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Sitting in Darkness

Sitting in Darkness: Mark Twain, Asia, and Comparative Racialization

Hsuan L. Hsu
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1287jq2
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  • Book Info
    Sitting in Darkness
    Book Description:

    Perhaps the most popular of all canonical American authors, Mark Twain is famous for creating works that satirize American formations of race and empire. While many scholars have explored Twain's work in African Americanist contexts, his writing on Asia and Asian Americans remains largely in the shadows. InSitting in Darkness, Hsuan Hsu examines Twain's career-long archive of writings about United States relations with China and the Philippines. Comparing Twain's early writings about Chinese immigrants in California and Nevada with his later fictions of slavery and anti-imperialist essays, he demonstrates that Twain's ideas about race were not limited to white and black, but profoundly comparative as he carefully crafted assessments of racialization that drew connections between groups, including African Americans, Chinese immigrants, and a range of colonial populations.

    Drawing on recent legal scholarship, comparative ethnic studies, and transnational and American studies,Sitting in Darknessengages Twain's best-known novels such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, as well as his lesser-known Chinese and trans-Pacific inflected writings, such as the allegorical tale "A Fable of the Yellow Terror" and the yellow face play Ah Sin.Sitting in Darknessreveals how within intersectional contexts of Chinese Exclusion and Jim Crow, these writings registered fluctuating connections between immigration policy, imperialist ventures, and racism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-4340-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: “Coolies” and Comparative Racialization in the Global West
    (pp. 1-26)

    As the unexpected bestselling status of his autobiography and the controversy over the NewSouth edition ofTom SawyerandHuckleberry Finn(in which pejorative terms for blacks and Native Americans have been replaced with “slave” and “Indian” throughout) attest, Mark Twain’s incisive literary treatments of U.S. history’s darker episodes continue to fascinate and provoke twenty-first century readers.¹ For a broad international² audience, Twain exemplifies how literary form and style can be mobilized against racist institutions; at the same time, his writings have provided key test cases for critical conversations about the possibilities and limitations of canonical engagements with blackness and...

  6. 1 “A Witness More Powerful than Himself ”: Race, Testimony, and Twain’s Courtroom Farces
    (pp. 27-52)

    While the uncomfortable blend of farce, mob violence, and racist caricature presented in this scene from Twain and Bret Harte’s collaborative play,Ah Sin, may not surprise readers familiar with similar mob scenes inHuckleberry Finn,A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, andThose Extraordinary Twins, the double imperative—“Talk and hangboth!” invokes a predicament specific to nonwhite populations in California and other western states. When the California Supreme Court inPeople v. Hall(1854) extended the state’s prohibition on “black” and “Indian” testimony to the Chinese, it both marked the Chinese population as a target for violent...

  7. 2 Vagrancy and Comparative Racialization in Huckleberry Finn and “Three Vagabonds of Trinidad”
    (pp. 53-82)

    In his 1950 introduction toHuckleberry Finn(1884), T. S. Eliot provides a striking explanation for Twain’s abrupt reversion to “the mood ofTom Sawyer” in the novel’s final chapters. He explains that neither a tragic nor a happy ending would be appropriate, because

    Huck Finn must come from nowhere and be bound for nowhere. His is not the independence of the typical or symbolic American Pioneer, but the independence of the vagabond. His existence questions the values of America as much as the values of Europe; he is as much an affront to the “pioneer spirit” as he is...

  8. 3 “Coolies” and Corporate Personhood in Those Extraordinary Twins
    (pp. 83-108)

    In an uncharacteristically solemn scene ofThe Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins(1894), Judge Robinson berates the jury for allowing an assault to go unpunished because it could not determine which of the conjoined twins, Luigi and Angelo Cappello, was responsible for the act:

    In all my experience on the bench, I have not seen Justice bow her head in shame in this court until this day. You little realize what far-reaching harm has just been wrought here under the fickle forms of law. Imitation is the bane of courts . . . and in no long time you will...

  9. 4 A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of Wu Chih Tien: Imperial Romance and Chinese Modernization
    (pp. 109-138)

    In a letter to William Dean Howells written on November 20, 1874, but playfully dated “1935,” Twain indulges in an early instance of speculative fiction. Slipping into the popular genre of Chinese invasion narratives, the letter’s fourth paragraph imagines a jarring encounter with a Chinese man and his “usual cargo” of missionaries during a flight:

    My air-ship was delayed by a collision with a fellow from China loaded with the usual cargo of jabbering, copper-colored missionaries, & so I was nearly an hour on my journey. But by the goodness of God thirteen of the missionaries were crippled & several...

  10. 5 Body Counts and Comparative Anti-imperialism
    (pp. 139-166)

    “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” (1901), Twain’s most widely distributed anti-imperialist statement,¹ draws a striking range of connections between corrupt Tammany Hall politics in New York, missionaries’ demands for brutal reparations in the wake of China’s Boxer uprising, colonial massacres in South Africa and the Philippines, and the spectacle of antebellum slavery’s “Chains Repaired.”² This method of comparison characterizes many of Twain’s critiques of empire—and particularly the works he penned while serving as vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League from 1901 to 1910. For example, he compares the beating of a native servant in India with the daily...

  11. Conclusion: Post-racial Twain?
    (pp. 167-170)

    In 2011, Alan Gribben’s NewSouth edition ofTom SawyerandHuckleberry Finnsparked widespread debates about censorship, racially offensive language, and the ways in which we read and teach literature by replacing the terms “nigger,” “Injun,” and “half-breed” with “slave,” “Indian,” and “half-blood” throughout Twain’s novels. Whereas Gribben believes that the expurgated edition makes the books more palatable to a broader audience and more appropriate for schoolchildren, critics have noted that the redacted racial slurs convey important literary effects and historical context, for example by stressing how difficult it is for Huck to overcome racial antipathies he has absorbed from...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-208)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 209-228)
  14. Index
    (pp. 229-243)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 244-244)