Gender, Race, Mobility and Performance in James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird

Yuan-Chin Chang


In The Good Lord Bird, Onion’s gender passing and performance can be seen as fluid and transparent. Performance, mobility, fluid and constant change are themes and currents throughout the novel. The dramatic narrative feeds off tensions arising from race and gender and the ways in which related identities are experienced and performed. The current paper examines factors relating to performativity and identity in terms of race; in the case of Onion’s narrative these inform a specific kind of understanding of a social and geographical situation that requires subversion. Through humor and satire, McBride creastes a powerful work with contemporary resonances. The drama of the novel is based on concepts of performativity and identity, and the understanding represented by the symbol of the “Good Lord” bird in the novel. McBride wrote the novel for a contemporary audience, knowing that they would be attuned to such issues surrounding racial performance and racial identity. In a way, the unusual literary depiction of a self-identified male who inhabits a female performed identity throughout the novel can be seen as McBride’s comment on the ridiculousness of a binary system of racial categorization as used since the slavery era. Using theories from Lacan, Butler and Bhabha, the current work examines the plurality and hybridity of performed identities in The Good Lord Bird as they relate to understanding.



Gender and race, slavery, performativity, identity, satirical fiction

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