Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Title

The Queen of the Household: Mothers, Other Mothers, and Female Genealogy on the Plantation in Postslavery Women's Fiction

Date of Award

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

First Advisor

Kathryn Mckee

Second Advisor

Ted Ownby

Third Advisor

Annette Trefzer

Abstract

In many ways, the plantation defined the U.S. South because it was the primary site of production, and therefore income, for prominent southerners. In addition to being a site of production, the plantation created a complex series of connected relationships that was imagined by the plantocracy to be a large family unit. It functioned according to a specific hierarchical model that was primarily based on a patriarchal understanding of genealogy. Yet Kate Chopin's "Désirée's Baby" and "La Belle Zoraïde," Pauline Hopkins's Contending Forces, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Julia Peterkin's Scarlet Sister Mary, Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding, and Katherine Anne Porter's The Old Order are woman-centered; each text focuses on a mother-child relationship and privileges the voices of women over the voices of male characters. These texts focus on female genealogy rather than a traditional patriarchal understanding of genealogical history. Tracing female genealogy makes space to see alternate foci of power on the postslavery plantation and the ways women, particularly mothers, utilize this power. Looking at these texts through the lens of female genealogy illuminates moments when these authors explore the plantation's insidious nature and resist its traditional power structure. Each story places emphasis on exploring individual identity through an understanding of one's cultural and family history. This dissertation explores the ways black and white women, 1890–1950, express a shared identity. The six authors experience a shared historical memory; each author reflects on the impact the plantation has had on the characters in her stories, and each author presents a new image of the changing plantation south. The authors explore their characters' anxieties about women's roles and places in a patriarchal society, and they explore the ways women gain and exchange power, both overtly and covertly. They also examine the ways mothers and children both love each other and manipulate each other. They look at relationships between black and white women, and they examine the ways these women are "family" and the ways they are not. Finally, they examine the ways a shared violent history shapes relationships between women in the present.

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