Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl, Passing, And The Street: Women Diverging From The Norm
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Type of WorkText
DepartmentEnglish and Languages
ProgramMaster of Arts
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The purpose of this study is to examine the representation of African-American women across three literary periods by exploring three seminal texts written by African-American women: Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Nella Larsen's Passing (1929), and Ann Petry's The Street (1946). In studying the depiction of women in these texts, the writer employs feminist theories, particularly those of Simone de Beauvoir and [B]ell [H]ooks. The three texts embody feminist ideals in their focus on the struggle of women in a male-dominated society. An examination of the images of African-American women across literary periods reveals the woman's quest for physical freedom, social identity, and economic advancement. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is an insightful, candid depiction of Jacobs' experience that facilitates reader's understanding of the female slave's psychological reconfiguration as she tries to exist in a hostile world. Allowing for multiple interpretations, Larsen's Passing offers two distinct images of black womanhood in early twentieth century America: women confined by social standards and women defying social standards. The novel reveals that image controls social status, which conversely imprisons women by fettering them to socially acceptable roles and behaviors. Passing posits that when women find a means to avoid (or shatter) established gender and cultural roles, the outcome is oftentimes disastrous. The text also exemplifies women attempting to solidify a place within American society while managing complex choices pertaining to social acceptability and public image. The Street is a commentary on the existence and struggles of African-American women in a patriarchal society that teaches women that their value is based on their ability to negotiate sexual desirability as a means to determine the level of success they are able to reach. In all three texts women have to step away from their moral compass to survive, yet the outcome is not always favorable