photographs of “unidentified black nurses” (illust. 12)— in conversation with literary representationsof the black mammy. Thus, Wallace-Sanders demonstrates the constructed nature of the stereotypethat was carefully fostered in the South by writers and artists during the 1820s through the 1930s. Not only does the book define and address the origins of the word,
also intervenes into thegrowing historiography on black women through an exploration of the gendered and racialized politics of maternity, which are unique and inherent to the mammy figure. Beginning with theFoucaultian trope of the “body as a site of struggle,” Wallace-Sanders argues that emphasizing thematernity of the mammy figure “means seeing the body in a metonymic relationship to personhood,[which is] an essential component of recasting the mammy as more than a turban and a smile” (3).The reference to Michele Foucault could have been developed more deeply; however, the author’sclear and accessible narrative style and thorough treatment of the body politic positions
as afitting theoretical pair with Foucault’s work for the undergraduate classroom. Wallace-Sanders’approach to the subject is unique in that it includes not only hegemonic representations of the black mammy through southern plantation fiction and memoir, but also provides analyses of counter-representations by black writers and artists. In six chronological chapters Wallace-Sanders revealsthat the mammy is a multifarious figure, a woman who is much more than her two dimensional “AuntJemima” stereotype or a literary character.Chapter one reads early plantation fiction in context with religious propaganda and other culturalrelics as a means to trace the introduction of the mammy figure into popular culture. Wallace-Sandersfound that the earliest representations of the mammy “reflected greater heterogeneity than later models” (9). Using topsy-turvey dolls (one side of the doll is a white child and the other side a black mammy) as a metaphor for the relationship between mammy and her white charge, chapter two asks provocative questions about black motherhood and sexuality that have not been addressed thus far inthe historiography. While previous scholarship addresses the mammy’s “surrogacy” to white children
Wallace-Sanders argues the mammy’s “milk line” is a “supplemental family line” binding black women with their white charges (37). Chapter three traces the origins of the Aunt Jemima trademark revealing a once real woman whose image now unites Americans in a “common historic past” (71),and chapter four examines literary reactions to the “new negro” movement. Chapter five discussesmammy’s jump from a literary character to a bronze monument that “immortalized the mammy” (92).Chapter six compares and contrasts Faulkner’s
The Sound and the Fury
Gone with theWind
and finds moments of agency in “passing from black to white,” (86) not for mammy but for her children. The book concludes by reminding readers that although the mammy is a pervasive culturalstereotype, the figure is anything but an oversimplified conception of blackness, womanhood, andmaternity.The book is an excellent read for an academic or popular audience of African American history, popculture, embodiment, motherhood and maternity, and gender studies. What makes this a provocative book is Wallace-Sanders’ assertion that the mammy “type is tied to behavior rather thanappearance,” (87) calling into question what readers think they know about mammy, and thus posturing this book as a worthwhile read for scholars of performance. Wallace-Sanders’ fifteen year commitment and synthetic approach to the longstanding cultural icon helps all readers appreciate how physical differences are essentialized through performative acts, not only textually, but also throughrole play with dolls, and how these acts are memorialized through art and immortalized through socialmemory. The mammy figure is ultimately representative of the “long lasting and troubling marriageof racial and gender essentialism, mythology, and southern nostalgia” emergent from popular culturein the early nineteenth century, who has “become the most widely recognized representation of anAfrican American woman” (2).Page 2of 6e-misférica10/16/2010http://www.hemisphericinstitute.org/eng/publications/emisferica/5.2/en52_thomas_willia...