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Realism, Fetishism, and Genocide: Negro Head Tobacco in and around Great Expectations

Realism, Fetishism, and Genocide: Negro Head Tobacco in and around Great Expectations

Chapter:
(p.81) 3 Realism, Fetishism, and Genocide: Negro Head Tobacco in and around Great Expectations
Source:
The Ideas in Things
Author(s):
Elaine Freedgood
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226261546.003.0004

Repressed horror circulates in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations in many forms, including domestic abuse, state violence, slavery, and cannibalism. This chapter analyzes fetishism, realism, metonymy, and violence in Great Expectations and argues that there is a particularly overwhelming horror that cannot be named but only encoded fetishistically in the most apparently negligible of details. The “negligible” (uninterpretable, insignificant, non-symbolic) detail on which this chapter focuses is “Negro head” tobacco; the horror in question is the genocide of Australian Aborigines during the Victorian period. Negro head tobacco conjures Abel Magwitch's identification of himself as a slave, specifically as the black slave of his erstwhile partner, Compeyson. In the second paragraph of Great Expectations, we find Pip trying to interpret a set of desperately unreaderly texts—the epitaphs on the gravestones of his dead family. He attempts to sketch for himself a portrait of his parents and brothers according to the “evidence” provided by the writing on their gravestones.

Keywords:   Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, Negro head tobacco, state violence, slavery, genocide, fetishism, realism, metonymy, Australian Aborigines

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