Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

English and American Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Building on whiteness scholars’ notion that whiteness can be gained, my dissertation argues that a property in whiteness, and its attendant privileges, can be lost. By examining representations of interracial marriage in American literature between 1830 and 1905, I identify marriage across the color line as one of the primary modes through which white men can lose their privilege. Interracial marriage violates what I term the marriage contract, a tri-party agreement between man, woman, and nation that guaranteed democratic rights to white men and privileges to their dependents in return for white-white marriage. Men who violated this contract by marrying exogamously suffered the loss of their property in whiteness. Literary depictions of interracial marriage occur most frequently within a genre of fiction critics have termed “tragic mulatta” plots. While these plots have served as important sites for exploring black femininity in the nineteenth century, I call attention to the presence of the white male characters, or white suitors, who court the mulattas and play key roles in making the narrative tragedy possible. The white suitor faces his own tragedy as his involvement with a black lover leads to his identity crisis and subsequent loss of privilege. Antebellum and postbellum, black and white, egalitarian and racist authors alike shared an interest in how interracial marriage affects white masculinity. I conclude that this topic interested authors during the nineteenth century because the white suitor and his tragedy provided a proxy through which to contemplate the nation’s own identity crisis as it approached, survived, and recovered from a civil war that questioned the United States’ self-identification as “a white man’s country.”


English (en)

Chair and Committee

RafiaM Zafar

Committee Members

Heidi Ardizzone, William Maxwell, Vivian Pollak, Abram Van Engen


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