“You-all in this together”: Bond, Body, Vulnerability in Sherley Anne Williams’ Dessa Rose

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Subenja Phaolaungthong


This paper argues that Sherley Anne Williams’ Dessa Rose revises the classic slave narrative, in which an ex-slave gives an account of his/her journey from bondage to freedom in a single narrative arc.  Instead of relying on one trajectory of character development, the novel contains two intertwined stories of a black woman’s and a white woman’s personal growth as well as the forming of an unlikely friendship between them.  As a neo-slave narrative, the novel also encourages a broadening of the term “slave” to include a white woman to the effect that her liberation from social confines and her freedom and mobility correspond to that of a slave in the traditional narrative.  The analysis of the two women’s friendship is based on Judith Butler’s concept of a common human vulnerability to loss and violence in her 2003 article entitled “Violence, Mourning, Politics.” A recognition of shared corporeal vulnerability allows us to extend our conception of the human to those who have been denied humanity and to reimagine community in spite of differences.


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