Justice Deferred: Legal Duplicity and the Scapegoat Mentality in Paul Laurence Dunbar's Jim Crow America

Law & Literature, Forthcoming

31 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2018 Last revised: 9 Jan 2019

See all articles by Rebecca Ruth Gould

Rebecca Ruth Gould

University of Birmingham; Harvard University - Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies

Date Written: October 5, 2018

Abstract

Although best known as a poet, African-American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) developed a unique voice in his fiction. This essay explores the bifurcation Dunbar discerned between the law as an instrument of justice and as a stabilizer of the segregationist status quo in Jim Crow America. Dunbar's characters systematically scapegoated for crimes they did not commit in order to expose the law’s precarious relationship to justice. His treatment of lynching as a manifestation of the scapegoat mechanism links this practice to a political theory of violence, whereby the innocent are punished for the crimes of the guilty, and society requires their sacrifice in order to redeem its guilt. Without relinquishing his faith in the law, Dunbar used prose narratives to expose the disjuncture between law and justice made manifest by the US Supreme Court’s rationalization of racial discrimination in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Beyond considering the light Dunbar sheds on the relationship between law and justice, I locate these interventions within a longer history of thinking about the role of the writer as a scapegoat who enables society to sin without experiencing guilt.

Keywords: Scapegoat, Lynching, Shame, Innocence, Guilt, Violence, Justice, Honor, Sacrifice, Lawyers, Narrative, Pharmakon, Pharmakos, African-American Literature, Paul Laurence Dunbar

Suggested Citation

Gould, Rebecca Ruth, Justice Deferred: Legal Duplicity and the Scapegoat Mentality in Paul Laurence Dunbar's Jim Crow America (October 5, 2018). Law & Literature, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3260927

Rebecca Ruth Gould (Contact Author)

University of Birmingham ( email )

College of Arts and Law
Birmingham, UK, Birmingham B15 2TT
United Kingdom
https://rrgould.hcommons.org/ (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/rebeccagould

Harvard University - Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies ( email )

1730 Cambridge Street, 3rd Floor
Cambridge, 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://daviscenter.fas.harvard.edu/about-us/people/rebecca-gould

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