Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

Nancy Goslee, Urmila Seshagiri, Carolyn Hodges


This dissertation illustrates how twentieth-century Southern African and Caribbean authors of English fictions recuperate the metaphorical and material female body from the male-centered project of British colonization by employing the female body as a site of resistance through representations of illness, eating disorders, and racial and gender performance. I include works by men and women as well as white and minority authors to illustrate how the female body becomes a point of convergence for narratives of resistance in these postcolonial works. Since each narrative is informed by hybridity--through syncretism, miscegenation, and contact with the metropolis through immigration--I argue that each author demonstrates the need to embrace a hybrid subject position in order to effect resistance. Moreover, I contend that the damaging effects of the lasting legacy of Victorian gender normative behavior which governs and often limits female agency necessitates a reconnection to a mother figure and the motherland in these novels as well.

The first chapter provides a broad historical background of the British Empire's role in colonization in the areas under study as well as specific histories for Jamaica, Haiti, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. I also include in this chapter the historical developments that conflated the racialized female body with representations of the land under colonization and a discussion of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as the seminal colonial representation of the themes that the narratives in later chapters resist. The second chapter argues that portrayals of illness J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron and Erna Brodber's Myal serve as metaphors for the corruption and sickness inherent in the colonial system, specifically education. The third chapter contends that eating disorders in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions and Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory becomes a means of self-empowered resistance for the main characters in each narrative. Chapter four asserts that politically informed racial and gender performance leads to active resistance by female characters in Zoe Wicomb's You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town and Michelle Cliff's Abeng and No Telephones to Heaven. The final chapter draws conclusions about the similarities and differences informing these narratives, and calls for engaged scholarship and political activism to continue in literatures and regions that labor under the continuing legacy of British colonization and patriarchy.

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