Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded

2017

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

James Smethurst

Second Advisor

Britt Rusert

Third Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Fourth Advisor

Hoang Phan

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Abstract

Race-sex narratives that dominated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries permeated the political, scientific, and social fabric of the nation, but did not solely center on black bodies. These narratives demeaned and degraded a race of black citizens, characterizing them as sexually deviant social pariahs. Consequently, these same notions elevated whites to the highest rungs of society, marking them as moral and desirable. This crafting of racial identity acted as just one way to justify racial subordination through the creation of notions that proved detrimental to black life and worthiness. Writer-activists penning their tales of fiction after the Civil War understood that presenting challenges to prevailing racial ideologies in their literature would be essential to advancing the cause of black equality in the post-bellum period. Thus, the import of these subjects into African American fiction became central to dismantling stereotypes and refiguring notions of black personhood.

The challenge of (re)presenting the race was all the more fraught for black women writers and is the analytical focus of this study. ‘Woman Thou Art Loosed’ explores Frances Harper’s and Pauline Hopkins’s literary undertaking of the subjects of black female sexuality and desire amidst a culture that simultaneously hyper-exposed black women’s sexuality and obscured black women’s sexual autonomy. This project’s explicit focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century literatures of African American women seeks to uncover how these literary artists rendered black women’s sexual selves (and the layered significance of such rendering) despite the pressure and stigma of already codified cultural narratives of the period. Furthermore, this project analyzes where works such as Minnie’s Sacrifice, Trial and Triumph, Hagar’s Daughter, and Contending Forces fit in the matrix of racial uplift, prompting a re-evaluation of current understandings that reflect more masculine influenced uplift ideologies of the time. I further the notion of Hopkins and Harper as writer-activists, examining their political agendas which were made radical by their, at times, non-conformist sexual politics buried within the nuances of literary expression.

Available for download on Friday, September 01, 2023

Share

COinS