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The Emergence of a Pioneer: The Manipulation of Hagar in Nineteenth-century American Women's Novels

by Jefferson, Lynne T.

Abstract (Summary)
In nineteenth-century America, the Biblical figure of Hagar appears frequently, in both art and literature. In literature, Hagar serves as the main character in many sentimental or domestic novels written by and/or about women of the South during the mid-nineteenth-century, where the racial climate from the 1830s through the 1850s became extremely tense over the institution of slavery, as evidenced in many sentimental novels from the 1850s to the latter part of the century. This study will focus on the depiction of Hagar in E.D.E.N. Southworth’s The Deserted Wife (1855) and H. Marion Stephens’s Hagar, the Martyr (1855), and the Hagarian figure in Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig (1859) and Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892). I assert that biblical Hagar is ultimately transformed from Hagar proper, as found in the sentimental novels of Southworth and Stephens, into an African American Hagarian figure in the works of Wilson and Harper. More specifically, in The Deserted Wife, I focus my analysis on the postcolonial term, the Other, and on the discourse of darkness within the text. In Stephen’s Hagar, the Martyr I concentrate on what Julia Kristeva calls the abject, as well as elements of minstrelsy, found in the novel. In Wilson’s Our Nig, which represents a racial manipulation of the Biblical Hagar by an African American female novelist, I examine the context of Wilson’s life as a pioneering peddler of hair tonic and her ability, as novelist, to manipulate Biblical Hagar’s story into one of the survival of African American women during the mid-nineteenth century. Finally, in Harper’s novel, Iola Leroy, I examine how the author seals Hagar’s destiny as an African American woman with an African American-centered consciousness, thereby transforming her into the pioneering Hagar found in the the Islamic tradition. Ultimately, this study reveals a nineteenth century manipulated Hagar who, by the turn of the twentieth century, serves as a foundational character who challenges the normative images of the tragic mulatta as a way to combat racial stagnancy.
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School:Indiana University of Pennsylvania

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:12/09/2008

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