Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




D. Goellnicht


This thesis examines the relationship between space and the recognition of African American subjectivity in four African American slave narratives: Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) and My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861); and Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868). Influenced by geographer Edward Soja's examination of social space, I argue that the socio-economic relationship between slaveowners and slaves produced slave space. The area where slaves lived and worked, it was concrete evidence of the slave's inferior, non-subject status. Slaves, however, asserted their subjectivity by appropriating, shaping, and escaping the spaces to which they were confined. The slaves' shaping of space included the construction of a "homeplace," a domestic space where slaves could recognize each others' subjectivity. In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass , Douglass documented his escape from Southern slave space to Northern free space, where he hoped to be defined as a subject rather than an object. In My Bondage and My Freedom , however, this recognition is still to be striven for: it was only experienced in Douglass's grandmother's homeplace. As a man, Douglass sought access to, and recognition in, public spaces. Harriet Jacobs, however, defends the African American woman's right to occupy a domestic space maintained by her husband, rather than her master. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl documents the violation of the slaves' homeplace, key evidence of their non-subject status. Finally, I examine Elizabeth Keckley's post-Civil War narrative, arguing that the seamstress saw her access to the White House as evidence that newly emancipated African Americans would be recognized as subjects in the newly reconstituted republic.

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