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Aberrant Time: The Peculiar Temporalities of Black Women’s Labors in Nineteenth-Century African American Autobiographies


Aberrant Time argues that the additional burdens of involuntary sexual and reproductive labor during slavery led both male and female slave narrators to articulate black women’s uniquely gendered experiences of time. It also asks how newly emancipated women writers portrayed their work time to express agency during Reconstruction. Black women’s work was unorthodox because they were forced to perform manual and domestic labor in addition to sexual and reproductive labor for the personal gratification and financial benefit of their owners. Even after emancipation, the labor and time of black women remained peculiar as many continued to work outside of the home and were subjected to discrimination in a profoundly racist labor market. Drawing from slave narratives by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Solomon Northup and Elizabeth Keckley, Aberrant Time identifies and analyzes the slave laboring temporalities unique to black women. It also examines how the depictions of black women’s time and labor changes as they progress from puberty to motherhood and transition from slavery to freedom. In analyzing gender and time in African American autobiographies, this dissertation endeavors to correct the implicit scholarly assumption that nineteenth-century African American women and men—slaves in particular—experienced time in the same way.

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