Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

From Wilberforce to Stockett: Rhetoric of Sensibility and Africanist Discourse in Abolitionist Texts
by Haegeland, Elin, M.A., University of South Dakota, 2019, 64; 13864203
Abstract (Summary)

This project focuses on abolitionist texts and, later, anti-racist texts. I argue that their use of sentimental rhetoric, particularly the use of sentimental heroes, portray Africanist ideas. This rhetoric offers a narrative for white culture that keeps western and white people in a power position, regardless of how the relationship between white and black people alters.

Chapter one focuses on eighteenth-century abolitionist texts, Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative (1789) and William Wilberforce’s “Speech to the House of Commons” (1789) respectively. I argue that their sentimental rhetoric propagates Africanist ideas, particularly through their construction of sentimental heroes. Both texts construct Africa and Africans as less developed.

Chapter two focuses on Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince (1832) and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), two nineteenth-century anti-slavery texts. These texts further develop the ideas seen in Equiano and Wilberforce. They also establish a link between slaves born and raised in the West Indies or the United States with Africans, implicitly arguing that slaves do not belong in the West.

In Chapter three, I argue that the rhetoric used by eighteenth- and nineteenth- century texts is still apparent in twenty-first century popular fiction. I focus on Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (2009) in order to analyze how her construction of sentimental heroes contributes to a stable power relationship between white and black Americans.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Robertson, Lisa Ann
Commitee: Dudley, John, Lampert, Sara
School: University of South Dakota
Department: English
School Location: United States -- South Dakota
Source: MAI 81/2(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature, American literature
Keywords: Abolition, Africanism, Sensibility
Publication Number: 13864203
ISBN: 9781085617871
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