5818 - The Representation of Blackness in the Literature of German Exiles in the U.S.

Many German exiles from Nazi Germany, who made their experiences in the host countries the subject of their exile writings included not only the negotiation of a new foreign culture but also the encounters with members of different races and ethnicities. For those who fled to the United States, this often meant a consideration of the position of African Americans in their literature.  

This presentation focuses on the representation of African Americans in the exile novels Kind aller Länder ( Cosmopolitan Child , 1938) by Irmgard Keun; Ein Fenster am East River (A Window to East River, 1947) by Adrienne Thomas; and Der Wendepunkt (The Turning Point, 1942) by Klaus Mann. Despite their positive disposition towards African Americans none of the authors are able to shed the influence of the racial discourse prevalent in Germany since the end of the nineteenth century and escape racial stereotyping. I will argue that despite their disdain for the racism in the United States Irmgard Keun, Adrienne Thomas and Klaus Mann applied preconceived notions of Blackness to the African Americans in their novels. While the black protagonists in the novels lack the element of danger associated with the African Blacks of the colonial novels, their depictions still reflect numerous clichés prevalent in the racialized discourses of Wilhelminian Germany and the Weimar Republic.  

My analysis of the representations of African Americans found in the three novels will be preceded by an examination of the positions of Africans and Blacks in the dominant racial discourses of Germany in the first part of the twentieth century and its manifestation in popular culture. This discourse was anticipated by the neo-Hegelian concept of the “primitive Black” and the emerging Social Darwinism, both which were used to legitimize German colonial politics. The characterization of Blacks as intellectually inferior, uncivilized, and dangerous because of their unpredictable irrationality found its way into the literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially the colonial novel. In addition, the Weimar Cinema contributed significantly to the dissemination of racial stereotypes.        

Palavras-chaves: United States, Blackness, African Americans, German Exiles, racial stereotyping,

Autores: Schreckenberger, Helga (University of Vermont, Ud States of Am / USA)


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