Why did so many of the writers who aligned themselves with the social and aesthetic aims of late nineteenth-century American literary realism rely on stock conventions of ethnic caricature in their treatment of immigrant African-American figures? Playing the Races argues that literary realism and ethnic caricature, two dramatically different aesthetic programmes that flourished side by side in periodicals of the era, operated less as antithetical choices than as complementary impulses, both of which received full play within late nineteenth-century America's most demanding literary and graphic works.

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