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Identifying marks: The marked body in nineteenth-century American literature

Jennifer Putzi, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Marked bodies proliferate in nineteenth-century American literature. In this dissertation, I focus primarily on the tattooed and/or scarred body and the way in which the mark illuminates issues of corporeality and identity. I argue that the discourse of the marked body is employed by nineteenth-century American authors in order to explore the boundaries of racial and gendered identity. At times the mark is offered as evidence of the impregnability of identity, yet the mark also has the potential to trouble conventional understandings of race and gender in the nineteenth century. ^ Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) are significant contributions to the nineteenth-century American discourse of the marked body, yet traditional scholarship has failed to position these writers within the larger discourse to which they were responding and which they, in turn, shaped. I attempt to reconstruct this discourse throughout the century, beginning with Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799) and concluding with Pauline Hopkins Contending Forces (1900). In addition to fictional texts, I also consider captivity narratives, slave narratives, advertisements, photographs, and book illustrations. My analysis includes both male and female writers, although the focus is on women writers who have not received extensive critical attention. The women writers I examine include Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Maria Susanna Cummins, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Elizabeth Stoddard, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rebecca Harding Davis, Louisa May Alcott, Lydia Maria Child, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Pauline Hopkins. By focussing primarily on women writers of the period, I also initiate a critique of sentimental discourse, which I argue was unable to accommodate the marked body, black or white. Ultimately, I propose that the marked body becomes a critical window through which to observe and critique the ideological work of race, gender, and genre in nineteenth-century American literature and culture. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Putzi, Jennifer, "Identifying marks: The marked body in nineteenth-century American literature" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967403.