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Something Akin to Freedom

The Choice of Bondage in Narratives by African American Women

Stephanie Li

Publication Year: 2010

Examines why African American women would choose conditions of bondage over individual freedom. Why would someone choose bondage over individual freedom? What kinds of freedom can be found in choosing conditions of enslavement? In Something Akin to Freedom, Winner of the 2008 SUNY Press Dissertation/First Book Prize in African American Studies, Stephanie Li explores literary texts where African American women decide to remain in or enter into conditions of bondage, sacrificing individual autonomy to achieve other goals. In fresh readings of stories by Harriet Jacobs, Hannah Crafts, Gayl Jones, Louisa Picquet and Toni Morrison, Li argues that amid shifting positions of power and through acts of creative agency, the women in these narratives make seemingly anti-intuitive choices that are simultaneously limiting and liberating. She explores how the appeal of the freedom of the North is constrained by the potential for isolation and destabilization for women rooted in the strong social networks in the South. By introducing reproduction, mother-child relationships and community into discourses concerning resistance, Li expands our understanding of individual liberation to include the courage to express personal desire and the freedom to love.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page

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p. vii

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p. ix

This book began as a search to understand the power of motherhood and evolved into an exploration into the paradox of love, how to love another person is both limiting and liberating-and how we flourish precisely because of that tension...

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pp. 1-14

In an early passage in Toni Morrison's second novel, Sula (1973), Nel and Sula, two young black girls, are accosted by four Irish boys. This confrontation follows weeks in which the girls alter their route home in order to avoid the threatening...

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1 Intra-independence: Reconceptualizing Freedom and Resistance to Bondage

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pp. 15-40

Frederick Douglass describes in his 1845 Narrative, his transformative encounter with The Columbian Orator (1797), an eighteenth century collection of speeches that served as a popular eloquence manual...

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2 Choosing the Bondage of Domesticity and White Womanhood in The Bondwoman's Narrative

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pp. 41-64

Frustrating the expectations of her intended readers, Harriet Jacobs concludes her narrative with a startling declaration: "Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage. I and...

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3 Voluntary Enslavement and Discursive Violence: Plaçage and Louisa Picquet

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pp. 65-86

In a chapter of The Bondwoman's Narrative titled "Lizzie's Story," Hannah relates the difficulties of Mrs. Cosgrove, a white woman who learns that her husband has been harboring a mulatta mistress in their...

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4 The Bondage of Memory in Gayl Jones's Corregidora

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pp. 87-116

The previous chapters of this study examine situations in which women choose conditions of physical or social bondage in order to protect themselves as intra-independent agents. Although plaçees and...

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Coda From Bondage to War: The Lives of Contemporary Black Women in the Novels of Toni Morrison

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pp. 117-132

Perhaps the most beguiling character in Toni Morrison's recent novel Love (2003) is May Cosey. Although May lives in relative wealth in her father-in-law's East coast beach resort, and has no obvious personal...


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pp. 133-144


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pp. 145-158


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pp. 159-162

E-ISBN-13: 9781438429724
E-ISBN-10: 143842972X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438429717
Print-ISBN-10: 1438429711

Page Count: 172
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 593295835
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Something Akin to Freedom

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Slave narratives -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • African American women in literature.
  • Slavery in literature.
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