“What was her name?”: Pre-Nineteenth Century Slave Women’s Fragmented Narratives
Type of DegreeDissertation
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Accessing the narratives of enslaved women before the nineteenth century is challenging but necessary because of the limited ways we understand their experiences. The archive we primarily depend on does not provide unadulterated, first person accounts, but the need for multiple voices in literature and history does not have to be compromised because of it. This dissertation argues that our desire to reclaim the experience of pre-nineteenth-century slave women should continue to lead us to the archive with different lenses to recover and, when necessary, reimagine their lived experiences. The first chapter considers the limitations of Phillis Wheatley and her work, which have been representative when thinking of pre-nineteenth century slave women. The second chapter explores enslaved women’s transatlantic journeys to the Americas and the impact the journeys had on them during their transformation into slaves. This exploration points to the archival evidence where fragments of enslaved women’s experiences can be found and considered together with what we know about the journey from slaves’ perspectives. The third chapter considers how material culture does and can continue to play a role in filling in areas of the enslaved women’s fragmented narratives. The fourth and final chapter looks at Toni Morrison’s contemporary literary response to the limited archival presence of enslaved women before the nineteenth century and how she reimagines their experiences. Her contemporary work stands as one type of model to reimagine their stories so that they are not marginal.