Jay-walking in the city : violence against women, urban space, and pedestrian acts of resistance

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Perry, Alison Marretta

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From its distinction during the 1920s as the hub of black culture and commerce in America to its later reputation as the unmitigated manifestation of inner city decay, Harlem evokes an urban palimpsest, a lived geographic space onto which collective desires and fears are written and overwritten. Because of the symbolic place Harlem occupies in the national imaginary, my dissertation focuses on this central public site. Jay-Walking in the City: Violence Against Women, Urban Space, and Pedestrian Acts of Resistance advocates an investigation of textual histories of abusive domestic experiences in this neighborhood in order to underline the importance of public spheres in redressing trauma. As part of the larger archive of Harlem literature, the novels I investigate in this dissertation offer counter-narratives to those circulating in post-war America concerning the safety of this neighborhood’s streets and the character of its residents. Ann Petry’s The Street (1946), Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place (1980), Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), and Sapphire’s Push (1996) all contain episodes of domestic or sexual violence against women perpetrated in the Harlem households where the protagonists of these novels live. This dissertation focuses on the moments when Harlemites whom these women encounter in the public sphere intervene in the violent conditions of these primary characters’ lives. These interposal episodes within each novel challenge the pervasive cultural dichotomy that extols the American home as a stronghold of social and national security and lambastes the inner city as a volatile space of danger and fear.




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