Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Abstract

This dissertation examines the power for resistance contained within narratives of personal memory. By applying current psychological concepts of autobiographical memory theory to eight contemporary women's novels, Carole Maso's The Art Lover; Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina; Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory; Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible; Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things; Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place; and Toni Morrison's Paradise, I argue that it is in literature that we can examine both the workings of memory and the ways that authors use concepts of memory in their works to demonstrate memory's dynamic and changing nature, and its power as a tool for resistance. Since women's histories and stories have traditionally been silenced within cultures dominated by patriarchal norms, women's stories of the past--that is, storied accounts of their memories--or what I call storied memories--become vital records of personal and communal histories that otherwise may not be voiced or even acknowledged. The authors considered in the study demonstrate the need for new stories and new plot possibilities for women, illustrate the power inherent in the ways their characters story their memories, reveal the value of sharing storied memories with others, and expose the power of collective memory to legitimate experience and identity. Thus, by applying basic principles of the psychology of memory--that autobiographical memory is constructed, that it is inherently narrative, and that our sense of self is shaped by our memories--to these contemporary women's texts, it becomes clear that the characters I examine resist dominant, official accounts of the past through storying their memories in new, more useful ways that allow for healing and personal agency in the present and future.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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