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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

First Advisor

James Smethurst

Second Advisor

Steven Tracy

Third Advisor

A Yemisi Jimoh

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Women's Studies


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 Bildungsromanscholarship, 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.