Cultures of violence: Racism, sexism and female agency in twentieth-century American fiction
Toombs, Veronica Marie
Fultz, Lucille P.
Doctor of Philosophy
Male authors intent on critiquing American racism, specifically William Faulkner and Richard Wright, have been more successful in defining the parameters surrounding the discussion of violence in American society than have their female counterparts. Intent to illuminate the connections between racial oppression and violent reactions to social marginalization, these authors assert that violence ensues in the lives of male protagonists as implicit responses to the social injustice that their protagonists face. Their pornographic representations of violence effectively erase the subjectivity of female victims and subvert attempts to critique violence against women. Whereas the male authors focus only on racism as the cause of male violence, Hurston begins the project of revising this vision. She highlights the power relations that exist in intraracial contexts---both white and black---that contribute to violence against women. Hurston shows that violence directed toward women is often the result of patriarchal oppression, connected to other forms of oppression because the structures of oppression (sexism and racism) are mutually supporting. Using the construct of sadomasochistic theory, I illustrate the imbricated nature of oppression and its effect on female identity and subjectivity. Where Faulkner, Wright, and Hurston have focused primarily on acts of physical violence, Jones' text, Eva's Man, adds the dimension of discursive violence to this discussion. Eva Medina Canada both internalizes negative images of womanhood and transforms those representations into models of female empowerment and resistance. Eva's signifying gesture offers women an avenue of reclamation, a way of preserving their autonomy in a hostile environment. Finally, Morrison brings together the various forms of violence discussed in previous chapters. She creates a text which illustrates both material and discursive violence, a text that illuminates the connection between social and individual expressions of violence. Rather than prioritize one form of violence over another, Morrison engages both black feminism and black nationalism to critique sexism and racism in American society. Her model of imbricated critique and analysis of "disinterested violence" offers a model to feminism for effective social intervention and transformation.
American studies; Black studies; Women's studies; American literature