Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Verner Mitchell

Committee Member

Lorinda Cohoon

Committee Member

Grace Gal

Committee Member

Ladrica Menson-Furr


As Toni Morrison states in her text, The Site of memory, early slave narratives were written with the purpose of providing a historical account that was representative of the race and of enticing readers to see the worth and human nature of the subjects. In doing this, Morrison notes that the authors fell short of revealing the interior life as it was often dubbed too terrible to relate. After examining the interior lives of the mother figures in the texts of Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Valerie Martin, it becomes clear that these maternal figures were not merely reactive to an oppressive slave culture that sought to have them submit in mind, body, and spirit, but they were also driven, creative, and determined to fulfil their maternal roles despite any social constructions. Not only were they willing to subvert the masters authority, but they were also willing to oppose the social constructions of their own race which empowered them as women and as mothers. Jacobs uses her sexuality, which was oppressed under the cult of true womanhood and slavery, as her opportunity to lift the veil and assert herself as a dominant woman, making motherhood the tangible sign of her self-determination. In Beloved, patterns of maternal violence disrupted social expectations and established the authoritative power of the African American woman and mother in a new light. Love as maternal provision is explored in Perkins-Valdezs Wench, in which Lizzie uses her position as concubine to initially provide for physical needs for her children and later to equip them with the knowledge and mission of abolition. Lastly, in Property, Valerie Martin explores the power struggles that ensue when the white mistress is obsessed with dominating the slave woman who has taken her place in the marital bed and as the maternal figure. Sarah, unlike her white mistress, is self-empowered, seeking her own desires. Meanwhile, Manon spends her life struggling for a perceived power found in white patriarchy. Looking behind the veil reveals that each of these maternal figures emerges empowered despite adherence to the prescribed racial, social, and gender roles.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest