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Three Prophetic Change Jarena Lee’s and Julia Foote’s Uses of Conversion Rhetoric in the Context of Reader Distrust One cannot read the narratives of prophesying daughters without noticing the lengths to which they go to describe their conversion experiences. Within the first ten to twenty pages of their narratives, Jarena Lee and Julia Foote, for example, detail their encounters with bright and blinding lights, loud and demanding voices, clear and sometimes frightening visions, and stultifying and incapacitating physical and emotional changes. Julia Foote even couches the title of her narrative in conversion rhetoric, suggesting that as a Brand Plucked from the Fire, she has gone through some purifying, trying experience out of which something or someone new has emerged. In addition to detailing their own conversion experiences, they also discuss other people’s conversions that came about as a result of their preaching. They state how converts wailed and shouted, fell to floors, and soaked themselves in tears as they converted over to God. That readers were aware that they went through a conversion experience and had the power to convert others was obviously important to these prophesying daughters. Some scholars have begun to theorize about why, primarily noting reasons of self-empowerment. William Andrews , for example, says that for prophesying daughters, conversion spurred “a very real sense of freedom for a prior ‘self’ and a growing awareness of unrealized, unexploited powers within.” Andrews states further that “after conversion the self is transformed into a ‘new creation ’ free from the bondage of sin and fit for service as an instrument of the divine will.” Frances Smith Foster notes that after her conversion 34 Prophetic Change 35 experience, Jarena Lee “possessed a power to effect change.” Kimberly Connors sees conversion as “an imaginative act of transforming the self through the creation of a new image of self and a new image of God.” Finally, Jean Humez recognizes conversion as “clearly a valuable resource in their struggles for autonomy in their personal lives, as well as in their lives as itinerant preachers.”1 In this chapter, I add to the discourse about the conversion experience of prophesying daughters by considering conversion beyond the realm of speculation that it occurred and empowered these women. I explore their use of conversion as a rhetorical device to break down and challenge nineteenth-century ideologies around race and gender. In keeping with my view of prophesying as a deconstructive endeavor, I analyze this use of conversion within the context of the prevalent notion of white reader distrust of black writers in the nineteenth century. I contend that writing within this context of reader distrust meant that discourse and rhetoric around conversion served a dual purpose for prophesying daughters: (1) It had to be used discursively to convert doubtful readers over to accepting them as legitimate Christians called to preach or do God’s work, and (2) it had to be inverted in order not only to interrogate limitations that constructs around gender imposed on them but also to defeat these restrictions . The prophesying daughters employed this rhetorical strategy primarily in their appropriation of the typological account of conversion detailed by Paul (Saul of Tarsus) in the Bible, which is commonly referred to as the first detailed conversion. This account was also quite familiar to most nineteenth-century readers. Prophesying daughters detailed their conversions to show that their experiences directly replicated Paul’s in an attempt to prove that their conversions were legitimate. However, after doing so, they experienced a discursive dilemma: Even though they used Paul’s conversion as an iconic base from which to prove their legitimate Christian being, they were also in a position where they had to invert certain Pauline notions being used in the nineteenth century to justify their inferior social status as women. I explore their engaging in what I call a discursive inversion of such Pauline discourse. 1. Andrews, Sisters of the Spirit, 13; ibid.; Foster, Written by Herself, 74; Kimberly Rae Connor, Conversions and Visions in the Writings of African-American Women, 15; Jean Humez, “ ‘My Spirit Eye’: Some Functions of Spiritual and Visionary Experiences in the Lives of Five Black Women Preachers, 1810–1880,” 130. doing so, they experienced a dilemma: Even though they used Paul’s conversion as an iconic base from which to prove their legitimate In this chapter, I add to the discussion about the empowerment that the conversion experience gave prophesying daughters and explore their use of conversion as a rhetorical device...


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