On native ground: Transnationalism, Frederick Douglass, and "the heroic slave"

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Abstract

Beginning with a reconsideration of the symbolic ending of "The Heroic Slave," where Madison Washington and his compatriots find themselves in the Bahamas and not the United States, this article works through Frederick Douglass's understanding of national affiliation. Taking two specific problems in his imagination - the rhetoric of democracy and transnationalism - I reassess the concept of national affiliation for African Americans when political citizenship is denied. Through its protagonist, Washington, who is thoroughly versed in the vocabulary of United States nationalism, "The Heroic Slave" discloses the incongruence between the rhetoric of nationalism and its materialization as a failure of democratic enactment. The text also intimates Douglass's increasing recognition of transnationalism as an affective system of imagined belonging based on either a shared belief (in democracy) or racial contingency. By deterritorializing cultural belonging, "The Heroic Slave" depicts the liminal position of African Americans, suspended between the nation-state and the black diaspora. (IGW)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-468+607-608
JournalPMLA
Volume121
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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