Saints,Sinners,Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature

Overview

Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature explores the idea of strength as a frequently contradictory and damaging trait for black women characters in major literary works of the 20th century. Looking at work by Hansberry, Morrison, Bambara, West, Gaines, Reed, and others, Trudier Harris shows how writers draw upon popular images of African American women in producing what they believe to be safe literary representations. She argues forcefully that the portrayal of women's ...
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Overview

Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature explores the idea of strength as a frequently contradictory and damaging trait for black women characters in major literary works of the 20th century. Looking at work by Hansberry, Morrison, Bambara, West, Gaines, Reed, and others, Trudier Harris shows how writers draw upon popular images of African American women in producing what they believe to be safe literary representations. She argues forcefully that the portrayal of women's character as strong is problematic in African American literature, and this pattern has become so pronounced that it has stifled the literature.

Author Biography: Trudier Harris is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her most recent book is The Power of the Porch: The Storyteller's Craft in Zona Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this surprising, scholarly volume, Harris (The Power of the Porch) analyzes "the pathology of strength" that has become "a dominant pattern of development for black female character" in much of the literature taught in college African-American studies courses. An English professor at UNC Chapel Hill, Harris challengingly cites such works as Toni Morrison's Beloved, Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying and Toni Cade Bambera's The Salt Eaters to demonstrate a paradox: while "strength is undoubtedly a virtue," she writes, "it is frequently violating and destructive." (For example, the trend toward increasingly strong female characters discourages works featuring vulnerable ones, thereby stifling literary freedom.) Detailing representations of African-American women in 20th-century fiction, Harris reveals the extent to which "African American writers were just as complicitous as the white-created mythology surrounding black women in ensuring that strong, asexual representations of black female characters dominated." Harris is not without sympathy and even admiration for many aspects of these characters, even as she shows links between A Raisin in the Sun's Mama Lena and contemporary TV's fondness for large, strong and comic black female characters. The detail can be deadening so many textual citations; so much time spent on arguments but the thesis is provocative, even when it's not entirely convincing. (Dec.) Forecast: Harris's largely esoteric tone suggests that her book is destined for college classrooms. Its counterintuitive thesis and studious avoidance of lit-crit jargon will ensure a willing audience of students of American and African-American literature. Copyright 2001Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

“Its counterintuitive thesis and studious avoidance of lit-crit jargon will ensure a willing audience of students of American and African-American literature” —Publisher's Weekly

“Professor Trudier Harris's view of strength as a symptom of disease and her ‘proof’ in literary texts enables us all to reach beyond the stereotype of Black women as pillars of strength, as those who easily endure the unspeakable. The literary criticism of Harris's texts in Saints, Sinners, Saviors, brings home the immediacy of Black women's lives in the twenty-first century. This is a must book for any classroom concerned with the being of Black womanhood in the world.” —Charlotte Pierce-Baker, Ph.D., Duke University, author of Surviving the Silence: Black Women's Stories of Rape

...vivid and provocative descriptions of some of the great strong women characters of recent African American literature.
-Charlotte Observer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312293000
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 12/7/2001
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Trudier Harris is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her most recent book isThe Power of the Porch: The Storyteller’s Craft in Zona Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Ch. 1 Introduction: The Black Female Body: Seeing, Believing, and Perpetuating Popular and Literary Images 1
Ch. 2 A Raisin in the Sun: The Strong Black Woman as Acceptable Tyrant 21
Ch. 3 Strength and the Battle Ground of Slavery: I. Even Parody: Ishmael Reed and Mammy Barracuda 41
Ch. 4 Strength and the Battle Ground of Slavery: II. Survival Beyond Survival: The Price of Strength in Beloved 57
Ch. 5 Commanding the Universe: I. More Than Witch: Bambara's Minnie Ransom 79
Ch. 5 Commanding the Universe: II. Tough Enough to Kill, Tough Enough to Transcend Death: J. California Cooper's Clora 79
Ch. 6 Strength as Disease Bordering on Evil Dorothy West's Cleo Judson 101
Ch. 7 The Stubbornness of Tradition: I. Do What Big Mama Sez: Ernest J. Gaines's: A Lesson Before Dying 123
Ch. 7 The Stubbornness of Tradition: II. New Territory, No Change: Pearl Cleage's Flyin' West 123
Ch. 8 Balance?: Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower 153
Ch. 9 Conclusion: Can this Mold be Broken? 173
Notes 181
Works Cited or Consulted 201
Index 209
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