'I out-live them': the creation of out-living selves and textual layering in the Nineteenth-century writing, speeches, and storytelling of six African American women
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date21/11/2023
This thesis examines the writing, speeches, and storytelling of six African American women: Jarena Lee, Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Charlotte Forten, and Anna Julia Cooper. The theoretical approach of the thesis is formed around two distinct lenses: “out-living” and “textual layering”. Out-living, which is developed from Jarena Lee’s statement that “Notwithstanding I had my opposers I out-live them”, is used to identify how the works discussed in the thesis present imagined and realised attempts to confront, resist, and live outside the white racist and sexist ideological restrictions suffered by African American women in the nineteenth century (Religious Experience and Journal, 78). The “out-living selves” of the title reflects the thesis’ focus upon how the women represented themselves in their work, and how those self-representations were not fixed in the biographies of the women writing. Instead, those self-representations were able to shift away from exact reproductions of their lives in subtle and complex ways. Those out-living selves serve a multitude of purposes, from enabling the women to publicly hide the trauma they suffered at the hands of US ideological racism and sexism, both in enslavement and in freedom, to allowing them to strike fear into the hearts of white Americans invested in the perpetuation of slavery with visions of the holy retribution the women could call forth. Textual layering is developed from Mae Gwendolyn Henderson’s theorisation of “speaking in tongues”, and identifies African American women’s inclusion of multiple layers of meaning within their work that simultaneously address multiple audiences (Speaking in Tongues ). The primary theoretical lenses of out-living and textual layering are undergirded by further theoretical and methodological approaches within the thesis, such as: Black jeremiadic discourse (Moses, Black Messiahs ; “Poetics” ), the Black radical tradition (Morgan, “Partus” ; Reckoning ; Robinson, Black Marxism ), intersectionality (Crenshaw, “Demarginalising” ), the “magic circle” (Braxton, Black Women ), masking (Zafar, We Wear the Mask ), and the veil (Du Bois, Souls ; Hopkins, Hagar’s Daughter ). The thesis is divided into six chapters, with each chapter focusing upon examining the work of one of the women in the following order: Lee, Stewart, Truth, Tubman, Forten, Cooper. Each chapter uses a quotation from the woman it discusses to inform the analytical approach taken in that chapter, which interacts with, and supplements, the primary lenses of out-living and textual layering. Through that repeated interactive and supplementary engagement with the work of the women discussed, the theories of out-living and textual layering evolve as the thesis progresses.