In William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner, and the responses to his novels, two contrasting discourses emerge: a commitment to the idea that histories of slavery and the Holocaust can be explained by economic motives, on one hand, and, on the other, a commitment to the idea that these histories are defined by racial sentiments against blacks and Jews, respectively. This essay considers Styron’s commitment to the economic explanation alongside the fate of that explanation in Robert William Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s controversial history of slavery, Time on the Cross. All of these works were controversial because critics claimed they failed to take racism seriously and, in failing to do so, produced exculpatory accounts of Holocaust and slavery perpetrators.
The Plantation-Auschwitz Tradition: Forced Labor and Free Markets in the Novels of William Styron
Danielle Christmas is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the support of a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship (2013–2014) and a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Fellowship (2013–2014). Her dissertation, “Auschwitz and the Plantation: Labor and Social Death in American Holocaust and Slavery Fiction,” concerns how representations of Holocaust and slavery perpetrators contribute to American socioeconomic discourses.
Danielle Christmas; The Plantation-Auschwitz Tradition: Forced Labor and Free Markets in the Novels of William Styron. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2015; 61 (1): 1–31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-2885167
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