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Aberration of MindSuicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South$
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Diane Miller Sommerville

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469643304

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469643304.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 17 October 2019

Conclusion

Conclusion

Chapter:
(p.255) Conclusion
Source:
Aberration of Mind
Author(s):

Diane Miller Sommerville

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469643304.003.0010

Suicide, by late nineteenth century, had transformed from a shameful, sinful act to one of sacrifice and courage. The most famous suicide of the Civil War, that of Edmund Ruffin, shows this evolution in attitudes about suicide. Ruffin’s suicide is venerated in Lost Cause literature as an act of patriotic martyrdom. The glorification of (white) suicide converged with the racial politics of the era as seen in the classic film, Birth of a Nation, and on the novel on which it was based, Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman. Suicide had become a marker of racial superiority that anchored the act to a neo-Confederate identity. By contrast, black suicides were either denied or explained as the acts of uncontrollable, manic, crazy former slaves no longer under the constraints of enslavement. Heroic suicide instilled meaning into the vast suffering in the failed effort at independence.

Keywords:   Edmund Ruffin, Birth of a Nation, The Clansman, Thomas Dixon, suicide, Confederate identity

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