Gitika Nalwa

Strange Fruit: Male Racial Identity and the American Wilderness, 1830-1950

Something about a white man in the woods drives this country wild. This project aims to find out what that “something” is. I will examine the white male literary tradition — driven by the fantasy of the New England woods as a site for reinvention, expansion, and liberation — before exploring how the black male literary tradition rewrites this fantasy among the Southern trees. For the black male writer, the American wilderness is not a site for reinvention, but a space for social death, not an opportunity for empowerment, but a reminder of dehumanization, and not a route to intellectual liberation, but an escape from physical bondage: It is a place where those who have not yet been hung from “poplar trees” (Meeropol) are invisible. My research will construct two narratives, one by black male writers and the other by white male writers, through fiction, poetry, and essays set in the American wilderness from the 1830s to the 1950s. These narratives will speak to the capacity of the written word to elevate the writer and the capacity of the subject matter to diminish that same writer.