Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Lyn Di Iorio

Second Advisor

Carla Cappetti


African American, Trauma, Conjure, Vodun, Transgenerational, Southern fiction, Jesmyn Ward


This thesis explores how ecocriticism and trauma theory intersect within Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) to tackle the complex act of collective healing. Trauma, and its subset transgenerational trauma, have often been a focal point for critical analysis of other African American texts that engage with ghosts and hauntings, such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). Often, these ghosts are symbolic of transgenerational trauma in fictional works. While this association is apparent in Ward’s novel, this thesis applies the aforementioned modes of scholarship alongside African-based spiritualism to investigate further the inclusion of ghosts. To accomplish this approach, this thesis separates the analysis into two distinctly gendered sections: the first section unpacks the relationship between African-based spiritualism and female-centric conjure work in the family line, whereas the second section analyzes how trauma shapes black masculinity and how repression perpetuates transgenerational trauma. These two sections work together to prove how Ward’s novel engages with the transfer of trauma across generational lines and how she then offers a way to mend it at both an individual and collective level. As part of the discussion, I will be including critical work from scholars such as Kathleen Brogan, who clarifies between traumatic memory and narrative memory, as well as Gabriele Schwab, who observes transgenerational effects in both survivors and perpetrators of trauma. In the concluding section, I identify the way Ward navigates these interwoven parts in a world that continues to blend and create intersectional cultural identities.



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