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Starving from Satiety: Explorations of Uncommon Hunger in Twentieth-Century African American Literature

  • Author(s): Williams, Gabrielle Melanie
  • Advisor(s): Scott, Darieck B
  • et al.



Starving from Satiety: Explorations of Uncommon Hunger in Twentieth-Century African

American Literature


Gabrielle Melanie Williams

Doctor of Philosophy in African American Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Darieck Scott, Chair

“Starving from Satiety: Explorations of Uncommon Hunger in Twentieth-Century African

American Literature,” is a dissertation that mounts qualitative examination of the critical import

of illustrations of alimentation, eating, and hunger in seminal novels of the African American

literary canon. Informed by my specialization in interdisciplinary areas of African American

Studies, African Diaspora Studies, and Food Studies, “Starving from Satiety” comprises three

main chapters that take a range of methodological approaches to analysis of interplays between

food and sensory experience in scenes from novels by Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were

Watching God (1937)), Toni Morrison (Beloved (1987)), and, Richard Wright (Native Son


Largely drawing from approaches in existential phenomenology, post-structuralism, and poststructural

literary theory, “Starving from Satiety” explores instances of what I term “uncommon

hunger” in novels under review. “Uncommon hunger” refers to occurrences of characters’ odd

cravings for and/or interactions with food. Insofar as I closely read occurrences of “uncommon

hunger” depicted in scenes from novels supporting “Starving from Satiety’s” explicatory aims, it

serves as a unit of analysis to aide theorizations contending that characters’ odd relationships to

food are not odd at all when we critically consider how these relationships are conditioned by the

equally odd (actually, inhumane) lives that they are portrayed to live.

In other words, selected novels in “Starving from Satiety” share in featuring black or Negro

characters living in slave, post-slave, or disenfranchised circumstances in anti-black racist U.S.

environs. In different ways, these characters pursue grossly restricted lives where they either do

not own, or feel that they do not own their bodies, and, therefore (if you will), their bellies. In

this way, I contend that in scenes where Hurston, Morrison, and/or Wright portray characters

relating to food in “uncommon” ways, each author provides opportunities to analyze such

portrayals vis-à-vis “uncommon hunger.” Correspondingly, my theorizations follow a broadly

syllogistic route of probing: If one lives a life that is uncommon, then one’s practices of

alimentation, eating, and hungering will be commensurately uncommon.

Hence, my dissertation aspires to stoke interest in exploring explicit reasons that characters

conditioned by highly restrictive lives might set conditions for processes of appetite and eating


that are, proportionally, highly restrictive; so much so that in their “uncommon” treatment of

food they seem to risk starvation by missing-the-mark of quotidian gustatory

consumption/production processes. Yet, it may be the case that characters in novels such as,

Beloved, Native Son, and, Their Eyes Were Watching God risk common starvation to gain

“uncommon” brands of agency. Or, said differently, vis-à-vis the lens of “uncommon hunger”

can we glean the possibility that characters depicted in these novels physically relate to food in

odd, ostensibly malnourishing ways to access metaphysical forms of nourishment such as, for

example, catharsis, self-determination, or sovereignty that sate them far more than common

rations to which they have little to no autonomous access on public/private fronts? Ultimately,

“Starving from Satiety: Explorations of Uncommon Hunger in Twentieth-Century African

American Literature” seeks not only to explore, but also to redress this question.

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