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A growing impulse in American black female fiction is the reclamation of black female sexuality due to slavery's proliferation of sexual stereotypes about black women. Because of slave law's silencing of rape culture, issues of consent, will, and agency become problematized in a larger dilemma surrounding black humanity and the repression of black female sexuality. Since the enslaved female was always assumed to be willing, because she is legally unable to give consent or resist, locating black female desire within the confines of slavery becomes largely impossible. Yet, contemporary re-imaginings of desire in this context becomes an important point of departure for re-membering contemporary black female subjectivity. "What's Love Got to Do With It?" is an alternative look at master-slave relationships, particularly those between white men and black women, featured in contemporary slave narratives by black women writers. Although black feminist critics have long considered love an unavailable, if not, unthinkable construct within the context of interracial relationships during slavery, this project locates this unexpected emotion within four neo-slave narratives. Finding moments of love and desire from, both, slaveholders and slaves, this study nuances monolithic historical players we are usually quick to adjudicate. Drawing on black feminist criticism, history, and critical race theory, this study outlines the importance of exhuming these historic relationships from silence, acknowledging the legacies they left for heterosexual love and race relations, and exploring what lessons we can take away from them today. Recognizing the ongoing tension between remembering and forgetting and the inherent value in both, this study bridges the gap by delineating the importance of perspective and the stories we choose to tell. Rather than being forever haunted by traumatic memories of the past and proliferating stories of violence and abuse, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Octavia Butler, Gayle Jones, and Gloria Naylor's novels reveal that there are ways to negotiate the past, use what you need, and come to a more holistic place where love is available.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of English in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Maxine L. Montgomery, Professor Directing Dissertation; Maxine Jones, University Representative; Dennis Moore, Committee Member; Susan Candace Ward, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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