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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Women Warriors: The Impact of the Maternal on Racial and National Identity in the Work of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen


During a time in which African Americans fought for civil rights, many African American writers rose to literary prestige. Many of these authors’ works address the search for identity — both individual and national — as a way to cope with their lack of societal rights. Two novels exemplify this theme by exploring the impact of the maternal on an individual’s identity: Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun and Nella Larsen’s Passing. This paper argues that these works stress the importance of motherhood in finding one’s place in a hostile environment, focusing particularly on the way in which mothers stand as warriors for the maintenance of their cultural communities. Although many scholars have argued that the characters presented in these narratives are negatively impacted by family and community, the novels show the positive impact maternal figures can have on the upkeep of African American culture. By presenting this impact in their works, Fauset and Larsen exhibit how African American identity can be fostered through maintaining a

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