Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Claire Bracken

Second Advisor

Katherine Lynes


Black feminist theory, motherhood, Haiti, Nigeria, agency, intersectionality, colonization, history, literary theory, Black love


My English honors thesis re-examines the institution of Black motherhood in three literary texts: Toni Morrsion’s Beloved, Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood, and Edwidge Danicat’s Breath Eyes Memory. I argue that society tends to transform Black mothers into social and political symbols. In an effort to humanize these maternal characters, scholarship on these texts deny them their agency and individuality in face of the restrictive systems that dominate their lives and mothering. Thus, I examine these literary characters within the context of the cultural shifts they undergo to disrupt their static identity as symbols. By doing so, I argue that they do have agency and they use it to perform their maternal responsibilities to their best abilities, despite the structures of oppression that influence their decisions. My thesis examines how these literary maternal symbols reinforce and/or subvert the imposed expectations of Black motherhood under the sites of freedom, responsibility and love. Traditionally, the mothering characters in Morrison, Emecheta and Danitcat’s novels are viewed as tragic examples of the Black maternal experience that lacked agency due to their unfortunate circumstances. My thesis was written in an effort to revisit their stories, restore their agency, and reveal the woman behind the mother, the human behind the symbol.

Available for download on Sunday, June 01, 2025



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