Faculty Bookshelf: Martha J. Cutter

Books By Martha J. Cutter

cutter book cover
The Illustrated Slave: Empathy, Graphic Narrative, and the Visual Culture of the Transatlantic Abolition Movement, 1800-1852  (University of Georgia Press, 2017). From the 1787 Wedgwood antislavery medallion featuring the image of an enchained and pleading black body to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave (2013), slavery as a system of torture and bondage has fascinated the optical imagination of the transatlantic world. Scholars have examined various aspects of the visual culture that was slavery, including its painting, sculpture, pamphlet campaigns, and artwork. Yet an important piece of this visual culture has gone unexamined: the popular and frequently reprinted antislavery illustrated books published prior to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) that were utilized extensively by the antislavery movement in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Illustrated Slave analyzes some of the more innovative works in the archive of antislavery illustrated books published from 1800 to 1852 alongside other visual materials that depict enslavement. Martha J. Cutter argues that some illustrated narratives attempt to shift a viewing reader away from pity and spectatorship into a mode of empathy and interrelationship with the enslaved. She also contends that some illustrated books characterize the enslaved as obtaining a degree of control over narrative and lived experiences, even if these figurations entail a sense that the story of slavery is beyond representation itself. Through exploration of famous works such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as unfamiliar ones by Amelia Opie, Henry Bibb, and Henry Box Brown, she delineates a mode of radical empathy that attempts to destroy divisions between the enslaved individual and the free white subject and between the viewer and the viewed.

The Wadsworth Themes in American Literature Series, 1910-1945 (Cengage, 2008). Ed., with Jay Parini.
Each booklet in this thematic series for American literature centers on a core issue and develops key themes. Martha J. Cutter edits the booklets dealing with the modern era, 1910-1945, when American empire came into its own and began to flex its muscles in ways both productive and destructive. Cutter charts the struggle between the sexes in a compelling range of texts. Class and its impact on how people viewed themselves is explored in a selection of works that deal with issues of class, money, and power. The New Negro Renaissance occurred during this period, a revival and consolidation of writing in a variety of genres by African Americans.

Lost and Found in Translation: Contemporary Ethnic American Writing and the Politics of Language Diversity (University of North Carolina Press, 2005)

Starting with Salman Rushdie’s assertion that even though something is always lost in translation, something can always be gained, this book examines the trope of translation in twenty English-language novels and autobiographies by contemporary ethnic American writers. Studying works by Asian American, Native American, African American, and Mexican American authors, it argues that through the metaphor of translation, writers such as Maxine Hong Kingston, Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Susan Power, Cherrie Moraga, and Richard Rodriguez establish a place within American society for the many languages spoken by multiethnic and multicultural individuals. Ultimately these writers advocate a politics of language diversity–a literary and social agenda that validates the multiplicity of ethnic cultures and tongues in the United States and offers hope in our postmodern culture for a new condition in which creatively fused languages renovate the communications of the dominant society and create new kinds of identity for multicultural individuals.


Unruly Tongue: Identity and Voice in American Women’s Writing, 1850-1930 (University Press of Mississippi, 1999)

From 1780 to 1860 American writers were preoccupied with the feminine virtues of purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity—a constellation of attributes known as the domestic saint, or  the cult of domesticity. Part of this cult’s ideology—preached in numerous advice manuals and conduct books for women—was a focus on women’s silence, which impacted their authority not only as speakers but also as writers, because language was treated as a patriarchal and white property or attribute. This book examines ten African American and Anglo American women (Fanny Fern, Harriet Wilson, Louisa May Alcott, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Frances Harper, and Kate Chopin) who challenged this historical construction of women’s identity and voice by creating characters with unruly and subversive voices that undermine not only patriarchal authority but also patriarchal and racist theories of language.  In so doing they renovate language, crafting a space for both black and white women as subjects and speakers. They also explore new theories of language that move beyond patriarchal discourse itself.