Siobhan Somerville’s essay “Passing through the Closet in Pauline E. Hopkins’s Contending Forces”
In Siobhan Somerville’s essay, “Passing through the Closet in Pauline E. Hopkins’s Contending Forces”, the tacit allusion to homosexuality within Hopkins’ story is argued to be a resource used to question the dominance or implicit strength of heterosexuality in the African-American community over Black women. While I do believe Hopkins may have intended for the novel to raise questions about the institution of marriage in relation to the African-American female, I do not believe the argument is as polarized as a difference between homosexual and heterosexual attraction in relation to politics between the sexes. Instead, I would argue that the very ambiguity of sexuality within the text serves to comment on a larger issue of what makes a woman female and the importance of intimate bonds between women in society.
The most important piece of textual evidence in Somerville’s argument is the attic scene between Dora and Sappho. In this scene Sappho begs Dora to spend the morning with her after a snowstorm from the previous night makes it impossible for her to go to work. The two lock themselves away in Sappho’s attic apartment and commence to have a tea party and “play ‘company’ like the children” (Hopkins 117). In her essay, Somerville describes this as a highly sexualized scene, in which the intimacy between the two women hints at a possible homosexual attraction between the two, given the homoerotic description of their affection towards one another (Somerville 149-152). While I do believe the scene does have a certain element of homoerotic tension, I would not go so far as to polarize the scene as clearly “homosexual” as “a potential obstacle to the expected heterosexual coupling” (151). Rather, I would say Dora expresses another type of emotional strain in regards to heterosexual marriage. The homoerotic moment between these two women demonstrate a network of affection and understanding well outside the boundaries of marriage, which existed solely between women.
In Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s essay, “The Female World of Love and Ritual,” the concept of “female friendship” is seen as a product of “cultural and social setting rather than from an exclusively individual psychosexual perspective” (Smith-Rosenberg 2). From her insightful readings of letters sent between women during the early to late nineteenth century, close female relationships seem to foster a type of network of support between women existing far outside of the realm of the heterosexual courtship society. These interactions ranged from intensely physical and emotional confidences between women, which by today’s standard would be seen as potential homosexual revelations, to ‘average’ platonic declarations of love. In any case, it would appear that the social standard for same-sexed bonds was much more flexible and intimate in the early 1900s than it is today, most likely due to...