The man's a man if he is black: Conrad, modernism, and race (Again)

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Issue Date
2021-06
Authors
Boynton, T. J.
Advisor
Citation

Boynton, T. J. (2021). The man's a man if he is black: Conrad, modernism, and race (again). Journal of Modern Literature, 44(4), 73-91. doi:10.2979/JMODELITE.44.4.05

Abstract

Joseph Conrad's The Nigger of the "Narcissus" has played a major role in discussions of modernism's relationship to both race and colonialism, but two of its racial/colonial aspects have gone under-remarked. First, the novel's title character, James Wait, embodies the emergent, fin-de-siecle phenomenon of Black Britishness brought about through colonial immigration. The text's aesthetic stems from the disturbances this phenomenon created amid the traditional, White, seafaring practices of the British merchant marine. Second, the novel's representation of this Black-White dynamic is tied to an additional, third racial category: that of Irishness. The novel's lone Irish character, nicknamed "Belfast," proves central to its portrait of James Wait's revolutionary significance, which equates the egalitarian mindset of an emergent, multicultural Britain to the "sentimental" features of the Irish Celt as defined by Matthew Arnold. Attention to these aspects sheds new light on the novel's modernism, its racial/colonial perspectives, and on larger discussions in Conrad and modernist studies.

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