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Reading Testimony, Witnessing TraumaConfronting Race, Gender, and Violence in American Literature$
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Eden Wales Freedman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781496827333

Published to University Press of Mississippi: September 2020

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496827333.001.0001

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“To Be Free to Say So”

“To Be Free to Say So”

Witnessing Trauma in the Narratives of Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Keckley

(p.41) Chapter 1 “To Be Free to Say So”
Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma

Eden Wales Freedman

University Press of Mississippi

This chapter examines Afra-American emancipatory narratives as fundamentally testimonial literature, foundational to ensuing readings of trauma, blackness, and womanhood. Specifically, the chapter analyzes Sojourner Truth’s Narrative (1850), Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), and Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes (1868) to consider how black and female speakers witness through nineteenth-century emancipatory narratives. The chapter also considers an Afra-American narrator’s (in)ability to testify to her personal experience of the prevalence of sexual abuse in American slavery and the misogynoir it reflects; how the intrusion of an amanuensis, editor, or pseudonym into a narrative affects its witnessing potential; and how gender and race work together and against each other to help and hinder witnessing. Finally, the chapter considers how contemporary readers may respond to these narratives, laying a foundation for succeeding readings of trauma and reception theory and race and gender studies in (African) American literature.

Keywords:   Afra-American, emancipatory narratives, misogynoir, sexual abuse, slavery

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