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Reviewed by:
  • Cotton's Queer Relations: Same-Sex Intimacy and the Literature of the Southern Plantation, 1936-1968
  • John Zheng
Michael P. Bibler . Cotton's Queer Relations: Same-Sex Intimacy and the Literature of the Southern Plantation, 1936-1968. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2009. 298 pp. $55.00 cloth/ $22.50 paper.

Bibler's study is a groundbreaking book about same-sex intimacy and homo-ness as depicted in Southern literature. It covers a period of three decades with a focus on nine literary works by Ernest J. Gaines, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, Katherine Anne Porter, Margaret Walker, William Styron, and Arna Bontemps. Bibler chooses these writers' texts for his literary and historical analysis of same-sex intimacy because they "demonstrate a similar conceptual engagement with the shapes and meanings of same-sex relationships in the South as part of a similar, rather liberal political engagement with the South's plantation past" (3).

The importance of this book is that Bibler analyzes the same-sex relations represented in the literary works of Southern plantation from the social, racial, and historical perspectives; he also explains how such representations can serve a way for the eight writers to "respond to the massive social and political changes affecting the South during the middle decades of the twentieth century" (4). Specifically, the author focuses on the representations of queer relations between men or between women in Southern plantation settings. He tries to heighten the visibility of the queer plantation myth that remains hidden in the works of the eight Southern writers who effectively refashioned "the plantation into an intrinsically queer cultural space" (2).

The book includes an introduction, seven chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction to this literary criticism of same-sex intimacy offers central epitomes of the author's examination. It summarizes issues to be discussed in the seven chapters, such as hierarchy and homo-ness, social equality, the Southern context, the limits of homo-ness, three figurative models (the homosexual and homoerotic relations of white men of the planter class, the queer relations between women of the "Southern kitchen roman," and sameness relations between black men), and politics and visibility.

One prominent part of the book is that it can also serve as a guide to the literary studies of homosexuality in African American literature as it includes three major African American writers from Mississippi and Louisiana, Ernest J. Gaines, Margaret Walker, and Arna Bontemps. In chapter one, Bibler uses the historical and literary-historical research to analyze hierarchy and homo-ness in Gaines's novel Of Love and Dust. He interprets the 1948 plantation setting as "a thoroughly sexualized space in which an oppressive discourse of heterosexual obligation and kinship defines . . . the plantation's exploitative social structures" (26) and asserts that John and Freddie, the two black field hands, are the "distinctive model of equality in the homosexual partnership" (26). More important, says Bibler, the homosexual relationship between the two "destabilizes the plantation's power structures and shields them from its dehumanizing effects" (26). Even though John and Freddie serve as a model of social equality and of the queerness to the hierarchy in Southern plantation literature, Bibler may overemphasize the power of homo-ness. He can be more persuasive if he provides a more detailed textual analysis of Gaines's novel to heighten the visibility of homo-ness between John and Freddie or of other texts.

While Gaines's novel touches on the issue of homosexual relationships between black men, chapters four and five examine the texts of Lillian Hellman, Katherine Anne Porter, and Margaret Walker that depict the ambiguous queer intimacy between the plantation mistress and her black maid. Walker's Jubilee, different from Hellman's and Porter's depictions, underscores black women's autonomy through the central character of Vyry Brown, who rejects white women's fantasies of Southern kitchen romance. Vyry is a black woman willing to help white women through sisterhood. Although her maternal care may invoke homo-mess among white women, her same-sex [End Page 764] relationship with them never develops into a same-sex intimacy. According to Bibler, Walker's text serves as a counterbalance to those of Hellman and...


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