Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Susan V Donaldson


In nineteenth-century plantation literature, the runaway slave in the swamp was a recurrent "bogeyman" whose presence challenged myths of the plantation system. By escaping to the swamps, the runaway, or "maroon," gained an invisibility that was more threatening to the institution than open conflict. The chattel system was dependent upon an exercise of will upon the body of the enslaved, but slaves who asserted control over their bodies, by removing them to the swamps, claimed definition over the Self. In part, the proslavery plantation novel served to transform that image of the maroon from its untouchable, abstract state to a form that could be possessed, understood, and controlled. In other words, writers defending slavery would often conjure forth the rebellious image in order to dispel it safely.;This project contextualizes some of the major works in the plantation genre by revealing the dialectical processes involved in their creation. For example, one section gives special attention to the cultural milieu of the 1850s surrounding Harriet Beecher Stowe's second anti-slavery novels, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. Other primary works include Thomas Nelson Page's "No Haid Pawn" and John Pendleton Kennedy's Swallow Barn, arguably the first novel of the plantation genre. Contexts for these works are comprised of other "literary" works such as plantation romances and slave narratives. But the project also seeks to understand the signifying power of the maroon through the testimonies of former slaves, newspaper representations of African Americans, plantation rituals and daily interactions between black and white, and folklore of former slaves as it was collected (and conceived) by postbellum whites.;Despite the common occurrence of pillory scenes at the conclusion of maroon tales, this project shows that the final signifying power of the maroon was not of the law writ large upon his body; rather, the maroon survived as legend, as an invisible presence just beyond white control.



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