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Publication Date



UM campus only

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

Tim Watson

Third Committee Member

John Funchion

Fourth Committee Member

Paula Ioanide


This dissertation analyzes the fiction of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison to demonstrate how self-deception has historically sustained racial subjugation in the United States, and to explore how nineteenth- and twentieth-century American authors have understood, overlooked, and exploited the role of self- deception in racial politics. As demonstrated in the work of Stowe and Twain, the unconscious goals of authors and their readers to maintain racial hierarchy have encouraged the production of literature that contains essentialist racial beliefs and thus perpetuates oppressive ideologies. In response to self-deceptive and calculating authors who have failed to depict the fullness of black humanity and experience, writers like Ellison and Morrison have made it their task to analyze the toll of white supremacy on black psychology, exploring both self-deception as experienced by black characters and possible solutions for self-deceptive thinking. As a literary and historical project, this dissertation applies whiteness studies and psychology to texts spanning over 100 years not only to demonstrate how self-deception has continued to play a role in American literature that deals with slavery and its aftermath, but also to reveal the serious consequences for lives beyond the page when the powerful and powerless fail to recognize the deeper motivations that prompt their behavior.


American; African-American; nineteenth century; twentieth century; self-deception; slavery