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TAYLOR HAGOOD Florida Atlantic University Ghosts of Southern Imperialism: Caribbean Space, Functions of Fiction, and Thomas Nelson Page’s “No Haid Pawn”1 IN LIGHT OF THOMAS NELSON PAGE’S PRO-WHITE-SOUTH STANCE, IT IS very strange when complexity regarding race appears in his writing. For example, in his early frame narratives African American narrators serve his purpose of telling stories about harmonious race relations in antebellum plantation culture, yet those very narrators often lace their stories with subversive elements that undercut the very positive stories of slavery they tell. In these cases it is difficult to discern whether such characters somehow get out of Page’s control (which presents a problematic theoretical situation) or if Page realizes the other side of slavery and includes it in his crafting of otherwise pro-slavery, pro-Old South tales. Although the stories succeeded in bringing about their apparent desired effect of eliciting the sympathy of white Northerners and Page gave no known intimation that he was up to something more complicated,theslippageswithintheseAfricanAmericans’rhetorichint at an awareness of the sham of the Peculiar Institution on the part of the narrators if not Page himself.2 In the cases I am mentioning, such indications of slavery’s terrors are little more than hints, shadows in an otherwise sunny overall portrait, but in one of these stories terror becomes explicit. The story is “No Haid Pawn,” part of Page’s 1887 collection InOleVirginia. To observe that the story shows the dark side of slavery is to state a fact many scholars have 1 I want to thank Barbara Ladd, John Lowe, and Kirstin Squint for the SSSL panel this paper originated in. Thanks to my colleagues who offered prescient feedback, including Eric Berlatsky and Papatya Bucak. Thank you to Susan Donaldson and the anonymous reader for Mississippi Quarterly for their tremendously helpful comments. 2 Frederick Douglass had pointed out this doubleness of rhetoric a good four decades before Page when he noted that for fear of spies sent by masters onto plantations, slaves invariably reported that they led happy lives when asked by white people about their living and working conditions. 140 Taylor Hagood acknowledged, but what has not been so much explored are the reasons it does so or the machinery and underpinnings of the story’s critique.3 The question of why Page includes this discordant story is not easy to answer because doing so requires probing into the tricky techniques and purposes of Page’s compositional method. It also requires a careful investigation into the layering of time in the story, specifically the relationship betweenthepresent(post-Reconstructiontime)andthepast (the antebellum era). In “No Haid Pawn,” Page works out this temporal element through configurations of space in a specific kind of figure that can by its nature cross temporal borders—a ghost. Many of the other stories in Page’s first collection strategically deal with the past, before the Civil War, to soften antebellum sins and allay reader qualms with a sanitized portrait of a bygone and now irrelevant institution. “No Haid Pawn,” however, seeks to treat time and space so that both weave between a marked distance and an equally marked proximity. In other words, Page brings the antebellum past crashing into the story’s present with a ghost as the bridging figure while simultaneously invoking spaces distant from the Virginia setting.4 He does so in order to craft a horror story written in line with other horror stories by American writers before him. The specific kind of spatiality Page creates blends Virginia space with a Caribbean spatial model, and he particularly evokes the Haitian Revolution, a not uncommon move for white Southern writers (Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is a famous later example).5 Page uses long-standing fears of slave revolt to infuse his own historical moment 3 For treatments of this story, see Cuenca, Cowan, and Rubin. Fred Hobson extensively investigates Page’s oeuvre for critiques of slavery as a system inflicted on white Southerners “beneficial for the Negro but detrimental for the Southern white” (141). In Page’s thinking, while race-based slavery may have held back the white South economically and culturally, its ordering of race...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 139-159
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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