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Black Well-BeingHealth and Selfhood in Antebellum Black Literature$
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Andrea Stone

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062570

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062570.001.0001

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The Promising Self

The Promising Self

Sexual Expression, Heroism, and Revolution

Frederick Douglass’s “The Heroic Slave” and Martin Robison Delany’s Blake

(p.155) 5 The Promising Self
Black Well-Being

Andrea Stone

University Press of Florida

Possibly in a move toward a more optimistic, or at least less depressing, conclusion, the book shifts focus from women’s nonfiction to men’s fiction, from women’s actual pained bodies to men’s imagined revolt and heroism. Central to these imaginings of heroic rebellion and revolution is a healthy, vigorous black sexuality. The stories envision black vengeance for the atrocities white slaveholders committed, particularly against enslaved women, and articulations of black valor very much using elements of classical heroism as a category of critique. Frederick Douglass in “The Heroic Slave” (1853) and Martin Delany in Blake (1859, 1861–62) imagine political independence through organized violence. Whereas Celia and Jacobs suffered sexual abuse and turned to criminal acts to protect their health and well-being and test the limits of the law’s understanding of them as persons and indeed women, the protagonists here craft a black selfhood beyond the legally and medically inscribed parameters of the person. They depict ideals of masculine independence or the Greek areté (virtue, human excellence) through armed revolts. They insert the black hero into a broader American literary interest in classicism to dramatize the overthrow of white supremacy and the acquisition of black political autonomy and a healthy and robust sexuality.

Keywords:   sexual health, well-being, revolt, revolution, slavery, heroism, hero, men, areté, African-American, fiction

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