Date of Award

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Committee Member

Dr. Angela Naimou

Committee Member

Dr. William Stockton

Committee Member

Dr. Rhondda Thomas

Abstract

An enslaved individual usually escapes or is manumitted before writing his or her narrative. But what if an individual composes that narrative while still enslaved? Toni Morrison teases out this question in A Mercy, a novel told in part by Florens, an enslaved African girl in seventeenth-century colonial America, who etches her narrative with a nail on the interior of a mansion, exhibiting her resourcefulness and desperation to write her story. However, a third-person narrator fills in the gaps of what Florens cannot know about the other characters. This other narrative voice becomes necessary because Florens suffers from the trauma of believing that her mother has abandoned her in favor of being with her younger brother, and consequently, this trauma creates narrative lacunae because Florens does not and cannot know everything. Even as Florens fixates on this separation, which influences all of her future decisions, she can invoke her own agency, based on her abject resistance of her feeling of loss so that she herself may become a spectral force that actively haunts the archive of slavery, not merely someone who is passively haunted. This archive constitutes an exploration of the factual and fictional narratives that broaden the scope of not only what happened, but also what could have happened, the latter being necessary due to the inaccessibility of a complete, unbiased history. Florens achieves a sense of queerness based not primarily on her sexual practices but because of her liberating resistance to linearity and alignment with abjection as recuperative power against her low social position as black, female, and enslaved. While she remains enslaved, Florens attempts to unsettle such a marginalized position, which results in her committing violence against the blacksmith and her composing a narrative addressed to him that attempts to push against the boundary between enslavement and freedom albeit this freedom extends only to her claim of subjectivity, not a legal upturning of these definitions, which shows that despite this power that Florens gains to deal with her loss, she is still caught in the system of slavery.

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