Black Mothers and the National Body Politic: The Narrative Positioning of the Black Maternal Body from the Civil War Period through the Present focuses on the struggles and triumphs of black motherhood in six works of narrative prose composed from the Civil War period through the present. Andrea Powell Wolfe examines the functioning of the black maternal body to both define and undermine ideal white womanhood; the physical scarring of the black mother and the reclamation of the black maternal body as a site of subversion and nurturance as well as erotic empowerment; and the construction of oppressive discourses surrounding black female bodies and reproduction and the development of resistance to these types of discourses. These tensions undergird a multifaceted discussion of the narrative positioning of the black maternal body within and in relationship to the national body politic, an inherently exclusionary and restrictive metaphorical entity constructed and socially contracted over time by an already politically empowered citizenry. Ultimately, close analysis of the texts under study suggests that the United States—as a figurative body complete with imagined “parts” that perform separate functions, from intelligence to labor, ingestion to expulsion—has simultaneously used and cast off the black maternal body over the course of centuries.
Andrea Powell Wolfe teaches literature, composition, and humanities at Ball State University.
Chapter 1: The Subordination of Embodied Power: Sentimental Representations of the Black Maternal Body in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidentsin the Life of a Slave Girl
Chapter 2: Recuperating the Body: Embodiment and Reintegration into the Black Community in Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces and Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Chapter 3: The Narrative Power of the Black Maternal Body: Resisting and Exceeding Visual Economies of Discipline in Margaret Walker’s Jubilee and Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose
Chapter 4: Mapping Black Motherhood onto the Nation: Southern Legacies and National Realities in Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit and Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone
Coda: Michelle Obama in Context
About the Author
Sweeping and significant, Black Mothers and the Nation wields feminist analyses and nuanced discussions across historical periods and literary eras with gusto. It provides a much-needed assessment of how the black maternal body, as represented in canonical and countercanonical American literature by women, enacts, subverts, challenges, and reconfigures the values pinned to it by the problematic and enduring discursive forces of a nation deeply invested in the power dynamics pertaining to the constructions of black femininity. This unflinching and provocative book will be remembered and referenced long after it is read.
Black Mothers and the Nation focuses on literary representations of motherhood as a way to track America’s foundational anti-Black, intersectional violence and its contemporary residue. Wolfe’s skillful literary analyses also remind readers that reclaiming Black motherhood is fundamental to dismantling the white-supremacist, patriarchal forces that continue to wreak havoc on Black lives