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Women in Chains

The Legacy of Slavery in Black Women's Fiction

Venetria K. Patton

Publication Year: 2000

Traces the connection between slavery and the way in which black women fiction writers depict female characters and address gender issues, particularly maternity. Using writers such as Harriet Wilson, Frances E. W. Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Toni Morrison, Sherley Anne Williams, and Gayl Jones, the author highlights recurring themes and the various responses of black women writers to the issues of race and gender. Time and again these writers link slavery with motherhood—their depictions of black womanhood are tied to the effects of slavery and represented through the black mother. Patton shows that both the image others have of black women as well as black women’s own self image is framed and influenced by the history of slavery. This history would have us believe that female slaves were mere breeders and not mothers. However, Patton uses the mother figure as a tool to create an intriguing interdisciplinary literary analysis.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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p. vii

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p. ix

I would like to thank those who provided financial, intellectual, and emotional support for this project. A large portion of this manuscript was completed during my residency at the University of California Humanities Research Institute (HRI). The time and resources provided by HRI in coordination with the Western ...

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pp. xi-xviii

Carby states, "Considering the history of the failure of any significant political alliances between black and white women in the nineteenth century, I challenge the impulse in the contemporary women's movement to discover a lost sisterhood and to reestablish feminist solidarity."1 She implies that contemporary ...

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1. The Breeding Ground: The Degendering of Female Slaves

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pp. 1-28

In the following chapter, I intend to lay the theoretical ground for my later readings of black women's fiction. In the course of my reading, I noticed that slavery was a recurring theme or reference in many texts, but even more interestingly, that slavery and motherhood often seemed related. The nexus of the slave ...

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2. The Cult of True Womanhood and Its Revisions

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pp. 29-52

Before discussing the way in which black women writers sought to include black females within the realm of womanhood, I will analyze the cult of true womanhood, which delineated the ideal feminine virtues of the era as well as the concomitant glorification of motherhood. The period 1820-1860 ...

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3. Reclaiming True Womanhood

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pp. 53-92

While I will argue that the slave experience shaped the writing of African Americans even after the abolition of slavery, the most direct relationship may be seen in slave narratives themselves. The slave experience prompted many African Americans to document their personal account of slavery. These ...

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4. Tragic Mulattas: Inventing Black Womanhood

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pp. 93-120

Just as Harriet Jacobs and Harriet E. Wilson use motherhood as a means to combat the dehumanization of slavery and racism, Frances E. W. Harper and Pauline Hopkins employ a maternal consciousness to engender their protagonists. Under the rubric of the sentimental novel, Harper and Hopkins address ...

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5. The Haunting Effects of Slavery

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pp. 121-148

While nineteenth-century black women writers responded to negative slavery myths by showing that black women are maternal and thus true women, twentieth-century black women writers used maternity to assert womanhood while also questioning the relationship between maternity and ...

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pp. 149-150

In these texts, motherhood becomes a lens from which to gaze at issues of gender and sexuality. For Jacobs, her task was to address the exclusive nature of the cult of true womanhood, which was based on a purity that female slaves were frequently unable to sustain due to forced concubinage. Wilson also interrogates this ...


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pp. 151-174


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pp. 175-186


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pp. 187-194

E-ISBN-13: 9781438415611
E-ISBN-10: 1438415613
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791443439
Print-ISBN-10: 0791443434

Page Count: 194
Publication Year: 2000

OCLC Number: 45728438
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Women in Chains

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American women -- Intellectual life.
  • African American families in literature.
  • African American women in literature.
  • Mother and child in literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Motherhood in literature.
  • Slavery in literature.
  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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