"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
"Literally and truly a heartening book. Because Abernathy has thought deeply about black-white relations. Because he illuminates many concerned novelists since Mark Twain. And because he incisively helps us to search for the most promising path forward."
"Complementing Montserrat Gines's The Southern Inheritors of Don Quixote, which addresses similar and related issues in Twain's and Faulkner's writing, this thoughtful study goes beyond the genre of literary studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
"To Hell and Back is a wide-ranging, accessible work on essential elements of American life."
—University Press Book Review
"This thoughtful study goes beyond the genre of literary studies."
"Abernathy establishes the continued relevance of Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to life in the U.S.. Abernathy shows that, though most readers find Twain's conclusion unsatisfactory, our repeated efforts to renegotiate the relationship between black and white in our history and in our literature have yielded similarly unsatisfying results."
"Abernathy’s To Hell and Back: Race and Betrayal in the Southern Novel is without question one of the bravest forays into racial politics and literary production that has been written. . . . To Hell and Back is an extraordinary book, well argued without being condescending and penetrating in its analysis without being vicious or petty. Abernathy has thrown down the gauntlet of racial crossing as it were and has challenged the South and its writers to move beyond the pattern of betrayal."
—Southern Literary Journal
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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