Open Access Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
2019 Samantha J. Martin
One of the many cultural anxieties that existed during the nineteenth century in antebellum America centered on the dubious status of authenticity of one’s emotions, gender expression, or socioeconomic class. The fluctuating socioeconomic landscape of antebellum America destabilized the logic of categorization, rendering it an ineffectual means by which to evaluate others’ identities. In her novel The Hidden Hand, or, Capitola the Madcap, E. D. E. N. Southworth explores instead of censures the transformative properties of the self, specifically in terms of gender and class. Her interest in this lack of authenticity, or transparency regarding one’s self and intentions, is reflected by several characters in the novel who regularly engage in performance. Southworth codes manipulation, inauthenticity, and performance as distinctly masculine traits, whereas honesty, transparency, and guilelessness are coded as feminine. She draws on these idealized depictions to make a point about the limiting nature of such codified standards—and to disavow masculine manipulation and feminine passivity—before going on to complicate these binaries through Capitola Le Noir and Traverse Rocke. The implicit ideological thrust of The Hidden Hand points to the unstable, performative nature of gender as a construct. Both characters destabilize identity categories to reveal the arbitrary nature of gender and the harmful constraints of gender roles. They stage the confrontation between the reality of one’s body and the antebellum ideologies of femininity and masculinity. Capitola and Traverse are ultimately held up as ideal figures of femininity and masculinity, respectively, because their synthesis of traits produces an androgyny valorized by Southworth.
Martin, Samantha, "Sleight of Hand: Gender, Performance, and (In)sincerity in E. D. E. N. Southworth’s The Hidden Hand" (2019). Scripps Senior Theses. 1360.