Date of Award

2001

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Margo Lukens

Second Committee Member

Patricia Burnes

Third Committee Member

Naomi Jacobs

Abstract

Writers of slave narratives i n the nineteenth-century manipulated the western sentimental literary tradition to appeal t o a white, predominantly female readership during a time of national ideological division. These writers had their own agendas which often m e t (or were forced to meet ) those of white-run abolitionist movements t o achieve the ultimate goal of abolishing slavery. Northern white-run abolitionist movements were kept warm by the moral fires of mid-nineteenth-century Protestant Christianity; Christian ideals flooded their meetings and publications. Therefore, it is no wonder that the writers of slave narratives are so overt i n discussing the v a l i d i t y of Christian beliefs and i n linking the plight t h a t Christianity faces i n the New Republic with the plight of slaves--who also happen to be fellow Christians. But slave narratives, especially those written by women, contained what I believe to be one of slavery's most l a s t i n g imprints l e f t on twentieth century American fiction-- the search for a l i b e r a t e d feminine i d e n t i t y f o r African American women. This l a s t i n g imprint shows i t s e l f i n four main themes or processes t h a t the female protagonist must reckon with i f she is to reach a place o f security within her own i d e n t i t y . These four themes are: a relationship or rather non-relationship with a "white man'sM God, a complex love/hate relationship to motherhood, family history and community, the c o n f l i c t i n g r e l a t i o n s h i p to one's own skin, and f i n a l l y , the role t h a t dress and adornment play i n each of these matters. A l l of these themes persist i n the twentieth-century novels t h a t are the objects of t h i s study: N e l l a Larsen's Quicksand, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes W e r e Watching God, A l i c e Walker's The Color Purple, and Toni Morrison's Beloved. Harriet Jacobs ' Incidents in t h e L i f e of a Slave G i r l is the slave narrative I r e f e r to as an example of a nineteenth-century foremother of these twentieth-century African American writers.

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