The Ambiguity of the Sea and Gender Roles in Martin Delany's Blake; or The Huts of America.

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Author: Rei Nawa
Date: Annual 2019
Publisher: Institute of American and Canadian Studies, Sophia University
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,894 words
Lexile Measure: 1490L

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Introduction

Martin Delany's Blake; or The Huts of America (1859-1862) is one of the traditional sea narratives in 19th-century black Atlantic literature. As critics such as Elizabeth Schultz and John Watford DeStafney point out, the sea holds a duality in its nature. Because of its literal fluidity and mobility, it sometimes represents freedom, chaos, unfettered states, limitlessness, and the power to overthrow hierarchy. At the same time, however, it also symbolizes restraint, order, fettered states, limitedness, discipline, and confinement due to its connection with ships. This duality of the sea becomes more conspicuous in African American literature because of the history of the Atlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage. Both as a route or means of escape from slavery and also as a signature element of the brutal Atlantic slave trade, the sea is described in many various and often conflicting ways in 19th-century slave narratives and novels written by African American authors such as Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. The purpose of my paper is to examine the role of the sea in Blake and clarify how the sea connects to the notion of gender roles of the main character, Blake. Close examination of the text shows that the representation of gender roles in Blake is contradictory and ambiguous. There is a parallel between the nature of the sea and Delany's concept of gender roles in terms of their ambiguity and uncertainty. Although critics have discussed Blake's concepts of gender roles, no attention has been paid to this parallel. However, discussing the text through a discourse on the tradition of antebellum sea narratives allows readers to acknowledge the deep connection of these two themes: gender and African American sea narratives.

To analyze the connection between gender and Blake's aspect as a sea narrative is significant because it reveals how Blake functions "as part of [Delany's] argument for black emigration to Africa" (McGann xxiv). In the words of Paul Gilroy, Delany is the "principal progenitor of black nationalism in America" (20) as the novelist strongly believes in the necessity of emigration somewhere outside America for black people to form a self-governing black nation-state. As Jerome McGann points out, Blake was published "as part of an argument for black emigration to Africa and as part of a scheme to raise money for his [Delany's] emigration project" (xxiv). Therefore, Delany depicts Blake as a main black male character who explores not only inside the United States, but beyond its national borders, such as Canada, Africa and Cuba. Because of this transnational aspect of Blake's life, images of the sea flow through his entire narrative. Through a literary and historical analysis of the primary sources of Delany's political writings, I would like to shed light on his argument about gender roles and examine how they are manifested in Blake and how they connect to Delany's descriptions of the sea in the text. Although the text uses two names, Blake and Henry, for the main protagonist, hereafter I will refer to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A628846983