Date of Award

8-14-2002

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

This thesis provides a detailed analysis of three early African-American literary works: Clotel, by William Wells Brown, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, and The Garies and Their Friends, by Frank J. Webb. Specifically, these works are discussed in terms of their representations of violence, especially that stemming from slavery, and the effect of such violence on the family.

An important factor in the devastation caused by the violence of slavery is that system's disruption of the domestic ideal in the homes involved. No matter how well each family may approximate idealized white domesticity of the nineteenth century, the shadow of slavery looms over each home, regardless of the racial identity of its members. This thesis discusses the ways in which violence disrupts the homes in each of the works, from forced separation of family members to invasion of the home itself. In several cases, it is apparent that the limited choices offered to the characters because of their race or gender often contribute to their domestic failures as well.

Furthermore, such vulnerability to violence is not unique to the homes of black characters; although white homes are rarely subjected to the same type of violence as black homes, white characters are, nonetheless, victimized by the slave system as well. Even when slavery is not the main concern or abolition a central purpose, its inherent violence is far-reaching and inescapable, even for the most successful of white families. Though they differ somewhat in format and purpose, these three works have in common a concern not only for the effects of slavery on the individual, but also for its violent disruption of the home and family, regardless of race or class.

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