Chambers, Lauren Renee
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The construction of identity formation is informed by the myriad places women inhabit, experience, and transgress. Place provides a lens into specific categories of women’s experiences, primarily one’s relation to community. My concept of “communal autonomy” refers to how individuals develop a sense of self and interact within larger communities. My study traces how female characters in Postcolonial and western African diasporic works use place to negotiate conflicting gender expectations as they mature into womanhood in communities and nations that silence their existence. I begin with a discussion of place as community in the autobiography Call Me Woman (1985) by South African author Ellen Kuzwayo, followed by a chapter on Edwidge Danticat’s novel Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994) that explores specific home places in the novel as sources of knowledge Sophie uses to fashion her identity. I then turn to the novel Paradise (1997) by Toni Morrison, to explore the configuration of women as outsiders who function as a community mitigated by place. Finally, I examine a representative twenty-first century voice of African diasporic literature offered by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) presents communities as versions of extended family the protagonist Kambili uses to construct identity. Place calls into question specific institutions and thereby spaces women inhabit in seeking knowledge to define the self. Social institutions such as the home, family, and nation constitute communities through the gendered expectations and behaviors reinforced within these spaces. Therefore, women’s ability to read these places informs how they conceptualize identity formation.