Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

David Ikard

Second Committee Member

Donette Francis

Third Committee Member

Patricia Saunders

Fourth Committee Member

Sika Dagbovie


This study considers Mammy as a disturbing presence within the plantation household due to the inherent sexual threat lodged within her body. Building on Black Feminist criticism and Whiteness Studies, this study treats Mammy as white supremacist trope silencing black women by recasting abusive white patriarchs and their complicit white wives as products of their time period and thus not fully accountable for exploiting and dominating enslaved black women. Although substantial critical attention has been paid to Mammy’s position as surrogate mother and icon to an America nostalgic for the Old South, less attention has focused on Southern white women’s fear of losing their position as wives to Mammy. This study begins by closely scrutinizing white women’s antebellum journals as a means of conceptualizing Mammy as a decidedly sexual being. This project, then, explores white women’s active role in black women’s rape, sexual assault, and erasure. As pundits and politicians herald the emergence of a post-racial America, “Misreading Mammy” injects race back into the discussion by focusing a lens on enslaved black women’s unique racial and sexual subjectivities.


Mammy; Toni Morrison; The Help; The Wind Done Gone; Valerie Martin; Kara Walker