The Gothic or the monstrous : African American and Caribbean nightmares

Sato, Paula Kaye, Department of French Language and Literature, University of Virginia
Ogden, Amy, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia
Rody, Caroline, Department of English, University of Virginia

My dissertation "The Gothic or the Monstrous: African American and Caribbean Nightmares" examines texts and discourses describing a moment in history when life became terrifying to both victimizers and victimized. In the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, slaveholders disseminated descriptions of rebelling slaves as bloodthirsty cannibals on murderous rampages. In addition, American slaves left narratives that recount life under slavery as a living hell. In her twentieth-century novel Beloved, Toni Morrison visits the psychic trauma that haunts slavery's victims long after slavery has ended, a trauma that never truly goes away. Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé imaginatively traces the experience of another historical slave demonized by society as a witch during the Salem witch trials in Moi, Tituba. . . . In painting her heroine as the victim of society's Gothic imaginings, Condé presents a critique of present-day American society which, according to her, has not changed since the time of mass hysteria in which her story takes place. As Aimé Césaire revisits the ravishes of slavery and colonization to bring healing to his wounded, spiritually- and materially-destitute Caribbean island, he subverts the semantics of colonialism in which the master/colonizer construed blackness as "bad" and whiteness as "good" in order to justify slavery. In his poem Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, Césaire demonstrates that because of the historical misuse of the terms "bad" and "good," they cannot be trusted to measure a man's worth. Instead, we must use the yardstick of one's humanity or inhumanity to man. The poetry of Meiling Jin centers on her Asian eyes — eyes that are demonized in English literature and that make her both an "invisible" subject and a hyper-visible "racially marked object," to borrow Traise Yamatoto's terminology. Thus, Homi Bhabha's description of Jin's poet persona, who through a disembodied subjectivity defies racist tendencies to attach stereotypes to visible signs of difference, is incomplete. In her poetry, she transforms the site of her visible difference, her Asian eyes, into the sign of her humanity.

As these African American and Caribbean writers revisit the nightmare of slavery, and as they demonstrate how Gothic fabrications of race transform societies into monstrous killing machines, they reveal that the Gothic is not merely a literary genre. It is the historical moment in which we live.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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