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Many African American writers of the period took as their subject the untangling of what Jacobs had called the “tangled skeins” of slave genealogies by reconstructing family lineages.Here, too, writers often followed a normative impulse, reconstituting the family as bourgeois and patriarchal and emphasizing lineage and inheritance.Yet once again this family structure may be seen as deviant in its application to African Americans.
From a more class-based perspective, the family has been seen as a social structure whose “happiness” (in the Beechers’ words) depends on the labor of servants; in direct contradiction to Williams’s , however, these servants are prohibited from establishing “relations of private intimacy” with their employers’ families (Beecher and Stowe 1869, 326).
The nineteenth-century invention of the bourgeois family has obscured the history of other familial formations. “Family,” here and elsewhere, often functions as a code word intended to stigmatize the deviant, those who are placed beyond the norm by virtue of their race, sexuality, class, or other social identities.
They both follow and counter the bourgeois family’s prescribed gender roles. Although female, her grandmother is the family’s economic provider yet simultaneously upholds the cult of true womanhood.
If her adherence to true womanhood is normative, her application of it to slave women is deviant.
Further critiques of the public/private-sphere dichotomy naturalized by bourgeois notions of the family drew from a diverse group of theorists who analyzed the family from different, if overlapping, perspectives.
From a feminist perspective, the family has been viewed as a patriarchal system of sexual and property relations supporting state interests in which the father alone is entitled to property, which includes his wife and children; in contrast, as , the wife is herself property and denied power of ownership.
By the early nineteenth century, work became increasingly separated from household as fathers engaged in “out-door” labor, and the domestic work of mothers became privatized.
This division of labor gave rise to the ideology of separate spheres.
The Beechers’ definition of family suggests additional clusters of keywords.
One is “blood,” “kinship,” and “lineage.” Family members are biologically related through blood (genetic markers), creating kinship ties and linking progenitors to descendants across generations to establish lineage.