Title page for ETD etd-04062004-184200


Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Powe, Alexis Durell
URN etd-04062004-184200
Title Black Women Writing Black Mother Figures: Reading Black Motherhood in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Meridian
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Nghana Lewis Committee Chair
John Lowe Committee Member
Rick Moreland Committee Member
Keywords
  • motherlove
  • accountability
  • superwomanhood
  • maternal thinking
Date of Defense 2004-03-18
Availability unrestricted
Abstract
This research explores connections between Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Alice Walker's Meridian, two important novels in the African American canon rarely studied in conjunction. I examine the novels' portrayals of Black mothers, comparing and contrasting Nanny Crawford and Mrs. Hill as central mother figures. I also examine Leafy Crawford, Meridian Hill, and other minor Black mother/women characters. Though Hurston's and Walker's presentations of Black mothers differ, both authors work toward dismantling traditional stereotypes of Black motherhood, particularly the Black superwoman stereotype, and, thereby, ultimately redefining Black womanhood. In defending this claim, I explore Hurston's "motherly" influence upon Walker and other contemporary writers who have questioned traditional (usually male) portrayals of Black mothers. Toni Morrison and Sherley Anne Williams, for example, acknowledge(d) Hurston as a literary foremother and have drawn from her writing in generating their own work. Walker also acknowledges Hurston's weighty presence in, among other works, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose and Meridian. In the latter, Walker directly alludes to Their Eyes Were Watching God. Perhaps most interesting, however, is how differently Walker and Hurston portray motherhood in these novels. Whereas Hurston's Nanny seemingly fits the affectionate, overly-caring Black mammy stereotype, Mrs. Hill resents her children and withdraws emotionally from them. Yet the characters are eerily similar in that both withhold valuable sexual information from their (grand)daughters, lie to force Janie and Meridian into lives similar to their mother figures' unenviable existences, vent their frustrations and disappointments upon their children, and use guilt in an attempt to keep the young women under their control. Both, in other words, represent traditional stereotypes of Black women and, therefore, become obstacles the daughter figures must defy to achieve personally fulfilling lives. Drawing from Hurston's and Walker's memoirs, I explore the authors' personal views of motherhood (how they claim to feel about their own mothers and/or grandmothers, and how Walker claims to feel about becoming a mother) and how those views translate into their writing. Finally, I work to clarify and distinguish my take on the two authors' portrayals of motherhood from other critical perspectives.
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