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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

7. Slavery and

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Activities: Author Activities

William and Ellen Craft - Author Questions

Back Back to William and Ellen Craft Activities
  1. Comprehension: What kinds of boundaries, both literal and symbolic, do the Crafts cross in the course of their escape? Which boundaries do they seem to have the most difficulty crossing?

  2. Context: How does Ellen Craft's story compare with the "tragic mulatta" figure as she is characterized in Uncle Tom's Cabin? How does Ellen Craft's use of cross-dressing compare to Harriet Jacobs's use of cross-dressing in her escape? How does Craft's decision to "pass" for white complicate her narrative?

  3. Exploration: Cross-dressing was a popular motif in early national literature (a famous example is the narrative of Deborah Sampson, who served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War). Can you think of other American texts that involve stories of cross-dressing or racial passing? How do these acts of disguise take on different meanings over time? How do they challenge our assumptions about race and gender?

  4. Exploration: Feminist and queer theorist Marjorie Garber has argued that cross-dressing is usually a sign of "category crisis" in a text. That is, it points to the artificiality of other socially constructed categories such as race, class, or sexuality. What categories besides gender are "in crisis" in the Crafts' narrative?

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