Analysis Of Ghosts Of Slavery By Jenny Sharpe

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Jenny Sharpe’s Ghosts of Slavery: Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Pasts complicates the understanding of black women and uncovers the heterogeneous narratives that the historical archive, dominated by white patriarchy, failed to incorporate. She does so by using “literary archaeology” – the piecing together of history using unconventional literary artifacts such as legends, superstitions, and folklore. Sharpe delves into the conditions that necessitate blurring the line between fiction and truth, exploring specific literary artifacts, their purpose, and their significance for black women and more generally, black communities. Sharpe simultaneously argues for the recognition of black women’s distinct narratives, which have been structured …show more content…
By performing epistemic violence, denying black women’s humanity and claim to any part of the archive, dominant institutions forced black women to be “invisible agents of history” who only exist in the “hidden transcripts of public record” (Sharpe, 36-42). “Oral tradition is conflated with folklore” and lacks fixity, rendering it illegitimate (Sharpe, 9-17). The dominant institutions that control images do not acknowledge the tangibility, realness, or visibility of oral tradition, further reinforcing its illegitimacy (Sharpe, 9-17). Because languages only convey dominant narratives, and because black women’s narratives are defiant, non-normative, and gendered, the narratives are lost. This inadequacy of language to recognize heterogeneities coupled with the suppression of black women’s narratives ultimately deny the perpetuation of their history, at least within the archive. The labors of black women are always present, despite their absence in the archive (Sharpe, 30). Literary archaeology pieces together fiction and fantasy, using them as extensions of the truth that will legitimize black women’s narratives, humanize black women, and empower black …show more content…
Specifically, Sharpe quotes McDowell to define slave women’s agency as “what they did with what was done to them” (xiv). Sharpe compares De Certeau’s description of tactics to guerrilla warfare, and connects it to Linda Brent’s manipulation of her own sexuality, as she “operat[es] from a position of weakness [...] to [her] own advantage” (xxiii). By exposing how those in a position of weakness can undermine those from a position of power, Sharpe raises the possibility of “action without negating the unequal relations of power that restrict the ability to act” (xiv, xviii-xxiii). Consequently, she introduces the idea that subordinated women can, in fact, possess agency. For instance, slave women collectively attacked the system of slavery through individual acts like sexual abstinence (Sharpe, xiv-xv). However, Sharpe cautions against “overlooking the conditions of subjugation and dehumanization that in many instances prevented an opposition to slavery” (xv). Sharpe’s discussion of this relationship between slave women’s agency and resistance certainly challenges the “slave stereotype of the dumb victim of circumstance” that Nichols warned against (33). Using Harriet Jacob’s disputed autobiography as a literary artifact, Sharpe adds another

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