A Story Not To Be Told: The Depiction of Slavery in American Novels, 1875-2000

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Hunt, Patricia Lynn
Kelly, R. G.
The publication of Beloved by Toni Morrison made apparent a quiet in the American literary canon for novels about the subject of U.S. slavery. This dissertation attempts to interrogate the fictional silence to understand its origins and then examines the thirty-five historical novels, beginning with those published ten years after 1865 and ending in 2000, that depict American slavery. What image of the American slave experience is presented? The dissertation explores some reasons why the authors wrote what they did, and when they did, given their personal histories. Each chapter covers thirty-year periods, and each chapter begins with a brief historical overview of the major social and political events of the period. The novels within a chapter are discussed in chronological order of publication, beginning with a biographical sketch of the novelist. The plot is summarized and then an analysis, focusing on the depiction of slavery, is presented. What is illustrated and what is avoided? Speculations about why the novel is what it is are advanced. Critical and popular reception for each novel is reviewed. Finally, every chapter concludes by looking at the novels as part of a "generation," and suppositions are advanced about why these stories were written when they were. Relatively few novelists in the American literary canon write about slavery that it has been, in the words of Toni Morrison, largely a story not to be told. This dissertation examines the few historical novels to shatter the fictional quiet about slavery to see what they add to the ongoing conversation about American identity.