LITR 5731: Seminar in American Minority Literature

Student Research Proposals, fall 2004

Danny Corrigan

for my research paper I would like to try to further develop a few themes that I first noticed while writing the Song of Solomon section of my midterm exam. I was extremely fascinated with how Macon Dead chose Pilate’s name from the Bible based solely on its physical appearance, which, as simple as this may seem, I interpreted as a transition from the predominately oral narrative tradition of the African culture to the primarily written narrative tradition of the white or Western culture. Inspired by this, I would like to try analyze Toni Morrison’s use of the oral tradition (i.e. African folklore and mythology) in Song of Solomon. And I realize that this may be a bit of a stretch, but since blues music is featured quite prominently in the novel, and the blues is closely linked to African-American culture, I may try to see if I can find a link between the blues tradition and African folklore as presented in Song of Solomon.

I realize that this proposal is still vague and unfocused, but I would like to know if you think this is a viable topic for a research project? I would appreciate any advice you have as to how I can clarify and focus this theme if it is too broad, or, on the other hand, if it is too narrow how I can expand it.

Working Bibliography (this is tentative and may change as the project progresses)

Baldwin, James. Going to Meet the Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995.

Davis, Cynthia A. "Self, Society, and Myth in Toni Morrison's Fiction." Contemporary Literature 23.3 (1982): 323-332.

De Arman, Charles. "Milkman as the Archetypal Hero." Obsidian: Black Literature in Review 6.3 (1980): 56-59.

Hughes, Langston, and Arna Bontemps, eds. The Book of Negro Folklore. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1983.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings. New York: Library of America, 1995.

Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

Rushdy, Ashraf H.A. "'Rememory': Primal Scenes and Constructions in Toni Morrison's Novels." Contemporary Literature 31.3 (1990): 300-323.

Schultz, Elizabeth. "African and Afro-American Roots in Contemporary Afro-American Literature: The Difficult Search for Family Origins." Studies in American Fiction 8.2 (1980): 126-145.

Story, Ralph. "An Excursion into the Black World: The 'Seven Days' in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon." Black American Literature Forum 23.1 (1989): 149-158.

Taylor-Guthrie, Danille, ed. Conversations with Toni Morrison. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.

Wegs, Joyce M. "Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon: A Blues Song." Essays in Literature 9.2 (1982): 211-223.

Wilentz, Gay. "Civilizations Underneath: African Heritage and Cultural Discourse in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon." African American Review 26.1 (1992): 61-76.

Susan Cummings

I want to know what you think of the idea of further developing the idea of the matriarch in African American Literature and her role and identity with that group. I keep wanting to focus on people like Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey as examples of matriarchal figures in popular culture, but that's not literary. Got any suggestions?

Or should I explore magical realism (I'm not even sure I fully understand the concept) through female characters in Hispanic literature, Bless Me Ultima, Like Water for Chocolate, The House of Spirits? Other Suggestions? 

I've suspected that I'll create more work than necessary if I do a journal, but I don't know. The journal's purpose is to prepare one for writing a thesis? I don't plan to write one (don't need another degree, thanks).


Brendan Foley

Research Paper Proposal: “Seeing Red:  Representation and Ideology of Native Americans in Literature”

            For my semester project, I intend to write a research paper that examines how American Indians have been represented within various works of American Literature and other forms of writing.  I plan on structuring my examination chronologically beginning with a text or texts that are from the early American Period, primarily from either the Colonial/Revolutionary Period or something from the 19th Century, followed by Black Elk Speaks to be viewed as transitional piece both historically and formally with the emphasis on the work as a memoir of an American Indian written by a white man, and then concluding with Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven which will be considered as work that is informed by self-proclaimed and acknowledged Native American writer.  What I hope to discover and or reveal is the ideologies that might underlie some, if not all, of the pieces considered.   In some cases, such an examination may be obvious with some of the texts, however I hope to discover some interesting links between the texts that have not been discussed or at least “fleshed out.” 

            At this point in my project my primary question about it is my selection of early period texts.  In a previous discussion, I mentioned the writings of Crevecouer, a writer from the Colonial/Revolutionary era and perhaps, selections from so-called “captivity narratives.”  Yet, I think I would like to see if there is either a short story or novella from this period that might deal with Native Americans, yet is written by a white author.  Any suggestions?  In addition, perhaps to support my argument I may pull in some court cases that may lend historical background and some contemporary grounding to my analysis of this subject as a way of locating my discussion in something more concrete than just the ethereal area of literature.   One such source would be the analysis of a recent land rights case, Mashpee Tribe v. New Seabury et al. and an earlier Supreme Court case, which I read for a previous course yet escapes me now.   As always, any suggestions regarding the material covered and the depth and/ or width of my investigation would be welcome.


James Hood

For my research project, I am considering an essay topic of “loss and survival” as it applies to the narrative of minorities in America’s history, and I believe that several of our texts lend themselves easily to that subject. Our Native American readings are an obvious source for this topic, as are The Classic Slave Narratives, and I think that the Mexican-American texts will reflect on loss and survival to some extent as well, particularly in light of the fact that a large portion of this country was, at one time, part of Mexico.

I am hoping to describe the different types of losses that these minority groups suffered, as well as examining to what degree they can be considered to have “survived” those losses. I am especially interested in comparing and contrasting the Native American narrative to that of the Mexican-Americans, because I think that the latter group has taken a more proactive approach to “survival,” although the criteria for what constitutes “survival” might be subject to debate.

I have been trying to locate secondary sources for this topic, however, and have not had much luck (aside from history books, of course). An MLA search returned only a scattering of texts on the subject, so I was wondering if you might suggest other apparatus for locating additional material on this topic. I would appreciate, as always, any comments you might have on my topic choice, and I look forward as well to hearing any thoughts that you would like to share on broadening or narrowing the scope of my proposal.

Nicole Jackson

I am looking forward to extending my research on the color-caste reflected in the African American literary texts.  Also, I want to explain how this color-caste is directly linked to Eurocentric standards of beauty and capitalism.  Ultimately, I desire to research the inversion of the "no drop rule."  While white purity is usually a standard for the hero/heroine in American literature depicting white characters, ironically it seems as if a drop of white blood encourages social and/or economic success in African American characters. 

Kristy Pawlak

Despite the fact that I found out the hard way last semester how much more difficult a journal can be, I enjoyed the fact that it enabled me to find a wide variety of information.  I would like to do a research journal on children's literature both about and from each of the three minority groups we are studying.  There are a couple areas which got me thinking about this topic in particular.  First, when I was working on my undergrad degree at UT I took a magazine writing course and for my final paper I interviewed Angela Shelf Medearis, an African-American children's' author who lives in Austin.  I thought this would be a good starting point in that area.  Next, growing up, I was always interested in the children's' books based on Indian legends--The Legend of the Bluebonnet, etc.  I thought I'd try to see what else there was in this area as well.  Finally, one of my good friends is a Mexican-AAmerican and she is trying to teach her young daughter about Mexican culture.  I thought I'd explore children's' lit in this area both for my knowledge and her use.  There is also potential to bring in recent film representations--such as those by Disney--and see if they are accurate and/or how they are perceived by members of the minority groups which they represent.
Please let me know if you think that there will be sufficient information and depth in such a topic.  If it sounds okay, is it permissible to use information gathered for another project like my Medearis interview for a new project?


Michael Russo

I would like to pursue the “Research Journal” option.  The area of study will be the various mechanisms of control that the dominant power structure uses against minority groups, and the means by which essentially powerless minority groups fight back.  While I haven’t decided whether to include American Indians in this research project I do intend to focus primarily on the African American experience.  In terms of literary texts, the focus will be on the Classic Slave Narratives and Song of Solomon, although passing mention here or there might be made to Push.

My Midterm dealt with the idea of escape versus responsibility, and fortunately I think some of the concepts I explored in the midterm can be revisited in this research journal.  For example, what role do drugs and alcohol play here?  I also think there is a dual function that can be seen in the “dream” narrative, and paradoxically each function works in opposition to the other.  In other words, I’d like to explore if “the dream” serves as both a liberating force and an oppressing force at the same time.  I would like to explore the relationships between African Americans and members of the dominant culture as displayed through African American literature; for example, a detailed study of the battle between Fredrick Douglass and the slaveholder who was determined to “break” his rebellious spirits.  Also, how does the suppression of literacy play a role in oppression?

I am somewhat interested in this topic because I believe it might shed some light on a greater conflict of a more general nature: namely, those with power and their attempts to exploit, control and manipulate those without power.

My primary question is whether I should focus on African American literature or also include American Indian literature and draw parallels?  My secondary question is if it would be inappropriate to also include discussion and/or research relating to my more general interest in the “powerful versus powerless” struggle?  In other words, should I just stick to minority groups and leave any discussion of this general nature out of the project?