Author: Bibler, Michael P
Date published: April 1, 2011
Journal code: PPQU
OVER THE PAST FEW DECADES, critics, historians, and legal scholars have largely treated the struggles for racial equality and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights as parallel and rather distinct political movements. Needless to say, imagining queer rights and civil rights as similar, but not always interconnected issues has its problems. For example, queer activists have found that making "like race" arguments can sometimes prove useful in legal trials; yet these arguments carry serious limitations. "Like race" arguments posit that sexual minorities are equivalent to racial minorities as subordinated social groups. And queers who make this analogy often cite the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s as legal precedent for the expansion of rights and protections. But many scholars have usefully critiqued this "like race" rhetoric, starting with the basic question: if queers are "like" African Americans in the public sphere, where does that leave queer African Americans?1 This strategy of distinguishing sexual rights from the rights of racial minorities also creates a problematic historical blindness to the mutual origins of racial and sexual categories in the United States. As Siobhan Somerville has shown, efforts "to shore up and bifurcate categories of race and sexuality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were deeply intertwined." Any study of identity in the U.S. must therefore abandon the notion that the discourses of race and sexuality constitute "separate strands" in American culture.2 This essay addresses a corollary problem in how scholars have understood the history of queer involvement, particularly the involvement of queer white southerners, in the fight for racial equality. Although southern queer activists like Mab Segrest have explained the fundamental connections between, in her case, her lesbianism and her antiracism, "like race" modes of thought continue to influence scholarly assumptions that most queer white liberals, particularly in the early twentieth century, have spoken out for racial justice largely because they could not speak publicly about their own marginalized status as sexual outsiders.3 However, this essay shows that in the literature and culture of the modernist period before World War II, civil rights did not simply stand in as a surrogate for, or sublimation of, the wishes of queer whites for sexual freedom. Rather, queer white writers imagined queer desires to be inextricably bound with antiracism in subtle and provocative ways. And perhaps nowhere is this complex entanglement of queer white liberalism more apparent than in the work of Murrell Edmunds, a writer who is now almost completely forgotten.4
Few Southern writers of the twentieth century can claim a career as strange as Edmunds. Born in 1898 to an old, aristocratic family in Halifax, Virginia, he published sixteen books before his death in 1981: three short story collections, three books of poetry, one play, and nine novels and novellas. That he was able to publish as much as he did is noteworthy enough, and there were career highlights: he won Arizona Quarterly s poetry prize in 1963, and his fourth novel, Times Laughter in Their Ears (1946), was translated into Danish. Yet none of Edmundss books sold well or has ever been reprinted or anthologized; and his name is virtually nonexistent in the pages of literary history and criticism. When I call Edmundss career "strange," however, I dont mean that its necessarily surprising or exceptional that he has been so thoroughly forgotten. Rather, I want to understand Edmundss life and work in the fullest sense of that term. In addition to unfamiliarity, strange denotes alienation, separation, and foreignness in relation to geographic place, as well as other kinds of disaffection - cultural, familial, emotional. We retain these meanings in the word estranged, which we use to describe someone who has been marked as alien where he or she wasn't considered alien before. Reading Edmunds in terms of strangeness and estrangement helps clarify and explain his exceedingly marginal relationship to Southern and modernist literary canons, as well as his creative and philosophical engagement with the regional culture in which he lived and wrote.
Edmunds consistently used his writing to criticize and challenge the racist white establishment into which he was born as a member of the Southern elite. Also, from what I can tell, his emotional and erotic preferences were oriented toward other men.5 I want to use this essay to think through the ways that his apparent status as a sexual outsider seems to have shaped his profound liberalism and unflagging devotion to civil rights and racial equality. I start with a brief discussion of Edmundss biography (what I know of it) and the literary-historical contexts in which he was writing. I then explore the sociological models of desire and class that circulated during the first half of the twentieth century to show how they illuminate Edmundss representations of sexuality, race, and liberal politics in two novels: Times Laughter in Their Ears and Sojourn among Shadows (1936). Sojourn offers a convoluted, yet still forthright, consideration of homosexual desire and identity, but says little about race and class. Times Laughter tells the story of an educated black man who is lynched for trying to organize a union of apple pickers in his hometown; yet it lacks any direct mention of same-sex desire. Read together, however, these novels demonstrate Edmundss unique portrayal of perverse sexuality as a queer force that turns alienation - so often considered a core element of modernist experience - into what I am calling a usable affect. More than just a feeling of isolation produced by the anomie of modern life, alienation in Edmundss work is typically a byproduct of oppressive social structures that categorize and exclude some individuals as undesirables or outsiders. And these feelings of estrangement foster an emotional, affective relation with other alienated and oppressed people. Following the pattern Ann Cvetkovich describes, these affects are "felt experiences that can be mobilized in a range of directions, including the construction of cultures and publics."6 Edmunds does not portray the full development of an organized counterpublic, but he does suggest that this alienation can be used to build an informed opposition on behalf of all estranged people against the forces of oppression. More specifically, in both texts, Edmunds situates cross-class contact between men as the source of his characters' estrangement from society. This process of queer estrangement ruptures the coherency of their identities and opens a channel for recognizing the incompleteness of all identity categories in defining any individual. These characters' felt experiences of alienation thus impel them to make a liberal critique of the multiple, interlocking forms of oppression - racial, class, and sexual oppression - by revealing the "coercive" mechanisms of categorization and exclusion, to borrow Scott Romines words, through which the dominant white community maintained its "cohesiveness" and power in the Jim Crow South.7 These figurations of queerness, alienation, and identity thus provide new insights into the political, cultural, and sexual dimensions of Southern modernism, and they make Edmundss work a prime site for exploring the ideological connections between queerness and white liberalism in the South and the nation.
Edmundss apparent homosexuality and radical critique of the Southern establishment make him an obvious parallel to that more prominent southern liberal of his generation, Lillian Smith. From the 1930s to her death in 1966, Smith wrote numerous essays attacking racial segregation and chiding other white liberals for their more moderate positions on civil rights. With her partner, Paula Snelling, she published magazines that provided a space for liberal discussion; she traveled across the South "preaching the cause of civil rights," as Fred Hobson writes; and she joined several high-profile civil rights organizations.8 In 1944, her novel Strange Fruit gained widespread notoriety when, among other things, it was banned in Boston for profanity. While Smiths career was very public, however, Edmundss was extremely private. As was fairly typical for a man of his status at the time, he was well educated and worked as a lawyer and judge in Virginia. But in 1926 he quit his law practice and moved to New Orleans to devote himself to writing books "carefully attuned," as he described it, "to history's evolving mandate: the gradual relaxation of old patterns and tensions and a forthright new articulation of the eternal Brotherhood of Man."9 Although he stayed in touch with his family, his decision to change careers and move to a city famed for its relative openness amounts to a voluntary estrangement from his kin and their conservative social milieu - a move motivated primarily, it seems, by his liberal politics. (What role his sexuality played in his decision I can only speculate.) In his writing, he openly attacked segregation, lynching, exploitation of Southern industrial and agricultural workers, sexual violence against black and white women, and proscriptions against interracial love and marriage. As I will discuss, his work in the 1940s explicitly condemns what he saw as industrial profiteering during World War II and the national hypocrisy of fighting fascism abroad while maintaining homegrown forms of fascism in the Jim Crow South. Yet, unlike Smith, Edmunds apparently never joined any civil rights organizations or made any public effort to spread his political views beyond his creative work. In an interview about the 1977 publication of his last novel, Reservoir, Edmunds confessed, "You can call me a philosophical revolutionary. Fd be a real revolutionary, but my nervous system would not be able to manage it."10 I take him at his word on this. In New Orleans he worked mainly in low-key jobs, such as a shoe salesman, an office clerk, and a basketball coach; and around 1960 he spent time in a sanitorium for a nervous breakdown. Mental and physical illness also figure prominently in his writing, so it may be that he simply didn't feel he had the constitution for a life of public activism.
Another difference between Edmunds and Smith is his greater attention to labor and class. As Hobson notes, Smith "took notice of class ... in her description of southern history," but she did not deal as thoroughly with labor issues as southern proletarian writers like Fielding Burke (Olive Tilford Dargan), Grace Lumpkin, or Myra Page.11 Many of Edmundss works focus on white characters from privileged class positions who ultimately side with southern workers, black and white, on issues of fairness and equality. Efforts to unionize and strike are central to Times Laughter in Their Ears and to many of his short stories, especially those collected in Red, White, and Black (1945). His third novel, Between the Devil (1939), centers on the buildup to a strike at a textile mill and deserves to be studied alongside the novels about the Gastonia, NC, textile strikes by Dargan, Lumpkin, Page, and Sherwood Anderson.12 In the 1960s and 1970s, when Edmunds turned his pen to issues of integration, interracial love, and black militancy, he continued to foreground the deep interconnectedness of racial and class oppression in the South. Edmunds s work brings an edge of proletarian radicalism to what Thomas Haddox calls "the white civil rights novel," expanding the canon of liberal white southern writing in significant ways.13
Edmundss apparent homosexuality also opens new terrain for studying queer desires and identities in the early twentieth -century South, particularly in Sojourn among Shadows , his second novel. Dorothea Kingslaid, who reviewed the book for the New York Times, observed what she called the novels "nebulous" portrayal of homosexuality and compared the text to Radclyife Halls The Well of Loneliness (1928) and Gale Wilhelms We Too Are Drifting (1935). H We could also put the text in dialogue with other Southern works that deal with same-sex desires and identities, all of them slightly later than Sojourn, including Truman Capotes Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), Thomas Hal Phillipss The Bitterweed Path (1950), and William Goyens The House of Breath (1950). Because of her explicit liberalism, an especially useful comparison is, again, Smiths portrayals of southern sexualities in her memoir, Killers of the Dream (1949), and in Strange Fruit, which I will discuss later in this essay. To make sense of Edmundss writing on its own terms, however, it is important to read Sojourn and Times Laughter within their immediate historical contexts. Rather than begin with a direct comparison to these other queer Southern novels, I examine Edmundss portrayal of same-sex, cross-class contact in relation to modernist sociological theories of desire and mobility and other notions of social deviance articulated in the early twentieth century. This cultural reading of Edmundss fiction reveals the "revolutionary" nature of his liberal politics and brings into sharper focus the interrelated structures of liberalism and queerness in the modern South.
Sojourn among Shadows starts with a scene of cruising. As the young narrator sits in a park, an older man approaches him and tries to get his attention, even putting his hand "gently on my sleeve."15 When the narrator confronts him, the scenes gay subtext becomes more apparent: "I turned toward him angrily. I expected to see one of those smug, smartly clad youngsters one encounters in public parks, and I was prepared to lash him severely with my tongue. But this man wore rags and appeared to be neither young nor old - he managed somehow to be an ageless person" (SS, 13-14). The narrator is evidently used to being approached by "smartly clad youngsters," perhaps evocative of the gay dandy stereotype, and he is prepared to repel their solicitations (although the "tongue lashing" he is ready to give already suggests something more ambiguous about his sexuality). However, the shock of this queerly "ageless" older man catches the narrator off guard and makes it easier for the older man to insinuate himself into the narrators company, forging an intimacy between them that grows over the course of several more meetings. It turns out that the older man is not exactly trying to seduce the narrator (nothing significantly homoerotic occurs between them), so much as hoping for someone to whom he can tell his life story. And once he begins telling this story (starting in chapter 2), it takes up the rest of the novel. Given the books title, it is tempting to read this as a slumming narrative, a genre in which a narrator reveals the lurid "secrets" of a particular social underclass and, in doing so, reifies the identity categories that separate that underclass from the spectators/readers.16 However, this novel lacks the sensationalism usually associated with the slumming genre, and this narrator (the young man) is ultimately brought into a greater intimacy with the older stranger instead of having the differences between them reaffirmed. It is also tempting to read the story as a prototypical coming-out narrative, for it recounts - albeit in a very oblique way - the older mans initiation into a life of sexual perversity during his late adolescence. But where coming-out stories tend to focus on validating their speakers' newly discovered queer identities, this novels conclusion suggests a slightly different purpose, for it turns the focus back onto the younger man who is listening to the story, as I will discuss. This shift of focus onto the narrators response allows Edmunds to raise questions about the treatment of those who are different and less fortunate within society, thus revealing how he uses narratives of social mobility and same-sex intimacy elsewhere in his writing to push his readers toward a liberal point of view. Because Edmunds does not give names to either the older man or the younger man in Sojourn, I will refer to the former as "the speaker" (because he is telling the story to the younger man) and the latter as "the narrator" (because he is telling the story to us).
The speakers story begins with the death of his beloved mother when he is sixteen or seventeen years old. His father is a hypocritical traveling evangelist who is openly involved in an adulterous affair with his female assistant. Despite their mutual dislike, the father takes the young speaker on the road with him after the mothers death. But the speaker is soon rescued by his maternal uncle, Tom, whom the father describes as a "degenerate" and "disgraceful and dangerous person" (SS, 55). At a climactic moment when the speaker feels most abject under his father's religious exhortations, Tom, who is more nurturing than dangerous, pulls the speaker out of the revival meeting and takes him on a long trek to find safe haven, which they eventually find in the home of an elderly couple in the countryside. Living with this couple is their grandson, David, who turns out to be Toms lover whenever Tom is not tramping around by himself. At one point, while Tom is away, David creeps into the speakers bedroom while he is asleep and touches the speakers face in a manner that implies sexual molestation: "Suddenly, I felt a cold hand touching my cheek softly. The thought occurred to my horrified brain instantly that David had come to do me harm. A picture of his angry eyes as he looked at me at the supper table recurred to me to add to my fears. Now his hand was moving slowly, gently over my face. My terror increased. It was impossible for me to remain silent longer. I rustled the covers uneasily and sighed deeply as if I were about to awaken." At this point, David rushes from the room. But he repeats this unsettling act "on a half dozen occasions" (SS, 129-30, 133) over the next few months until the speaker finally gets a chance to tell Tom about it while they are walking through the woods. However, it turns out that David has been following them, and when he overhears this revelation he tries to attack the speaker. Tom jumps to the speakers rescue just in time, and he and David go tumbling offa mountain cliff to their deaths.
The two scholars who have commented on this novel have not offered any useful criticism. Roger Austen laments, "It is difficult to determine what the theme is"; while James Levin writes, "Sensible comment on Edmunds [sic] ideas is impossible because they are buried in the confused text." The only way Levin can make sense of the novel is to group it with "the already formidable list" of texts in which "homosexually oriented men" either commit suicide or are killed.17 But Levins conclusion misses the fact that David and Tom do not die for the same reasons: David seems to fit the stereotype of the jealous and amoral queer lover whose death is a punishment, yet his lover, Tom, dies in the heroic act of protecting his nephew. Moreover, Levin ignores the ambiguous queerness of the narrator and of the speaker, who runs away at the novels end but does not die. The queer desires and identities in this text do not precisely fit the patterns of conventional gay narratives and thus demand further explication. Part of the novels complexity stems from what appears to be a willful indirectness that avoids dealing with homosexuality in the most explicit terms. However, for all its cryptic vagueness, Sojourn is not a closeted text that speaks only in code. The signifiers of queerness, of gayness, are readily apparent from the outset.
The speaker is a grotesque figure with a "husky, masculine voice," a head that "was much too large," a "flabby" and "elfish face," and "a variable expression about his eyes, a slow eagerness, an anxious and furtive good will, a suggestion of pain without bitterness." The indeterminate and "unwholesome" nature of his appearance (SS, 13-15) reminds the narrator of a couplet from Yeatss "A Poet to His Beloved": "White woman whom passion has worn / As the tide wears the dove-grey sands."18 But, immediately after quoting these lines about a woman, the narrator quickly reminds us of the speaker's masculinity: "Not that he reminded me of a woman. Not at all! But it seemed that passion . . . had insinuated itself about his spirit until at last he was tired out" (SS, 17). The speakers "elfish" grotesqueness and the "worn" condition caused by his (erotic?) "passion" queer his identity by placing him somewhere between masculinity and femininity, manliness and effeminacy. David is even more androgynous: "The man in the doorway was not like a man at all. His body was as small and slim and graceful as a girls, and unconsciously, as he became aware of our close scrutiny, he blushed and assumed the coquettish airs of an embarrassed woman" (SS, 108). Described as a "strange new person, neither man nor woman" (SS, 123), David exhibits a mix of gender characteristics associated with the intermediate "third sex" of the sexual invert in sexological discourses of this period - the man who desires other men because of his innate femininity.19 Finally, Tom represents a more masculine homosexual type associated with the tramps and hoboes of the Great Depression. We know his relationship to David is sexual because he is the only one who can "control" Davids impulsive behavior (SS, 124). Also, during his travels with the speaker he fends off the advances of an adulterous woman and becomes embarrassed when she accuses that there must be something "wrong" with him (SS, 80). His desirability as a heterosexual love object and his mastery over David index his relative masculinity, while his embarrassment in front of the woman confirms his homosexuality.
That Davids sexual inversion differs from the speakers ambiguity and Toms queer masculinity shows that Edmunds seeks to highlight the variability of queer sexual and gender expression in this novel. And yet, while not all gay men here are pathological inverts, the speaker suggests that some men are still more likely than others to possess and act on homosexual desires. He makes this suggestion in a heavily symbolic passage about a toy factory in which he used to work: "In the room in which I was employed with a number of persons were two machines used for the construction of toys. One of these machines was so designed that it could make small wooden figures resembling human beings; some of the figures even had wings and halos and such things, like angels. The other machine could make only strange, ugly, little wooden animals" (SS, 43). The speaker fixates on these strange wooden animals until he begins "to regard them as human" and discovers in them "a great truth": "They taught me what a terrible thing life is. . . . I put in a piece of wood, operated the machine, and a pig was born. And my fellow worker put in a piece of wood exactly like mine, operated his machine, and an angel was born. . . . The pig couldn't help being a pig. The angel was compelled to be an angel. It all depended on the machine and the man who operated it" (SS, 43-45). The speaker identifies himself as a certain kind of misfit who, through no fault other than birth, happens to differ slightly from other men, the way a single piece of wood might be molded into an angel or a pig. This notion of masculine difference helps explain the speakers susceptibility to David's prédation later in the novel. I say the speaker is susceptible, rather than vulnerable, because he is more than just an object of Davids abuse. Rather, the abuse initiates the speaker into his own life of queerness by transferring Davids perversions into the speakers body. Indeed, the speakers "deep sighs" during Davids first nighttime visit reveal how his fear of molestation also potentially translates into a perverse pleasure. The speakers intimacy with the homosexuals David and Tom sets him on an identical path of sexual perversity in which his own desires for men coalesce to form the core of his identity. Thus, rather than making an essentialist argument that all gay men are born that way, the symbolism of the toys suggests that some men are simply more likely to become homosexuals if they are exposed to other gay men. This idea makes sense when we consider how sociological discourses of this period treated perverse desire as a transitory force that can spread from one person to another.
As social changes in the early twentieth century increased contact between people of different classes, theorists in a number of fields conflated social mobility with the dangerous potential of erotic desire to exceed and transgress physical and social boundaries. Michael Trask explains: "From eugenics to economics, from sociology to literary criticism, excessive erotic desire became synonymous with the risks of dislocation and commingling that imperiled the imagined community of the national culture." These discourses singled out various "class outsiders" (including vagrants and prostitutes) as significant threats to the social order not just because they were ungovernable bodies, but also because their social promiscuity, their intimate contact with people not of the same class, could destabilize the boundaries of difference and seduce class "insiders" into the domain of ungovernability. Many thinkers during this period thus imagined an epidemic model of perversion, as Trask makes clear: "The frequent recurrence of perversion in socio-scientific texts as the name for any number of irregular social relations suggests that perversity rather than perverts per se, is the topic of most enthusiastic interest to both sexology and the social theorists who have adopted its precepts. Perversion turns out to be epidemic in such a way and to such a degree that anyone might be infected by it regardless of sexual identity or essence."20
Moreover, in the unsettled period of the Great Depression and World War II, when Edmunds wrote these two novels, this anxiety about the epidemiology of perversion dominated U.S. culture, especially regarding the crisis of homelessness and vagrancy. Many sociologists, government officials, and even producers of hobo folk culture believed that vagrants and hoboes were especially likely to engage in homosexual behavior, and thus to succumb completely to a life of sexual perversion, because of their seemingly staunch devotion to a life of transiency shared with other men. As Todd DePastino notes, "By refusing to domesticate their sexuality, hoboes justified middle-class fears about homeless mens lack of sexual restraint." This imagined sexual threat was not oriented toward young women, of course, but rather toward young men, or "punks," whom an older hobo, or "jocker," might corrupt and initiate into a life of transiency and perversion. Indeed, New Deal reformers became so anxious about the potential spread of homosexuality that they began implementing "military- style" relief camps to "shield boys from such perversions and loosen the grip of hobohemia on the new homeless." Yet, as Margot Canaday reveals, these camps were never completely successful in keeping out homosexual behavior.21
Amidst this pervasive association between transient men and transient homosexual desires, it makes sense that both Tom and the speaker are vagrants, and that David experiences his own wanderlust. Prior to the young speakers arrival at Davids grandparents' house, David "frequently absent [ed] himself for days at a time without a word of explanation as to where he had spent the time" and eventually brought Tom "home with him after one of his long absences" (SS, 124). Despite the speakers dislike for David, he and David also begin taking long walks together both with and without Tom. The speakers adulterous father practices his own form of perversion while on the road as a traveling evangelist. And even the narrator appears to spend a great deal of time walking through the park (cruising?) and then walking with the speaker. Moreover, this conjunction between transiency and perversion explains Edmundss refusal to differentiate speaker and narrator by giving them names - a stylistic choice that represents something more than modernist experimentation with form. The speaker begins his story by saying, "Do not suppose . . . that this is the story of my life. It is not. ... I shall use the first person because it will be easier to tell that way. I am going to tell you these things as if they had all happened to me. But it is not my story. No, indeed" (SS, 22). As the narrative progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to tell who is who, perhaps explaining Austens and Levins confusion in their brief comments on the novel. Is the speaker actually Tom? Is he David? Are the narrator and the speaker ultimately the same person engaged in a conversation like two halves of a split subjectivity? Frustrating as this confusion sometimes is when reading the novel, it is deliberate, as the narrators assessment of the speakers story suggests: "this story assumed the proportions of a dark nightmare, a weird Shadow-Play, wherein the actors (everyone [sic] of them) were . . . forced . . . to lose their identity as men, and to become outcasts and pariahs" (SS, 25). As David, Tom, and the speaker all "lose their identity" and become the same kind of "outcast," the novels experimental style performs the breakdown of individuality that occurs when perversion travels from one person to another. The lack of clear separation between these transient men highlights the transience of desire and the mutability of identity.
There is a strong Freudian dimension to this novel that would merit further consideration, particularly the speakers emotional relationships with his mother, father, and uncle. But I offer this more sociological analysis because I think it best illuminates the connections between homosexuality, alienation, and liberalism both in this text and in Edmundss other works. Indeed, the novels liberal politics become most apparent as the story of the speaker's queer initiation, of initiation into a life of sexual perversion, emphasizes the experience of social alienation produced by queerness. As "outcasts and pariahs," none of these queer, transient men hold fixed positions within society. And when the speaker describes his fascination with the misfit toys in the factory, for example, he explains how his difference sets him apart from his coworkers: "when I tried to confide in them, they laughed, and told me I was crazy" (SS, 44). Later, he explains how Davids grandparents become alienated from their rural society simply for taking in their invert grandson: "The same dark shadow which infested his life had been cast over theirs, also. They did not even understand what was happening to them. Their friends, whom they loved, superstitious, religious country people, had come as of old at first, but seeing this strange new person, neither man nor woman, and watching with their dull eyes his peculiar behavior, they went away and did not return again" (SS, 123). Although the grandparents do not also become sexually perverse, they still become stigmatized by their proximity to, and tolerance of, their grandsons queerness. And this alienation of even a heterosexual couple highlights the injustices of this and any homophobic society22
Edmundss larger lesson about alienation and justice comes in the novels last pages when the speaker finishes his story and asks for the narrators reaction. After describing how Tom and David fell over the cliff, he explains that he felt as though "Uncle Tom had me by the head and was pulling me into that dark, empty chasm with him and David" (SS, 141). This reflexive turn back to himself suggests that he is more interested in explaining the formation of his own queer identity than in explaining his involvement in the tragic death of his uncle. As a revelation of the speakers queer identity, the story resembles a coming-out narrative, except that Edmunds also wants to foreground the mobility of perversion itself over and above questions of identity. The speaker's last words describe not only the fact of his queerness, but also the process by which he was made queer - how he was figuratively pulled into the symbolic "empty chasm" of perversion by his associations with Tom and David. And when he asks the narrator, "Do you know what I am talking about?" he thus forces the narrator into his own reflexive position in which he must consider the meaning of his own intimacy with the speaker. The narrators first response to this question is to lash out with hatred: "The bitter, unkind words rushed out of my mouth. The instant they were spoken I regretted them. For a moment they lingered in the air between us, as if gathering themselves in order for the attack, and then one by one they seemed to strike against him. I could see him tremble violently at each blow like a tree quivering under the axes impact" (SS, 143). This attack mirrors the condemnations of sexual perversion that the speakers father makes during his sermons (SS, 58), underscoring the narrators lapse into the intolerant and exclusionary mind-set of mainstream, homophobic society. And yet, the narrator regrets his cruelty almost immediately. He sees how his attack simply repeats the intolerance and hatred that have already made the speaker an outcast - how he is kicking the speaker when he is already down - and he feels ashamed. On this level, the narrator acts out the unkindness and intolerance that any prejudiced readers might bring to the novel, thus offering an example of what those readers should try not to do.
On another level, the extremity of the narrators reaction represents what we would now call homosexual panic, for his anger stems from his "unreasonable feeling that [the speaker] has insulted me and owed me an apology" (SS, 144). He treats the story as if it were about him more than about the speaker, and he responds irrationally: "I was tremendously embarrassed. The theme of his story shocked me terribly I felt a deep, unreasoning rage forming in my heart. This man had no right to force himself and his tortured, erotic dreams on me. I had not invited him to share his confidences with me. I did not want to know about the shadows that flitted through his brain" (SS, 142). This story about the speakers initiation into a life of perversity creates an epistemological crisis for the narrator, unsettling his sense of his own identity, his own sexuality. The speakers "tortured, erotic dreams" become the narrators through the "confidences" they have shared. Hence, there is something more threatening in the question "Do you know what I am talking about?" The speaker is asking the narrator not just if he has discerned the tales queer subject matter, but also whether he "knows" that queer subject for himself. Through their conversation, much like the speakers intimacy with David and Tom, the speaker becomes the catalyst for the narrators initiation into perversity, and the possibility of identifying with the speaker terrifies him. In fact, the extremity of his panic is an overstated denial of what he apparently fears may actually be true. The story is "insulting" because it threatens to name the narrator as a queer figure of masculine difference exactly like the speaker (and in the manner of the woodcut animals).23
This epistemological crisis has the effect of alienating the narrator from himself and society. As his guilt rises, he begins to doubt himself further: "It was the cruelest thing I had ever done in my life. I opened my mouth to apologize, to ask for his forgiveness, but the sight of him standing there, so small, so entirely alone, like a dark shadow between me and the setting sun, rendered me speechless" (SS, 143). The speaker becomes one of the many eponymous "shadows" in this book, cutting off the narrator from the rest of the world, figured in the setting sun, and giving the narrator clear recognition of his own cruelty. Although he gives voice to homophobia, the narrators intimacy with the speaker forces him not just to see, but also to feel the injustice of his homophobia, thereby bringing him into the same marginalized subject position as the queer outcast. The speaker's perversity has now become the narrators, and in his speechlessness the narrator experiences the speakers isolation. This new feeling of estrangement thus gives the narrator a stronger sense of his affective relation to other people who are alienated or excluded because they differ from the social norms, shifting him to a more liberal mind-set that rejects those norms - a mind-set indicated by his intense guilt. Alienation separates individuals from society, yet here it also creates a bond between the self and others who are equally estranged. In this way, the narrators reaction is more than just a didactic model to steer Edmundss readers to the correct response to the novels queer subject. It is also a demonstration of how understanding and sympathizing with the perverse figure would ideally initiate the reader into Edmunds s brand of liberalism by strengthening the affective bonds between reader, narrator, and speaker, all of whom remain unnamed and indistinct. As cross-class contact with Tom and David changes the speaker, cross-class contact with the speaker changes the narrator; and, by implication, this cross-class contact facilitated through the novel attempts to change the reader as well. (That being said, we should not lose sight of Edmundss idealism here. That he might have intended the book to change readers' attitudes about homosexuality does not mean he succeeded. Indeed, his failure throughout his career sadly reveals that he did not.)
Although the novel mainly deals with issues of homosexual perversity, its stubborn diffuseness opens up a broader liberal agenda devoted to more than just issues of sexual otherness. The novel underscores this greater possibility where the speaker describes Toms participation in a circus sideshow:
Once during his youth, he had traveled with a carnival in the capacity of the "nigger baby" at whose blackened and padded head customers . . . were privileged to throw three balls, with the promise of a cigar if they succeeded in striking the mark each time. . . . Behind the thick canvas curtain, his head protruding through a large hole, he had felt himself to be a great man, and from this vantage point, he had hurled invective and encouragement alike at those who sought to strike his shifting, moving head. It was a rare opportunity, and one of which Uncle Tom, jumping and dodging and grinning, availed himself fully. (SS, 49-50)
Conflating race, age, sexuality, and even gender, the "nigger baby" is a poignant concentration of the multiple forms of difference that anchor the social superiority of the "privileged" and implicitly white audience members. Tom is an abject figure of alienation at whom the audience hurls balls in much the same way that the narrator hurls the insults that "one by one . . . seemed to strike against" the speaker at the novels end. But Toms "vantage point" from this alienated position gives him a unique power, for he takes perverse pride in his abjected identity as an outcast and "hurls" back at the crowd the same kind of "invective" that they hurl at him. As Thomas Fahy argues, spectacles of physical disability and exaggerated racial and sexual difference in early twentieth-century sideshows "represented what the audience was not" and thus "reaffirmed the cultural superiority of the onlooker." No form of difference was exempt from display. Freak shows mobilized discourses of queer sexuality as well as racial, national, and physical difference, aiding the process by which "homosexuality and/or bisexuality" became marked as "freakish" by the 1940s. Furthermore, as in Toms example, the shows often blurred the boundaries between these differences by combining these exhibits on the same stage, sometimes within the same act. Through these spectacles, the shows established "a clear, comfortable distance between audience and spectacle" that would "contain" the difference on display.24 However, as Tom insults his audience and encourages them to strike him, he breaks down this distance between spectacle and onlooker and defies the comfort and containment that the freak show is meant to convey.
Tom uses his "rare opportunity" at the sideshow to voice a direct challenge to the social processes of estrangement and oppression. Symbolizing Edmunds s own aims as a writer, he turns his affective experience of alienation into something useful: a force of resistance hurled back at the establishment. The fact that Tom performs this resistance in blackface is crucial. Edmunds suggests that Toms homosexuality gives him a "vantage point" that helps him understand the systems of injustice that affect all people marked as different and marginal, including African Americans. Thus, Edmundss point, I think, is not that homosexuality is simply like race because of its similar marginality, but that any form of social estrangement exposes the arbitrariness of all categories of difference. That is, homosexuality and blackness are more than just comparable entities because the common alienation felt by both groups reveals how all differences are restrictive constructs used to reinforce social power. However, taking up the arguments of Mason Stokes, I do not mean that Toms queerness provides "a way out of whiteness" simply because it mobilizes a "collective renunciation" of the privilege secured through whitenesss structural affiliation with heterosexuality.25 As much as Tom might seem to embody a codified queer identity, his queerness does not magically transport him outside the racist, homophobic social structures in which his queerness obtains meaning; he is not a symbol of some postracial, postheterosexual utopia. Although Toms behavior almost causes a "riot" on several occasions (SS, 51), the carnival goers never stop lining up to throw balls at him. Rather, the liberal dimension of his queerness is best understood in terms of the act of queering he commits through his invective. His queerness is a force of continual disruption that unsettles the self-righteous stability of racial, sexual, and class privilege by confronting his spectators with the cruel injustices on which their privilege depends.26 The abuse that Tom hurls back at his audience thus implicitly defends the humanity of both queers and blacks in the South, as well as other disenfranchised people, and the novel suggests that any liberal resistance to the regimes of homophobic conformity must also oppose racist conformity. While the text attempts to initiate its readers into a perversely liberal mindset about sexuality, it simultaneously blurs the boundaries between all forms of social difference and makes a much wider appeal for change. Just like Tom, the speaker, and the narrator, if Edmunds s readers can know and feel the alienation and estrangement produced by social inequalities, they can also transform that feeling of alienation into a usable affect and begin launching their own invective against the unjust society in which they live.
LYNCHING AND FASCISM
Times Laughter in Their Ears is almost the inverse of Sojourn among Shadows, offering realist characterizations and descriptions as well as a clear, linear plotline. Sexuality, though still crucial to the subtext, initially seems a much smaller issue than racial justice. Yet the novel still presents crossclass contact between men as a device that queerly alienates the protagonist from the white establishment of his Virginia hometown and enlists his sympathies (and ideally the readers) against racism and fascism during World War II. Set in 1942, the story revolves around the young adolescent Bobby Barnes as he finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between the white owners of the local mill and apple orchard (one is also a Congressman) and an educated black man named Charlie, who has just returned home from college and is trying to organize the workers to fight for better wages. Siding with the white establishment is Bobbys father, Bert, a history professor whose most recent book argued "that slavery had been a good thing" - perhaps a pointed reference to the conservative Southern Agrarians based at Vanderbilt University.27 Supporting Charlie on the other side is Bobbys paternal uncle, Bob Henry, who is living with the family as he tries to recover from tuberculosis, and who is actually Bobbys biological father, although Bobby never realizes this during the course of the novel, or else refuses to admit it.28 The white businessmen concoct a plan to eliminate Charlie by having him drafted into the service, and when Charlie tries to challenge the draft notice in court, they whip up public sentiment against him. Charlie becomes increasingly distraught from this harassment, and one day, when Bobby happens to be visiting Charlie, some white boys throw rocks at Charlies house. The attack sends Charlie into an uncontrolled rage, and he retaliates by firing a shotgun "at random" out the window (179). The boys lie that Charlie had been aiming at them, and an angry mob captures Charlie and lynches him in the nearby woods, with Bob Henry desperately trying to stop the lynching and Bobby watching in horror from a distance. Although the ordeal nearly kills Bob Henry because of his illness, he survives, and the novel ends with Bobby now a committed liberal like Charlie and his uncle (and true father).
As a coming- of- age story, the novel charts Bobbys subtle transformation into a liberal-minded adult through close attention to his attitudes toward race. Bobby is never consciously racist, but he has, at the start of the novel, an uncritical sense of social privilege that many white children in the South would surely have grown up with during this period. The novel opens with Bobby rushing through the woods to watch his uncle help with the university's football practice. As he travels alongside the river, his black playmate, Slim, calls to him to join him in some fishing. The scene recalls the idylls of Huckleberry Finn, but Bobby has no time for him and continues on his journey. On the following Saturday, however, Bobby walks over to Slims house on the presumption that Slim will be available to go fishing then, even though he also knows that "Slim probably had a lot of work to do" to help his mother and Charlie, who is Slims brother (33). This turns out to be Bobbys first encounter with Charlie, and the mans presence changes how Bobby relates to the black family: "He had visited this cabin more times than he could remember; he was certainly no newcomer here, but now he felt like a stranger" (38). Starting out with the naïve expectation that his black playmate will always be able to adjust his schedule to suit Bobbys wishes, he gradually intuits that he is actually being selfish, thus rupturing the idealized Twainian iconography of the earlier scene and already creating a feeling of mild alienation. What changes Bobbys view - in addition to seeing the work that Slim must do despite being disabled - is the unfamiliar, kind formality of the "giant" Charlie: "He did not know how to act around a man like Charlie, who was a Negro, but not like any other Negro he had ever seen" (38). Bobby feels awkward and tries to excuse himself, but Charlie again defies Bobbys expectations by magnanimously offering to let Slim go. The gesture is small and offered purely with the intention of letting Slim have some fun, but it reminds Bobby that his relationship with Slim is inherently unbalanced by the privileges of race and class.
Bobbys fledgling awareness about the social differences attached to race grows in a later scene when he spends the weekend with Jack Cutler, the son the Congressman who owns the apple orchard outside of town. At one point Jack takes Bobby to the cabin of Big Joe to hear some music. Like Bobbys first visit to Slims house, this visit is an unannounced imposition that Big Joe does not have the right to refuse, and it happens that Charlie is also there in the cabin. Bobby already feels "foolish and embarrassed" for visiting, and Jack is shocked when Charlie stands to shake Bobbys hand as an equal. Jack then makes the visit more uncomfortable by claiming that Bobby had requested to see Big Joes disabled daughter, Charity, dance for them. Jacks claim surprises Charlie, and Bobby hastily denies it: "he met Charlies eyes and shook his head. Charlie smiled and nodded." Eventually, Big Joe begins playing his guitar, and Charlie begins singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," with Bobby joining in, to the mutual pleasure of both singers. However, Charity stumbles into the room, and Jack begins to goad her into dancing, "shaking himself in a grotesque imitation of a dance." Predictably, Jacks insulting behavior angers Charlie, who carries Charity out of the room. The scene echoes the freak show in Sojourn and demonstrates the racist insensitivity of Jacks privileged mind-set, as he exclaims later: "Heck, I didn't do nothing to her. . . . Gee, I like to watch that little nigger dance. She ought to be proud to have white folks like us ask to see her dance" (78, 81, 83). But Bobby has already recognized that their visit is an intrusion, and he sees in Charlies angry face how Jack has broken the harmonious camaraderie of the song with his reassertion of the blacks' social inferiority. As each encounter causes Bobby to question his relation to the people around him, he increasingly understands the injustice of Charlies constant subordination in this racist society.
The final moment of Bobbys education into antiracist adulthood comes in a last visit to Charlies house near the end of the novel. By this point Mr. Cutler and the other white elites have manipulated the draft board into denying Charlies claim that he is exempt from service because he is the sole caretaker of his mother and Slim. Bobby had overheard Mr. Cutler talking about this plan on the night he stayed at the orchard with Jack, and in this later scene Bob Henry has sent him to deliver a letter to Charlie offering Bobbys help as a witness. It is during this visit that the white boys throw stones at the house and Charlie fires his shotgun out the window. After the commotion ends, Charlie apologizes for inadvertently getting Bobby involved. But Bobby surprises him by saying, "It wasn't your fault. . . . You can't help it if they won't let you alone" (180). The rest of the white townsfolk predictably assume that Charlie had initiated the assault, but Bobby knows that Charlie's constant terrorization has pushed him to this unplanned reaction. And his sympathetic admission to Charlie finally wins him Charlie's complete regard. Charlie and Big Joe invite Bobby to sit with them near the fire, and this intimate moment ends Bobby's feeling of being different from his black companions: "Strangely enough, he did not feel very much afraid any longer. . . . Moreover, both Charlie and Big Joe regarded him with such kind and approving eyes that he knew he had nothing to fear from them, nor from anyone else as long as they were with him (181). Charlie then asks if Bobby will testify about overhearing Mr. Cutler plot this scheme against him, but crucially he leaves Bobby to make the decision on his own, signifying Bobby's final step into manhood. Bobby hesitates, and after a brief moment of "terror" that leaves him "weak," he agrees. Without any compulsion or seduction, Bobbys growing intimacy with Charlie effectively transforms him into a "race traitor" who will abandon all the social expectations of a white man of his class in order to speak up for an African American. His new conviction that Charlie and the other blacks are his equals gives him a new perspective that alienates him from his whiteness and his old sense of self, as exhibited in the strangeness of his own voice as he agrees to help Charlie: "he heard a shrill, unfamiliar sound that came from his own lips" (183-84).
Of course, Bobby does not reach this new liberal mind-set only through his encounters with Charlie. Throughout the novel he overhears Bob Henry enter into numerous arguments - about racial equality, fascism, and economic exploitation - with Bobbys father, his mother, Charlie, and many other characters. And he feels increasingly "lost" and alienated whenever he spends time with a group of white people outside his family, such as when he visits the Cutlers' orchard: "in this strange house, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, he was conscious of an alien atmosphere, as if he alone of them all, had no business to be here" (67). Finally, near the end of the novel, Bobbys sense of estrangement from many of his fellow whites becomes complete when he watches the angry crowd in the town square. As the rumors fly about Charlie and the shotgun, someone in the crowd accidently knocks Bobby off his feet: "His knees were scraped and his face felt hot where the mans elbow had struck him on the cheek, but he was not really hurt. He felt wounded and ashamed inside, as if he had seen a big man set upon and batter a smaller opponent who was defenseless" (194). Like Sojourns narrator when he verbally attacks the defenseless speaker, Bobbys "wound" enables him to feel the suffering of the social outcast, creating an affective relation with the "defenseless" Charlie and, by extension, all African Americans. Indeed, the association between "wounds" and alienation is rife in Times Laughter, such as when Bobbys resolve to testify on Charlies behalf makes him "weak." As Charlies troubles grow, his virile, masculine appearance declines: "Charlie s face was strangely haggard and thin, and his huge body in the dim light seemed to be drooping with weariness" (175). And Bob Henry grows sicker the more he helps Charlie, until he nearly dies from his tuberculosis at the same time that Charlie is lynched. Throughout the novel, the constant struggle against the forces that cause alienation saps vitality and produces masculine difference.
Even more strangely, perhaps, this enervated form of liberal masculinity assists what I see as the queer subtext of this novel, for although Bobbys estrangement from white racism is not explicitly linked to homosexuality, as it is in Sojourn, it is still queerly tied to non-normative relations between men. For example, when Bobby meets Charlie in Big Joes cabin, he becomes embarrassed when Charlie looks at him "with a queer expression on his face" (78). Earlier, Bobby feels confused and disturbed over what can only be interpreted as a homoerotic charge between Bob Henry and Charlie: "He kept thinking about uncle Bob Henry and Charlie and it gave him a remorseful feeling, as if in the secrecy of his heart he were guilty of a subtle act of disloyalty, as if he were putting an injustice upon his uncle. For uncle Bob Henry was a white man and Charlie was a Negro, and somehow it was just not proper for him to think about them always together" (44). Bobbys early anxiety that intimacy between men across the color line is somehow "not proper" reminds us of how white southern culture conflated any form of equitable racial intimacy with sexual intimacy during the years of segregation - a "lesson" Lillian Smith discusses at length in Killers of the Dream.29 Moreover, the novel offers a number of innocuous, yet still telling, double entendres about the interconnectedness of sexuality and politics, such as when Bobbys mother tries to warn Bob Henry about Bobbys fears for his uncles safety: "Bobbys not a child any longer, and he is beginning to get notions in his head." Naturally, Bob Henry thinks she is talking about Bobbys growing sexual curiosity, and she corrects herself quickly: Oh . . . I - I mean he thinks something is going to happen to you" (112). Bobbys father similarly blurs the lines between politics and perversity when he tells Bobby to stay away from Slim and Charlies house: "There is no telling what sort of vicious lies could be implanted in a child's mind" (202). Bobbys father portrays the child as susceptible to the "wrong" kind of masculine influence - and perhaps even sexual exploitation - in exactly the same way that social thinkers during this period feared that class outsiders could "implant" the "homosexual impulse."30
In this way, Edmundss representation of racial liberalism in Times Laughter implicitly validates non-normative forms of masculinity and homoerotic (perhaps even homosexual) relations between men. What is heroic in this novel is also marked as queer. Moreover, by figuratively combining political, sexual, and gender "deviance" in the body of the liberal male, Edmunds differs from other modernist writers who variously adopted the homoerotic imagery and tropes associated with European fascisms idealization of the male citizen.31 Indeed, Edmunds staunchly opposes fascism in this novel because it mandates the kind of racial and gender conformity that the transient perversity of cross-class contact unsettles and resists. Early in the novel, Bob Henry argues with his brother that there is no difference between "fascism which persecutes Jews, and fascism which persecutes Negroes" (28). And he complains to Bobbys mother: "Why cant people understand that all the fascists in the world dont bear German or Italian or Japanese names? This country is lousy with them and they are growing stronger and bolder all the time" (35). Later, Charlie takes up this theme as well: "I want my people to have more to choose between than Hitlerism and Cutlerism, for that would really be no choice at all. Foreign fascism and native fascism are blood-brothers, and both of them are menaces to the people of this country and of every other country in the world" (151). Ed- munds does not soften his condemnations of southern capitalism and white dominance in this novel. As the de facto leader of Charlies "Cutlerism," Congressman Cutler openly celebrates the unprecedented profits he and the towns other business leaders are making because of federal investments in the war effort and their ability to keep wages low by keeping their work- ers from forming unions - a conversation Bobby witnesses during his stay at Cutlers orchard (88-90). Cutler and the other leading whites are thus able to use the language of patriotism to paint Charlie as an anti- American "communist" whose efforts to unionize are an attempt to weaken America's chances in the war. His refusal to conform to the racist status quo amounts to a traitorous threat that must be eliminated, as Bob Henry explains when he says, "they think they can perpetuate their privileges by destroying ev- eryone who opposes them" (149).
As Robert Brinkmeyer s work reveals, Edmundss linkages between Euro- pean and southern fascisms are not unique or unusual, making him one of "a large number of white southern writers [who] were haunted by Fascisms long shadow over the South," and who expressly engaged "the menace of Fascism" to "bring . . . their work into the cultural dialogue that was then determining America's future."32 But Edmundss juxtaposition of fascism with more progressive models of male-male contact once again offers an implicitly queer-positive model of liberalism that validates masculine dif- ference and interracialism in one stroke. However, even as he makes this juxtaposition, Edmunds still avoids linking these examples of liberal mas- culinity to any explicit reference of same-sex desire. While Bobbys initia- tion into liberalism mirrors the speakers initiation into sexual perversion in Sojourn, the queerness in Times Laughter is subsumed within subtle mo- ments of homoerotic identification and within feelings of social alienation on political grounds. In this way, Edmunds is able to convey his message about the politics of race and class without producing the homophobic reaction he signals at the end of Sojourn. That is, avoiding any explicit portrayal of perversion allows Edmunds to chart Bobbys initiation into the same-sex community of liberal manhood without distracting readers from the patterns of injustice that lead to Charlie's lynching. Indeed, Edmunds s harrowing portrayal of the lynching is notable for its direct focus on the economic and political motives behind it, for the whites do not try to justify their vigilantism with a charge of interracial rape - as usually happened in the South - or any mention of Charlies use of the shotgun.33 The novel links queerness to liberal masculinity, but homoeroticism, or eroticism of any kind, never becomes part of the discourse surrounding Charlies lynching. Instead, with a chilling prescience anticipating right-wing caricatures of President Barack Obama, the whites single out Charlies threat to their social dominance by calling him all at once a "communist," a "black ape," and, because of his alleged refusal to go to war, a "Hitler-nigger" (215). Even though the vigilantes' hatred is visceral, the lynching is a purely political act meant to eliminate a threat to the status quo. The absence of any other motive or alibi makes it impossible to interpret the lynching any other way, and Edmunds thus forces his readers to consider the racism and greed shaping white southern politics and economics outside the novel around them.
Finally, this relegation of sexuality and perversion to the novels subtext sets Times Laughter apart from other lynching novels in important ways. By foregrounding politics and eschewing the false charge of interracial rape, Edmunds portrays the lynching as an ideological attack in which the black mans sexuality is never an issue. Thus he breaks with a long tradition of antilynching novels that deal primarily with "interracial sexual anxieties and mob violence," including Lillian Smiths Strange Fruit and Erskine Caldwell's Trouble in July (194O).34 And he avoids the kind of grotesquerie that might obscure or confuse the novels moral lesson about southern racism. Caldwells novel, for example, uses his trademark grotesque comedy to make "a protest work in the anti-lynching tradition that attacks the most frequently cited justification of lynching, namely that vigilante violence was a valiant response to black men raping white women."35 Trouble in July traces the slapstick pursuit and capture of Sonny Clark, whose only crime is to have escaped the lecherous arms of the hypersexual white woman Katy Barlow. Interrupted by two racist religious leaders during her attempt to seduce Sonny by the side of a road, Katy agrees to make the public accusation that Sonny tried to rape her. Although she ultimately confesses that the rape charge was a lie, the novel ends with the deaths of both her and Sonny at the hands of the racist mob. As Andrew Leiter observes, "Trouble in July represents a significant marker in the shifting cultural image of white Southern women as Caldwell reverses the 'traditional' roles of sexual aggressor and victim in interracial sexual conflict."36 But by making Katy and the other whites so absurdly violent, oversexed, and ignorant, Caldwell mutes the political impact of his novel, for it becomes too easy to view Sonnys lynching as the result of individual circumstances tied to the characters' personal motivations, rather than as a systemic problem based in political and economic structures of the region as a whole. Even though Caldwell does signal these other factors, too, his comedie characterizations obscure their full relevance as forces contributing to the problem of lynching. As Leigh Anne Duck writes, Caldwells projection of the grotesque onto hypersexual, lower-class bodies allowed bourgeois readers "to avoid the sort of self- reflection otherwise encouraged by the grotesque." It was too easy to view the moral and ethical problems he addressed as belonging strictly to a backward South with no real connection to their own lives, and the broader public belief "that southern agricultural and industrial laborers amounted to Caldwellian grotesques proved an effective tool for those who sought to oppose such reforms."37 By contrast, Edmundss novel surreptitiously suffuses sexual perversion within portrayals of male homosocial relations, preventing any dismissal of his characters as homosexual grotesques. He gets his readers to identify and sympathize with Charlie, Bobby, and Bob Henry without displacing any anxieties about race, class, and violence onto the notion of a backward South. Instead, he attempts to get his readers to follow in Bobbys footsteps by asking them to see with their own eyes the calculated injustices of racism and profiteering that exist beneath the façade of national wartime patriotism.
Smiths Strange Fruit resembles Trouble in July in its portrayal of lynching in terms of complex interpersonal relationships more than flawed racial and economic systems. Smiths novel charts the tragic story of the young white man Tracy Deens romantic, yet illicit affair with the black woman Nonnie Anderson. When Nonnie falls pregnant, Tracy abandons her, and her brother kills Tracy in retaliation. The novel ends with the lynching of an innocent black man, Henry Mclntosh, as the white towns symbolic retribution for Tracy s murder. Interwoven with this narrative of interracial love and racist injustice is a subplot involving Tracys sister, Laura, who faces being censured by her mother because of Lauras homoerotic relationship with the older white woman Jane Hardy. Although the text deals with queer relationships between women instead of men, Smith shares with Edmunds the clear desire to "facilitate both racial and sexual tolerance" through her writing, as Gary Richards notes.38 Yet her focus on individual stories of desire and betrayal still threatens to overshadow her critique of the forces of racism, sexism, and segregation that shape those individual stories. The personal motives tied to the novels romantic plotlines soften the condemnation of white southern greed and violence that she states directly in Killers of the Dream and that Edmunds makes in Times Laughter in Their Ears.
Smiths different mode of liberalism in Strange Fruit stems from her emphasis on Freudian models of disaffection and identity rather than on the sociological models of transient perversity I have charted in Edmundss work. As Richards discusses in detail, Tracy and Lauras mother, Alma Deen, is central to Smiths story of taboo, transgression, and violence. Southern culture's desexualization of the white woman makes Alma emotionally frigid, driving Laura to the arms of a surrogate, Jane, and Tracy to the arms of a black surrogate, Nonnie. Both children's feelings of estrangement from their mother steer them into affective relationships with other outsiders and thus make them even more alienated from their white society. Yet neither Laura nor Tracy acts on this estrangement. Tracy misses countless opportunities to speak out against the codes that restrict and ultimately prohibit his affair with Nonnie. And after Tracy s death, Laura breaks off her relationship with Jane, suggesting that she will return, no doubt unhappily, to the heterosexual world of her domineering mother and the racist whites around her. Lauras flirtation with a queer, bohemian lifestyle with Jane offers the potential for a more politically engaged opposition to the regimes of racism and heterosexism, but she rejects this potential out of fear of the loneliness she sees in Jane. Here we see the key difference between Smith and Edmunds. Although Smiths essays are more direct in expressing a liberal viewpoint, Strange Fruit manifests its liberalism through tragic narrative outcomes - murder, lynching, isolation, and so on. Politically, her novels tragedy is that the white characters with the most potential for resisting or reshaping southern society do nothing. Edmundss characters also fail, but their tragedy is that they are destroyed (or nearly destroyed) because of their resistance to society. He treats alienation and perversion as affects that are ultimately as useful as they are socially unfortunate, for they provide the means for initiating characters - and ideally Edmundss readers - into a more liberal mind-set. Edmundss emphasis on feelings of strangeness and estrangement exposes the interlocking structures of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the South and the nation, and he offers these feelings as the basis for making connections with other oppressed people in the name of justice and resistance.
If my comparison between Lillian Smith and Murrell Edmunds suggests that Edmunds was more radical, if only because his fiction is more didactic, it must be remembered that Smith achieved far greater success as a writer and a public advocate for civil rights. And Edmunds arguably offers a less explicit or less straightforward representation of homosexual desire and identity than Smith does in Strange Fruit and her later novel, One Hour (1959). Yet Edmundss apparently greater radicalism in his depiction of lynching also highlights the fact that we do not fully understand how Smith thought about her own lesbianism or how her lesbianism might have shaped her commitment to racial equality For example, Gary Richards reaches a surprising impasse in explaining Smiths portrayal of how "southern race relations foster same-sex desire." He argues that while Smiths fiction and letters reveal that she can imagine why a young woman would be attracted to an older woman as an eroticized maternal surrogate, she cannot explain why the older woman would also be attracted to the younger girl. Thus, for him, "Smiths understanding of lesbianism . . . seems multiply problematic, being simultaneously essentializing, homophobic, and insufficiently explanatory." Immediately after this statement, however, he backs off from his critique to state that "Smiths historical context does much to mediate these ostensible shortcomings. Of Southern writers at midcentury, she remains virtually alone in depicting same-sex desire between women. ... To expect Smiths depictions of lesbians to transcend these limitations is quite simply not fair."39 1 am not disputing Richardss analysis. Rather, I think his attention to Smiths Freudian reading of southern culture is insufficient on its own. Where Smiths psychological model fails to clarify how and why lesbian desire would flow from older woman to younger, Edmundss work raises the question of how sociological models of desire from this period would change our reading of that lesbian bond. Despite the obvious difference in gender, the asymmetrical relationship between the younger Laura and the older orphan and class outsider Jane mirrors the male-male relationships in Edmundss fiction and the asymmetrical "jocker/punk" relationships Todd DePastino traces in hobo societies of the 1930s and 1940s. Although Smiths personal letters to Paula Snelling reveal her disapproval of these kinds of asymmetrical sexual relationships, her attention to crossclass contact between Laura and Jane opens up a way to imagine less rigid forms of identity that change according to their immediate contexts. In Strange Fruit, both Laura and Tracy constantly move back and forth across class lines, literally and symbolically. And although their relationships with these class others end tragically, the novel still raises questions about the significance of perverse mobility in exposing the crimes of a thoroughly unjust and racist society.
In addition to helping us reevaluate the work of other liberal white and/ or southern queer writers like Lillian Smith, recovering Edmunds opens a host of other historical and literary-historical possibilities. His portrayal of alienation as an ironically useful force that can foster affective bonds among the dispossessed and estranged suggests the potential for reconsidering the meanings and depictions of alienation in other modernist literatures and cultures. His representations of sexual perversion as a transitory force that breaks down class distinctions demonstrates the need to rethink both the interrelated, and perhaps incomplete, structures of identity categories and the nature of queerness as a destabilizing power. And the fact that he so completely intertwines queerness with white antiracism complicates established histories of civil rights in the twentieth century. John Howard writes that in the minds of conservative white southerners, "Civil rights activism had always suggested a queering of norms, accompanied by 'perverse' interracial interactions, both sexual and not." And by the mid-1960s, the two became conflated: "interracial relations were used to suggest the queer, and the queer was reformulated to suggest interracial relations."40 Edmundss work suggests that this conflation was not solely the product of conservative paranoia about the social threat of interracial intimacy. Rather, liberal whites recognized this "queering of norms" earlier in the twentieth century before the postwar civil rights movement began gathering speed. Tracing this longer history of queer liberalism in the United States creates a stronger foundation for moving beyond "like race" arguments and finding more integrated strategies for fighting inequality - racial, sexual, and otherwise.
University of Manchester
1 See Lisa Duggan, "Queering the State" Social Text 39 (1994): 1-14; Janet Halley, "'Like Race' Arguments" What's Left of Theory? New Work on the Politics of Literary Theory, ed. Judith Butler, John Guillory, and Kendell Thomas (New York: Routledge, 2000), 40-74; Michael Cobb, "Uncivil Wrongs: Race, Religion, Hate, and Incest in Queer Politics," Social Text 23 (2005): 251-74; and bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End Press, 1989).
2 Siobhan B. Somerville, Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture (Duke U. Press, 2000), 3.
3 Mab Segrest, Memoir of a Race Traitor (Boston: South End Press, 1994), 39-41. Some critics have implicitly adopted the "like race" analogy in their discussions of the lesbianidentified white liberal Lillian Smith, such as Cheryl L. Johnsons claim in "The Language of Sexuality and Silence in Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit" Signs 27 (2001): 17-18, that Smith used interracial heterosexual love in her fiction as a surrogate through which she could also explore the meanings of lesbian desire without censure. As this paper deals exclusively with the question of white liberalism in the South, I will not be talking about queer African Americans like Bayard Rustin who fought for civil rights.
4 I have gathered the details of Edmunds's biography and career from reference entries on him in the ongoing series Contemporary Authors and in H. Collin Messer, "Murrell Edmunds ( 1 898-1 98 1 )," Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary, ed. Joseph M. Flora and Amber Vogel (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Press, 2006), 12; from newspaper articles and reviews; from dust jackets of his books; from his papers collected in the University of Virginia Library; and from Jeff Edmunds, who first introduced me to the work of his estranged great-uncle and who has been generous enough to share his knowledge and documents about Murrell and the extended Edmunds family I would also like to thank Emma Edmunds for her support and for sharing her correspondence with Murrell; John Kelly for his help locating newspaper articles about Edmunds in New Orleans; and Brian Ward, Harry Stecopoulos, and Monica Pearl for their help with this essay
5 I hesitate to label Edmunds as "homosexual" or "gay" because I do not know if he ever self- identified as such. But it is still crucial to recognize the queer dimension of Edmunds's identity to understand fully the politics of his writing.
6 Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke U Press, 2003), 47. See also Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Duke U. Press, 1997) and The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Duke U. Press, 2008); and Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005).
7 Scott Romine, The Narrative Forms of Southern Community (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U Press, 1999), 2.
8 Fred Hobson, But Now I See: The White Southern Racial Conversion Narrative (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Press, 1999), 19. See also Ann C. Loveland, Lillian Smith (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U Press, 1986); Margaret Rose Gladney, preface to How Am I to Be Heard? by Lillian Smith, ed. Margaret Rose Gladney (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 1993), xii-xviii; and Will Brantley, Feminine Sense in Southern Memoir: Smith, Glasgow, Welty, Hellman, Porter, and Hurston (Jackson: U Press of Mississippi, 1993).
9 This explanation appears in the statement he provided to the reference series Contemporary Authors and on many of his book jackets.
10 Walter Isaacson, "The Recluse Novelist of Lee Circle," New Orleans States-Item (6 August 1977): no page.
1 1 Hobson, But Now I See, 50.
12 These novels include Olive Dargan's Call Home the Heart, Grace Lumpkins To Take My Bread, Myra Page's Gathering Storm: A Story of the Black Belt, and Sherwood Andersons Beyond Desire (all published in 1932). For a discussion of Southern proletarian writers, see Anna Shannon Elfenbein, "A Forgotten Revolutionary Voice: 'Woman's Place' and Race in Olive Dargan's Call Home the Heart" The Female Tradition in Southern Literature, ed. Carol S. Manning (Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 1993), 193-208; Barbara Foley, Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941 (Duke U Press, 1993); James Mellard, "The Fiction of Social Commitment," The History of Southern Literature, ed. Louis D. Rubin Jr. Blyden Jackson, Rayburn S. Moore, Lewis P. Simpson, and Thomas Daniel Young (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U Press, 1985), 351-55; and Paula Rabinowitz, Labor and Desire: Womens Revolutionary Fiction in Depression America (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 1991).
13 See Thomas E Haddox, "Elizabeth Spencer, the White Civil Rights Novel, and the Postsouthern," Modern Language Quarterly 65 (2004): 561-81.
1 4 Barbara Kingslaid, "Nightmarish Allegory," review oí Sojourn among Shadows by Murrell Edmunds, New York Times (9 February 1936): BR21.
15 Murrell Edmunds, Sojourn among Shadows (Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1936), 13, hereafter cited by page number in the text with the abbreviation SS. Any emphasis is original to the text.
16 See Scott Herring, Queering the Underworld: Slumming, Literature, and the Undoing of Lesbian and Gay History (U. of Chicago Press, 2007), 5-8.
17 Roger Austen, Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America (Indianapolis: BobbsMerrill, 1977), 78; James Levin, The Gay Novel in America (New York: Garland, 1991), 45.
18 That the poem is addressed to a "beloved" woman further adds to the queer dimension of the mens relationship.
19 See Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds, Sexual Inversion, vol. 2 of Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 3rd ed. (1897; Philadelphia: RA. Davis, 1915).
20 Michael Trask, Cruising Modernism: Class and Sexuality in American Literature and Social Thought (Cornell U. Press, 2003), 1, 3, 33-34. Pippa Holloway's Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia, 1920-1945 (Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina Press, 2006), 6, similarly shows how Edmunds's home state of Virginia enacted a raft of laws pertaining to sexual behavior during this period because the state's white elite leaders thought that the uncontrolled sexual lives of "lower-class whites and African Americans of all classes" posed "political danger for the governing class."
21 Todd DePastino, Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America (U. of Chicago Press, 2003), 91, 205-6. Trask explains: "Coercing, cajoling, or enticing punks into sex, jockers offered in exchange protection, money, or general instruction in the skills of begging, freight hopping, and securing food and shelter" (87-88). See also Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton U Press, 2009), especially her chap. "'Most Fags Are Floaters': The Problem of 'Unattached Persons' during the Early New Deal, 1933-1935"; and George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: HarperCollins, 1994).
22 I use the term "homophobic" because a core issue here is the social "problem" of samesex desire; but it might be more accurate to talk about "queer- phobia" because of the way homosexuality overlaps with gender queerness throughout this novel.
23 For a discussion of homosexual panic, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (U of California Press, 1990), esp. 182-212.
24 Thomas Fahy, Freak Shows and the Modern American Imagination: Constructing the Damaged Body from Willa Gather to Truman Capote (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 2, 3-4, 11,22.
25 Mason Stokes, The Color of Sex: Whiteness, Heterosexuality, and the Fictions of White Supremacy (Duke U. Press, 2001), 183.
26 Because this struggle must be continuous - because no one can ever get "out of whiteness" - it gradually wrecks Tom's health. Indeed, throughout Edmunds's work, as with Bob Henry and Charlie in Time's Laughter in Their Ears, illness and fatigue are always the result of opposition to the powers of dominance and oppression.
27 Murrell Edmunds, Time s Laughter in TheirEars (New York: Beechhurst Press, 1946), 18, hereafter cited by page number in the text. Any emphasis is original to the text. Elfenbain, "A Forgotten Revolutionary Voice," 1 98, observes a similar dig at the Agrarians in Dargans Call Home the Heart, where "a successful piedmont farmer scoff[s] at college professors for their impractical remedies for farm problems and their romantic visions of pastoral retreat."
28 Bob Henry had been lovers with Bobby's mother Lucy until he was captured without identification and declared dead during World War I, whereupon she eventually married his brother Bert. When Bob Henry was freed after the armistice, news of her marriage drove him to stay in France, but he soon contracted tuberculosis and had to return to his brother's house in Virginia. Bobby was born a year later, but the love affair did not continue.
29 Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream (1949; New York; Norton, 1994), 83-98.
30 See Trask, Cruising Modernism, 32-33.
31 See Erin G. Carlston, Thinking Fascism: Sapphic Modernism and Fas cist Modernity (Stanford U. Press, 1998); and Mark Christian Thompson, Black Fascisms: African American Literature and Culture between the Wars (Charlottesville: U. of Virginia Press, 2007).
32 Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr., The Fourth Ghost: White Southern Writers and European Fascism, 1930-1950 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Press, 2009), 23.
33 For a reminder of the ubiquity of the rape myth, see Lisa Lindquist Dorr, White Women, Rape, and the Power of Race in Virginia, 1900-1960 (Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina Press, 2004).
34 Andrew B. Leiter, "Sexual Degeneracy and the Anti-Lynching Tradition in Erskine Caldwell's Trouble in July" Reading Erskine Caldwell: New Essays, ed. Robert L. McDonald (Jefferson, NC: McFarland &Co., 2006), 205. See also Anne P. Rice, ed., Witnessing Lynching: American Writers Respond (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U. Press, 2003); and Trudier Harris, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1984).
35 Leiter, "Sexual Degeneracy," 204.
36 Leiter, "Sexual Degeneracy," 204. Caldwell was heavily involved in the antilynching campaigns of the 1930s, so his motives should not be doubted, even if the novel's style does seem to limit its political effect. See Edwin T. Arnold, "Erskine Caldwell and Judge Lynch: Caldwell's Role in the Anti-Lynching Campaigns of the 1930s," Reading Erskine Caldwell, 183-202.
37 Leigh Anne Duck, The Nations Region: Southern Modernism, Segregation, and U.S. Nationalism (Athens, GA: U. of Georgia Press, 2006), 93, 107.
38 Gary Richards, Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936-1961 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Press, 2005), 95.
39 Richards, Lovers and Beloveds, 115.
40 John Howard, Men Like That: A Queer Southern History (U. of Chicago Press, 1999), 147, 150.