Winter 2007, 37:1, pages 43 - 70
Black Women Writers and the Trouble with Ethos: Harriet Jacobs, Billie Holiday, and Sister Souljah
The assumption that black women lack a positive and respectable ethos is a historical and contemporary problem. To address the problem with ethos, I turn to Aristotle's Rhetoric to foreground an analysis of ethos. Then I examine Harriet Jacobs's slave narrative and the autobiography of Billie Holiday and Sister Souljah, respectively, to illustrate the difficulty they faced as they attempted to redefine an ethos of immorality to an ethos of respectability in their narratives. As each text demonstrates, acquiring a positive ethos becomes problematic given that a classical model such as Aristotle's excludes their lived realities and experiences as black women living in a slave and post-slavery society.
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