Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

First Advisor

Patrick McGee


This study, focusing on select novels by women writers of the African diaspora, discovers a surprising commonality among works with obvious geographical, cultural and linguistic differences---an affirmation of the philosophical essence of the Vodun religion as an antidote to Western spiritual and cultural moribundity. Each of the novels---Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Simone Schwarz-Bart's Pluie et Vent sur Telumee Miracle, and Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow---alludes to the Vodun pantheon, ancestor veneration and/or rituals in order to valorize the holistic Vodun worldview that recognizes the interconnectedness of all living things and the fluidity of boundaries between the visible and invisible worlds. This essential holistic philosophy gives a subtle but powerful unity to each novel and accounts for the novels' overt emphases on community and black folklife. In all three works, the writers employ their Vodun aesthetic to underscore the necessity of an alternative, life-affirming philosophy as a means of triumphing over material circumstances or the internalization of sterile Western materialistic values. Chapter One sets up the parameters for this study by locating each novel within its socio-historical context. Additionally, the selected novels are situated within a developing African diasporic literary tradition in which African-derived beliefs have become sources of cultural resistance. In Chapter Two, I argue that Hurston's novel, analyzed as a Vodun text, shows that the author drew heavily on her previous anthropological research into Vodun. Understanding Hurston's Vodun aesthetic adds to the appreciation of her literary artistry and allows for a new understanding of the protagonist's spiritual quest. In Chapter Three, I explore Schwarz-Bart's celebration of black Guadeloupan women whose acceptance of adversity as part of their holistic Vodun philosophy enables them to endure the harsh conditions of colonial oppression. In Chapter Four, I show how Marshall focuses on Vodun rituals as a means of reconnecting a divided self and a divided diasporic community. Marshall underscores the urgency of answering the call to service of the gods through rendering service to the entire community.