Finally breaking through heterosexual clichés of flirtatious belles and cavaliers, sinister black rapists and lusty "Jezebels," Cotton’s Queer Relations exposes the queer dynamics embedded in myths of the southern plantation. Focusing on works by Ernest J. Gaines, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, Katherine Anne Porter, Margaret Walker, William Styron, and Arna Bontemps, Michael P. Bibler shows how each one uses figures of same-sex intimacy to suggest a more progressive alternative to the pervasive inequalities tied historically and symbolically to the South’s most iconic institution.
Bibler looks specifically at relationships between white men of the planter class, between plantation mistresses and black maids, and between black men, arguing that while the texts portray the plantation as a rigid hierarchy of differences, these queer relations privilege a notion of sexual sameness that joins the individuals as equals in a system where equality is rare indeed. Bibler reveals how these models of queer egalitarianism attempt to reconcile the plantation’s regional legacies with national debates about equality and democracy, particularly during the eras of the New Deal, World War II, and the civil rights movement. Cotton’s Queer Relations charts bold new territory in southern studies and queer studies alike, bringing together history and cultural theory to offer innovative readings of classic southern texts.
A book in the American Literatures Initiative (ALI), a collaborative publishing project supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For more information, please visit www.americanliteratures.org.
Through deft textual analysis, relevant historical and literary research, and a firm grasp of the implications of queer theory for this subject, Michael Bibler makes a strong case for the capacity of same-sex relations in plantation novels (relations which may be homosocial, homoerotic, and/or homosexual) to undermine the rigidities of those perspectives that represent this literature exclusively in terms of ideologies of racial, sexual, and class difference. Cotton’s Queer Relations serves as the foundation for a new and effective approach to the problem of social inequalities in southern literature.
Michael Bibler opens--I should say pries open--a new door in southern studies. Behind this door is a body of writing that presents homosexuality as both a fact of nature and a construct that works to maintain the South's hierarchical power structures. With its focus on the southern plantation and its ongoing representations in literature and popular culture, Cotton's Queer Relations illuminates a crucial but often ignored irony: The South's seemingly official desire to make homosexuality disappear actually speaks to the region's inability to stifle the expression of homosexual desire.
Michael P. Bibler is Lecturer in American Literature at the University of Manchester in England.