Rhetoric of Resistance: Social Justice in the Work of Wollstonecraft, Cugoano, and Godwin
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This dissertation examines the rhetoric employed by Wollstonecraft, Cugoano, and Godwin who devise a top-down/bottom-up dialectic of social-justice writing which can be read as grassroots advocacy. The authors write with two constant goals in mind: from the top down, they decry systemic forms of injustice; and from the bottom up, they make the experiences of victims visible. Scholarship on A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, and Things as They are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, has often focused on assessing the degree to which each text concerns itself with democratic equal rights. By contrast, this project explicates how the writers collectively define social injustice for the late eighteenth century. The writers simultaneously voice their indignation against those moral and socio-economic wrongs; deconstruct assumptions of natural inferiority and social disrespect; demand extensive change to social foundations; assert the humanity of women, workers, and slaves; and empathize with other oppressed populations across their traditionally conceived genres of vindication, slave narrative, and novel. Ultimately, my work incorporates a lexicon of political philosophy, political theory, and grassroots advocacy into literary studies to show how Wollstonecraft, Cugoano, and Godwin not only recognize corresponding patterns of oppression but also utilize strikingly similar literary devices and rhetorical strategies by which to combat injustice. All three authors share the same fundamental aim— to transform the dismal existence of the oppressed groups they represent.