Sexual Morality Is Not Governed By Race Essays

Sexual Morality Is Not Governed By Race Essays

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In an argument developed further through heroine Sappho Clark, Hopkins uses Grace’s rape to demonstrate that sexual morality is not governed by race. Each woman responds to the loss of her virtue according to the dominant gender codes of her time. Grace, the Victorian fallen women, kills herself following her violation. The narrator tells us that “shortly after these events [the raid of the Montfort estate and the violation of her body], Grace Montfort disappeared and was never seen again. The waters of Pamlico Sound tell of sweet oblivion for the broken hearted found within their soft embraces” (71). The loss of reputation leaves Grace, as a Victorian fallen woman, with suicide as the only proper response. In this opening episode, Hopkins critiques the doctrine of Victorian “true womanhood” that argued it was better to die after suffering such sexual and moral “outrage” (69). By committing suicide, Grace not only submits to the restrictive discourses of “true womanhood” and ends her own life, she abandons her now enslaved children.
Grace’s adherence to the tenets of “true womanhood” also launches the novel’s critique of the sexism embedded in the ideology of the American Dream. At every turn, Hopkins links Grace’s suffering to the male obsession with profit and consumption. The introduction of Charles Montfort states that while “[h]e was neither a cruel man, nor an avaricious one” the drive for profit skewed his sense of morality: “he perverted right to be what was conducive to his own interests” (22). Montfort 's decision to move his family to the American South, a land that the narrator of Contending Forces repeatedly associates with wild, unrestrained, savagery, is represented as a perversion of morality in favor of commercia...

... middle of paper ... do public and political social constructions shape the details of intimate lives; those personal details also form comprehensive social practices and institutions” (9). This formulation allows us to understand Hopkins’ representation of the forging of black family ties as a microcosm for the national codification of race, class, and gender identities. In Contending Forces, Hopkins depicts the simultaneous founding and dissolution of two black families through sexual violence. Grace Montfort, upon being made socially and legally black, is raped and rid of any claim to her children. Later, Sappho Clark’s story of motherhood echoes this experience of rape and abandonment of her child. In representing rape across two generations, Hopkins situates racially-motivated sexual violence as foundational in the process of individual identity formation and also class identity.

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