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The Motherless Child in the Novels of Pauline Hopkins

Jill Bergman

Publication Year: 2012

Well known in her day as a singer, playwright, author, and editor of the Colored American Magazine, Pauline Hopkins (1859–1930) has been the subject of considerable scholarly attention over the last twenty years. Academic review of her many accomplishments, however, largely overlooks Hopkins’s contributions as novelist. The Motherless Child in the Novels of Pauline Hopkins, the first book-length study of Hopkins’s major fiction, fills this gap, offering a sustained analysis of motherlessness in Contending Forces, Hagar’s Daughter, Winona, and Of One Blood. Motherlessness appears in all of Hopkins’s novels. The motif, Jill Bergman asserts, resonated profoundly for African Americans living with the legacy of abduction from a motherland and familial fragmentation under slavery. In her novels, motherlessness serves as a trope for the national alienation of post-Reconstruction African Americans. The longing and search for a maternal figure, then, represents an effort to reconnect with the absent mother—a missing parent and a lost African history and heritage. In Hopkins’s oeuvre, the image of the mother of African heritage—a source of both identity and persecution—becomes a source of power and possibility. Bergman shows how historical events—such as Bleeding Kansas, the execution of John Brown, and the Middle Passage—gave rise to a sense of motherlessness and how Hopkins’s work engages with that of other contemporaneous race activists. This illuminating study opens new terrain not only in Hopkins scholarship, but also in the complex interchanges between literary, African American, psychoanalytic, feminist, and postcolonial studies.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

I have incurred a number of debts in writing this book. In its early stages, I had the good fortune of working with—and being encouraged and inspired by—Nina Baym, Robert Dale Parker, and Janet Lyon at the University of Illinois. I was privileged to work with Karen Offen, Marilyn Boxer, ...

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Introduction: The Motherless Child in the Post-Reconstruction United States

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pp. 1-33

In her final novel, Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self, serialized in the Colored American Magazine from 1903 to 1904, Pauline Hopkins’s protagonist, Reuel Briggs, a mixed-race man passing for white, serves as the doctor for an archaeological expedition in Africa. While there, he discovers that he is heir to the throne of Meroe in Ethiopia, ...

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Chapter One: "The blessed relief of tears”: Maternal Redemption in Contending Forces

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pp. 34-65

In her preface to Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South, Hopkins describes her first novel as a “somewhat abrupt and daring venture”—a surprising claim, given her history in the public arena as an actress, singer, and playwright. Although she began writing fiction almost immediately after her stage career, ...

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Chapter Two: Motherlessness in the Nation’s Capital: The National Father in Hagar’s Daughter

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pp. 66-94

After the optimistic conclusion of Contending Forces, Hagar’s Daughter comes as something of a surprise. Here, amid the novel’s spectacular content—including murder, abduction, disguises, a haunted mansion, a daring escape, and a dramatic courtroom climax—Pauline Hopkins offers a scathing critique of a nation ...

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Chapter Three: “Somethin’s gwine happen”: National Warning in Winona

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pp. 95-130

From the nation’s capital, Pauline Hopkins moves to another site crucial to the nation’s mythos and to the construction of American identity: the frontier. Hopkins may have begun to form her ideas about the possibilities of the West as she wrote Hagar’s Daughter, where the West figured—albeit marginally—as a place of renewal ...

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Chapter Four: Finding Mother Africa: Of One Blood and Hopkins’s National Vision

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pp. 131-156

In Hagar’s Daughter, when the title character discovers that the child she thought she had lost is alive, she pleads with her husband: “I beseech you, lose not a moment, bring her to me—bring my Jewel, my daughter, to my arms” (279). Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self similarly imagines a mother longing for her children, ...

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pp. 157-164

The haunting, melancholy quality of this song spoke powerfully to its intended audience of African American slaves in the antebellum period, and it has continued to speak to a broad range of listeners in the twentyfirst century. It has been recorded by such diverse artists as Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Ike and Tina Turner, ...


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pp. 165-180


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pp. 181-192


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pp. 193-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780807147306
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807147290

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 820123099
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Motherless Child in the Novels of Pauline Hopkins

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Subject Headings

  • Hopkins, Pauline E. -- (Pauline Elizabeth) -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • African American women authors -- Intellectual life.
  • Children in literature.
  • Mothers in literature.
  • Parental deprivation in literature.
  • Identity (Philosophical concept) in literature.
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