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Identifying Marks

Race, Gender, and the Marked Body in Nineteenth-Century America

Jennifer Putzi

Publication Year: 2006

What we know of the marked body in nineteenth-century American literature and culture often begins with The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne and ends with Moby Dick's Queequeg. This study looks at the presence of marked men and women in a more challenging array of canonical and lesser-known works, including exploration narratives, romances, and frontier novels. Jennifer Putzi shows how tattoos, scars, and brands can function both as stigma and as emblem of healing and survival, thus blurring the borderline between the biological and social, the corporeal and spiritual.

Examining such texts as Typee, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Captivity of the Oatman Girls, The Morgesons, Iola Leroy, and Contending Forces, Putzi relates the representation of the marked body to significant events, beliefs, or cultural shifts, including tattooing and captivity, romantic love, the patriarchal family, and abolition and slavery. Her particular focus is on both men and women of color, as well as white women-in other words, bodies that did not signify personhood in the nineteenth century and thus by their very nature were grotesque. Complicating the discourse on agency, power, and identity, these texts reveal a surprisingly complex array of representations of and responses to the marked body--some that are a product of essentialist thinking about race and gender identities and some that complicate, critique, or even rebel against conventional thought.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This book has been years in the making and a number of very special people have contributed to its growth—even if they weren’t always aware of having done so. For their lifelong love and support in whatever I’ve chosen to do, I thank Kathy...

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Introduction: “Carved in Flesh”

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pp. 1-12

Two of the most visually striking figures in nineteenth-century American literature are Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne and Herman Melville’s Queequeg. Both stand out primarily for their marked bodies, for the ways in which their personal...

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1. Capturing Identity in Ink: Tattooing and the White Captive

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pp. 13-48

Claiming to have 365 designs tattooed onto her body, Nora Hildebrandt was employed by Bunnell’s Museum in New York City in 1882 as a “tattooed lady,” one of the first in U.S. history. Her tattoos and the narrative behind them attracted curious...

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2. “Burning into the Bone”: Romantic Love and the Marked Woman

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pp. 49-73

In George Thompson’s sensational novel City Crimes; or Life in New York and Boston (1849), the sensual libertine Josephine Franklin is punished for denying her sexual favors to the villainous Dead Man, a criminal who murders, mutilates, and blackmails...

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3. “Tattooed Still”: The Inscription of Female Agency

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pp. 74-98

The erasure of disfiguration from the female body, enacted rhetorically in Herman Melville’s Typee and in the memoirs of Susan Thompson Lewis Parrish, became a reality in the late nineteenth century with advancements in medicine and...

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4. “The Skin of an American Slave”: The Mark of African American Manhood in Abolitionist Literature

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pp. 99-129

When the Civil War began in April 1861, African American men attempted in vain to volunteer for military service. As historian Jim Cullen writes, “The efforts of abolitionists to the contrary, secession, not slavery, was the pretext for the outbreak of hostilities...

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5. “Raising the Stigma”: African American Women and the Corporeal Legacy of Slavery

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pp. 130-153

In the preface to her novel, Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South (1900), Pauline Hopkins claims that she writes in order to “raise the stigma of degradation from [her] race” (13). The use of the word “stigma” here in...

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Epilogue: Tattooed Ladies

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pp. 154-162

Irene Woodward, the “tattooed lady” who appeared on stage just weeks after the debut of Nora Hildebrandt, told the New York Times that she had decided to exhibit herself after seeing Captain Costentenus, the man who claimed he had been forcibly tattooed...


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pp. 163-177

Works Cited

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pp. 179-190


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pp. 191-195

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343952
E-ISBN-10: 082032812X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820328126
Print-ISBN-10: 082032812X

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 14 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 794449342
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Identifying Marks

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Human body in literature.
  • Branding (Punishment) -- United States.
  • Tattooing -- United States.
  • Sex role in literature
  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
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