Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis

Subject Categories

American Literature

Keywords

Black feminism; black women's literature; intersectionality; neo-slave narratives

Abstract

African-American women at the turn of the 1970s were the ostensible beneficiaries of the multiple liberation movements that had arisen during the previous decades: the civil rights movement, Black Power, second-wave feminism, and the gay rights movement. But black women’s unique vantage point at the crossroads of multiple forms of discrimination – a position that would eventually necessitate the coining of the term intersectionality – allowed them to see the failures and shortcomings of each of these movements with a clarity that often escaped their political peers, and brought home to them the necessity of creating their own movement, one that was simultaneously black and feminist. Struggling against political isolation and what the Combahee River Collective termed “feelings of craziness,” black women came together to form at least five significant black feminist organizations between 1968 and 1975, including the National Black Feminist Organization and Combahee. The concerns of these organizations were simultaneously reflected in a new flowering of literature written by black women that would extend well into the 1980s. Among the products of this “black women’s literary Renaissance” was a cluster of five novels that took American slavery as their subject and featured escaped or escaping female slaves as protagonists: Gayl Jones’ Corregidora, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Sally Hemings, Sherley Anne Williams’ Dessa Rose, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. This thesis argues that these writers chose slavery as their subject as a vehicle for far more contemporary concerns that had surfaced as a result of black women’s unsatisfactory experiences with the black liberation movement, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. Jones, Butler, Chase-Riboud, Williams and Morrison were particularly concerned with three themes: relations between black women and black men, the political uses of black motherhood, and the complexities of alliances with whites. In addressing these questions, these authors not only demonstrated the ongoing relevance of movement questions to American national life, but acted as literary activists who extended the movements’ work during a period of political reaction and backlash.

Share

COinS