Arms Akimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature

By Janice Lee Liddell; Yakini Belinda Kemp | Go to book overview

1
Psychic Rage and Response
The Enslaved and The Enslaver in Sherley Anne Williams's Dessa Rose

EMMA WATERS DAWSON

In her 1986 neo-slave narrative Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams examines the psychic rage and response of both the enslaved and the enslaver. Like Toni Morrison Beloved, published the following year, the enslaved Black woman's psychic response to her condition becomes central to the plot. Dessa Rose also relates the complexities of recording the enslaved Black woman's narrative for, as Jean Fagan Yellin states: "Most Black women . . . lacked access to polite letters, their literary contributions were made within the oral tradition" (xxxiii). Yellin's comments introduce the actual slave narrative of Harriet Jacobs, a Black woman who could render her life story in written and spoken words. For the slave woman, words evidence her existence. They also signal betrayal when they record her experiences from the perspective of and in the words of those not sensitive to her being who she simply is--woman, wife, mother, slave--Black. For the slave woman, the ability to speak words and to have others actually hear them is a record of the inner emotions. Also, there is a generally acknowledged assumption that history belongs to those who can speak for themselves.

In Ar'n't I a Woman, Deborah Gray White observes that although the historical material on slavery in general exists in abundance, similar material on the slave woman is scarce. White states, "Slave women were everywhere, yet nowhere. They were in Southern households and in Southern fields but the sources are silent about female status in the slave community and the bondwoman's self-perception" (23). Sherley Anne Williams's novel Dessa Rose is one example of contemporary fictional

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Arms Akimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature
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