“The Undocumentable Inside of History”

Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose


The notion of the recreation of a past to which the historian has limited or no access informs the African American historical novels of the 1980s and subsequent decades. Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), for example, considers the implications of infanticide, while Charles Johnson’s Oxherding Tale (1982) dramatizes the sexual exploitation of slave men. The emphasis of the works from this period is on the heterogeneity of the experience of the enslaved self, along with the exploration of facets of that experience, which, in both slave narratives and nineteenth-century literature, remained in the realm of the unspeakable. This also reflects the historiography of American slavery from the 1970s and 1980s, which emphasizes the slave’s experience of and perspective on the peculiar institution. The historical studies of this period reflect, as Thomas C. Holt states, “a consensus that despite the harshness of the system, slaves were able to create communities beyond their master’s total control. They fashioned institutions and a cultural ethos that were functional to their needs, that enabled them to survive the rigors of slavery and bequeath a legacy of resistance to their posterity.”1


White Woman Black Woman African American History Historical Fiction White Body 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Ana Nunes 2011

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