Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Gurleen Grewal, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Hunt Hawkins, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Hirsh, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Shirley Toland-Dix, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Shirley Toland-Dix, Ph.D


race, caste, identity, representation, voice


“Speaking Subalterns” examines the literatures of two marginalized groups,African Americans in the United States and Dalits in India. The project demonstrates how two disparate societies, USA and India, are constituted by comparable hegemonic socioeconomic-cultural and political structures of oppression that define and delimit the identities of the subalterns in the respective societies. The superstructures of race in USA and caste in India inform, deform, and complicate the identities of the marginalized along lines of gender, class, and family structure. Effectively, a type of domestic colonialism, exercised by the respective national elitists, silence and exploit the subaltern women and emasculate the men. This repression from above disrupts the respective family structures in the societies, traumatizes the children, and confuses the relationships between all the members of the families. While African American women, children, and men negotiate their national identities in USA, Dalits, the former Untouchables, attempt to realize their national identities guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. While successful resistance to oppression informs the literatures written by these historically marginalized peoples, thereby giving voice to the silenced subalterns, I argue that it is equally important to be attentive to the simultaneous silencing that has not ended. Moreover, we must be skeptical about the power seemingly achieved by the subalterns in articulating their claims to legitimate rights because re-presentation of subaltern resistance by the elite intellectualsand by subalterns themselves becomes a critical inquiry.

Thus, while some subaltern women claim agency through representation, their narratives may not be exempt from hegemonic control. Others are thoroughly misrepresented by elitists. While some subaltern mothers undertake outlaw mothering by defying normative patriarchal motherhood, responsible representation can re-cover these tales which are silenced when these mothers succumb to their children and community’s disparagement. While some subaltern children may survive disastrous experiences, others may be traumatized into silence. Representation bears witness to these traumatic silences and the silencing processes. While historically emasculated subaltern men may vent and represent their rightful frustration and wrath against the oppressors, they may be simultaneously silencing their own doubly-oppressed women.