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White Trash Anxiety: Class, Race, Edgar Allan Poe, and Arthur Gordon Pym
Studies in American Fiction Pub Date : 2021-06-10
Janie Hinds

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  • White Trash AnxietyClass, Race, Edgar Allan Poe, and Arthur Gordon Pym
  • Janie Hinds (bio)

In a much-quoted 1827 letter to foster father John Allan, Edgar Allan Poe angrily lashed out at the perceived injustices he suffered at Allan’s hands: Edgar was “to be subjected to the whims and caprice, not only of your white family, but the complete authority of the blacks—these grievances I could not submit to; and I am gone.”1 Over the last half century and particularly since 1992, when Toni Morrison’s groundbreaking Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination instigated an explosion of studies, critics have examined this and the few other appearances of Black people in Poe’s fiction, letters, and journalism, variously weighing in on the function and meaning of race in Poe’s life and writing. While a few have sought to either demonstrate that Poe was a racist or defend him from charges of racism, most take a more nuanced approach.2 The essay collection Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race (2001) offers a number of important interventions on the subject. In this collection and elsewhere, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket has been the focus of considerations of race and racism in Poe’s work, given its appalling depictions of Black people and its fetishistic, oneiric treatment of whiteness.

For all their differences, these studies agree on one point: Poe’s work evidences a racial anxiety, and voices an unsettled and unsettling view of race as itself unsettled. I aim to expand this idea by exploring the intersection of race and class in Poe’s life and in Arthur Gordon Pym. Studies of race in Poe’s life and work tend to focus on blackness; racial whiteness is less studied, often appearing only as the opposite of blackness. However, the social reality of race during Poe’s lifetime was more complex than a black-white binary might suggest. As Nancy Isenberg in White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in [End Page 119] America and Shannon Sullivan in Good White People: The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism have recently demonstrated, the bottom rung of social status among whites has long been associated with trash—to the degree that across the history of the United States, even their racial status as white has continuously been challenged.3 Considered a distinct breed during the nineteenth century, the social and familial practices of white trash were distinct enough that middle-class and elite whites implicitly and explicitly disavowed even a shared biology with them. Those identified as white trash are associated with Black people in terms of class, and the idea of white trash functions to safeguard middle-class whites against various so-called contaminants and to consolidate whiteness as middle class. Race and class intersected in the United States during Poe’s lifetime in a way that destabilized each, producing anxiety on Poe’s part about the possibility of slippage from middle class to trash and thus, I argue, even from one race to another.

Originating in the study of law, intersectionality investigates how power structures function to discriminate based on more than one social category, such as race, class, or gender. Such “compound discrimination” against some, as Kimberlé Crenshaw puts it, confirms privilege and social power for others.4 Thus, using the term “intersectionality” in reference to any white male experience, especially during the mid-nineteenth century in the United States, may appear absurd. I propose here, however, that race and class intersect in Poe’s life and work in ways that illuminate both, particularly if we look at the history of white trash. While whiteness alone does privilege whites over people of color, I argue that whiteness is “not white” when coupled with the lowest of class positions, that the intersection of class with a supposedly secure racial position in fact dislodges that racial privilege.5 I am not suggesting that class and race collapse into each other; as Sullivan explains, “The tendency of middle-class white people to distance themselves from white trash to maintain their whiteness might seem to make class reducible to race,” but...




  • 白色垃圾焦虑课、种族、埃德加·爱伦·坡和亚瑟·戈登·皮姆
  • 珍妮·海因兹(生物)

1827 年给养父约翰·艾伦 (John Allan) 的一封被广泛引用的信中,埃德加·爱伦·坡 (Edgar Allan Poe) 愤怒地猛烈抨击了他在艾伦手中遭受的不公正待遇:埃德加“要受到异想天开和反复无常的影响,不仅是你的白人家庭,还有黑人的完全权威——这些我无法屈服的委屈;而我走了。” 1在过去的半个世纪里,特别是自 1992 年以来,托尼·莫里森开创性的在黑暗中演奏:白度和文学想象引发了大量研究,评论家们研究了这一点以及其他少数黑人在坡的小说、信件和新闻中的出现,对种族在坡的生活和写作中的作用和意义进行了不同程度的权衡。虽然有些人试图证明坡是种族主义者或为他免受种族主义指控辩护,但大多数人采取了更微妙的方法。2散文集《浪漫的影子:坡与种族》(2001 年)就该主题提供了许多重要的干预措施。在这个系列和其他地方,楠塔基特的亚瑟·戈登·皮姆的叙述一直是种族 坡作品中的种族主义,鉴于其对黑人的骇人听闻的描绘以及对白人的拜物教、梦幻般的处理。

尽管存在差异,但这些研究在一点上达成了一致:坡的作品证明了一种种族焦虑,并表达了一种不安和不安的种族观点,即种族本身是不安的。我的目标是通过探索坡的生活和亚瑟·戈登·皮姆中种族和阶级的交叉点来扩展这个想法。在坡的生活和工作中对种族的研究倾向于关注黑人;种族白人研究较少,通常仅作为黑人的对立面出现。然而,坡在世时种族的社会现实比黑白二元所暗示的要复杂得多。正如南希·伊森伯格在《白色垃圾:400 年不为人知的阶级历史》中一样 [End Page 119] 美国和香农·沙利文在《好白人:中产阶级白人反种族主义问题》中最近的研究表明,白人社会地位的最底层长期以来一直与垃圾有关——在整个美国历史上,甚至他们作为白人的种族地位也不断受到挑战。3在 19 世纪被认为是一个独特的品种,白人垃圾的社会和家庭习俗非常明显,以至于中产阶级和精英白人含蓄而明确地否认与他们有共同的生物学。那些被认定为白人垃圾的人在阶级方面与黑人有关,而白人垃圾的想法起到保护中产阶级白人免受各种所谓污染物的作用,并巩固白人作为中产阶级的地位。在坡的一生中,种族和阶级在美国以一种不稳定的方式相互交叉,这让坡对从中产阶级滑向垃圾的可能性产生了焦虑,因此,我认为,甚至从一个种族滑向另一个种族。

交叉性起源于对法律的研究,它研究权力结构如何根据一种以上的社会类别(例如种族、阶级或性别)进行歧视。正如金伯利·克伦肖(Kimberlé Crenshaw)所说,这种针对某些人的“复合歧视”确认了其他人的特权和社会权力。4因此,使用“交叉性”一词来指代任何白人男性的经历,尤其是在 19 世纪中叶的美国,可能显得很荒谬。然而,我在这里提出,种族和阶级在坡的生活和工作中以照亮两者的方式相交,特别是如果我们看看白色垃圾的历史。虽然白人本身确实使白人比有色人种享有特权,但我认为,当与最低阶级地位相结合时,白人就“不是白人”,阶级与所谓安全的种族地位的交叉点实际上取代了这种种族特权。5我并不是说阶级和种族相互融合;正如沙利文解释的那样,“中产阶级白人倾向于与白人垃圾保持距离以保持他们的白人,这似乎使阶级可以归结为种族,”但是……