EN 2011 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Harriet Ann Jacobs, Mimesis, Social Construction Of Gender
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July 2 & 4
Topic 3 & 4 - Sexual Knowledge 2 & 3
In view of “text troubles” please try to read both Jacob Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and
Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. My notes on these pages are primarily about Jacob’s Incidents. Please
see a separate document with my introduction to Wedekind’s Spring.
A review on important Acts and Scenes from the play will follow on July 4. The Forum Discussion Topic
will be posted later today or early tomorrow.
Pammie– an imaginary member of our course wants an explanation.
Pammie: “ Professor, I went to the bookstore and Spring Awakening is still not on the shelf. What
shall I do?
HD: I called the bookstore today and was told they will try to have about 20 copies on the shelf
tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon for students who desire to purchase them rather than download copies
from kindle. One terrible translation is available through Gutenberg and you will find a link in our
session, and will have to hold you over until you peruse the book in your reading comparison paper. In
the meantime, I’ve decided to treat July 2 and July 4 in one shared framework beginning with Harriet
Jacob’s Slave Narrative, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” – see link on topic 5.
What you see below is an “introduction” to the two works followed Forum Two Discussion Topics. The
idea is that the two texts stand in extreme contrast to one another: one overly anxious to hide the
realities of sex from a young girl. One narrative describes simply unloading sexual knowledge without
any coating of culture and civilization, or concern for Linda’s feelings, or for her safety or future.
The German culture of 1900 feels disturbed about sex and also about predatory boys and men luring
them astray like wolves. Childhood (it is presumed to be innocent – clearly Freud has not been making
inroads into the “German” mind. The American culture of the South does not feel honor bound nor
responsibly chaste toward women slaves. Social shame and disgrace are absent from their actions.
Harriet Jacob, Incidents.
2) Questioning Race and Gender Performance.
3) The gender of White Supremacists.
Contrary to our typical reading habits of turning our interest to the narrator, let us focus on and analyze
Dr. Flint, her “master”, and do so apart from Linda’s outraged and emotional description.
What caused his preoccupation with Linda? The issue has, in my view, less to do with his attraction to
Linda, than with “mimesis” between masters, as they desired white supremacy and therefore equality
with one another. This introduction is primarily about how mimesis is evident in the narrative. The male
owners could not measure their gender identity against the slaves but only against one another.
Mimesis between white supremacist men in the South was based on gender and race, i.e. it excluded
the white mistress. Jacob describes the white mistress’s inconsistency. She doesn’t dare contradict her
husband’s interest and protects herself rather than Linda.
Mimesis is also an aspect in Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, where we see again the operating of male
brotherhoods or group-egos as for example observable amongst the high school boys. By choosing
Moritz as a friend, Melchior forms an independent exception while doing nothing to sever his
relationship to the gang. “Mimesis” is basically the universal human desire to be equal or the same as
others who we admire or envy. Simple mimesis is the crowd carried away and suspending its judgement
when it shouts “crucify”. In Spring Awakening, Moritz’s failure to progress into high school is not judged
by the boys. He is the weakest, and likely their scapegoat, as each knows it might just as easily have
been one of them.
In Jacob’s narrative a more virulent form of mimesis can be discerned. It is evident in Flint’s increasing
interest in Linda the more she resists him. She challenges his absolute control and power over his slaves.
This absolute power is assumed but when tested on Linda it is threatened. He becomes a tyrant who
fears to given an inch. When Antigone, a legendary daughter of Oedipus, contradicts the will of King
Creon, his male anger becomes unstill able, and he order her death. His place of power could not
tolerate a small chip. Creon’s continued supremacy is considered necessary to the equality and peace of
the Theban men, the armies, since Antogone’s brothers killed one another in rivalry. Our world has not
parted much from this masculine conception of peace (Antogone serves the laws of the Gods – not
The tyranny in the South is not that of individual owners, but a tacit (unspoken) fusion of slave owners
into “white supremacy”. There is no need for a written document or an oath. Yet we fathom it to exist
as we follow Jacob’s meticulous chronicle of Dr. Flint’s preposterous courtship. Mimesis, the striving for
recognition by the group, that his authority and power as a man be unbroken. When we look at the
travesty of proposals by which Dr. Flint attempts to succeed in his seduction, we get a sense how much
mimesis requires her subjection.
Questioning Race and Gender Performance.
I do not recall with certainty, whether or not Judith Butler included “race”, “diaspora”, or “mestiza”
contexts in her analysis of gender. If this omission is indeed true, than I regret and prefer to correct this
limitation. This limitation consists a readership not reflected in her writing. Harriet Jacob describes a
rupture between European and Anglo-American traditions, especially those in which men are
represented as protectors of what is weak, for example women who historically do not bear arms. In