Date of Award

12-1-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

University or Center

Clark Atlanta University(CAU)

School

School of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

D.A.H.

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Wright

Second Advisor

Dr. Ernestine Pickens Glass

Third Advisor

Dr. Viktor Osinubi

Abstract

The literary works in this study: Frances E. W. Harper’s lola Leroy, Nella Larsens’ Quicksand, and Zora Neale Hurston’ s Their Eyes Were Watching God provide examples of female protagonists facing identity crises and reaching milestones in their lives as a result of theirjourneys towards self-actualization. The protagonists’ lives (childhood, adolescence, and adulthood/womanhood/motherhood) are traced during times of slavery, the antebellum period, the post-bellum period, and the Harlem Renaissance. Their experiences in each stage of life in relation to societal norms present the identity crisis present in each novel. In an attempt to define feminine identity as portrayed by the protagonists in the novels, I examined past ideals of femininity in American and African American history and literature. Additionally, a definition of femininity based upon the early works is contrasted with a definition of identity in the later works of African American female authors. Based upon the two perspectives of how the female characters discovered thei identities, the female characters of later novels prove to be direct descendents of early female characters in African American literature. As the study demonstrates, the characteristics of African American female protagonists’ of strength, resilience, confidence, and, eventually, independence are progressive in these novels which results in characters that develop positively over a period of more than seventy years. The study also suggests that the portrayal of femal protagonists in the novels of African-American women continues to be patterned after the early novelists and, at the same time, continues to progress in strength and development.

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