"To Hell and Back shows how consistently white southern novelists committed to busting the color line have left it intact. Huck Finn's archetypal betrayal of Jim—his decision to 'go to hell' to set a slave free only to go slack at novel's end—has continued to plague his literary descendants, southern in purview but national in scope. A rousing and useful argument."
—Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class
Jeff Abernathy assesses cross-racial pairings in American literature following Huckleberry Finn to show that this pattern of engagement and betrayal appears repeatedly in our fiction—notably southern fiction—just as it appears throughout American history and culture. He contends that such stories of companionship and rejection express opposing tenets of American culture: a persistent vision of democracy and the racial hierarchy that undermines it.
Abernathy traces this pattern through works by William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, Kaye Gibbons, Sara Flanigan, Elizabeth Spencer, Padgett Powell, Ellen Douglas, and Glasgow Phillips. He then demonstrates how African American writers pointedly contest the pattern. The works of Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, and Richard Wright, for example, "portray autonomous black characters and white characters who must earn their own salvation, or gain it not at all."
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