Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Qiana Whitted


This dissertation answers the question: How can art represent the essential human experience of death, particularly when the creative context is one of extreme violence? And, what can be learned about the risks and rewards of the living's relationship with the dead by way of these artistic representations? Further, how do these aesthetic renderings of death construct the ethics of life for survivors? In the case of African America, discussion of, and responses to, these questions have been primarily explored in novelist and creative writing. This dissertation examines these novelistic treatments of death-tropes, or thanatropes in eight novels written by African American writers in the 20th century. These authors explore through the use of thanatropes the potential for reconciliation after atrocity. A central concern of the literature analyzed here is: What kind of ritual, art, or aesthetic is restorative of wellness and health after catastrophic violence? African American morbidity in the psychosocial context of captivity, enslavement, forced labor, incarceration, segregation, and apartheid, has influenced African American aesthetic, especially death ritual. Hence, the artistic representation of death, ritual and funerary rites in 20th Century African American literary works offers commentary on a universal human condition, mortality, experienced under conditions of continuing adversity and inequality.


© 2013, Chayah Amayala Stoneberg-Cooper