Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English & Film Studies

Faculty/School

Faculty of Arts

First Contributor

Eleanor Ty

Contributor Role

Thesis Supervisor

Abstract

This thesis examines Toni Morrison's reconstruction of racial representations in The Bluest Eye and Beloved. Morrison stresses the need for a transformation of current representations of black and white culture in her critical study, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, in which Morrison examines how black culture has been (mis)represented and (mis)perceived by white Western culture and discourse. She argues that idealized and valorized notions of "whiteness," white identity, and white culture have been constructed from denigrating, binary oppositional (mis)perceptions of "blackness," black identity, and black culture. These stereotypical (mis)perceptions maintain white cultural dominance over black bodies by promoting within black culture self-negating and racist notions of blackness. In her struggle to (re)theorize and transform these racist representations, Morrison examines white and black culture with an "unblinking gaze" (Russell 46) in The Bluest Eye and Beloved. She writes to "repossess, re-name, re-own" (46) and reconstruct representations of black identity and culture by showing how black people see themselves and white people being defined within Western culture. Morrison encourages readerly participation in her racial reconstructions by structuring her fragmented narratives with textual holes and spaces into which the reader must enter to work with Morrison in the telling of the story. This kind of participatory reading underlines the reader's "response-ability" (Buying xi): the ability to enter the text and respond to it, first viscerally and then intellectually. This intimate and intense participation with Morrison and the text liberates our minds to the transformative potential of The Bluest Eye and Beloved regarding representation. Both novels critically interrogate concepts of whiteness and blackness and outline the detrimental effects of white cultural domination upon black and white identity and culture. As we piece together the main characters’ fragmented stories, we participate in their differing strategies of resistance to this cultural domination and in their struggle with concepts of love, identity, and meaning. By inviting her readers to participate in the interrogation and transformation of racial representations in her novels, Morrison broadens the spectrum of black and white cultural representations within the literary imagination.

Convocation Year

1997

Convocation Season

Spring