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This essay follows scenes of threatened sexual violence in three canonical novels by women, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905), Willa Cather’s My Àntonia (1918), and Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). By focusing on these scenes in isolation, I draw out their affective descriptions and resist the resolution of plot in an attempt to evince modern literature’s capacity to represent violence against women and to rupture the normalization of rape culture. In these scenes, Wharton, Cather, and Hurston use narrative innovation to dramatize these threats: Wharton using long, elliptical sentences to signal both Lily’s fear and her denial; Cather placing Jim Burden in the victim’s place, thereby reminding us not only of the vulnerability of women but also of the sexual abuse of boys by older men; Hurston using animal possession as a figure for Tea Cake’s increasingly jealous and violent attitude.
Beginning with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) and ending with Levi Pinfold’s Greenling (2015), this chapter contends that children’s literature provides an imaginative map for navigating the global industrial food system, superimposed on colonial circuits of yore. Several narrative dynamics dramatize the appetite and vulnerability of the child’s body. For example, the racialized child is the object of predation in late nineteenth-century US fiction, and then Harlem Renaissance literature repurposes this trope to cherish the black child. In The Secret Garden (1911) and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), white English children demonstrate and defend their virtue with hearty English repasts. In the postwar period, Green Eggs and Ham (1960) and Where the Wild Things Are (1963) imagine eating as an expression of childhood agency and rebellion. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, picture books reveal the enmeshment of the human and the nonhuman through the ecological intimacies of eating.
Diet and disgust attempt to establish boundaries between social groups, as anthropologist Mary Douglas famously proposed in Purity and Danger. Literature dramatizes the attempts to erect these boundaries and uses ingestive metaphors, dietary practices, and global exchanges to blur them. In twentieth-century U.S. literature, for example, food-related plots and recurring oral images express anxieties and ambivalences surrounding Jim Crow and its fetishization of light skin and supposedly pure white bodies. Beginning with structural anthropologists of the 1960s, moving through black studies of the 1980s, and into hemispheric American studies of the 1990s and 2000s, this essay explores the critical approaches that scholars have used to interrogate this dynamic. As bell hooks argues, eating can be an appropriative act, in which the ethnic other is absorbed by white consumers as an exotic spice, and yet at the same time, eating is an intimate encounter that demonstrates the permeability of the body.