Heidi Kim

Web site of Professor Heidi Kim, Dept. of English and Comparative Literature

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Faulkner and the Mississippi Chinese

“The Foreigner in Yoknapatawpha: Rethinking race in the global South” was published in a  Philological Quarterly special issue: The New Southern Studies and the New Modernist Studies in Spring & Summer 2012 (90(2&3): 199-228).

Though it’s not a well-known fact, there was a small but very visible Chinese minority in Mississippi throughout the years of Faulkner’s active writing career, and one that came to national fame in a Supreme Court case about whether they should be put in white or black public schools.  When Joe Christmas first arrives in Jefferson in Light in August, a sulky, light-colored man with no money and city clothing, the townsfolk label him a “foreigner.”  His name and indefinable appearance allow him to exist in an undefined limbo between black and white until he transgresses social boundaries in both directions, unlike the lone Chinese man in The Town and the Chinese population in real life.  Starting with the definition of foreignness in Light in August and reading through Intruder in the Dust (1948) and The Town (1957), I examine the role of the the Chinese as the most visible exponents of the foreign as a new party in Faulkner’s tortured generations of Southern history, comparing his surprisingly elastic social structures with the contemporaneous restrictions on the growing Chinese population in legal and social arenas.  Gong Lum v. Rice (1927), the landmark Supreme Court case that turned away from the singular consideration of African Americans as the “colored race” to define the Chinese as one of the “colored races” resonates with the white supremacist in Light who asserts superiority over “any and all other races.”  Ike McCaslin, one of Faulkner’s characters, voices hatred of the “spawning” and “breeding” Chinese, among other races, but even Faulkner’s extension of racial hysteria over miscegenation to include the Chinese who were moving into the Delta offers, as well, the possibility of eventual social intermixture and inclusion in his American South.

This article won PQ‘s annual Hardin Craig Prize for the article that has best advanced scholarship in its field.

Link here (requires Chadwyck subscription).

 

 

A Francophone antislavery epic

“The Francophone Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published in the Little-Known Documents section of PMLA (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association) in May 2010 (125(3):798-815).

Charles Testut, a French-born Creole radical publisher and writer, wrote an epic novel detailing the adventures and eventual triumph of a married couple of Guadeloupean slaves illegally sold to the United States.  It bears clear resemblances to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but with Testut’s politics and his heavy French Romantic influence (by writers such as Alexandre Dumas), it is much more violent, sexual, and openly political a novel, with several diatribes against Catholic zealots, Louisiana judicial corruption, and racial prejudice.  Though it was written before the Civil War, Testut was only able to publish the novel in 1872.

Article link here (requires subscription or pay per article). More information and an excerpt are available here.

Walt Whitman and Anglo-Saxonism

My article “From Language to Empire: Walt Whitman in the Context of Popular Nineteenth-Century Anglo-Saxonism” was published in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review in the Summer 2006 issue (24(1):1-19).

This article contextualizes Walt Whitman’s invocations of Anglo-Saxon culture and its uneasy connections to white supremacist writing by comparing his words to those of many popular magazines and newspapers dealing with the subject, from editorials in the most prominent newspapers to specialist magazine The Anglo-Saxon.  The slippery slope from the cherishing of Anglo-Saxon words and literature to the racialist or imperialist ambitions of England and the United States can be traced in both Whitman and the other work, but Whitman’s emphasis on diversity and the freedom of the individual takes his Anglo-Saxonism in a new and unexpected direction.

Link to article here.

To Herself

My short story “To Herself” was published in the inaugural issue of the Kartika Review in Winter 2007.  You can read it for free online.  It can also be purchased in the Inaugural Year Anthology.

“To Herself” imagines the exasperation of an overworked public schoolteacher dealing with a difficult child who won’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance–and the sensitivity that she feels required to show to the child’s equally difficult and surprising mother.

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Future homepage of Heidi Kim, assistant professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC Chapel Hill.

Currently under construction.

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