Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Parley Ann Boswell


Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and bell hooks' Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood share a common concern with emancipation and employ complementary rhetorical strategies. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl presents Harriet Jacobs' journey of personal self-discovery through various relationships with others, and her personal narrative finally serves the larger goal of emancipation for her people. Jacobs' narrative is full of other voices, or personae. Even the narrator, Linda Brent, is pseudonymous, or "other," in this sense. Jacobs invokes these personae in her autobiography; she explores her experiences as a web of relationships. Jacobs shows a collective or communal notion of selfhood, and she uses this notion of selfhood to establish a bond of sisterhood among black women and white.

Although slavery officially ended with emancipation, black Americans continue to live its historical legacy. Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood is both self-revelation and an attempt to record and refigure a rich Southern black culture. Polyptoton is the governing trope of hooks' narrative. Through it, she invites the reader to enter into her world from various angles. "I" evokes a subjective and an insider's response, whereas the pronoun "she" provokes an objective analysis. The first person plural, "we" serves as an often ironically liminal place between the subjective and a wholly detached, objective perspective. Complementing Jacobs' notion of a collective self, hooks presents the self that is diffracted in Bone Black. She presents a similar, universalizing argument: people, regardless of skin color, need to know the poison and damage of racial discrimination. As a feminist, hooks is also concerned about women's marginalization. She elaborates on her

personal experiences as lessons for readers of both gender to be aware of the necessity and progress of women's empowerment. Jacobs' community of personae and hooks' use of polyptoton are complementary strategies. Jacobs' approach grows out of historical, political and legal exigencies. hooks' approach reflects her historical situation as well, with its "partially" emancipated outlook on race and gender. Both writers, however, move--and insist upon the importance of moving--from the singularity of personal experience to the life of the community.