Throughout literary history, the figure of the mother has been the subject of much critical attention. While traditional studies have focused on women writers and the maternal, Laura Anne Doyle pairs literary movements not often considered together-Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance-to show how the figure of the mother haunts modern novels from their very opening pages. Figures such as the slave mother in the Prologue to Invisible Man, Lena Grove in Light in August, and Sethe in Beloved, Doyle shows, form a tradition that marks the tip of a cultural iceberg, the peaking expression of a cultural matrix at once racial and sexual, literary and scientific. Exploding the assumed persona of the mother, Doyle formulates a theory of "racial patriarchy" in which the circumspection of reproduction within racial borders engenders what she calls the "race mother" figure in literary and cultural narratives. Making use of heterogeneous materials, ranging from kinship studies to histories of slavery, Bordering on the Body traces the symbolic operations of the "race mother" from Romanticism and nineteenth-century biology to eugenics and twentieth-century fiction.
This newest title in the Race and American Culture series offers a breakthrough in race and gender theory, a racial reconfiguration of modernism, and a reinterpretation of discourses of nature since Romanticism.