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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 5, 2018

Mimetic Desire and the Complication of the Conventional Neo-Slave Narrative Form in Edward P. Jones’s The Known World

Ignatius Chukwumah
From the journal arcadia


When critics declare that Edward P. Jones’s The Known World represents moral turpitude, capitalist proclivities, slavery, and whittling of white supremacy, their assertions are in order. But they often miss accounting for how The Known World, which bears some indices of the neo-slave narrative owing to its appropriation of the incidents of slavery in a novelistic platform, complicates its sub-tradition. This work investigates the text’s two-fold complication. First, Jones complicates the neo-slave narrative form by depicting slavery from a little known perspective of intra-racial slavery amongst black people. Then, he casts a white character, and not a black one, in the mold of a classical tragic hero. Mimetic desire, René Girard’s concept for an individual’s imitation of a prior model’s behavior, is drawn on to bare characters’ actions that accentuate both strands of complication. As the basis of all human action that includes rivalry, violence, and scapegoating, mimetic desire unravels the ‘mystery’ surrounding the sort of slavery overwhelmingly acknowledged by critics as untraditional in The Known World and the tragedy, also unique to the neo-slave narrative form, it gives rise to.

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Published Online: 2018-06-05
Published in Print: 2018-06-04

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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