What's the significance of this distanced narrative voice? Gertrude Fraser, in her afterword to the 1993 edition of The Florida Negro, identifies some of these dynamics within the text:

There are other instances in The Florida Negro when the 'we' of the text distances the author from the experiences of being Negro and Floridian. Here the point of reference is the white reader, for whom the author(s) is the chronicler and observer of Negro traditions and communities. These instances operate by a different set of mechanisms so that the reader (the white reader) is asked first to consider the culture of the Negro as exotic, even odd, but then is made to normalize those differences through a form of analogic substitution. (McDonogh 120-1)

The alternate exoticizing and domesticating that Fraser identifies here in reference to descriptions of folklore surfaces in local color treatments of jook joints, both within this text and in others, as well. She argues that the narrative voice tries to normalize difference through analogies; I would argue that the light, playful tone accomplishes the same end in the local color pieces.

Reading The Florida Negro or Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, there are moments where the identity of the narrative voice comes more clearly into focus, when the tone slides into white turf, and there are times when it seems more deracinated. That the identity of the narrative voice should waver, or, similarly, that the effect in these texts could vary so dramatically between exoticizing and domesticating, should not surprise us. Gary McDonogh, the editor of The Florida Negro in its belatedly published form, recognizes this crisis of position in the authorial voice throughout the text; "at times, stereotypes are presented in what seems to be an appeal to white readers of the period; at others, a more critical voice is raised, even if a cogent argument for change is scarcely voiced" (McDonogh xxvii). Given the conditions of race relations and the ways black and white identity played off of each other in Florida discourses, a schizophrenic tone was not unexpected in white narratives about black public or private identity.



Juliet Gorman, May 2001


Links within this discussion:

Have you read up on the derivation of the word "jook"? There are interesting etymological parallels to the public reputation of  jook joints.

If you've already been there, the question at this point is how Marion Post Wolcott's images did and did not participate in the pattern of discursive representation of jooks that we've just explored...

Links that take you outside this discussion:

If you're interested, you can examine some other places this "schizophrenia" of narrative tone surfaces.