Identifying Marks
Race, Gender, and the Marked Body in Nineteenth-Century America

Jennifer Putzi

Tattooed captives, scarred maidens, and branded slaves


"Identifying Marks is a clearly written, lively, and nuanced book. Putzi's style is one that manages to clarify and complicate simultaneously—no easy task in academic writing today. This book will appeal to both expert scholars and graduate students."
—Carolyn Sorisio, author of Fleshing Out America: Race, Gender, and the Politics of the Body in American Literature, 1833-1879

"This book will make significant differences for critics of nineteenth-century U.S literature and history; it will also appeal to scholars who work on identity politics through attention to race and gender as dynamic and historically constructed products of nineteenth-century U.S. culture."
—Shirley Samuels, author of Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War

What we know of the marked body in nineteenth-century American literature and culture often begins with The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne and ends with Moby Dick's Queequeg. This study looks at the presence of marked men and women in a more challenging array of canonical and lesser-known works, including exploration narratives, romances, and frontier novels. Jennifer Putzi shows how tattoos, scars, and brands can function both as stigma and as emblem of healing and survival, thus blurring the borderline between the biological and social, the corporeal and spiritual.

Examining such texts as Typee, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Captivity of the Oatman Girls, The Morgesons, Iola Leroy, and Contending Forces, Putzi relates the representation of the marked body to significant events, beliefs, or cultural shifts, including tattooing and captivity, romantic love, the patriarchal family, and abolition and slavery. Her particular focus is on both men and women of color, as well as white women—in other words, bodies that did not signify personhood in the nineteenth century and thus by their very nature were grotesque. Complicating the discourse on agency, power, and identity, these texts reveal a surprisingly complex array of representations of and responses to the marked body—some that are a product of essentialist thinking about race and gender identities and some that complicate, critique, or even rebel against conventional thought.

Page count: 208 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Jennifer Putzi is an associate professor of English and women's studies at the College of William and Mary.