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'Home - or a hole in the ground'? : spaces of possibility in African American literature.

Boyle, Elizabeth (2008) 'Home - or a hole in the ground'? : spaces of possibility in African American literature. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

This thesis argues for a unique relationship between African American literature and liminal space, predicated on the historical facts of North American slavery. While recent critics of African American literature have argued for the importance of historical and civic space in shaping racialised discourse, the· role of liminal space has not been well examined. This thesis examines texts by three African American writers - Harriet Jacobs, Ralph Ellison and John Edgar Wideman - and one Canadian Caribbean author, Nalo Hopkinson, to argue that their literary representations of liminality perform two functions: firstly, symbolising the experience of slavery and its attendant experiences of incarceration; and secondly, problematising mainstream categories of race and identity. By investigating the narrative construction of these liminal spaces, this thesis will extend the categories of 'African American' and the 'novel' in two important directions: towards the future and into the 'black Atlantic'. The following five chapters will address how the symbolic use of narrative liminality enables black writers to resist or appropriate the cultural and ideological structures imposed by white Europeans in the New World and also those structures later developed within a rapidly urbanising society. Firstly, Harriet Jacobs's slave narrative addresses the restrictive architecture of slavery and domesticity and, through Linda Brent's attic hideaway, Jacobs expresses a ·concern with endurance and female authority. The Ralph Ellison chapter examines the shifting nature of liminality and subjectivity in the post-slavery migration environment; Invisible Man's cellar engages with racialised tropes of deterrito'rialisation and desire. John Edgar Wideman addresses ideas of race and artistic responsibility in his treatment of a contemporary suburban bombsite, assessing the difficulty of achieving spaces of possibility in the face of racialised urban decay. Jhe concluding chapter uses Nalo Hopkinson's speculative fiction to challenge the essentialist construction of an African American liminal aesthetic by enacting its subversive qualities across the geographical boundaries of the black Atlantic. Hopkinson's projection of a racialised underground onto the new spaces of technology also disturbs traditional models of genre and discourse.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.486950
Depositing User: EThOS Import Sheffield
Date Deposited: 23 Nov 2016 12:51
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2016 12:51
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/14920

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