In “Re-Configuring Paternal Legacies through Ritualistic Art: Daughters and
Fathers in Contemporary Fiction by Women of African Descent,” I analyze three
contemporary novels by Black women authors to argue that their daughter-protagonists
gain a sense of their own subjectivities as women of African descent through their
imaginative and creative responses to their own muted paternal histories and legacies.
These responses motivate the creation of ritualistic art forms rooted in communal
practices such as storytelling, sculpting, music, dance-drama, folk medicine, and
In this dissertation, I use theoretical formulations developed in disciplines such
as literary studies, gender studies, Brazilian regionalist studies, and African diaspora
studies. These interdisciplinary approaches have allowed me to map the centrality of
family, community, rituals, and art to the development of female subjectivity as
represented in Marilene Felinto’s As mulheres de Tijucopapo/The Women of
Tijucopapo, Edwidge Danticat’s The Dew Breaker, and Gayl Jones’s Corregidora. I
define ritualistic art as any folk art form that individuals employ to achieve healing and
transcendence, liberate muted histories, honor their spatial environments, and reintegrate
themselves into their communities. I explore father-daughter relationships as
connections that are held together by participation in ritualistic art forms that honors
folk wisdom, storytelling, and vernacular utterances that are invoked through dreams,
mythology, and archetypal figures of the African diaspora.
Throughout the dissertation, I consider how generations of survivors,
generations of families work through issues of grief, forgiveness, and the need to remember, the need to retell buried histories. I engage with these ideas within the
context of the cultural productions of female artists, writers, and knowledge creators
and their relationships to the legacies of their fathers. The concepts of paternal loss and
paternal yearning in their various forms take a center stage in the art created by these
daughter-protagonists. In the three texts examined, ritualistic art is described as
practices that are multivocal, both here and there, multi-local, and multi-temporal—
spanning time and space, bending and transfiguring the boundaries between the physical
and the metaphysical. It is through the practice of ritualistic art that the community
becomes accessible to the Afro-diasporic daughters featured in this dissertation.
My point of entry into an analysis of these three texts is based on a reassessment
of the muted histories of fathers who contribute significantly to female subjectivity, yet
have been traditionally relegated to the margins of gender studies and other types of
social research. Even today, too many members of the African diaspora are forced to
experience fatherhood through absence and loss. Millions of men of African descent
are violently ripped from their families as a result of state sponsored violence, warmaking criminalization, and the combined hardship of racism poverty. When black
fathers are present daughters are often at a loss. Women are forced to reconcile
personal, social, and political histories, with our desire, myth and longing for a “father
My work privileges texts that depict daughter-protagonists as artists who use
their imagination to summon their paternal legacies. In doing so, these texts also
connect literary, aural, visual art forms and the ways folk artistic expressions inspire
contemporary Afro-diasporic women artists to re-articulate, reinforce, and at times transgress social conventions.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2012. Major: Hispanic and Luso Literatures, Cultures & Linguistics. Advisor:Fernando Arenas, Timothy A. Brennan. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 225 pages.
Pierre-Louis, Barbara Gina.
Re-configuring paternal legacies through ritualistic art: daughters and fathers in contemporary fiction by women of African descent..
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