The ‘mammy’ figure, of which Dilsey is a key example, is the best-known stereotype of African-American women. Originating from the antebellum era, her bulky physique and ready smile have made her an instantly recognisable caricature. The mammy personifies a romanticized vision of slavery and servitude, her boundless devotion to her white ‘family’ being her defining feature. She is maternal but not sexual, loving towards her young charges but unafraid to dole out physical punishment when necessary, warm-hearted and equipped with boundless fortitude. She occupies an ambivalent position in the white heart, being on the one hand the embodiment of 'home' and locus of a good deal of sentimentality and on the other a buttress to notions of white superiority. A fascinating account of the uses to which her image has been put can be read here.