Date of Degree

9-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Eric Lott

Committee Members

Duncan Faherty

Robert Reid-Pharr

Subject Categories

American Studies | Women's Studies

Keywords

Cuba, gender, race, nineteenth-century American literature, slavery

Abstract

My dissertation argues that white women played crucial roles in the economic, political, and cultural circuits that linked the United States and Cuba, and the hemisphere broadly, during the nineteenth century. It inserts white women into a historical account of U.S. imperialism by analyzing the literary works of a number of American women who traveled to or simply fantasized about Cuba during this period of intense and widespread interest in the island. It identifies white women not just as providing the symbolic rationale for Cuban annexation or intervention – the preservation of their chastity being a common justification for the suppression of people of color – but also as instruments of imperial beckoning in their own right. In short, this dissertation complicates the dominant narrative of power in the Americas, which pits a white, masculinized North against a black, feminized South, foregrounding white men’s megalomaniac quest for supremacy and the abjection of the people of color left in his wake. Against such a binaristic narrative, the white women who did extensive symbolic, economic, and reproductive work to advance imperialistic networks in the hemisphere all but disappear from the record, are “denied bodies.” They are, consequently, absolved and suppressed in equal parts. I read white women’s literary treatments of Cuba to understand how, in the words of Luce Irigaray, during the various “emergencies” comprising U.S. engagements with Cuba, women came to stand in for a flagging white masculinity – propping up its currencies, exchange rates, and stocks while wielding each, when possible, to their own aims.

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