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"Discovering Some New Race": Rebecca Harding Davis's "Life in the Iron Mills" and the Literary Emergence of Working-Class Whiteness

Eric Schocket
PMLA
Vol. 115, No. 1, Special Topic: Rereading Class (Jan., 2000), pp. 46-59
DOI: 10.2307/463230
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463230
Page Count: 14
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
"Discovering Some New Race": Rebecca Harding Davis's "Life in the Iron Mills" and the Literary Emergence of Working-Class Whiteness
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Abstract

Recent readings of Rebecca Harding Davis's landmark exploration of the emerging industrial working class have been concerned primarily with the connections between class formation and gender relations. By focusing attention instead on the text's indebtedness to various contemporaneous discourses of racial subjection (which crucially shape and delimit analyses of class and representations of labor during the late antebellum era), I argue that the transcendence, mobility, and salvation that the text allows its working-class characters are subtly but consistently aligned with an emerging racial conception of whiteness. Not only does this alignment link freedom with whiteness and exploitation with blackness, but through these disabling linkages it also establishes a literary precedent for representing (and fictively resolving) class struggles with racial language.

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