Cover image for Saints, sinners, saviors : strong Black women in African American literature
Saints, sinners, saviors : strong Black women in African American literature
Harris, Trudier.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Palgrave, [2001]

Physical Description:
vi, 218 pages ; 22 cm
Introduction: the Black female body: seeing, believing and perpetuating popular and literary images -- A raisin in the sun: the strong Black woman as acceptable tyrant -- Strength and the battle ground of slavery: even parody: Ishmael Reed and Mammy Barracuda -- Strength and the battle ground of slavery: survival beyond survival: the price of strength in Beloved -- Commanding the universe: more than witch: Bambara's Minnie Ransom ; Tough enough to kill, tough enough to transcend death: J. California Cooper's Clora -- Strength as disease bordering on evil: Dorothy West's Cleo Judson -- The stubbornness of tradition: do what Big Mama sez: Ernest J. Gaines's A lesson before dying ; New territory, no change: Pearl Cleage's Flyin' west -- Balance?: Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the sower -- Conclusion: can this mold be broken?.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS153.N5 H29 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS153.N5 H29 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature posits strength as a frequently contradictory and damaging trait for black women characters in several literary works of the twentieth century. Authors of these works draw upon popular images of African American women in producing what they believe to be safe literary representations. Instead, strength becomes a problematic trait, at times a disease, in many characters in which it appears. It has a detrimental impact on the relatives and neighbors of such women as well as on the women themselves. The pattern of portraying women characters as strong in African American literature has become so pronounced that it has stifled the literature.

Author Notes

TRUDIER HARRIS is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her authored books include From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature (1982), Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals (1984), Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin (1985, for which she won the 1987 College Language Association Creative Scholarship Award), Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Tony Morrison (1991), and The Power of the Porch: The Storyteller's Craft in Zona Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan (1996). She has co-edited a number of influential works, including several volumes of the Dictionary of Literary Biography series on African American writers, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (1997), Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition (1998), and The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology (1998).

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this surprising, scholarly volume, Harris (The Power of the Porch) analyzes "the pathology of strength" that has become "a dominant pattern of development for black female character" in much of the literature taught in college African-American studies courses. An English professor at UNC Chapel Hill, Harris challengingly cites such works as Toni Morrison's Beloved, Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying and Toni Cade Bambera's The Salt Eaters to demonstrate a paradox: while "strength is undoubtedly a virtue," she writes, "it is frequently violating and destructive." (For example, the trend toward increasingly strong female characters discourages works featuring vulnerable ones, thereby stifling literary freedom.) Detailing representations of African-American women in 20th-century fiction, Harris reveals the extent to which "African American writers were just as complicitous as the white-created mythology surrounding black women in ensuring that strong, asexual representations of black female characters dominated." Harris is not without sympathy and even admiration for many aspects of these characters, even as she shows links between A Raisin in the Sun's Mama Lena and contemporary TV's fondness for large, strong and comic black female characters. The detail can be deadening so many textual citations; so much time spent on arguments but the thesis is provocative, even when it's not entirely convincing. (Dec.) Forecast: Harris's largely esoteric tone suggests that her book is destined for college classrooms. Its counterintuitive thesis and studious avoidance of lit-crit jargon will ensure a willing audience of students of American and African-American literature. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 Introductionp. 1
The Black Female Body: Seeing, Believing, and Perpetuating Popular and Literary Images
Chapter 2 A Raisin in the Sunp. 21
The Strong Black Woman as Acceptable Tyrant
Chapter 3 Strength and the Battle Ground of Slaveryp. 41
I. Even Parody: Ishmael Reed and Mammy Barracuda
Chapter 4 Strength and the Battle Ground of Slaveryp. 57
II. Survival Beyond Survival: The Price of Strength in Beloved
Chapter 5 Commanding the Universep. 79
I. More Than Witch: Bambara's Minnie Ransom
II. Tough Enough to Kill, Tough Enough to Transcend Death: J. California Cooper's Clora
Chapter 6 Strength as Disease Bordering on Evilp. 101
Dorothy West's Cleo Judson
Chapter 7 The Stubbornness of Traditionp. 123
I. Do What Big Mama Sez: Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying
II. New Territory, No Change: Pearl Cleage's Flyin' West
Chapter 8 Balance?p. 153
Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower
Chapter 9 Conclusionp. 173
Can this Mold be Broken?
Notesp. 181
Works Cited or Consultedp. 201
Indexp. 209