Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Cheryl Higashida

Second Advisor

Anna Brickhouse

Third Advisor

Martin Bickman

Fourth Advisor

Kelly Hurley

Fifth Advisor

John-Michael Rivera

Abstract

This dissertation examines transamerican and transatlantic genealogies of nineteenth-century African American literature that are illuminated by examining masks and masking in tragic mulatto and passing narratives from France, the Caribbean, and the U.S.. I show how masking permeates the formal features of these narratives; brings feminine stories of incarceration, captivity, and cloistering to bear on masculine narratives of mobility and revolution; and illuminates some of the conditions and sites through which modern black subjectivity is formed and represented.

The project explores a range of disparate narratives, from Victor Hugo's Bug-Jargal, Claire de Duras's "Ourika," and Gustave de Beaumont's Marie, or Slavery in the United States: A Novel of Jacksonian America (Race in the Americas) to Victor Séjour's "The Mulatto," Alexandre Dumas's Georges and The Man in the Iron Mask, to William Wells Brown's Clotel; or, the President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States and Eloise Bibb-Thompson's "Masks, a Story." Although my project makes use of comparative Americas, transatlantic, and transamerican analytical frameworks, one of the objectives of this dissertation is to illustrate how the texts I explore establish the starting point for a specifically African American literary genealogy through a common discourse they engage, despite the many differences between them. Through their borrowing and sampling, these divergent texts from varied circumstances and historical moments extend the boundaries of the African American literary tradition as we know it, showing it to be self-consciously transatlantic and transamerican in ways that the Anglo-American literary tradition could not acknowledge itself to be.

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