Trustees of Defiance: Death, Resurrection, and Sacred Imperative in African American Literature Open Access

Worthy II, Jimmy (Spring 2018)

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Trustees of Defiance argues that African American literature from 1772 to 1987 employs the motif of death and resurrection as a strategy of defying racially imposed identities.  By focusing on West-Central African cosmology and Christianity as engendering belief systems, Trustees of Defiance situates resistance to life destroying ideologies within an inherited, religious endeavor to achieve fundamental transformation.  This work not only investigates existential treatments of death and resurrection in African derived cosmologies and the Judeo-Christian tradition, it also posits that through syncretism these orientations proclaim the necessity of transgressing the death boundary to attain resurrected embodiment.  As an extension of African American culture and collective conscious, African American literature illustrates resurrected embodiment as a prevailing method of total renewal, demonstrating authors’ preoccupation with resuscitated subjectivity after radical dislocation from a confining reality.  This work argues that at the root of African American authors’ endeavor to articulate defiance and fundamental renewal lies a faith tradition of claiming a new, edified self that has undergone a process of death and resurrection.  My study of the nexus between West-Central African cosmology and Afro-Protestantism evidences transgressing the death boundary and achieving resurrected embodiment as an African American sacred ritual of total transformation.  Through its critical appraisal of the relationship between resurrected embodiment and African American literature, Trustees of Defianceshows the ways in which authors’ portraits of death and resurrection establish, further, or edify communities of renewed people.  African American authors’ insistence on illustrating communal rejuvenation demonstrates this desire as an abiding sacred imperative. 

Table of Contents

Introduction: 1

Chapter One: Death Memories and the Ritual function of Resurrected Embodiment 16

Chapter Two: Authoring Humanity in Promiscuous Prose: The Strategy of Dislocation and Renewal in A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw 53

Chapter Three: Resuscitated Subjectivity: Presentations of Regeneration, Resurrection, and Womanhood in The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee 104


Chapter Four: “To Be Thinking About a Thing Like That:” Black Bodies as Sites of Terror and Resurrection in James Baldwin’s “Going to Meet the Man” 144


Conclusion: 171


Bibliography: 183


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