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Where I want to be: African American women's novels and the journey toward selfhood during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements

Jacqueline M Jones, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines how contemporary African American women writers have used the novel of selfhood to represent African American girls' and women's struggle to achieve self-understanding and development during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. In doing so, this dissertation expounds on the ways in which race, class, gender, sexuality, social justice movements, and community affect African American female characters' journey toward selfhood. Through this study I am interested in exploring the messages African American communities communicate to girls and women about life, race, gender, and sexuality. How characters interpret this information and then negotiate between their individual desires and goals and the expectations of their communities, as well as the effect learning about African American or African Diaspora history and culture has on protagonists are also central concerns here. The novels analyzed in this study are Alice Walker's Meridian (1976), Ntozake Shange's Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo (1982), and Toni Morrison's Love (2003). Drawing upon male, female, and African American Bildungsroman scholarship, Civil Rights and Black Power ideology, and black feminist theoretical frameworks, this study offers an interdisciplinary close textual analysis of African American women's novels of selfhood depicting several models of self-development to illuminate the struggles African American women face in their journey toward selfhood. This dissertation diverges from previous scholarship in that it places greater emphasis on the role of community and explores the influence the social justice movements of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, specifically the Civil Rights, Black Power/Black Arts, and Women's liberation movements had on African American women's self-concept.

Subject Area

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

Recommended Citation

Jones, Jacqueline M, "Where I want to be: African American women's novels and the journey toward selfhood during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3427540.