Date of Award

12-14-2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

James Baldwin, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston are three authors who are very often read alongside one another in classrooms, book groups, and history. This grouping is often based on a system of seemingly arbitrary but identity-based categorical structures . Facets of the author' s assigned social categories (African i\merican, woman, queer) are read within a greater historical context to create stability, meaning, continuity, and mass-identification where it may or may not actually exist. However, a thorough examination of the aesthetic commonalities and connections between each of these authors ' most wel l known works reveal s not an engagement with the women ' s and civil rights ' movements or a self-aware "Harlem Renaissance." No, the aesthetic techniques employed by all three authors fashion disparate yet searing critiques of the multitude of social, cultural, and economic forces driving the interpretations (past, present, and f'uture) of their work. More than being male or female, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, these three authors seek to dismantle the boundaries of these seemingly well-established social categories. In compromising these boundaries, inclusion becomes based on one ' s own choice to identify instead of being identified through a process of reductive multiculturalism. Furthermore, because these critiques manifest themselves in stylistic choices instead of relying on standard tropes of social protest, future generations of radicals, artists, and those in between, have the ability to use similar techniques in their own works to further challenge notions of equality, diversity, and social movements as mechanisms for change.

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