Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Susan N. Maher


While much has been made of the dominant culture's use of radical monsters in the US national narrative, there is evidence, this study contends, that US literature written by African Americans reflects a monster-making of its own. The texts under review here demonstrate the vulnerability of visibly dark female skin to monster-making, decoding and recoding, by an elitist groups of blacks who, in their efforts to negotiate a positive American identity (i.e., sought to integrate themselves into the American mainstream) traded in black black female skin. Critical inquiries generally lump all African American women into one homogenous group, even as substantial differences in their lives of light- and dark-skinned African American women constitute a core thematic element in African American literature from its inception straight through to its present moment. Stipulating critical discussion on the surface, the premise, of an intelligible, meaning-field black black female skin draws the eye of analysts towards an interstice made apparent and undeniable by the phrase black black. Black black intervenes. Rather, like the visibly black female characters in Charles Chestnutt's Mandy Oxendine and “The Wife of His Youth” and the visibly black protagonist of Wallace Thurman's first novel, black black interferes and interrupts. As a concept, then, black black threatens to unsettle a history of literary criticism that privileges the light to near white skinned in US literary scholarship even when the subjects of inquiry are ostensibly black. For all its linguistic clumsiness, black black resists the homogenization of African-American female experience and promises to expand in rewarding ways the field of American literary study.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of English and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 2004 Helen L. Fountain.

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