Black Women Writers and the American Neo-Slave Narrative: Femininity Unfettered

By Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu | Go to book overview

Family, novels that are responsible for repositioning the black woman in slavery, according her new status as a whole woman with a gender identity completely her own. I will also consider Octavia Butler Kindred and Gayl Jones' Corregidora as forerunners of these novels, works that prepare for the radical conceptions of enslaved women to follow. It is my contention that all of these works constitute an effort to rectify the historic invisibility of the enslaved woman by exploding the oversimplified stereotype of black women as genderless work animals capable only of matching a man's work production in the field and of breeding, and by producing viable alternative models of enslaved women, models that continue to inspire black women today.

Hortense Spillers' main criticism of Jubilee is that Walker has not allowed herself to experiment. Of the novel she says, "it does not introduce ambiguity or irony or uncertainty or perhaps even 'individualism' as potentially thematic material because it is a detailed sketch of a collective survival" ("Hateful" 305). Williams, Morrison, and Cooper have answered this criticism. Just as the female characters have been complexified so, too, have their stories. What the women in these novels have in common is the fact that they are mothers; what the writers have in common is a tendency to utilize subversive strategies such as reversal, blurring, and the creation of myth to dramatize gender identity and to highlight the multifaceted nature of motherhood as enslaved women experienced it. Hélène Cixous says, "Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing . . . [w]oman must put herself into the text--as into the world and into history--by her own movement" (245). Each African American woman writer who has taken as her project the creation of a neo-slave narrative discovers paradox, ambiguity, and contradiction as she probes the implications of enslaved motherhood; each brings alive the woman who is her enslaved ancestor and the woman who is herself. The result is literature that is personally driven and socially charged, literature that simultaneously honors tradition and creates it.


NOTES
1.
This is the term Bernard Bell uses to describe "residually oral, modern narratives of escape from bondage to freedom." See The AfroAmerican Novel and Its Tradition

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