Subjectivity and Society
: Mid-Twentieth-Century Reconfigurations of the Self, Family, and Community in African American Literature, 1940-1970

  • Nicola Dawson Cashman

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The primary historical focus of this thesis falls in the years between 1940 and 1970. My main area of interest lies in the individual subject and how that child, adolescent or adult functions in particular situations and most importantly, how my chosen African American writers have portrayed their male and female protagonists in various environments and circumstances. Each of the seven chapters of this thesis covers specific experiences: an emotional journey toward one‘s sexual orientation; a trans-national urban experience of homosexuality; 1950s suburbia and the socio-cultural issue of interracial relationships; historical and legal concepts of interraciality; rural poverty and childhood trauma; communal responsibility and child abuse; and maturation and intergenerational relationships. An emphasis upon family, community and environment are threads that run throughout the thesis. Accordingly, social, political and legal histories are engaged, as are environmental studies. Furthermore, queer, black feminist, trauma and gender theories are utilised along with sociological studies, child development and psychology. This research has enabled my close textual examination of each narrative so as to ascertain how each writer deals with the relationship between subject and society, thus, I argue how they offer differing viewpoints than the ones we find presented by traditional theories and criticism that predominantly comprise issues of race. Finally, the aim of this thesis is to propose alternative avenues of critical inquiry regarding the treatment of child development and individual trauma through individual readings of these mid-twentieth-century examples of autobiography, drama and novel.
Date of Award02 Feb 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorMartin Padget (Supervisor) & Helena Grice (Supervisor)


  • child development
  • trauma

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