Department Chair

Ralph L. Wahlstrom, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of English

Date of Award


Access Control

Campus-Only Access

Degree Name

English, M.A.


English Department


Aimable Twagilimana, Ph.D. Professor of English

Department Home page

First Reader

Aimable Twagilimana, Ph.D. Professor of English

Second Reader

Jennifer Ryan-Bryant, Ph.D. Professor of English


Abstract of Thesis

“Witness to the Witness”: Slavery and the Writing of Disaster

We live in an era where the experience of disaster and the conversations surrounding it is prevalent. Whether in the realm of the natural or what is man-made, the concept of disaster and events that qualify as such lead to a broader discussion of past historical events that have continued to plague our society. A discussion of disaster and its defining characteristics allows a broadening of the term and those events that fall under this category. This thesis explores the ways in which slavery and its inhumane, deplorable practices qualify as disaster under the specific terms presented in the concept. After creating a defining framework, I move on to explore the ways in which the writing of disaster within the space of literature occurs as a fictionalization of the instant. Utilizing Maurice Blanchot’s Instant of My Death and Jacques Derrida’s subsequent Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, I use Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Margaret Walker’s Jubilee, to explore the ways in which individual instants of death move to the collective spaces of the instance through shared experiences of the same event.

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