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Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8243-5387

AccessType

Open Access Dissertation

Document Type

dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

2020

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Nicholas Bromell

Second Advisor

Emily Lordi

Third Advisor

Peter A. Graham

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | American Studies | Epistemology | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Ethnic Studies | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion

Abstract

My project, entitled Daring Depictions: An Analysis of Risks and Their Mediation in Representations of Black Suffering, explores what types of risks authors of African-American narratives take by choosing to depict specific types of suffering that either they personally and/or other African Americans have undergone. My main focus is the instances when these texts become self-conscious that they are taking or evading such a risk and explain, or mediate on, why they are willing to take or evade that risk.

Accordingly, my dissertation looks at African-American writers as they reflect on their felt obligation to depict black suffering and as they encounter the dangers of doing so. I suggest that they feel this obligation for several reasons: 1) They view suffering as inextricable from the historical experience they are depicting; 2) Writing about the cases in which suffering has redemptive qualities, both ethically and epistemologically, empowers them to help African Americans obtain approval as virtuous, benevolent citizens and beacons of knowledge; and 3) Their writing is a way for them to elicit empathy from their white readers in the struggle against racial injustice and oppression.

Nevertheless, I argue that even though they have these compelling motives for depicting black suffering as they experienced it, some African-American writers are also chary about doing so. For one thing, they are conscious of and sensitive to the reality that suffering has some qualities that simply cannot be shared. Accordingly, their writing is self-conscious of the epistemological and linguistic limitations of trying to express experiences adequately to readers that can only be fully understood by undergoing them. For another, they worry that by discovering and expressing redemptive consequences in the suffering that oppression causes that they might appear to be justifying it. Hence, inherent to their works is the fear that they may valorize suffering to the degree that it almost might not seem necessary or even appropriate to end it. Ultimately, I analyze how these reservations in and of themselves influence the rhetorical strategies that the African-American authors who I examine employ to try to overcome them.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.7275/17854331

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Monday, September 01, 2025

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