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Disrupting dissemblance: Transgressive black women as politics of counter-representation in African American women's fiction

Trimiko C Melancon, University of Massachusetts Amherst


My dissertation examines post-civil rights novels by Toni Morrison, Ann Allen Shockley, and Alice Walker, and investigates their subversion of myopic representations of black women in the American literary and cultural imagination. More precisely, this study examines these writers' characterizations of black women who not only diverge from stereotypical images imposed by ideologies of “whiteness,” but who also rebel unapologetically against constructions of female identity imposed by nationalist discourse generally and black nationalism particularly. Drawing upon black feminist theoretical frameworks, performance theory, and postmodernist notions, this study analyzes these characters' transgressive behavior, specifically with regards to their sexuality, as, in part, a means to create a modern identity. While these notions have been engaged in non-literary texts that explicate how race and nationalism construct gender roles, they have been largely understudied in black women's fiction. This dissertation seeks to establish, then, a nexus in which literary texts, movement ideologies, and politics of identity and representation meet to provide an interdisciplinary and broad discursive framework. Organized conceptually, this study explores the aesthetics of transgression in an introduction, four representative chapters, and a conclusion. Chapter One introduces and situates transgressive black women characters within both the African American literary tradition and particular socio-cultural, historical, and political contexts. Chapter Two analyzes Toni Morrison's Sula (1973), and examines the protagonist Sula, who emblematizes transgressive behavior, as subverting the “classical black female script.” Foregrounding politics of sexuality, Chapter Three employs Shockley's Loving Her (1974) and investigates the ways Shockley's black female protagonist Renay, via her interracial same-gender loving relationship, transgresses essentialist binaries regarding blackness, same-sex desire, and homosexuality. Exploring the dialectics of transgression and belonging, Chapter Four examines Alice Walker's Meridian and analyzes the ways Meridian Hill transgresses circumscriptions for women, while concomitantly playing a participatory activist role in various communities. And, reemphasizing the potential of this study, the concluding chapter illustrates this project's centrality to African American and American literature, African American and American Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies.

Subject Area

American literature|American studies|Womens studies|Black studies|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Melancon, Trimiko C, "Disrupting dissemblance: Transgressive black women as politics of counter-representation in African American women's fiction" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179902.