Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Diane Price Herndl, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michelle Hughes-Miller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gary Lemons, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Lennon, Ph.D.


coalitions, feminism, narrative, retribution, violence, womanism


The purpose of this study is to examine post-Reconstruction literature as an intercessor that creates a common memory among readers and activates them as ethical agents who can move through retributive violence rather than enact violence. With the increase of racial violence in the United States, it is essential to find ways to end the cycle of retributive violence and establish a justice system that does not marginalize individuals but forges connections in the midst of oppression. This literary analysis engages three novels—Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Alice Walker’s Meridian, and Toni Cade Bambara’s Those Bones Are Not My Child: A Novel—written by African American women authors about three time periods—Jim Crow Era, Civil Rights Movement, and Contemporary. James Phelan’s four ethical situations provide an overarching framework for the three body chapters. Chapter One examines characters within Song of Solomon using hermeneutical narrative ethics. Chapter Two uses feminist ethics of care as well as hermeneutical narrative ethics to analyze how Walker as implied author crafts Meridian Hill as an ideal, ethical agent. Finally, Chapter Three engages the aforementioned methods as well as coalitional politics to examine how Bambara’s narration shows how a community is transformed in the midst of oppressive violence in Those Bones Are Not My Child. Ultimately, this study finds that literature has the ability to transform readers as they ethically commit to redemption rather than retribution. The combination of hermeneutical narrative ethics with feminist ethics of care and coalitional politics has the power to change readers’ approach to literature, making one publicly accountable for their private reading of a text.