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Pauline Hopkins and the American Dream

An African American Writer's (Re)Visionary Gospel of Success

Alisha Knight

Publication Year: 2012

Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was perhaps the most prolific black female writer of her time. Between 1900 and 1904, writing mainly for Colored American Magazine, she published four novels, at least seven short stories, and numerous articles that often addressed the injustices and challenges facing African Americans in post–Civil War America. In Pauline Hopkins and the American Dream, Alisha Knight provides the first full-length critical analysis of Hopkins’s work. Scholars have frequently situated Hopkins within the domestic, sentimental tradition of nineteenth-century women's writing, with some critics observing that aspects of her writing, particularly its emphasis on the self-made man, seem out of place within the domestic tradition. Knight argues that Hopkins used this often-dismissed theme to critique American society's ingrained racism and sexism. In her “Famous Men” and “Famous Women” series for Colored American Magazine, she constructed her own version of the success narrative by offering models of African American self-made men and women. Meanwhile, in her fiction, she depicted heroes who fail to achieve success or must leave the United States to do so. Hopkins risked and eventually lost her position at Colored American Magazine by challenging black male leaders, liberal white philanthropists, and white racists—and by conceiving a revolutionary treatment of the American Dream that placed her far ahead of her time. Hopkins is finally getting her due, and this clear-eyed analysis of her work will be a revelation to literary scholars, historians of African American history, and students of women’s studies.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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Table of Contents

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p. v


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p. vi

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p. vii

This book was long in the making, and I want to express my gratitude to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for awarding me a Career Enhancement Fellowship, and to Washington College for providing me support through its faculty enhancement grants and Christian A. Johnson...

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pp. ix-xviii

In 1904, Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins wrote an article describing the technological advancements of the New York City subway system for The Voice of the Negro. Interestingly, at the end of the article, Hopkins cautioned readers not to rest on their laurels. Even though the rapid transit system was a significant...

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1. "To Aid in Everyway Possible in Uplifting the Colored People of America": Hopkins's Revisionary Definition of African American Success

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pp. 1-26

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the phrase “self-made man” invoked the image of an autonomous male who became wealthy and powerful through his ambition, hard work, and shrewd judgment. According to Richard Weiss, “Tradition has it that every American child...

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2. Furnace Blasts for the Tuskegee Wizard and the Talented Tenth: Hopkins and Her Contemporary Self-Made Men

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pp. 27-51

Pauline Hopkins was the most prolific black woman writer of her time. Her work with the Colored American Magazine played no small part in earning her this distinction, for she published three serialized novels and several short stories and editorial pieces in the magazine. She abruptly stopped editing and contributing to the magazine...

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3. "Mammon Leads Them On": Hopkins's Visionary Critique of the Gospel of Success

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pp. 53-72

There is a stark difference between the real men in Pauline Hopkins’s magazine articles and the male protagonists in her musical drama, short stories, and novels—between her nonfictional and fictional treatments of the success archetype. While her real-life self-made men are all successful, the majority...

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4. "In the Lives of These Women are Seen Signs of Progress": Hopkins's Race Woman and the Gospel of Success

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pp. 73-95

In August 1899, a controversy erupted during the second biennial National Association of Colored Women (NACW) convention in Chicago when Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin challenged Mary Church Terrell’s election to a second term as NACW president. Ruffin and fellow delegates from the...

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Conclusion: "Let the Good Work Go On"

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pp. 97-100

A number of other questions remain about Hopkins’s project, like how effective were her articles at motivating young blacks to seek moderate wealth and respectability through self-help and uplift? If given the opportunity, did they choose to model their lives after her success archetypes in the “Famous Men of the Negro...


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pp. 101-111


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pp. 113-121


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pp. 123-125

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338890
E-ISBN-10: 157233889X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338524
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338520

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 4 halftones
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 780445267
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pauline Hopkins and the American Dream

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • African American women authors -- Intellectual life.
  • Hopkins, Pauline E. -- (Pauline Elizabeth) -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
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