Projection of Self, Construction of the Other

“(Fannie) Hurst’s deployment of a corpulent mammy character (in Imitation of Life)… becomes even more intriguing if one reads it together with a brief autobiographical narrative she published two years later (in 1935) entitled No Food with My Meals. Therein Hurst describes her obsession with the slimming craze, which she says began to overcome her just as she was writing Imitation of Life. ‘Some women are born frail.’ she announces…. ‘Some have frailty thrust upon them. Still others achieve it, and at what price glory!’…. Having passed through the stage when she ‘pitied obesity in others, and did all in [her] power to either induce or or encourage it’ (33), Hurst reports that her current wish is to be freed from her obsession with food and dieting–though she fears that she is ‘too infected with this slimming phobia to hope for complete redemption’ (52).

“…. Though she never directly mentions Imitation of Life, she seems to be acknowledging that her own desire for and fear of food (and one of its bodily corollaries, fat) resulted in her having projected onto the (black mammy) character Delilah a psychology untouched by the slimming fad. Delilah, in other words, functions as a dual mode of novelistic wish fulfillment: she is both the object of Hurst’s derision, that which Hurst loathes in herself, and what Hurst wishes she could be–able to experience and satisfy her appetite ‘naturally’….”

Doris Witt, Black Hunger: Soul Food and America, p. 35


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