Friday, January 18, 2013

Uncanny Black Women in African American literature

By Briana Whiteside

The research project that I am developing deals with unusual or uncanny black women in African American literature. Works by Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler are being used as primary texts, as each author creates and situates uncommon black women in their stories. For now, I’m look for ways that these mysterious women protagonists affect the outcome of the narratives, and how their presence is either accepted or rejected within communities.

Last semester, I took a class entitled “Supernatural in Medieval texts” where Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny was discussed. Immediately, I began thinking of ways that the uncanny can be applied to African American literature, more specifically in works of Butler and Morrison. The concept of the uncanny will be the base of my thesis.

My research fits comfortably in literature as we move away from realism and more towards speculative fiction. Morrison’s works straddles the lines between the two fields as she positions supernatural black women into a seemingly normal black communities. Butler on the other hand situates black women in speculative literature a realm often devoid of African Americans. While reading and thinking about race and gender, I’m exploring what it means to give power to black women.

The concept of uncanny black women can also fit into the studies feminism as representations of black women writers and characters in African American literature have been key figures in scholarly discourse. Scholars such as Hazy V. Carby, Valerie Smith, and Deborah McDowell, for instance, have discussed how women protagonists have been the most troubled characters, the extent to which black women writers have been sidelined by white mainstream authors/critics, the ways black men and white people have minimized or silenced the contributions of black women, and the confined social norms of women and men. White women, white men, and black men, notes Barbara Smith, view their problems and experiences as typical, but black women’s as divergent, which has prompted several scholars to push for a body of critical works that highlight black women.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies Program.      

Research Projects on African American Women

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