Symptoms of Oppression or Acts of Liberation? Psychosis, Mutilation and Death in Diasporic Womanist Literature
Erika M. Thompson
Thesis DT 3.5 2002 T4645
viii, 88 leaves; 29 cm.
The notion of choice in the context of oppressed women's realities is one that is well researched and about which much has been written within womanist theory and literary criticism. The most familiar example is infanticide, most notably illustrated in Toni Morrison's Beloved. This project seeks to explore different variables within the notion of choice. By exploring the author's depiction of psychosis, mutilation and death, this project seeks to ascertain whether these phenomenons manifest themselves as symptoms of oppression or acts of liberation.
For the purposes of this study, a comparative textual analysis is done of three womanist novels: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangaremba, Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, and Geographies of Home by Loida Maritza Perez. The theoretical framework used in the analysis of the aforementioned texts comes from a combination of elements adapted from the theories of Chikwenye Ogunyemi, Gina Wisker and Rose Brewer. The assumptions that, 1) mainstream feminist theory is reflective of the experiences of White, upper-middle class women, and 2) that unique to Black women's experiences are the intersectionality of race, class, and gender as oppressive forces which shape women's lives, serve as the foundation for the framework used to analyze these novels.
In spite of the outcome of each act of psychosis, mutilation and/or death for the individual woman, these acts prove to enable the liberation of other women, which is of equal benefit. Regardless of their literal impact, these acts can be read as the figurative negotiation of women's bodies, whereby mutilation and/or death become acts of retribution to the oppressor, rather than self-annihilation. Womanist theory, therefore, must provide a redefinition of agency to encompass the acts of resistance that are made in the face of oppression, as opposed to the definition of agency as the absence of liberation.