“Nothing New Under the Sun”: Postsentimental Conflict in Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig

2017-05-21T04:39:34Z (GMT) by Karsten H. Piep
The content of a work of literature, Walter Benjamin reminds us in “The Author as Producer,” is inextricably bound up with its form. Hence, it is hardly astounding that much critical attention has been focused on the proper generic classification of Harriet E. Wilson’s <i>Our Nig</i> (1859). This task, though, has not been easy. Henry Louis Gates, rediscoverer and earliest critic of <i>Our Nig</i>, for example, goes to great length discussing parallels between Wilson’s work and Nina Baym’s ‘overplot’ of the ‘women’s novel,’ before settling on reading it as a new form of distinctly African-American literature that combines “conventions of the sentimental novel with certain key conventions of the slave narratives” (lii). Elizabeth Ammons, by contrast, places<i> Our Nig</i> squarely in the feminist tradition of the sentimental novel and argues that “the ideal of mother love explicit in <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin</i> operates implicitly in <i>Our Nig</i>.” ...