Hazel Carby

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Hazel Carby


Hazel Carby. "Woman's Era" and "The Quicksands of Representation: Rethinking Black Cultural Politics." Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. 3-19,163-176.

Larsen, Nella. Passing. 2nd ed. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.


There has been development of a type of literay critism that has developed around novels written by black authors that deal with an African American situations. This is called black feminist criticism. Hazel Carby announces that her intention is to show that “black feminist criticism be regarded critically as a problem, not a solution, as a sign that should be interrogated, a locus of contradictions.” That the black feminist criticism is a form of separation, it is looking for placement in a bourgeois humanistic discourse. In order to truly address literature made “during the end of the nineteenth century, one has to understand not only the discourse and context in which they were produced but also the intellectual forms and practices of black women that preceded them.”

In applying these observations to the literature that came out of the nineteenth century, there needs to be a reconsideration of what history calls the women’s movement. In order for it to be an inclusive movement there would have been an acknowledgment of the needs of black of women and not an exclusion such as what took place at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. There needs to be an understanding that there were issues between white and black women's organizations and of what those differences meant. When looking to reconsider the meaning behind the women’s movement there should be an inquiry into the racist ideologies that were present at the time and how these devised the racially divided movements that continue to be present in the contemporary women’s movement.

Change Difference From Norm

During the Harlem renaissance there was a change of concerns that was reflected in the literature that was produced. The intellectuals that were producing work were representing the differences between black people that lived and were involved in the development of the Harlem Renaissance and the rural southern blacks that were moving into the area establishing the working class. This was in response to the fact that white people did not understand the developing black middle class. Authors like Zora Neale Hurston used rural connotations in thier literature allowing them to ignore the development of the black city workers that did not fit into the black middle class. Other authors used the class perspective to give the black urban working class a place in their literature. On the other hand there was author Elle Larsen who did not agree with the development of the black middle-class morality.

In reference to "Passing", Elle Larsen was able to walk the line with the characters that she chose. She made characters who encompassed both racial lines of the time. These characters alienated her from the the society that was developing within the black intellectuals and the movement of rural southern blacks to the north. It would seem that this allowed Larsen to make a commentary on the morality developing in the new middle class black community through a “prism of black female sexuality.”

Clare and Irene as characters make it easy to look at these connotations as a relation to the time, but there is one character that did not talk during this novel. She was also one that should have fallen into this alienation as Carby has suggested, but does not. Gertude. She was introduced as a third character that had married a white man that knew of her background. She is not doing any speaking and has been generally overlooked. Is this the character that should be considered the norm? By her not speaking, it is suggestive that this is the case.


By taking into account what was happening in the late nineteenth century you can see the limitations that were put upon the literature and what it was addressing. There were authors, such as Larsen, that defied this new and upcoming norm of the black middle class, and offered a critique about them. Carby does point out

See Also:

  • Ann duCille for a reconsideration of women writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Evelynn Hammonds on the problematic position of black female sexuality as constructed against white womanhood.