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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.3, 433 ~ 452, 2018
The Haunted Black South and the Alternative Oceanic Space: Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing
Sodam Choi
In Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward places herself within the modern African American literary tradition and lays out the unending “historical traumas” of blacks and cultural haunting in her narrative. She brings to the fore the story of a young black boy and demonstrates the difficulty of living while a black man in the American rural South. Living or dead, black males remain spectral as their frustrated black bodies are endlessly rejected and disembodied. It’s through Ward’s close attention to the notions of black masculinity and retrieval of (black) humanity that the black South is remembered, recuperated, and historicized. Shrewdly enough, Ward expands it further into the tradition of American literature. Instead of singularizing African American identity and its historical traumas, she renders them the part of American history and universalizing the single black story as the story of the American South. Filling in the gaps that Faulkner and other white writers have left in their novels, Ward writes stories about the unspeakable, the invisible, the excluded to deconstruct white narratives and rebuild the American history; and reasserts African roots and history, spirituality, black raciality and locality within the American tradition. I examine the symbolic significance of Jojo’s claim of black masculinity within the socio-political contexts of contemporary America. I also look closely at Ward’s portrayal of Jojo’s black family genealogy on account of its traumatic experiences of incarceration in notorious Parchman Farm. Locating Jojo as the inspiration of linking the past and the present, the unburied and the living, I contend that Ward creates “home” for blacks in an atemporal oceanic space where the past and the present are able to meet simultaneously. I argue that the oceanic space is an alternative space of affect that functions against the space of white rationality.
Key Words
Sing, Unburied, Sing, Deep South, blackness, criminal justice reform, cultural historical trauma
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