Date of Award

9-16-2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Christopher R. Orchard, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Cheryl A. Wilson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Lingyan Yang, Ph.D.

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on women voices in Black British Literature between the period 1980 and 2005 – specifically in the works of Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, Joan Riley, Ravinder Randhawa, Meera Syal and Gurinder Chadha – and seeks to understand how women who are of Caribbean and South Asian descent form and reform their identities in their new home as immigrants or first-generation Britons and why their stories make a valuable and essential contribution to Black British Literature. Divided into five chapters, the project considers how a woman’s role is influenced and shaped by place of birth and ancestry, cultural definitions of gender roles, formation of community, complexities of skin tone and wealth/status and how these factors shape her willingness to either embrace or refute the dominant culture. While a cursory glance at Black British literature might seem to suggest females adapt better than men to their new homes, a more considered approach reveals that the degree of assimilation for women depends on several factors: her status within the immigrant community if such a community exists and is accessible to her; how she is perceived in the larger i.e. white, dominant community; her position within a patriarchal familial system; her relationship to her children, if she has any, and her level of acceptance and encouragement of how those children are developing/faring in the “new” country. Combined, these factors shape a woman’s identity, and determine how readily she accepts or refutes the dominant culture. Chapter one provides an overview of the current debates occurring in cultural studies and postcolonial theory, the nexus between culture and identity for Black British women, and provides context for the intersection of the terms “Black” and “British.” Chapter two establishes the link between cultural performance and gender roles and the fluidity of gender specific roles as women navigate through a new culture. Chapter three examines how familial obligations and community ties shape a woman’s experience. Chapter four considers how the issues of ethnicity, skin tone and perceived beauty influence a woman’s self-identity. Chapter five argues wealth and social status trumps ethnicity.

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