Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

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The Short Story as a Form of Not So Short Activism

The short story is a unique medium to give and receive narrative. There becomes an obvious and almost anxious need to quickly write about the characters/become involved as a reader with the protagonists and characters in the story. Reading Danielle Evans’ stories in Before you Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, she has the art of involving the reader down. First of all, easily, as a reader I become involved and cared about the characters. However, what is shocking about Evans’ stories is actually not specifically her mastery of starting the narrative, but the way she ends each story. Most of the stories, end at an extreme point in the main character’s life. Novels take half of the book to get to that point and the other half, the reader sees how the character deals with it.

In the last short story in the collection, “Robert E. Lee is Dead,” the protagonist’s best friend, Geena is sitting at the curb of their school waiting for the police to come, while Crystal (the protagonist) is running away because they accidentally set fire to the graduation ceremony stage. THE END.

Of course, as a reader I was struck and kept thinking, what happened to Geena? and also what type of person is Crystal now? I have not read too many short stories that would be put on the pedestal of literature, but from what I can recall, they did not usually end on this type of note. A note of confusion and questioning.

Evans’ may create this type of narrative, so that the reader is required to be involved in the story. Instead of wrapping everything in the narrative up in a nice bow, it becomes a necessity for the reader to question the narrative and wonder about it. With this questioning, Evans becomes an instigator of new thoughts and beliefs–of course fairly slowly. Making a reader critically think is amazing and of course beneficial to the reader’s mind and to society as a whole–slowly changing perceptions of situations.


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In Class Writing on _Americanah_ Passage

During class, I chose the passage starting on page 452 with “I will go see Chijoke tomorrow…” to page 454 “…Dike was swallowing a bottle of pills.”

This passage marks the moment when Ifemelu enters the present frame continuously because she finally leaves the hair salon and before this moment most of the narration takes place with in her head. As a reader, we are thrown straight into Ifemelu’s discovery of Dike’s attempted suicide. The end of the past frame and entrance into the current catapults and emphasizes the surprise and extremity of the event for Ifemelu; and the abrupt ending style of the way the novel is previously told, emphasizes the importance and life-changing factor that Dike’s attempted suicide is for Ifemelu. Another way for understanding that the passage marks the importance of the event for Ifemelu is through understanding that Adichie’s writing style does not give evaluative descriptions about events–like “this was really important to Ifemelu”–readers instead live along with the characters and do not get omniscient narrator point of view; and through this abrupt change in frames, it displays the unsettled-ness of Ifemelu when she receives the news–no longer is she in the hair salon where she has been for the first part of the novel, but walking around a busy city.

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Living Bodies

I happened upon a short film this weekend, I cannot remember which Facebook status I clicked on or what page shared it, but I think it is so pertinent to many of the narratives we have been looking at this semester. Also at the time I saw it, I was reading a part of Americanah that had to do with hair. So I felt the short film came to life even more so because I had another narrative to add to it.

***There is (very little but some) nudity***

Yellow Fever by Ng’endo Mukii

One aspect of the short film that I found the most thought provoking were moments where women’s bodies were twitching, almost grotesquely, during voice overs. I think one way to interpret these scenes is that Ng’endo Mukii critiques the objectification of human bodies by making them seem grotesque and un-watchable, as if to say no one should feel truly comfortable looking at anyone’s body in an objectifying manner. Not only do these scenes fight against objectification, but the scenes make it extremely obvious that these bodies are living and not commodities (which is further exacerbated by the projection of nature on them). In the same strain of thought within movies, these scenes also reminded me of my last blog post about Daughters of the Dust, where I noted that in certain scenes Julie Dash intentionally places objects in between the audience and the character in order to create a feeling of obtrusion.


Feeling Obtrusive in Order to Promote Self-Awareness

Before the Daughters of the Dust started, Dr. Hoffpauir warned us that the film would most likely make us feel like we were intruding on private conversations/moments of the characters. I soon realized that one of the ways the film accomplishes this feeling of intrusion is when Julie Dash creates scenes where an object of some sort is in between the viewer/camera and the character/s being viewed. For instance, in the first scene that Yellow Mary is in, Mary’s face is covered with a veil (blocking her face from view) and there are also branches in the way of looking at the entire scene. In having the viewers’ field of vision compromised, it marks a difficulty when watching the film–not allowing for easy digestion–which breaks the fourth wall because it requires the viewer to think and realize they are intruding and are not actually a part of the story. Therefore explicitly requiring the audience to become self-aware of their audience-ship.

I have been wondering about the reasons Dash decided to make the audience feel obtrusive. One of my ideas was that Dash wanted to make a statement on definitive aspects of movies. Specifically pertaining to obtrusiveness: in films the audience are asked to be passive viewers of film and are not required to be self-aware or critical thinkers. Dash, it seems, wants viewers to reevaluate their position as a viewer (or even a person) and have self-reflection.

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Duality and Sororophobia

Sororophobia – fear of sisters

Sororophobia designates the complex and shifting relations between women’s attempts to identify with other women and their often simultaneous desire to establish and retain difference” (definition in quotations is from a review on the book Sororophobia by Helena Michie on “Oxford University Press: Australia & New Zealand” website).

In class today, we discussed some themes that are in Silver Sparrow and the first one that popped into my head was “fear of sisters,” a.k.a. sororophobia; the second was “duality.” However, these themes are not exactly more than one word, but I still think they are very pertinent to the novel.

Duality, Chaurisse and Dana are foils in the text; they are what the other sister could have been; they have key aspects in common, but these common aspects are used in a way to emphasize their differences. The first half of the book is about one and the second half is about the other. This duality showcases quite nicely the theme: sororophobia.

James tells Dana to not go near Chaurisse; she cannot participate in the same school/the weekend activity as Chaurisse; in relation to Chaurisse, Dana does not have as much access to her father and he also does not provide for her and Gwen as much as he does for Laverne and Chaurisse, which overall creates jealousy.

Chaurisse is raised in a household that revolves around beauty—Laverne’s beauty salon. At an early age, Chaurisse realizes that she is not what is considered naturally beautiful, but “beauty in a jar” and she becomes obsessed with the idea of gaining some of that natural beauty (which also encompasses movement and attitude) by being around “silver girls.”

Jones seems to set up a reality where actual sisters are not able to love one another, but instead are jealous. These jealous tendencies are not “natural,” but instead are created by their father and society’s institution of beauty.

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Celie as the Mammy

While reading Patricia Collins’ article, I realized that the controlling images she analyzes can essentially describe the black women characters in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Therefore, I was able to understand (in part) Trudier Harris’ statement: “I don’t think it [The Color Purple] should have been [canonized]” (155). However, unlike Harris, I realized that even though the stereotypes/controlling images are present, Walker does not simply stop at the typical controlling image. At times the characters fit into the typical category of “mammy,” “matriarch,” and “jezebel,” but only a few pages later are these controlling images disoriented. Therefore instead of only perpetuating the cycle of controlling images, Walker attempts to thwart them by displaying their unnaturalness by unveiling the forces that create these images.

Celie has the most significant and obvious controlling image, the mammy. A mammy, as we defined in class, and as Collins purports, is considered a self-sacrificing mother figure. The mammy is situated as taking care of a white family’s children and not her own. Although, Celie is not taking care of white children, she is forced to care of Albert’s children, and is completely unable to care for her own. Both of these external factors are caused by Celie’s father; he gives Celie’s children to the town’s reverend and he eventually forces Celie to marry Albert. Therefore, not only is this portrayal poignant in that it displays the controlling image of Celie as a mammy by putting her in stereotypical circumstances, but it also shows the external, transgenerational forces causing Celie’s investment in the controlling image of the Mammy.

For further discussion: Shug as jezebel and Sofia as matriarch.

Works Cited

Harris, Trudier. “On the Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence.” Black American Literature Forum 18.4 (1984): 155-161.

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Pronouns, on Pronouns, on Pronouns

While reading The Color Purple, I noticed that Walker was very particular on her use of pronouns and possessive pronouns. One example is when Shug and Celie have a conversation about God and whether or not God is gendered. Shug uses “it” as the pronoun for God: “God ain’t a he or a she, but a It” (Walker 195); While Celie uses “he” for God because she feels betrayed that he has ignored her: “the God I been praying and writing to is a man” (Walker 192). To Shug, men and women are inwardly the same that there is innately love and good in both genders. While Celie understands the masculine God as perpetuating her oppression; therefore, she is unable to love God in a way that is beneficial for her. Eventually, she readjusts her understanding and begins to see God as an “It,” like Shug, as well as transcendent.

Another important use of pronouns is when Celie talks about her children, Adam and Olivia. In letters sent to Nettie and also in the final letter Celie sends to God/the world, she refers to her children as “our” children, her and Nettie’s children. But also because the final letter is to God, the second person point of view of the letter, and the direct conversation with God that the letter is proposing, changes the meaning of “our” to also mean God and her children. This idea ties into the dual narratives of Nettie’s life in Africa and Celie’s life in the United States having similar themes and ultimately posits that Africans and African Americans are one community, because everyone is God’s children.