Poe's "some Words with a Mummy" and blackface anatomy

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In Edgar Allan Poe's "Some Words with a Mummy" (1845), a group of professional and amateur Egyptologists gather to unwrap a supernumerary mummy, only to have their fun interrupted when the mummy awakes. By reanimating a silenced Other who interrogates and tramples the pretensions of his would-be dissectors, relativizing and thus diminishing all they have accomplished, Poe's story gleefully pokes holes in elite white male privilege. Moreover, "Some Words" picks up on and exaggerates a subtext of guilt about the act of dissection itself that often runs through published dissection accounts of the time, in particular those that include galvanic experiments. By having the mummy defend himself and refuse to be appropriated, "Some Words with a Mummy" functions as a blackface performance that magnifies that dis-ease. The mummy becomes a ludicrous and yet powerful combination of two minstrel show characters - Zip Coon and the highminded interlocutor - that confounds and humiliates the white unwrappers, who stand in for the show's low-comic endmen but lack the protective covering of burnt cork. His performance powerfully subverts nineteenth-century white manhood and its fraternal institutions, including science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-16
Number of pages15
JournalPoe Studies: History, Theory, Interpretation
StatePublished - 2015

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© 2015 Johns Hopkins University Press and Washington State University.


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