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Surviving domestic tensions: Existential uncertainty in New World African diasporic women's literature

Denia M Fraser, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation pinpoints imaginative patterns that people within the diaspora have used and now use to navigate highly untenable domestic circumstances. In focusing on this aspect of psychological survival, we can trace domestic behaviors back to existential questions that trouble individuals in the New World African Diaspora: questions of self-knowledge amidst internalized racism, questions that seek to realign one's history and future after migration, questions about the colonial and personal mother. These types of questions which frame my examination of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Loida Maritza Pérez's Geographies of Home and Andrea Levy's Small Island, direct us toward psychic and physical tensions that preoccupy Black Women writers and their characters. In the second chapter of this dissertation, my textual analysis of The Bluest Eye engages with how Morrison orders an existential logic of a young girl's development through her experience with private violation and public racial violence. In the third chapter, I argue that Loida Maritza Pérez's Geographies of Home is an examination of the psychologies of a mother and her daughters, as revealed by the omniscient narrator, which discloses the complex interplay of illusion/reality, inward turn/outward turn, belief/unbelief which characterizes the immigrant's uncertain survival. In my fourth chapter, Andrea Levy's Small Island, two Jamaicans, Hortense and Gilbert grow up in early twentieth century, colonial Jamaica and later immigrate to WWII England. Through these two characters, Levy demonstrates how the dynamic of the existential uncertainty inherent in the colonial relationship consistently holds in tension two important concepts: help and humiliation. Ultimately, I assert that recognizing existential uncertainty in the New World African Diaspora not only highlights the acute sense of unpredictability that plagues African American, Caribbean and Black British individuals, but points to a genealogy of psychic oppression that persists for these people groups. This dissertation calls for a witnessing of a family's traumatic history in a way that envisions the future healing and reconciliation of psychic wounds. This project expands scholarship on the harrowing psychic genealogies that link African-American, Caribbean and Black British domestic environments and establishes a relevant existential vocabulary for diasporic experiences of violence, wounding and self-questioning.

Subject Area

Modern literature|Black studies|Philosophy|American literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Fraser, Denia M, "Surviving domestic tensions: Existential uncertainty in New World African diasporic women's literature" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3556248.