Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

“Where’s the Dummy?”

Deafness, Race, and Labor in Delores Phillips’s The Darkest Child

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2021), 15, (2), 187–202.

Abstract

Delores Phillips’s novel The Darkest Child (2004), which features one of the few representations of deafness in African American literature, has been largely overlooked in literary criticism. Phillips’s depiction of Martha Jean challenges a long-standing tradition of deaf characters and deaf-related imagery as negative. Yet, Martha Jean is not a marginal character, nor merely a symbol or metaphor. Rather, as I show, Martha Jean constitutes a character of complex embodiment who complicates preconceived notions of Black and deaf people as “burdens” on society. Trapped under a system of capitalism which values labor, ability, and profit, Martha Jean’s mother, Rozelle, considers her a burden, forcing her into a sort of indentured servitude in the domestic sphere—cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the babies that Rozelle continues to have. However, the article maintains that Martha Jean uses her position in the domestic sphere in order to reorder and redefine those terms. Ultimately, the suggestion is that by centering deafness and a deaf experience, Phillips exposes complex aspects of the novel which might otherwise be obscured. Through complicating issues surrounding literacy and education, and larger systems of racism, sexism, capitalism, and ableism, Phillips imagines a multiplicity of Black experiences in the Jim Crow South.

Access Token
£25.00
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Works Cited

Anderson, Glenn B. and Lindsay M. Dunn. “Assessing Black Deaf History: 1980s to the Present.” Sign Language Studies 17.1 (2016): 71-77. Web. 15 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Andrews, Raymond. Appalachee Red: a Novel. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1978. Print. Google Scholar

Blair, Cynthia. “‘We Must Live Anyhow’: African American Women and Sex Work in Chicago, 1880-1900.” The Black Worker: Race, Labor, and Civil Rights since Emancipation. Ed. Eric Arnesen: Chicago: U of Illinois P, 2007. 122-46. Print. Google Scholar

Brown, Maxine C. On the Beat of Truth: A Hearing Daughter’s Stories of Her Black Deaf Parents. Washington DC, Gallaudet UP, 2013. Print. Google Scholar

Burch, Susan and Hannah Joyner. Unspeakable: the Story of Junius Wilson. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007. Print. Google Scholar

Campbell, Israel. Bond and Free Or, Yearnings for Freedom from My Green Brier House: Being the Story of My Life in Bondage and My Life in Freedom: An Autobiography. Philadelphia: Campbell, 1861. Documenting the American South. U of North Carolina P, 2004. Web. 1 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Carlin, John. “The National College for Mutes.” American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb 6 (1854): 176. Print. Google Scholar

“Community and Culture: Frequently Asked Questions.” National Association of the Deaf. Web. 20 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Craft, William and Ellen Craft. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. London: Strand, 1860. Documenting the American South. U of North Carolina P, 2001. Web. 1 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co, 1903. Print. Google Scholar

Hairston, Ernest and Linwood Smith. Black and Deaf in America: Are We That Different. Dallas: T. J. Publishers, 1983. Print. Google Scholar

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ed. Nellie Y. McKay and Frances Smith Foster. New York: Norton, 1861. Print. Google Scholar

Kennedy, Adrienne. “She Talks to Beethoven.” The Adrienne Kennedy Reader. Ed. Werner Sollors: Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008. 139-50. Print. Google Scholar

Krentz, Christopher. Writing Deafness: the Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007. Print. Google Scholar

Lawrie, Paul. Forging a Laboring Race: the African American Worker in the Progressive Imagination. New York: New York UP, 2016. Print. Google Scholar

Leakey, Tricia A. “Vocational Education in the Deaf American and African-American Communities.” Deaf History Unveiled. Ed. John V Van Cleve. Washington DC: Gallaudet UP, 2002. 74-91. Print. Google Scholar

McCaskill, Carolyn. The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. Washington DC: Gallaudet UP, 2011. Print. Google Scholar

McDonald, Donna M. “Not Silent, Invisible: Literature’s Chance Encounters with Deaf Heroes and Heroines.” American Annals of the Deaf 154.5 (2010): 463-70. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David and Sharon Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000. Print. Google Scholar

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970. Print. Google Scholar

Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym et al. 7th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2007. 2685-98. Print. Google Scholar

Padden, Carol and Tom Humphries. Inside Deaf Culture. Boston: Harvard UP, 2005. Print. Google Scholar

Padden, Carol and Claire Ramsey. “Deaf Culture and Literacy.” American Annals of the Deaf 138.2 (1993): 96-99. Web. 15 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Paul, Peter V. “Literacy, Literate Thought, and Deafness.” American Annals of the Deaf 163.1 (2018): 78-86. Web. 15 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Phillips, Delores. The Darkest Child. New York: Soho Press, 2004. Print. Google Scholar

Philo, Kaila. “Agency, Activism, and the Black Domestic Worker in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Delores Phillips’ The Darkest Child.” Critical Insights: Civil Rights Literature, Past & Present. Ed. Christopher Varlack. Pasedena, CA: Salem Press, 2017. 253-69. Print. Google Scholar

Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah. Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018. Print. Google Scholar

Scalenghe, Sara. Disability in the Ottoman Arab World, 1500-1800. New York: Cambridge UP, 2015. Print. Google Scholar

Siebers, Tobin. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008. Print. Google Scholar

Stanley, Sandra M. “Maggie in Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’”: The Africanist Presence and Disability Studies.” MELUS 36.2 (2011): 71-88. Web. 3 Jan. 2020. Google Scholar

Toomer, Jean. Cane. Liveright Press, 1923. New York: Norton, 2011. Print. Google Scholar

Turner, David, Kirsti Bohata, and Steven Thompson. “Introduction to Special Issue: Disability, Work and Representation.” Disability Studies Quarterly 37.4 (2017). Web. 20 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Tyler, Dennis. “Jim Crow’s Disabilities: Racial Injury, Immobility, and the ‘Terrible Handicap’ in the Literature of James Weldon Johnson.” African American Review 50.2 (2017). Web. 20 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday, 1901. Documenting the American South. U of North Carolina P, 1997. Web. 1 Dec. 2019. Google Scholar

Wright, Mary Herring. Sounds like Home: Growing up Black and Deaf in the South. Washington DC: Gallaudet UP, 1999. Print. Google Scholar

Wright, Richard. “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow.” Uncle Tom’s Children. New York: HarperCollins, 1937. Print. Google Scholar

Writer in Residence Lecture: Delores Phillips. The Department of English, Modern Languages, and Mass Communication, Albany State University, 2007. DVD. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Steverson, Delia