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Cotton's Queer Relations

Same-Sex Intimacy and the Literature of the Southern Plantation, 1936-1968

Michael P. Bibler

Publication Year: 2009

Finally breaking through heterosexual clichés of flirtatious belles and cavaliers, sinister black rapists and lusty "Jezebels," Cotton's Queer Relations exposes the queer dynamics embedded in myths of the southern plantation. Focusing on works by Ernest J. Gaines, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, Katherine Anne Porter, Margaret Walker, William Styron, and Arna Bontemps, Michael P. Bibler shows how each one uses figures of same-sex intimacy to suggest a more progressive alternative to the pervasive inequalities tied historically and symbolically to the South's most iconic institution.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

When I first became interested in studying queer sexualities in southern literature, I thought it would be mostly a matter of tracking down marginal or neglected works that depicted gay or lesbian characters or encounters. What I found is that such a project actually requires a different way of reading both within the canon and at the margins. ...

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Introduction: In the Kitchens and on the Verandas

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pp. 1-24

For some people, the image of the southern plantation might call to mind genteel belles and cavaliers flirting on the veranda of a stately mansion. For others, it might signify a sadistic white slave-master systematically raping his black concubine in one of the cabins out back. Yet these are simply different inflections of the same plantation mythology, and to-...

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1. Nation and Plantation between Gone with the Wind and Black Power: The Example of Ernest J. Gaines's Of Love and Dust

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pp. 25-60

This chapter explains how the attention to questions of sameness and difference in plantation literature from the 1930s through the 1960s reflects and engages the social, political, and economic changes that transformed the South during those years. By looking at these decades together, I deviate from the more common practice of grouping twentieth-century...

PART ONE: Planters and Lovers

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2. Intraracial Homoeroticism and the Loopholes of Taboo in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!

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pp. 63-95

This chapter and the next explore the queer relations between white men of the planter class in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). There has already been much criticism devoted to both of these texts, even concerning their representations of homosexuality. ...

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3. Homo-ness and Fluidity in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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pp. 96-119

Although it is set ninety years after the end of the Civil War, Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) is in many ways a rewriting of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936). The two patriarchs, Thomas Sutpen and Big Daddy Pollitt, are wealthy Mississippi planters who rose to their success from nothing, and both men are fairly obsessed about making...

PART TWO: The Southern Kitchen Romance

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4. A Queer Sense of Justice in Lillian Hellman's Dramas of the Hubbard Family

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pp. 123-149

If the hierarchies of the southern plantation create the potential for white men of the planter class to enjoy a homosexual relationship with each other, as Faulkner’s novel and Williams’s play suggest, we might expect that the plantation’s power structures would not tolerate openly sexual relations between women because their sexual autonomy would chal-...

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5. Katherine Anne Porter, Margaret Walker, and the Uncomfortable Compromise of Black Women's Autonomy

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pp. 150-177

Lillian Hellman queers the relationship between mistress and servant in order to imagine the possibilities for fighting southern racism. Yet she implicitly perpetuates a white fantasy in which the African American woman remains subordinate to the white woman’s desires and expectations. Katherine Anne Porter’s short-story cycle The Old Order (1944)1...

PART THREE: The Queer Black Fraternity

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6. Sex, Community, and Rebellion in William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner

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pp. 181-209

Whereas Lillian Hellman, Katherine Anne Porter, and, to a lesser extent, Margaret Walker offer ambivalent depictions of intimacy and equality between black and white women, plantation texts of this period that focus on black men propose a model of same-sex intimacy that distinctly challenges white supremacy. I have already offered some analysis of these...

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7. Arna Bontemps's Black Thunder: Between Masculine Politics and Feminine Difference

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pp. 210-233

Arna Bontemps’s Black Thunder was initially published in 1936, the same year as Gone with the Wind and Absalom, Absalom! Marking the other endpoint of my study, it was reprinted in 1968 with a new introduction, right in the midst of, and probably as a response to, the controversy surrounding The Confessions of Nat Turner.1 ...

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Conclusion: On the Southern Plantation, Real Love Is Always Ambivalent

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pp. 234-248

Since I began working on this project, I have become attuned to the surprising frequency with which references to the southern plantation turn up in all kinds of contemporary literary and cultural texts, even ones that otherwise have nothing to do with the plantation, or slavery, or the South, or even the issue of race. These references raise interesting ques-...


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pp. 249-168


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pp. 269-288


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pp. 289-298

E-ISBN-13: 9780813929842
E-ISBN-10: 0813929849
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813927916
Print-ISBN-10: 0813927919

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 753978357
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cotton's Queer Relations

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Homosexuality and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Homosexuality in literature.
  • Plantation life in literature.
  • Social change in literature.
  • Race relations in literature.
  • American fiction -- Southern States -- History and criticism.
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