112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Spirits, Psychology, and Self in Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood

Stephanie Luke, Indiana University, Bloomington

Hopkins drew inspiration from William James’s “The Hidden Self,” an essay that explores the connections between “mysticism” and identity. This paper explores the novel’s representation of racial heritage in relation to James’s psychological theories of fractured consciousness. It also theorizes how this duality of self fails to provide the novel with a sense of resolution.


In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois described post-Reconstruction African-American identity as marked by a duality that was eternally at war with itself: “One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings.” That same year, Pauline Hopkins would represent the struggle to come to terms with this “twoness” in her magazine novel Of One Blood; Or, The Hidden Self, which depicts Reuel Briggs’s search for an identity and a family, first in America and then in Africa. Critics have often interpreted this double setting, this fracture at the heart of the novel, as dramatizing the debate between advocates of racial uplift and supporters of the back-to-Africa movement over the issue of how to build and strengthen the African-American community following the abolition of slavery. Like Du Bois, Hopkins depicts the self as fractured, individual identity as ever at odds with itself, and a people as split between two nations. While many critics have considered the socio-political context of the work, few have explored the psychological undercurrents of Hopkins’s novel. As evidenced by the subtitle of her novel, Hopkins drew inspiration from William James’s “The Hidden Self,” an essay that explores the connection between “mystical” phenomena and individual and collective identity. This paper will explore how Hopkins employs the “mystical” phenomena of spirits, mesmeric trances, and prophetic visions to represent the nature of post-Reconstruction African-American identity as suspended between the memories of the past and the dreams of the future.