Abstract

As theorist Robyn Wiegman has established, specular, and panoptic disciplinary measures together served to maintain hegemonic systems of power in American slavery, the Reconstruction period, and the era of segregation. Specular discipline is characterized by public scenes of torture, which discourage acts of opposition to the dominant power structure, while panoptic discipline uses constant surveillance, both real and imagined, to cause subjects to internalize the order of the discipline. In this article, I argue that Jubilee investigates and resists the visual control of the black maternal body in US slavery and Reconstruction, as these periods are depicted in the novel, as well as in the Civil Rights era contemporary to its publication. I focus on the changing narrative significance of the black maternal body in Jubilee as the protagonist carves out space within a disciplinary system of ocular control to claim ownership of her black maternal body and tell her story. I claim that the novel positions the black mother as uniquely able to subvert the narrative power enforced by the gaze throughout the past several centuries and counters stereotypical discourses about black women with an account of the strength and survival of the black female body.

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