Make Capital Out of Their Sympathy

BookMake Capital Out of Their Sympathy

Make Capital Out of Their Sympathy

Debt and Payment in Postbellum African-American Literature

Clemson University Press: African American Literature


December 1st, 2022





Written for an audience that has witnessed the election of Barack Obama, the debt anxieties of the Great Recession, and the emergence of Black Lives Matter as a powerful protest movement, Make Capital Out of Their Sympathy presents a literary prehistory of today’s renewed calls for reparations for slavery. By turning to fiction by African-American writers of the post-Reconstruction period, Make Capital shows how writers such as Charles Chesnutt, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Pauline Hopkins connect black economic inequality to the failure of the United States and its white citizens to meet both moral and economic obligations toward the formerly enslaved. In so doing, these writers map a terrain between the personal and the political that reveals the motivations for, and limited impacts of, individual action. Their works unpack assumptions about the connections between feeling and action that are foundational to novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which presumes that the right feelings can remedy injustice. Through careful readings of scenes that bring together money and sympathy, Make Capital Out of Their Sympathy shows how these postbellum writers pose—and answer—questions about the debts owed to African Americans after Emancipation and the willingness of white Americans to pay them. In their attention to the economic contexts that shape black lives and white feelings, they help us to understand why this debt still persists.

Author Information

Christine A. Wooley is an associate professor of English at St. Mary's College of Maryland, where she also serves as associate dean of curriculum. Her current research focuses on representations of money and other financial forms in postbellum US literature, particularly in connection to accounts of growth and to depictions of interracial exchanges that mingle feelings and finances. Her work has appeared in the African American Review, Mississippi Quarterly, and most recently, PMLA.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Chapter 1. Introduction
Part 1:  Debt
Chapter 2. What
do you owe? Sympathy, Risk, and Reparation
Chapter 3. Constitutive Debt: Booker T. Washington and Paul Laurence
4. Charles Chesnutt’s Economies of Redress
2. Payment
Chapter 4. Charity as Speculation: The Necessary Fictions of The Colonel’s Dream
5. Held in Checks: Du Bois, Johnson, and the Figurative Work of Financial Forms
6. Haunted Economies: Retribution and Atonement
The Reparative Futures of Watchmen