Dissertation Abstract

Post it Notes like I used copiously while writing my dissertation. Image by Pexels on Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/en/post-it-notes-sticky-notes-note-1284667/
Post it Notes like I used copiously while writing my dissertation. Image by Pexels on Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/en/post-it-notes-sticky-notes-note-1284667/

© Copyright by
Roshaunda D. Cade
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
2009

Abstract

This dissertation explores how mixed race slave mothers in American literature of the mid-Nineteenth Century combine the performances of blackface minstrelsy and racial passing in order to perform minstrel passing and access the freedoms of citizenship.  Minstrel passing seeks to gain the advantages of the other through performances of deception, and it gains more liberties for the performer than either passing or minstrelsy do alone.  While minstrel passing does not grant freedom, it grants the freedom to behave like and be treated as a citizen.  During this era, motherhood defined female citizenship.  But instead of solely resigning women to the domestic sphere, motherhood emboldens women to try things they have never done before.  For these slave women, motherhood pushes them to seek the benefits of citizenship. 

I argue that in the following the texts, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe; Clotel (1853), William Wells Brown; The Bondwoman’s Narrative (2002), Hannah Crafts; Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), Mark Twain, these bids for citizenship happen largely through the acts of blackface minstrelsy, racial passing, and minstrel passing.  Because these performances privilege self-definition, they become tools in the feminist arsenal of autonomy and create space for feminist citizenship.  Each of these novels deals with mixed race slave mothers minstrel passing their way into freedom.  Additionally, the complexity of the minstrel passing situations intensifies in each novel, revealing the complicated nature of the mid-Nineteenth Century moment. 

The mid-century collision of increasingly confusing racial definitions, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, the emergence of blackface minstrelsy as a national form of entertainment, and the Women’s Rights Movement created a unique atmosphere for American women, black and white.  To that end, the 1850s offered a variety of ways for women to accommodate citizenship.  I maintain that this era created a space for mixed race slave mothers to perform racial deception, in order to exercise autonomy and define their own spheres, and find the freedom to enjoy the privileges of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness inherent in U.S. citizenship. 

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