworking of its own sense of history and regional identity. Examining the changing nature of racial politics in the 1940s, McKay Jenkins measures its impact on white Southern literature, history, and culture.

Jenkins focuses on four white Southern writers–W. J. Cash, William Alexander Percy, Lillian Smith, and Carson McCullers–to show how they constructed images of race and race relations within works that professed to have little, if anything, to do with race. Sexual isolation further complicated these authors’ struggles with issues of identity and repression, he argues, allowing them to occupy a space between the privilege of whiteness and the alienation of blackness. Although their views on race varied tremendously, these Southern writers’ uneasy relationship with their own dominant racial group belies the idea that “whiteness” was an unchallenged, monolithic racial identity in the region.

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Praise

“An intelligent discussion of the way the subject of race has dominated white southern expression.”
–The Journal of American History

“[This book] should be bought, discussed, argued about, and taught.”
–Journal of Southern History

“This thoroughly researched book enters the contemporary literary and cultural discussion in an up-to-date, highly relevant fashion which makes it central to modern studies of race, sex, and culture in Southern literature.”
–Virginia Quarterly Review

“[An] erudite and thought-provoking book.”
–Newark Star-Ledger

“Jenkins offers some perceptive analyses. . . . He shows how issues of race are never that far from the surface in American books, and Southern ones in particular.”
–Times Literary Supplement

“Lillian Smith’s arresting analysis of the ways in which the ‘drug of whiteness’ functioned in the Southern past is brilliantly contextualized in this exciting book. Concentrating on Smith and three other white antiracist writers, Jenkins explores the ways in which they struggled to capture the terrible effects of racism in suppressing awareness of misery among whites, even as they fought and narcotized their own demons by thinking through race.”–David R. Roediger, University of Minnesota

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