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Date of Award

Spring 5-2020

Author's School

College of Arts & Sciences

Author's Program

African and African American Studies

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (A.B.)




This project seeks to understand how the literary representations of Black motherhood in novels written by American Black women in the latter part of the twentieth century are influenced by the historical, social, and cultural contexts of the country. Through close readings of two novels penned by Black women in the United States, Corregidora by Gayl Jones and Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange, my work interrogates how conceptualizations of Black American motherhood are shaped by a history of enslavement that debased and disenfranchised Black mothers. Additionally, this project evaluates how the novels cast relationships between mothers and daughters, as notions about motherhood and womanhood are passed from one generation to another. Lastly, my project explores how the aforementioned factors determine if, and how, the novels’ characters chose to become mothers themselves. Both Corregidora and Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo center Black women characters who deal with the complexities of the legacy of slavery and navigate how that legacy shapes their ideas about motherhood. I argue that though both novels are set nearly a century after emancipation in the United Sates, both Jones and Shange show Black motherhood as being continually influenced by the unique reproductive oppression Black women endured throughout slavery. The novels show the process of navigating Black womanhood and understanding the complicated plight of Black mothers in the United States. These novels provide the basis for my arguments and allow me to examine how Black women think about motherhood through the lens of how they choose to write about motherhood.


J. Dillon Brown

Additional Advisors

Rafia Zafar

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