Shfting Ideology in Mildred D. Taylor's Books

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Davis, Pamela Manley
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Middle Tennessee State University
Newbery Award winner Mildred D. Taylor (born 1943) drew from her family's oral storytelling tradition to write nine books about the Logans, a fictitious landowning African American family in Mississippi. These texts take four generations of Logans from the 1870s to 1950 and show how they endure despite racial injustice. This dissertation examines the author's shifting political ideologies, as defined by Robert Sutherland's "Hidden Persuaders: Political Ideologies in Literature for Children." Nuanced changes toward greater empowerment are highlighted when her books are organized into three stages--early, middle, and late. The first chapter provides an introduction and literature review, disclosing gaps in the existing scholarship. Chapter Two, "`Them Black Kings': Influences that Shaped Taylor as a Writer," shows that Taylor derives her affinity to W. E. B. Du Bois through her father, Wilbert Taylor, who exemplified much of what Du Bois sought to convey in his children's literature. Chapter Three, "`He Can't Speak No More': Taylor Challenges Perceptions of African Americans in Her Early Stage Books," shows that Taylor's first three books--Song of the Trees (1975); Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976); and Let The Circle Be Unbroken (1981)--reflect Du Bois's objectives regarding re-imaging African Americans, re-casting the African American family, and writing African Americans into history. Chapter Four, "Changing Focus in Taylor's Middle Stage Books," shows that Taylor diverts from Du Bois's family model in her middle stage books: The Gold Cadillac (1987), The Friendship (1987), The Road to Memphis (1990), and Mississippi Bridge (1990). Chapter Five, "`We's Free Now' and `Use Your Head': Agency and Efficacy in Taylor's Late Stage Books," discloses how main characters in her late stage books, The Well: David's Story (1995) and The Land (2001), achieve greater empowerment through verbal or written contracts. In these books, Taylor also demonstrates that characters do not merely endure segregation but that they thrive in spite of it, allowing her latest book to conclude with an uncharacteristically happy ending. In the conclusion, Chapter Six, I discuss the ramifications of Taylor's message of empowerment and implications for her readers.
African American children's lit, Contracts, Empowerment, Ideology, Mildred D. Taylor, W. E. B. Du Bois