Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Keith Gandal

Second Advisor

Doris Barkin


race, gender, black women, narrative, suffering, twentieth century


Adventure, romance, and happiness are not large parts of the stories Black women tell. If we had to name ten mainstream literary novels released in the last 50 years that featured Black women central to the plot — and included the aforementioned themes — we would be hard-pressed to find them. Though there are real life accounts of love, joy, and adventure in the lives of Black women, why do we see these life experiences documented sparingly? In the stories written by andforBlack women, where can Black female readers find joy in their history and culture without elements of grave sacrifice, abuse, and injustice? Though these instances of suffering do not account forall of theliterary experiences of Black women, we cannot ignore that this theme is prevalent in literature written by them. Suffering,specificallyinstances of personal and bodily sacrifice, physical and sexual assault, and mental dissolution, it’s clear that these characteristics are the foundations of what makes Black female narratives unique and impactful. In this paper I will argue that suffering is a central and irrevocable theme of the twentieth-century Black female narrative by examining the works of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. These two novels embody the essence of suffering in Black female narratives and are integral in the conversation surrounding Black women’s experiences and womanhood.



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