“Yellow Peril”: Contradictions of Race in James Ellroy’s <i>Perfidia</i>


  • Nathan Ashman The University of Surrey


James Ellroy, race, perfomativity, whiteness, Perfidia


James Ellroy’s treatment of race continues to captivate and polarize both popular and academic opinion. Whilst some see the casual racism and often uncomfortable stereotypes in Ellroy’s work as a reflection of the author’s own political agenda, for others Ellroy’s work offers a complex deconstruction of both racial identity and white social power. Focusing on his novel Perfidia, this paper explores these contradictions and paradoxes in Ellroy’s representations of race, arguing that whilst the novel depicts and forcefully overemphasizes an historical moment fraught with a brand of physiognomic racism that persecutes individuals on the basis of biological difference, it simultaneously deconstructs such essentialist engenderings by foregrounding the performative dimensions of race as a category of identity. As a result, this paper argues that Ellroy’s novel “visibilizes” the socially and institutionally constructed nature of race, deconstructing and destabilizing the integrity and authority of white social power. Yet, this paper also suggests that through such an unyielding portrayal of white power, Perfidia only partly dislodges the authority and power of institutional whiteness, and can in fact be seen to validate the sustainment of such apparatus.