Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
In Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison issues a charge and illuminates the challenge that she and other African American writers face in defining the self through a racially oppressive language:
Neither blackness nor "people of color" stimulates in me notions of excessive, limitless love, anarchy, or routine dread. I cannot rely on these metaphorical shortcuts because I am a black writer struggling with and through a language that can powerfully evoke and enforce hidden signs of racial superiority, cultural hegemony, and dismissive "othering" of people and language which are by no means marginal or already and completely known and knowable in my work. [...]The kind of work I have always wanted to do requires me to learn how to maneuver ways to free up the language from its sometimes sinister, frequently lazy, almost always predictable employment of racially informed and determined chains. (x-xi)
For Morrison and writers such as Alice Walker and Suzan-Lori Parks, such a project is further complicated by gender. African American female self-definition eventually reaches the crossroads of racism and sexism. That such a crossroads exists is the result of linguistic strategies that have been employed to confine black women both by color and by gender. The problem that African American women writers have always faced is how to define themselves, their characters, and particularly the black female body, rather than being defined by the dominant culture or other members of their community.
This study exposes a history of rhetorical and formal experimentation that has at its roots a pro-African American womanist gospel ideology. From Zora Neale Hurston to Suzan-Lori Parks, African American women writers have been freeing up the language with the dynamic and kinetic orality of a gospel impulse. Though decidedly neither theological nor religious in nature, this impulse weaves language and bodily expression with an autonomous self and a corporate self.
Huskey, Rebecca Erin, "Doers of the Living Word: Gospel Ideology and the African American Womanist Novel" (2006). Dissertations. 954.