Date of Award

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Committee Member

Kimberly Manganelli

Committee Member

Travers Scott

Committee Member

Jonathan Field

Abstract

Health advocate Michael Scarce describes the sexual abuse of men as 'a crime without a history,' pointing to the treatment of raped men as shocking aberrations as an element in the stigma attached to the crime's victims. The presentation of male-male rape as rare and shocking, he proposes, may be what engenders such silence on the subject, perpetuating the absence of such a history. Even in writing about American slavery, in which the sexual exploitation of women is more freely acknowledged, few historic attestations and fewer literary accounts of the rape of men exist. Those rare accounts which do exist, then, offer vital evidence of nineteenth-century ideologies about bodies and sexualities. In this paper, I explore the complicated subject-positions within hierarchies of race, sexuality, and gender which two female authors - one a nineteenth-century escaped slave, one a twenty-first-century novelist - adopt for themselves and impose upon the men involved in forced sexual encounters between white slaveowners and black slaves in the American South. The authors of a well-known slave narrative, Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and a recent neo-slave novel speaking back to the slave narrative tradition, Valerie Martin's Property, dismiss the figure of the rapacious black male that haunted the racist imagination. Each looks instead to tropes of romantic primitivism and proposes an alternate reading of the black male body oppressed by race and gender structures. Relying upon Hortense Spillers' accounts of the metonymic figures which constitute the hegemonic paradigm of blackness under strictly categorized ethnic systems, I highlight a separate silencing in which anthropological concepts and Biblical ones are appropriated to create a new metonym of black masculinity. In doing so, I explore Victorian concepts of the body in order to illuminate a moment in the ideological history of sexual exploitation.

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