Falling Out Of History: Gender In Representations Of Police Violence In Post-45 African American Novels

Elias Rodriques, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation aims to answer a question implicitly posed by recent scholarship in critical prison studies: How did police violence come to be masculinized? Drawing upon archival work, historical research, and close readings, this dissertation analyzes African American literary history through the lens of recent insights from critical prison studies, Black Feminist literary criticism, and Black Marxist thought to argue that the post-war African American novel was one cause of this masculinization. In the first chapter, I argue that 1950s novelists represented police violence as dispossessing Black men’s labor and Black men’s labor as a means of abolition. In the second chapter, I argue that 1960s novelists represent police violence as colonizing Black men and solidarity amongst colonized men globally as the means of abolishing state violence. In my third chapter, I argue that 1970s Black Feminist novelists depicted police violence as dispossessing Black women’s private-sphere labor and Black women’s private-sphere concerns as essential to abolition. In my fourth chapter, I argue that 1980s Black Feminist novelists revise these earlier masculinist cultural scripts to counter the cultural repression of police violence against Black women. These arguments reassert the primacy of gender in constructing history and memory, insist upon the importance of culture in historical repression, and provide a model for ways to counteract that repression, all as a means of providing a theory of the relationship between gender, culture, and history.