Befriending the other(ed) woman: Fictions of interracial female friendship

Date of Completion

January 2005


Black Studies|Women's Studies|Literature, American




This dissertation explores representations of women's interracial friendships in texts by twentieth-century African American and white women writers. The material inequalities and racist fantasies embedded in the social fabric of American life have historically divided black and white women, inhibiting the personal and political alliances that might dismantle these divisive structures. Through their narratives depicting interracial female friendship, women writers imagine the possibilities that interracial friendship presents for personal enrichment and for building inclusive political "sisterhood." The interracial friendship narratives these writers create ask whether women's relationships can liberate them from the restrictions of patriarchy and racism, or instead function as a means of reproducing the political status quo. ^ Feminist critics have contended that female friendships have important political and creative significance: affective bonds between women offer a means of collectively resisting patriarchal silencing and discovering new forms of aesthetic expression. Yet much of this scholarship assumes endogamous friendship between women of like background. By considering the implications of racial and cultural differences in female friendship, this dissertation provides a corrective to this emphasis. ^ The introduction presents the historical and literary contexts in which the works of twentieth-century writers must be situated. Chapter one examines Katherine Anne Porter's The Old Order, which depicts the friendship between a slave and her mistress as a crucial strategy for their mutual survival in a culture antagonistic to female autonomy. Chapter two considers Shirley Ann Grau's The Keepers of the House, in which the protagonist's unwillingness to "know" the black woman who raised her reflects the epistemological limitations of white privilege. Chapter three analyzes post-Civil Rights fiction by Alice Walker, including Meridian , in which the black and white female characters are ambiguously bonded by their activism. Chapter four examines Sherley Anne William's historical novel Dessa Rose, in which a fugitive slave and a white woman must reconstruct their stereotypes of the "other" through dialogue. Chapter five includes Rosellen Brown's Half a Heart, Dori Sanders's Clover, and Kaye Gibbons's On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon , exploring cross-racial mothering in each novel and its implications for interracial friendship. ^