Year of Graduation


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Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Tess Chakkalakal


“‘Possessive Gentleness’: Insecure Attachments in American Literature” applies psychological attachment theory to works of American Literature. Each novel examined—Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851), Dred: A Tale of the Dismal Swamp (1856), and The Minister’s Wooing (1859) by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Third Generation (1954) by Chester Himes, and The Bluest Eye (1970) by Toni Morrison—describes the forces behind insecure attachment relationships between child characters and their caregivers. The first chapter of this project focuses on Stowe’s anti-slavery novels. It argues that the institution of slavery is in conflict with Christianity in these works, because it impedes disinterestedly benevolent mothering and disrupts secure attachments. The second chapter analyzes The Third Generation, and suggests that colorism in the black community is the cause of insecure attachments in Himes’ work. The third and final chapter examines The Bluest Eye, and presents sympathy, as embodied by the novel’s narrator, as a potential remedy for insecure parent-child attachments. Together, these texts elucidate how societal forces (e.g. colorism, poverty) intrude upon the family structure and destabilize parent-child attachments. Optimistically, however, they also suggest that improved parent-child attachments might function as a vehicle of broader social change.