Properties of Confinement in African Diasporic Autobiographies (1966-1987) Open Access

Rolle, Dominick (2016)

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This dissertation examines the multifaceted ways in which select black female and male autobiographers from the United States and Cuba challenge and redefine the notion of human property while serving as slaves, as military personnel, and as prisoners during the Black Arts Movement. This study considers autobiographies including Miguel Barnet's Biography of a Runaway Slave (1966); Chester Himes's The Quality of Hurt (1973); Assata Shakur's Assata: An Autobiography (1987) and Frederick Douglass's Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself (1845). Drawing from the fields of African American literary theory, critical race theory, black queer theory, disability studies, autobiography studies, and black feminist studies, I ask: 1.) How do the cultural intersections of slavery, the military, and prison--and the particular laws and regulations governing each--structure and impede opportunities for black advancement and citizenship across the African Diaspora? 2.) How and why is autobiography an effective genre of self-possession to challenge the ongoing project of turning humans into property? I choose my selected narratives because their authors have served time in slavery, the military or prison and provide intriguing accounts of their experiences while bearing witness to the oppression of people of African decent across the diaspora. Their protagonists enrich current discourses concerning black heroism and subjugation in relation to the white establishment's efforts at positioning them as human property. When examining these autobiographies, I interrogate the strategic ways in which these authors experience conversions when they enter or escape from various spaces of confinement such as plantations, barracks, and prison cells. My project is particularly alert to the disparate ways in which they experience moments of freedom in the most imprisoning spaces and sensations of captivity in the most liberating. I trace these lines of inquiry within the subgenre of confinement literature. My study demonstrates the ongoing relevance of questions concerning black citizenship and self-possession in relationship to property ownership across the African Diaspora. Furthermore, it harkens to the current ways in which black men and women redefine their status as human property as slaves, as military personnel, and as prisoners.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Property and Personhood in Black Autobiography…1-34

Chapter One: Spirited Play in Biography of a Runaway Slave…35-73

Chapter Two: Carceral Horror in Himes's The Quality of Hurt…74-148

Chapter Three: Marronage and Re-Creation in Assata…149-189

Coda: Providence and Self-Possession in Frederick Douglass' 1845 Narrative…190-211

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