The black maternal: heterogeneity and resistance in literary representations of black mothers in 20th century African American and Afro-Caribbean women's fiction Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Brooks, Kinitra Dechaun
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • My project seeks to uncover the multiplicities of interpretation found in the peculiar simultaneity of oppressions that affect African American motherhood. I expand this notion to the Afro-Caribbean, interrogating the power of place and comparing how it influences mothers’ interactions with their children. To this end, my research responds to contemporary theoretical approaches to race, motherhood, and psychoanalysis, including the writings of Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, and Paule Marshall about black motherhood as a site of resistance. Simultaneously, it highlights successful acts of resistance black women create employing alternative ontologies that bypass patriarchal notions of inheritance and remain matrifocal in nature. The first chapter, A Failure To Resist: The Dangers of the Mother Who Loves Too Much, centers on the black feminist theme of maternal resistance. The mothers in Zora Neale Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934) and Toni Morrison’s Sula (1973) are successful within the relative safety of their homes in both the humanization of their loved ones and the teaching of resistance to destructive hegemonic forces. My second chapter, Maternal Abjection: Mothers Who Resist the Ideal, places Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection within a racial context. I begin with an exploration of Patricia Hills Collins’ and Gloria Wade-Gayles’ insistence upon the complex nature of black motheriv daughter relationships. I use this dynamic to analyze the Caco women in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994). The mothers in Tina McElroy Ansa’s Ugly Ways (1993) and Maryse Condé’s Desirada (1997) choose to abject their daughters to reclaim their own individuality, their own sense of self. The final chapter, The Transcendent Black Maternal: The Power of Female Inheritance, examines the transcendent Black Maternal as a system of knowledge that is based on a spiritual communication process between a young female novice and two dead female ancestors. This process leads the women to an alternative expression of being, which I term the communal I, that models itself upon the Holy trinity. The transcendent Black Maternal figures centrally in three texts: Erna Brodber’s Louisiana (1994), Simone Schwarz-Bart’s Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle (1972), and Phyllis Alesia Perry’s Stigmata (1998).
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  • Harris, Trudier
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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