Quiet Revisionists: Identity Reconciliation and the Trope of Marriage in the Fiction of Dorothy West and Nella Larsen
The middle class identity of the African American woman is complicated by the intersectionality of race, class, and gender. Economic stability cannot protect her from society's marginalization of black womanhood. Her ability to access racially specific white spaces creates a persistent awareness of her social and political realities. Regardless of her income level, she is positioned at the bottom of the social order, objectified by white patriarchy and displaced by her equally disempowered black male counterparts. Because of the history of racism in the United States, economic status does not alleviate black middle class women from enduring the debilitating and self conflicting images of black womanhood. However, black middle class women attempt to confront the misrepresentations of identity, often constructed against the bourgeois image of white female virtue and gentility. Stereotypes and misrepresentations have encouraged middle class black women's desires for social legitimacy and value by embracing bourgeois ideals and standards. Responding to stereotypes and misrepresentations, middle class black women desire social legitimacy and value and embrace bourgeois ideals and standards in order to rehabilitate society's perception of black women. Ann duCille considers the social position and representation of black women in her study, The Coupling Convention: Sex, Text, and Tradition in Black Women's Fiction (1993). Tracing the literary history of the African American woman's novel in terms of the institution of marriage, duCille suggests that at the center of the black woman's novel are gender issues--critiques of marriage and family, and representations of feminine virtue struggling for control "against the forces of patriarchal (dis)order." duCille explores how these depictions and critiques of marriage are considered through the lens of race, gender, and class. In thesis paper, I will consider Ann duCille's coupling theme in order to explore the convention of marriage as a method in reconstructing black womanhood and reconciling the fragmented layers of identity for black middle class women.