Privacy, Privation, and The Mob
This chapter examines mid-19th-century U.S. privacy discourse in its dystopian aspect, where privacy is a force that threatens to invade the public sphere and destroy free democratic association. The argument focuses on Harriet Beecher Stowe's portrayals of Sojourner Truth in her 1856 novel Dred and her 1863 Atlantic Monthly essay “Sojourner Truth: The Libyan Sibyl.” It shows how Stowe operates within a pattern of representation that poses blacks as figures of privation—that is, as subjects enslaved by their own bodies, incapable of self-containing self-government—through which white Americans deflected the problem of their own surplus embodiment and the failures of free labor and market idealism that produced it. The chapter demonstrates that Stowe uses Truth to engage this national crisis of uncontained bodies and, in so doing, to negotiate the embodied limits of her own female authorship.
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