To Revisit Troubled Histories: Exploring Reparation for Slavery Through American Time Travel Fiction
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Discussions about how to confront and work through the legacy of slavery, including reparation, have been on an upturn the past few decades, with no resolution as of yet. This thesis posits time travel fiction as a valuable space for exploring reparation and underlying questions about history, responsibility, memory, and temporality. In order to gain a better sense of the contributions literature can make to debates about reparation and historical injustice, the thesis presents a close reading analysis of three works of time travel fiction: Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979), Zetta Elliott’s Genna & Judah novels (2010; 2016), and Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn (1997). Through the time travel device, these novels each reflect on mediated practices of commemoration and embodied forms of remembrance. They also present a more nuanced model of temporality than the commonly assumed linear and progressive one, allowing for a better understanding of responsibility over time. Lastly, they emphasize the need to start any effort at repair by acknowledging the specific and contextualized needs of those affected by injustice, questioning the efficacy of top-down processes of reparation. Though focusing on the history of slavery in the U.S., the thesis has implications for any context in which reparation for or after historical injustice is being sought.