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Coloring Locals

Racial Formation in Katie Chopin's "Youth's Companion" Stories

Bonnie James Shaker

Publication Year: 2005

Coloring Locals examines how the late nineteenth-century politics of gender, class, race, and ethnicity influenced Kate Chopin's writing for the major family periodical of her time.

Chopin's canonical status as a feminist rebel and reformer conflicts with the fact that one of her most supportive publishers throughout her life was the Youth's Companion, a juvenile periodical whose thoroughly orthodox “family values” contributed to its success as the longest-running and, at one time, most widely circulating periodical in nineteenth-century America. Not surprisingly, Chopin’s Youth’s Companion stories differ from her canonical texts in that they embrace and advance ideals of orthodox white femininity and masculinity. Rather than viewing these two representations as being at odds with each other, Bonnie Shaker asserts that Chopin's endorsement of conventional gender norms is done in the service of a second political agenda beyond her feminism, one that can help the reader appreciate nuances of identity construction previously misunderstood or overlooked in the body of her work.

Shaker articulates this second agenda as “the discursive act of coloring locals,” the narrative construction of racial difference for Louisiana peoples of African American, Native American, and French American ancestry. For Chopin, “coloring locals” meant transforming non-Louisianans’ general understanding of the Creole and Cajun as mixed-race people into “purely” white folks, this designation of whiteness being one that conferred not only social preferment but also political protections and enfranchisement in one of the most racially violent decades of U.S. history. Thus, when Chopin is concerned with coloring her beloved Louisiana Creoles and Cajuns “white,” she strategically deploys conventional femininity for the benefits it affords as a sign of middle-class respectability and belonging.

Making significant contributions both to the scholarship on Kate Chopin and on race and gender construction, this sophisticated study will be of great interest to scholars and students of nineteenth-century ethnic and cultural studies as well as Chopin scholars.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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contents

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pp. vii-

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acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Writing this book made me feel more like Edna Pontellier than was comfortable. Even at the turn of the twenty-first century, it is difficult for a woman to extricate herself from maternal and marital obligations. Today as in the past, all members of the family unit must do their part in order to keep the organism running. Fourth-grade science homework does not wait for ...

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introduction

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pp. xi-xv

Kate Chopin’s canonical status as a feminist rebel and broad social reformer conflicts with the fact that one of the most supportive publishers throughout her lifetime was the Youth’s Companion, a juvenile periodical whose self-promotion as a product “for all the family” contributed to its success as the longest-running and, at one time, most widely circulating periodical in nineteenth-century America. The Companion ...

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1. Kate Chopin’s Canonical and Market Place: Authorship, Authorization, and Authority

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pp. 1-27

Since the Norwegian scholar Per Seyersted made The Complete Works of Kate Chopin available in 1969, academics have been trying to figure out what Chopin—like her character Edna—“was up to” when she wrote her two novels and many short stories about life in rural, post- Reconstruction Louisiana.1 From statements on book banning and literary expulsion to accounts of a post-Awakening depression that curtailed ...

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2. Coloring Locals: “For Marse Chouchoute,” “A Wizard from Gettysburg,” and “A Rude Awakening”

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pp. 28-56

... is notable as Chopin’s first piece of short fiction to be accepted by and published in the Youth’s Companion. Billed on the front page of the 20 August 1891, edition, the story appeared with a subtitle added by the publisher, “For Marse Chouchoute: A Colored Boy’s Fidelity.” 1 Chopin’s local color piece is her first Companion story of many to address the change in Louisiana’s post-Civil War social ...

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3. For the Love of Children: Motherhood Lore, Childhood Lore, and the Matter of Prejudice in Five Companion Tales

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pp. 57-93

The middle decades of the nineteenth century in America attached heretofore unprecedented importance to “mothering”—woman’s work of caring for and nurturing children—and its relevance to the period’s definitions of ideal feminity. Ann Douglas has written of the period’s emphasis on maternity, claiming that mid-nineteenth-century “American culture seemed bent on establishing a perpetual Mother’s ...

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4. Beyond Coloring Locals: After The Awakening, “Charlie,” and Conventional Returns

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pp. 94-124

What happened to Chopin, her textual production, and her texts’ marketability after the publication of The Awakening continues to be the subject of scholarly debate. Thus, I return in my conclusion to the point where I began in my introduction: revisiting yet another narrative surrounding this late nineteenth-century white bourgeois female author ...

notes

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pp. 125-138

bibliography

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pp. 139-146

index

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pp. 147-158


E-ISBN-13: 9781587294280

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2005