Date of Award

Summer 1995

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

DeFalco, Joseph M.

Second Advisor

Chappell, Virginia

Third Advisor

Duffy, Edward


For most twentieth-century critics, the origins of African-American literature are rooted in the slave narratives, accounts of the early and long experiences of black people held in bondage by white society in the United States. Given the force of the peculiar institution (as slavery has been called since the nineteenth century) and the battle for abolition, the texts of the genre were required to speak with rhetorical techniques of persuasion and polemicism even as they sought to establish their literary identities. The earliest important critical discussion of the genre, an 1849 review of five slave narratives by Rev. Ephraim Peabody, devotes as much space to the political consequences of these works as it does to the literary qualities of the individual texts or the genre as a whole. The terms for any text, and, by extension a genre, are established in the earliest critical responses. While positions along the continuum of any term may and do alter over time, positions wholly outside these initial dialectics are rare and hard won...



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