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The Power of Smell in American Literature

Odor, Affect, and Social Inequality

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Daniela Babilon

Offering a thoroughly new approach to American literature, this book examines the literary representation of smell regarding its impact on establishing and subverting power structures. Although smell carries an enormous affective potential, it has been largely – but unjustly – overlooked in literary and cultural studies. Through her innovative close readings of works by authors such as Melville, Whitman, Equiano, Wilkins Freeman, Faulkner, Morrison, or Ellison, the author shows how smell stereotypes are used to discriminate against people and how odor references serve to undermine oppressive power structures. For this purpose, the author traces the cultural history of odor and combines insights from fields such as critical race, gender, intersectionality, trauma, and affect theories.

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3 The ‘Odor of Race:’ Abjection and Subversion in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Slave Narratives

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3 The ‘Odor of Race:’ Abjection and Subversion in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Slave Narratives

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

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