James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography Of An Ex-Colored Man

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One of the first pieces of African American fiction is James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Published anonymously in 1912, and again in 1927, it follows the life of a Black man who is able to pass for white. Although formatted as an autobiography, this work is a fiction novel that was popular among the white and black middle classes of America when it was published. This text explores topics such as social status, appropriation and assimilation, interracial relationships, homoeroticism, and identity construction. Contemporary scholars’ approach this text and its multitude of themes through the use of New Historicism/ Cultural Studies, Post Colonial, Marxist, Queer, and Psychoanalytical theories.
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Through the use of Marxist and Queer theories, she explores the relationship of whiteness to wealth and class, blackness to sexuality, and sexuality to money in Johnson’s novel (Butler 51-52). In her analysis, Butler states that the narrator associates white people as a source of class and culture. She argues that the narrator’s memories of his father, interactions with the white widow, millionaire friend, and marrying of a white woman all reflect his view of having relationships with white people as a way of gaining status and capital. From here, Butler shifts her focus to blackness and sexuality in the text. Butler states that as a child, the narrator equates blackness to sexuality, specifically homosexuality. She argues that the narrator eroticizes “Shiny” and himself after he learns that he is black. As a result of the connection the author forms, Butler states that he attempts to conceal his sexuality and blackness with money. Butler holds that “the most overt homosexual relationship” the narrator has is with his millionaire friend (Butler 61). Utilizing Queer Theory, Butler discusses the narrator’s use of stereotypical homosexual descriptions and allusions to his friend. Although she believes this relationship was a manipulative one, Butler does contend that the narrator was able to move up in social ranks, …show more content…
The construction or discovery of identity is one topic that has been analyzed through a Marxist, Queer, New Historicism, and Psychoanalytical approach. Meanwhile, the discussion of racial violence and stereotypes is being facilitated through Post-Colonial theory. Despite this multitude of approaches and the way that they examine their themes, there are other aspects of the text that have not been greatly discussed. Although some of the research touched on the role of women in the narrator’s life, they did not examine if the affect the woman had on him was beneficial or hurtful to the development of his identity. Moreover, the research also did not discuss how the narrator’s depiction of white and black children he associated with affected his perception of whiteness and blackness in a non-erotic way. These issues are mentioned in the research, but they are not the center of

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