The American Dark Princess: W. E. B. Du Bois’s Antiracist Urban Sociology and African American Modernism


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At the intersection of literary scholarship, American Studies, and the critical study of globalization, no figure is more revered than W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois’s literary efforts, some of which were marginalized in his own time, now function as a series of lodestones that allow scholars to imagine progressive alliances that transcend the boundaries of the nation-state. Perhaps more than any other work, however, the novel Dark Princess (1928) has become central for this project, since it is commonly read as discrediting a racist America in favor of transnational antiracist solidarities. This essay argues that Dark Princess makes a strong case for a transformed American nationalism, one that is antiracist and oriented toward a progressive welfare state.

I begin by arguing that Sara Andrews is the heroine of Dark Princess: the character is at one and the same time a meditation on Du Bois’s famous essay “The Damnation of Women,” and a figure for Du Bois himself. Sara is typically viewed as an opportunistic schemer, or a “cynical social climber in the African American pigmentocracy and Illinois politics,” as Mark Van Wienen puts it (244). However, if Du Bois is warning us about how easy it is to get ahead if one abandons one’s convictions, it does seem strange for him to choose for this cautionary tale a black woman—who, whatever the tone of her skin, was utterly excluded by the American political mainstream of the 1920s—and construct a narrative in which she becomes one of the most powerful political figures in the Midwest, and, potentially, the nation as a whole. In fact, this is arguably the most fantastic element of Dark Princess, transcending the rival tale of a radical Indian princess and stolen jewels. I argue that Sara’s political agency and talent for forming coalitions is a political agency that Du Bois desired, and in fact, that Sara Andrews is his most fully realized fictional self-portrait.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages40
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2019
Event2019 Modern Language Association Annual Convention - Chicago, United States
Duration: 3 Jan 20196 Jan 2019


Conference2019 Modern Language Association Annual Convention
Abbreviated titleMLA 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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