Race, Identity And Perspectives Of African American Women In The Selected Works Of Toni Morrison And Rita Dove

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Race, Identity And Perspectives Of African American Women In The Selected Works Of Toni Morrison And Rita Dove


This study is concerned with an appraisal of Race, Identity and Perspectives of African American Women in the Selected Works of Toni Morrison and Rita Dove about the African American community, within the context of the United States of America. Over the years African American women writing has not been accorded due relevance within the American literary space. As such, black male writers have dominated the literary scene for long, being literarily the spoke persons on the specific and general dimensions of black people‟s existence and experience in America. This position is now being contested by black women writers such as Toni Morrison and Rita Dove. In other words, the claim of a homogenous black experience is now being debated and challenged by these African American women writers through different literary platforms.

Thus, these black women writers foreground women characters who are now subjects of their own narrations. This research apprehends the various views of African American women about themselves, about the African American community and how their perspectives have contributed significantly to shaping the concerns bordering on history, existence, experience and the community of black people in America via different literary platforms. Significantly therefore, this research employs various genres of literature, specifically the novelistic art form and the poetic genre, as parameters for the exploration of the complex dynamics of African American community in America.

To this extent, the study contends that the poetic genre of literature is also a distinctive genre that similarly apprehends the African American reality and should be emphasized alongside the novel form which has gained popular acceptance in the literary circle. This thesis employs the postcolonial praxis as a rewarding paradigm for investigating the works of Morrison and Dove, especially as it facilitates the foregrounding of such critical parameters as hegemony, hybridity, mimicry, conflict, power dynamics, identity, gender to name a few and how these concerns are implicated in the existence and experience of black people in America.

This research work is presented in six chapters.

  • Chapter one is the introduction, which provides a background on the conceptual framework of the research. It comments on the origin and development of African American writing as well as the emergence of African American women writing.
  • Chapter two delineates the dynamics of slavery in Morrison‟s A Mercy.
  • Chapter three locates the place and position of African American identity in Morrison‟s Paradise. Chapter four interrogates the concept of race in the globalized American society in Rita Dove‟s American Smooth.
  • Chapter five appraises the dilemma of mothering in Dove‟s Mother Love.
  • Chapter six, the concluding chapter brings to bear the central arguments and findings of the study and its contributions to knowledge in the field.

Chapter One


African American literature acts as a creative umpire that offers possibilities for blacks in the United States to mediate their general aspirations and desires. As a body of literature, black writing started in the 18th century as the medium that provides African Americans the platform to interrogate the dynamics of the African American identity, community and experience within America. According to Abah (2008) “the culture of African American writing is traceable to the middle of the 18th century, although the issues at the front-burner of this literature extend beyond two hundred years. In truth the life of bondage and enslavement became the necessary materials which were to translate into black writing”(7). Abah‟s contention brings to the fore the root and origin of African American literature and its relationship with the social context of America.

Commenting on the destabilizing nature of the life of bondage in America, Kenneth Stampp (1956) observes that African Americans were seen as slaves who were “deemed, held, taken, reputed and adjudged in law to be chattel slaves, in the hands of their captors, owners, possessors, executors, and administrators, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever” (97). This debate suggests that the tragedy of blacks in America did not begin with the ordeal of Reconstruction, or with the agony of the civil war, but with the growth of what Kenneth Stampp sees as a “peculiar institution”, that is, the institution of slavery in the ante-bellum days. Thus, “the engendering impulse of African American literature is resistance to human tyranny and the dedication to black dignity and identity” (Gates et al 2003). In other words, the struggles against the institution of slavery in America formed the fabric for black writing and subsequently the impetus for its development.

In his review of Frederick Douglass‟ Narrative of the life in 1845, Lucius Matlock as cited in Gates and Mckay (1997), notes that: The soil of slavery itself – and the demands for its abolition – turned out to be an ironically fertile ground for the creation of a new literature, a literature indicting oppression, a literature created by the oppressed: “from the soil of slavery sprung forth some of the most brilliant productions, whose logical levers will ultimately upheave and overthrow the system (xxvii). From Matlock‟s view it is evident that the context of the emergence of black writing falls within the purview of an unbearable social environment of slavery in America. Thus, Jonathan Earle (2004) posits that “the abolition of slavery further created the environment for the thriving of African American literature” (4). Evidently, Earle is of the view that the elimination of slavery paved way for a more suitable platform for the development of black writing. It is in the light of this therefore that African American writers employed literature as a medium to express the plights and hopes of black people in America.

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