Elder Voices: Slavery and Aging in Nineteenth-Century American Literature
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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This dissertation explores the ways in which nineteenth-century apologist writers sought to discount and silence the agency of African Americans through literary representations of enslavement in elder(ly) “Aunts” and “Uncles.” Despite the many antebellum and postbellum works that countered and corrected the happy caricatures of pro-slavery fiction by demonstrating the power of elder voices, the Christianization and infantilization of aged African-Americans effectively drowned out all other representations. In silencing black elders through stereotyping, apologist literature succeeded in stalling racial progress in twentieth-century America and well beyond. This work aims to provide an understanding of the damaging effects the appropriation and silencing of black elders in apologist literature had on how white America views black Americans. Conversely, this project addresses how pro-equality and African-American writers engaged with and confronted racist representations in their own works to show the country and the world that apologist caricatures do not reflect African-Americans’ experiences, nor do stereotypes of aged “Aunts” and “Uncles” reflect the strength, pride, resilience, care, wisdom, and speaking power of our nation’s black elders.