Jessie Redmon Fauset’s “Comedy: American Style” and the Psychological Impact on Racism

Matthew Teutsch
6 min readMar 26

As I was constructing my syllabus for my upcoming “Black Expatriate Writers in France” syllabus, I wanted to make sure I had at least one text by an African American woman author. Since I as focusing on the South of France, specifically Provence (Avignon, Marseille, and Nice), I wanted texts that either took part, entirely, in the region or partly in the region. I did not want texts squarely situated in Paris. Finding these texts, apart from Claude McKay’s novels, was rather difficult. I chose James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room because David heads to Nice and we see him there in the space he rented. Even though William Gardner Smith’s The Stone Face solely takes place in Paris, I chose it because of its connections with with the treatment of Algerians and other French colonial subjects that Jessie Redmon Fauset, Baldwin, and McKay address in their work.

Thinking about the connections and threads between texts, I ultimately chose Fauset’s Comedy: American Style as one of the novels for the class. The action in Fauset’s novel mainly occurs in the United States, but some of it does take place in Toulouse, France, and a very small portion is set in Toulon, which is between Marseille and Nice. Fauset’s novel deals with the social constructions of race and exists within the passing novel genre, even though it differs from novels such as Nella Larsen’s Quicksand or even like Charles Chesnutt’s posthumous Paul Marchand, F.M.C. Olivia Cary can pass for white, and all she wants is to be accepted into white society. However, she marries a phenotypically Black man, and one of her three children, Oliver, cannot pass.

Olivia constantly tells her children, specifically Teresa, to steer clear of interacting with African Americans and to strive towards whiteness. Teresa pushes back against her mother and, while in college, gets engaged to Henry Bates, the some of a judge in Chicago. While Teresa vehemently pushes back throughout the novel against her mother’s views, Teresa begins to think about them and contemplates the ease of which it would be for her to pass. Teresa and Henry’s engagement ends when Teresa suggests that Henry pass a Mexican or Cuban because Henry does not want to pass and wants to uplift the community.

Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.