To be Loved and Cry Shame: The Legacies of Race and Shame

Love, Kimberly, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McDowell, Deborah, Department of English, University of Virginia
Ross, Marlon, Department of English, University of Virginia

My dissertation examines shame in nineteenth and twentieth century texts by and about black women. I argue that black writers use black women’s shame as a literary representational strategy that reveals interlocking constructions of race, gender, and sexuality in American culture and public life. I map the ways in which the writers in my study connect shame to black womanhood to mediate the social, political, and historical landscape in which each text is produced. Through this formulation, black writers mobilize black women’s shame to reveal patterns of relationships between self and others and self and the world. I posit that the social forces that account for black women’s shame in nineteenth and twentieth century literature expose a paradox of shame and shamelessness that black women literary figures negotiate as the afterlife of partus sequitur ventrum, the legal mandate which translates, “That which is brought forth follows the womb.” Therefore, I examine the vicissitudes of shame as an inheritance across a broad historical range of texts and diverse cultural milieu. The chapters in this study examine how the paradox of shame and shamelessness shifts in African American literature and culture over periods of time from enslavement (1760-1865), post-Reconstruction (1865-1917), and the resurgence of black women writers (1981-1989). To examine the cultures of shame in these periods, I integrate black feminist literary and social theory with the turn to affect in the humanities and social sciences.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
black womanhood, affect theory, shame, race, gender, emotions
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