English 9181B

Representing Slavery in U.S. Literature

Instructor: Professor A. MacLean.
Winter Half Course.

After his own escape from slavery, the anti-slavery activist and author William Wells Brown stated, “slavery has never been represented, slavery never can be represented.” This course will explore the different attempts made by U.S. authors to represent the “peculiar institution” of American slavery--even when they realized that the very endeavor of representing the physical and epistemological violence of U.S. slavery was bound to fail. We will begin the term by examining the strategies and effects of nineteenth-century writing in a variety of genres and modes, including autobiography (Harriet Jacobs), sentimental fiction (Harriet Beecher Stowe), and political polemic (Nat Turner’s Confessions). From there, we will explore the legacy of slavery through Faulkner’s nostalgic fantasies in Absalom, Absalom!, Morrison’s “re-memories” of African American history in Beloved, and Colson Whitehead’s phantasmagoric reconfiguration of slavery in The Underground Railroad. If circumstances permit, we will also arrange a visit to one or two local historic sites dedicated to the memorialization of slavery or freedom seekers, such as the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center.