Green is the New Black: Reading the Black Experience Ecocritically
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Prince, Shannon Joyce
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CitationPrince, Shannon Joyce. 2018. Green is the New Black: Reading the Black Experience Ecocritically. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractGreen is the New Black argues that African American literature, as a genre, should not be understood simply as literary works written by blacks of the United States but as a collection of artistic products aggregated by the shared characteristics of their content – in substantial part, culturally distinct ways of relating to the environment. This dissertation contends that African American engagement with green is shaped both by blacks’ experience of being rendered inhuman socially and legally as well as by the race’s retention of the figure of Ananse – a spider-man from West African orature – and of the techniques of Anansesεm. It also proffers a body of black-green tropes that have been revised across African American literature from the nineteenth century through the present day.
Green is the New Black engages in ecocentric analysis of both canonical and obscure black writing. I read Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom as a work that employs Anansesεm techniques to humanize blacks and animalize slaveholders. Next, I use Charles Chesnutt’s “The Goophered Grapevine” to reveal the depth of the disastrous consequences of the Flint water crisis, treating both African American literature and life ecocritically. The following chapter challenges Chesnutt’s assertation that he drew on childhood memories of black folklore unconsciously and insignificantly when crafting his work. I argue instead that attention to the natural elements in Chesnutt’s Conjure Woman stories and his novel The Colonel’s Dream reveal deliberate, intricate revisions of the tar baby Anansesεm that, when exegeted, unveil hidden layers of meaning.
Next, I examine the many ways Toni Morrison makes use of nature in Tar Baby. She employs environment, flora, and fauna to engage with issues of race and property, to revise black-green tropes, and to create an ecocentric African diaspora retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” In a second chapter on Morrison’s work, I explain how her novel Home suggests that black social death is followed by a sort of green afterlife in which dehumanized African Americans are forced to exist as animals or plants.
Green is the New Black concludes with a close reading of a lesser known work, C. S. Giscombe’s book of poetry Giscome Road which is set in nineteenth century Canada. In this final chapter, I examine Giscombe’s vision of what African American relationships with nature could look like outside of the context of racial dehumanization.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121233
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