• Crime Fiction and Black Criminality

    Author(s):
    Theodore Martin (see profile)
    Date:
    2018
    Subject(s):
    American literature, History, Americans--Social life and customs, Nineteenth century, Twentieth century, Detective and mystery stories, Critical race theory
    Item Type:
    Article
    Tag(s):
    American literary history, 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, Crime fiction
    Permanent URL:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/pfjk-1n23
    Abstract:
    This essay demonstrates how mid-twentieth-century crime fiction developed in response to midcentury discourses of racial criminality. In the 1950s, the myth of black criminality served to mediate anxieties about the emerging Civil Rights movement and rising rates of black unemployment. In this context, crime novelists found it increasingly difficult to ignore the link between the narration of crime and the criminalization of race. What did it mean to write about crime in the shadow of postwar US racial politics? I argue that this question helped define the distinctive midcentury genre of novels about criminals. While novelists like Patricia Highsmith used the backdrop of racial criminalization to write about the inner lives of white criminals, other writers, including Dorothy B. Hughes, Charles Willeford, and most importantly Richard Wright, focused directly on the narrative dilemmas posed by the black criminal protagonist. Through their literary attempts to uncouple race from crime, these writers show us how the genre of crime fiction became a key cultural form for grappling with the politics of race and crime.
    Metadata:
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Status:
    Published
    Last Updated:
    1 year ago
    License:
    All Rights Reserved
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