"A hot thing" representations of slavery, identity, naming and mothering violence in selected Toni Morrison texts.
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This dissertation explores themes of identity, naming, mothering violence and absent fathers in selected Toni Morrison texts. The novels under scrutiny are: Beloved (2011 ), A Mercy (2009 ) and Sula (1998 ). My main – but not sole – focus is on the representation of women in line with Morrison’s own privileging of women characters’ perspectives. Therefore, with slavery as the umbrella of my analysis and her male characters being succinctly discussed, I analyse both the physical and mental ways in which these characters are enslaved, as well as the ways in which slavery was responsible for stripping down one’s identity and how this has affected women as portrayed in the selected texts. In order to adequately analyse these themes, I provide an extensive background to slavery, using intersectional lenses to discuss womanism, motherhood and fatherlessness. The notion that Black women suffer from a triple oppression, that being on the basis of race, sex and class, provides a compelling lens through which to study the portrayal of Morrison’s violent mothers and matriarch figures. Through her abnormal representation of violent mothers and absent fathers, she breaks down idealised stereotypes. My central argument is that while this violence and absence results from years of identity dismemberment through slavery, it is also a result of men and women trying to re-establish power and authority as a means of survival in the face of racism and oppression. Slavery was responsible for the dismantling of Black identity, and with that dismantling other deterioration emerged within family and community units. All three of the texts provide different aspects of identity, naming practices and issues of slavery to analyse. Naming, as an important aspect of identity, is investigated as it alludes to ownership. Morrison’s characters are shown to be in a constant struggle not to be owned by anyone but themselves. Beloved, A Mercy and Sula offer disturbing tales of mothers who murder and abandon their children to ensure that they are not captured into a life of enslavement. Enslavement is represented variously across the three novels. These violent mothers’ actions are extensively analysed as linked to a breakdown in identity that roots itself in a background of slavery. This violence, although disturbing and uncomfortable to the reader, can also be read as a form of protest against oppression and passivity from white patriarchy.