Genre Polyphony in African American Literature : Dialogic Readings of Jean Toomer’s Cane, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Love
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This dissertation takes as its point of departure and explores through textual analysis the idea that African American texts are aesthetically hybrid constructions that, in their origin, draw on two main cultural and textual traditions; one that could be described as black, or African American, and one that could be described as white, or European American. Concepts that are used to discuss and theorize the relationship between the two are DuBois’ double-consciousness and Bakhtin’s dialogism and polyphony, concepts that share a preoccupation with relationality and interaction. The dissertation investigates this hybridity through a dialogic reading of a variety of genres in Jean Toomer’s Cane, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Love, aiming to analyze the ways in which the texts engage with these genres thematically and structurally and use them compositionally. Intertextual relationships between these three texts and other generically related texts are identified in order to show how they join a wide literary discourse. The chapter on Jean Toomer’s Cane initially discusses the ways that Cane problematizes the novel genre, and then move to focus on the interaction between African American musical genres, the Gothic and early modernist forms. The chapter on Alice Walker’s The Color Purple looks at the ways that Walker’s novel participates in the genres of the slave narrative, the epistolary novel, the blues novel and the gothic, while the chapter on Toni Morrison’s Love how analyzes how genres like the gothic, the trickster tale, the picaresque tale and the blues function dialogically in the novel’s construction of character.