Master of Arts (MA)
Primary Subject Area
absence, African-American home, authority, Ernest Gaines, home-making, Womanism
Ernest J. Gaines's spaces serve as sites for power negotiation, in particular within his ethnic community. Drawing from the memories of his life in the South, Gaines writes layers of significance into the spaces of the fictitious towns he creates in his novels. Rather than reducing the environment to mere background material, Gaines's private and public spaces both communicate to and inform his audience of power struggles. In his novels, A Lesson Before Dying, Of Love and Dust, and In My Father's House, the locales, the very spaces themselves, inform. The boundary markers of the private and public world both reveal a social power structure as well as provide opportunities to question it. The various characters' responses to space show the authority that they hold within the home and in society. Female characters revise their oppressive spaces and take control and authority of their environment. The male characters transgress boundaries, and care less for the stability of the domestic sphere, and are often characterized by Gaines as immature characters who lack responsibility equal to that of the females in the novel. The Womanist characters and the authority they have in the domestic sphere is Gaines's explicit message to comment on other deep issues within the community, such as missing father figures and the oppression they face in the public sphere.