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Signifyin(g) womanhood: the short fiction of Zora Neale Hurston · PDF file 2008-09-03 · Stories of Black Women e “Coming Apart” e “Porn”, da coletânea You Can’t Keep

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  • Universidade de São Paulo

    Michela Rosa Di Candia

    ‘Signifyin(g)’ Womanhood: The Short Fiction of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker

    São Paulo 2008




    ‘Signifyin(g)’ Womanhood: The Short Fiction of Zora Neale Hurston

    and Alice Walker

    Michela Rosa Di Candia

    Tese apresentada ao Departamento de Letras Modernas da Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas da Universidade de São Paulo, para a obtenção do Título de Doutor em Letras. Orientadora: Profa Dra. Laura P. Zuntini de Izarra

    São Paulo 2008

  • ‘Signifyin(g)’ Womanhood: The Short Fiction of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker

    A Dissertation Presented


    Michela Rosa Di Candia

    Submitted to the Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Humanity Sciencies of University of São Paulo for the degree of Doctor of

    Letters March 2008

    Department of Modern Languages

  • iv

    To my father and

    my mother

  • v


    I would like to thank all the following individuals and organizations below for all

    their help, support, advise and friendship during this doctorate experience:

    • Dr. Laura Izarra, my supervisor at University of Sao Paulo (USP), who

    encouraged and trusted me throughout my years as a graduate student. I am deeply

    grateful for all her helpfulness and assistance.

    • Dr. Tereza Marques for her intellectual and emotional support. I am very

    appreciative of everything she has done over the years.

    • Dr. Joseph T. Skerrett who helped define the focus of my doctoral research by

    suggesting the reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s unpublished story “Under the

    Bridge” and also the time he took to exchange ideas with me during my

    postgraduate research at Amherst.

    • Dr. Sandra Vasconcelos and Dr. Lynn Mario Menezes, professors who were

    Members of the “Qualification Committee” at USP and took their time to read the

    initial draft of this work. I express my special thanks to Lynn Mario for his useful

    comments and the material exchanged.

    • Dr. Andrea Rushing for accepting me as a student in the course “Representations

    of Black Women” at Amherst College and furthermore for her critical readings of

    some of my papers. Moreover, professor Castro of Amherst College who showed

    me the way to research at Beinecke Library at Yale University.

    • Still I want to thank all my friends and colleagues of the research group of

    professor Laura Izarra for their intellectual support over the years. Special thanks

    to Divanize Carbonieri for being patient and for her advise, Cielo Festino for her

    inspiration and Marília Borges for the long distant friendship.

    • To all the participants of the project “English Language Through Literary Texts”

    and the students of the specialization course on ‘Non-canonical Literature” in

    2007 who helped me to articulate many ideas.

    • Edite, the secretary of the Department for her administrative support when so

    many forms had to be filled.

    • Rosana, Magda, Paulinha, Mário and Moysés who are my friends from Niterói,

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They emboldened me and followed my path during my

    lifetime as a graduate student.

    • Nubia and Admar for their emotional support and close friendship.

  • vi

    • Suzi, Maria Ana, Patrícia, Glauco, Jéferson, João and Adrilayne for the

    companionship and the great moments spent together.

    • Liane and Elisângela, my roommates, for their care while living at the students’

    dorms at USP. I am deeply indebted especially to Jessica for her spiritual and

    intellectual guidance.

    • Sada, Jean-Marie, Juni, Bob, Alan, Luccha, Raquel, Kelly, Ildo and Samanta

    whom I shared my experiences with while living in Amherst, MA. I owe to them.

    They gave me their time and cooperation.

    • Pauline for her hospitality and care while I lived in her house in Amherst, MA.

    Special thanks to Gina as well who carefully read and reviewed my thesis.

    • Maria Pilar for her generosity, hospitality and the delicious dinners she prepared

    while I was in Amherst.

    • Rosana, my cousin, for her calmness and supportive friendship. I am also in debt

    to my aunt Angelina who prepared delicious food when I visited her and my uncle

    Anastácio for his sense of humor.

    • Adriana and Alessandra, my sisters, for their sustaining love and friendship.

    Without Adriana’s technical/editorial assistance I could not have finished this

    work. I am thankful to Márcio José for his loyalty and great sense of humor.

    • My parents Emma and Pietro Antônio for their unconditional love and support

    over the years away from them.

    • Afrânio who came to my life in the middle of my doctorate research and gave me

    his optimism and strength during the difficult moments. For his patience in

    keeping alive our distant relationship. There are no words to express his love.

    • Neusa Franzoi, who works for COSEAS at USP, and gave me the opportunity to

    live in the students’ accommodation during my years as a graduate student.

    • Capes Foundation for the financial support during this research in Brazil and

    additionally the time I spent at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA.

  • vii

    “We are a people. A people do not throw their

    geniuses away. If they do, it is our duty as witnesses

    for the future to collect them again for the sake of

    our children. If necessary, bone by bone”

    Alice Walker

  • viii


    This doctoral research analyzes from a Brazilian perspective the constructions

    of black womanhood in Zora Neale Hurston’s unpublished short-story “Under the

    Bridge” and published short stories “Sweat”, “Spunk”, and “The Gilded Six-Bits”.

    The Hurston stories are compared to “Roselily”, “Really, Doesn’t Crime Pay?”,

    “Coming Apart” and “Porn”, written by the contemporary author Alice Walker.

    Taking as a starting point that Alice Walker’s narratives ‘signify’ on the work of

    Hurston, who wrote during The Harlem Renaissance (1920), this thesis aims to

    investigate the threads that connect both writers by focusing on the ways in which

    their female protagonists question or accept the parameters of “the cult of true

    womanhood”. The conclusion shows that the portrayal of black women characters

    symbolically questions representations of sexuality and racism in an attempt to make

    visible the process of liberation from the constraints of American society at the time

    of each author’s literary production. Thus the authors contribute to the development

    of black literary criticism as well as to the tradition of black women writers.

    Key-words: short-fiction, black womanhood, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker,

    black literary criticism.

  • ix


    O presente trabalho de doutorado focaliza as construções de feminilidade

    negra no conto não publicado “Under The Bridge”, de Zora Neale Hurston assim

    como os já publicados “Sweat”, “Spunk” e “The Gilded Six-Bits” em comparação

    com “Roselily”, “Really, Doesn’t Crime Pay?”, “Coming Apart” e “Porn”, da autora

    contemporânea Alice Walker.

    Ao supor que Alice Walker ‘significa’ ou ‘relê’ o trabalho de Hurston, que

    escreveu durante a época da Renascença no Harlem, a tese tem como objetivo

    investigar os elos de ligação entre as duas escritoras, focalizando a maneira pela qual

    suas protagonistas femininas contestam ou aceitam os parâmetros determinantes do

    “verdadeiro culto de feminilidade”. Conclui-se que a apresentação das personagens

    femininas pelas escritoras negras simbolicamente questiona a representação da

    sexualidade e racismo como uma tentativa de tornar visível o processo de libertação

    das amarras da sociedade americana no momento de cada produção literária,

    contribuindo desse modo para o desenvolvimento da crítica literária negra.

    Na introdução desse trabalho, um panorama sobre o desenvolvimento da

    escrita por mulheres negras é apresentado, considerando-se leitores não pertencentes

    ao contexto cultural norte-americano, especialmente pelo fato da tese ser

    desenvolvida no Brasil. Portanto, essa seção focaliza alguns aspectos sobre a vida de

    Zora Neale Hurston e Al

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