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The Gothic as Counter-Discourse: Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt and Toni Morrison by Hyejin Kim A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement s for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Co-Major Professor: Elizabeth Hirsh, Ph.D. Co-Major Professor: Shirley Toland-Dix, Ph.D. John Fleming, Ph.D. Jay Hopler, Ph.D. Date of Approval: March 30, 2007 Keywords: abject, gothic, conj ure, slavery, discourse Copyright 2007 Hyejin Kim
Acknowledgments I would like to thank my director, Dr Elizabeth Hirsh, who has inspired me, providing me with great support and encour agement. I am forever grateful to her for her time and efforts on my behalf. I would also like to thank my co-director, Dr. Shirley Toland-Dix, who has not only encouraged me but has also given me insightful instruction with her extensive knowledge in African American studies. I also would like to thank my other co mmittee members, Dr. John Fleming and Dr. Jay Hopler, for their encouragement and ti mely and perceptive comments. And I thank Dr. Jack Moore and Dr. Deborah Jaco bs for their wholehearted support for international students. They have given me tremendous support and encouragement throughout my time at t he University of South Florida. Dr. Deborah Jacobs advice and help has made the difference on many occasions. I also thank Dr. Ewha Chung, as the director of my M.A. thesis and as a professorfriend, who has served as a role m odel for professionals. I am deeply appreciative as well to many colleagues and friends, including Deepa Sitaraman, Peiling Zhao, Michelle Henry, Phil Chambline, and Anita Wyman for their friendship and encouragement and Jennifer Herban, Erlande Omisca and Tammi S. Wilds for their love, care, and prayers. Without my parents support and love, I could not have finished this dissertati on. I am grateful to them forever.
(i) Table of Contents Abstract ii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two: The Gothic as Abject in Mark Twains The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson 23 Chapter Three: Abjection and Resistance in Charles W. Chesnutts The Conjure Woman 60 Chapter Four: Reviving the Ghosts in the Machine: Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye 88 Chapter Five: Toni Morrisons Beloved: Crossing the River Between Life and Death 122 References 156 Bibliography 167 About the Author End Page
(ii) The Gothic as Counter-Discourse: Mark Twain, Charles W. Chesnutt and Toni Morrison Hyejin Kim ABSTRACT Revisiting the American Gothic via Julia Kristevas theory of the abject demonstrates how Gothic strategies expose the historical contradictions of race in works by Mark Twain, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Toni Morrison. As theorized by Kristeva in Powers of Horror, the archaic process in which the subject attempts to constitute itself as homogeneous by casting off or abjecting all that cannot be assimilated to the self-same necessarily opens the way to repeated returns of the abject(ed) and the horror it provokes. Because the Gothic enacts the return of the abject, it was itself abjected from the liter ary canon until recently. In American literature, especially si nce Reconstruction, Gothic horror subverts and reverses the process through which the new subject-nation mythologized itself as blameless by abjecting the African presence and the nightmarish history of slavery. Twains The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson Chesnutts The Conjure Woman and Morrisons The Bluest Eye and Beloved all deploy Gothic strategies to give voice to the unspeakable experiences associated with slavery and contest the ra tionalist discourses that enforce and legitimate racism. Twains na rrative celebrates the subversive Gothic storytelling of the slave Roxana but ulti mately betrays the authors ambivalence toward racial
(iii) identity. Chesnutts use of the Gothic mo re decisively reverses racist abjection through the encounter between the ex-slave Julius, with his conjure tales, and the white Yankee investor John, who tries to understand Julius but cannot. In the twentieth century Gothic narratives by bl ack writers focus on internalized racism. In Morrisons The Bluest Eye Claudias abject-writing exposes the deadly effects of mainstream mythology and internalized abjection in Pecolas destruction. In Beloved Morrison uses the Gothic to creat e an alternative world and suggest a means of healing the effects of slaver y through the ghostly figure of Beloved. These narratives exemplify the increas ing power of Gothic to create an alternative perspective on the racist history and culture of America.
1 Chapter I Introduction I. The Gothic as Counter-Discourse For many years the Gothic idiom has served as an effective narrative strategy to deconstruct the existing master-narratives of Euro-American literature. This discursive strategy opens a place for the culturally repressed to articulate unspeakable horrors from a marginalized pos ition. In the master-discourse of American literature and culture, African-Americans have been defined and treated as the social and cultural abject. Yet since the era of Reconstruction, the use of Gothic strategies has enabled Af rican American writers to reverse the dominant discourse that consigns them to the status of the abj ect. Such uses of the Gothic create a counter-discourse wit h which African-Americans articulate their otherwise unspeakable stories. In th is study, I explore this appropriation of the Gothic. As many critics acknowledge, the Goth ic as a genre is not easy to define. The Gothic seems to elicit the deepest horror in readers and protagonists, yet it is precisely from the most horrifying mo ments of the Gothic that readers derive most pleasure. The Gothic often descri bes a weak and vulnerable female, for example, but also may include a powerful witch or enchantress. Gothic stories
2 seem to declare the triumph of goodness and innocence over evil, yet this triumph is short lived compared to the joy of horror. The evil force in many Gothic works seems strong enough to reverse the existing social order, yet the story typically ends by restoring the original or der. Such contradictions allow the Gothic to be adapted to various purposes, and make it one of the most flexible and indeterminate of literary discourses. For th is reason I speak here of the Gothic as a kind of discursive strategy rather than a coherent or self-identical genre. In American literature, Gothic narratives are a battlefield of opposing concepts and ideas. They escape dichotomous boundarie s and borders. Literary works that deploy Gothic strategies might or mi ght not be easily rec ognized as Gothic novels. This study will investigate the use of Gothic strategies to stimulate both horror and pleasure in several di fferent kinds of narrative. My study begins with a series of i nquiries. What is the site of Gothic horror? Who is terrified at this tran sgression of borders? Whose boundary or safety is threatened? For those who transgress the boundaries, the disjuncture is a site of power, not horro r. The disjuncture may be hor rifying for those who felt safe in belonging to the already-em powered side of the boundarywhites over people of color, males over females, and t he rich over the poor. Fear or horror is the reaction to the possibilit y of a transgression because it marks the limits of the rationalized universe. Eradicating such boundaries means questioning the social order, attacking and castrating the domi nant figures, and making them less powerful. Thus, the transgression is seen and defined as horror, pathology, or madness. Yet, I argue, this site of ho rror is powerfully used as a means of
3 empowering the marginalized. I attempt to identify the Gothic strategies available to marginalized writers, especially on race-related topics. In fact, the Gothic itself is an ever -present yet ever-marginalized genre, advancing a resistant voice from an abnormal site. Whether Gothic endings persist or become submerged by an inv incible dominant discourse, the power of the Gothic to disrupt the social or psychic order never fails to conjure up horror. Such a powerful strategy appears in text after text throughout American literary history. Gothic strategies allow writers from the repressed class, race, or gender to transgress against the main discourse, th ereby providing a location of radical openness and possibility of communication (hooks 153) 1 In this sense, the Gothic opens a space not only to articulate the broken voice of suffering and pain, but also to produce a c ounter-hegemonic discourse. II. The Gothic and the Abject Such strategies, thus, have been used by writers from groups abjected by class, gender, and color in both British and American narratives, especially in the later half of twentieth century. Thes e writers expose the absurdity of the dominant discourse, creating a dynamic c ounter-discourse. Such powers of the Gothic are usefully considered in terms of what Julia Kristeva calls the abject 1 The Gothic strategy achieves what bell hooks ca lls for: speaking from the margin (152). hooks argues in her Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990) that the margin constitutes a site of resistance where the oppressed can speak up. She refuses to simply reverse the power hierarchy between the dominant and the dominated. Instead, she emphasizes the need to speak all that has been oppressed and silenced fr om the very site of the margin. For her, the margin is not the site where the repressed is forc ed to stay by the dominant party. It is a site of choice. It is a place which includes multiple voices (150). It is a community of resistance (147). The Gothic strategy becomes an effective vehicl e of contestation for the African-Americans marginalized or ab-jected position.
4 the repressed that constantly returns to disturb the boundary by which it is constituted. Kristeva explains the abjec t/abjection mainly with reference to the role of primary repression in human dev elopment. According to her, the human subject strives to establish an autonomous se lf-identity, and reacts to a threat to the seamless self-identity by casting off the threatening part. In this attempt to maintain a coherent self-identity the thr eatening part that is cast away becomes the abject. The abject is ex pressed in human reactions such as horror, or the discharge of vomit or excr ement that breaks through the boundary of outside and inside. As Kristeva explains, abjection is safe guards to protec t the self from a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilate me (2). In other words, through the abject, the I can find a fo rfeited existence (9). Bu t the abject has the tendency and power to transgress the boundaries th at an autonomous subject establishes by throwing off the abject. Thus the abjec t concerns what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect border s, positions, rules in Kristevas words (4). The abject also represents the threat of meaning breaking down. Thus, the abject becomes the source of horror. The abject disrupts the crucial defining line separating the subject from the objec t/Other and subverts the discrete units by which univocal meaning is constituted, Kristeva argues (69). Although Kristevas theor y of the abject originates in the process of subject formation, it is not limited to i ndividual experience. Kristevas theory is deeply indebted to Sigmund Freuds t heories of human development and repression, but Kristeva develops more social and cultural applications than Freud. Kristevas abjection theory prov ides a historical and sociological
5 explanation of social forma tion, in which a dominant party is able to constitute fundamental boundaries in human society. She explains t he abject as an archaic function which first establishes the boundaries between human and animal, male and female, or the cultured and the savage. Kristeva argues that since ancient times social development has repeated the pr ocess of abjection in an attempt to produce a seamless social identity. Th rough the abjection pr ocess, dominant discourses in history create and maintain boundaries between species, classes, sexes and races. For example, Kristeva explains how ancient society abjected women by defining the female experience of menstruation as dirty and defiling. Through this process, society was able to silence female existence and form an apparently seamless patriarchal society. The concept of the abject can be used to analyze the repressed in terms of race and class as well. Kristeva emphasizes that the abjection process is often broken or interrupted by the return of the abject-repressed. This return brings with it the power of subversion, the powers of horror. Because the presence of the abject betrays the artificiality and irrationality of social boundaries, it represents a danger to the self-identity of the dominant group. Its return reverses/interrupts t he abjection process operated by the selfsubject through the dominant discourse When the abject returns through the boundary, it often dons the form of a ghost or abnormal substance because it is not allowed within the border of the se lf-subject. It retu rns in a phobic, obsessional, psychotic guise, in Kristeva s words (11). In addition, its operation appears to be perverse in that the abject neither gives up nor assumes a
6 prohibition, a rule, or law (Kristev a 15). The abject abuses, misleads, and corrupts existing laws, using them for its profit, or turning them against themselves. Kristeva celebrates contempor ary literature which enacts a crossing over of the dichotomous categories of Pure and Impure, Prohibition and Sin, Morality and Immorality (16). Those text s often manifest a perverse strategy, Kristeva argues, in that they seem to despi se the abject and praise the social law and morals, yet they actually retrace the fragile limits of the speaking being by describing the abject (18). Such powers of the abject to stimulate horror are best manifested in Gothic discourse. The Gothic, by representing the abj ect's ghostly presence in society, raises questions concerning the "abnormalit ies" that the domi nant discourse has defined as such. To present a suitable ident ity in society, we would separate our unclean and perverse parts fr om our self and place such distortions at a definite, haunting distance from us. Gothic discour se resurrects these repressed desires in a ghostly form. In Gothic stories, the abject wields its greatest power in breaking down existing boundaries betw een normal and abnormal. The Gothic form creates a means of rel easing the Other's repressed desire, of exposing the existing boundary's falseness, and therefor e of destabilizing the entire social structure. Even when it ends with the re storation of the old order, Gothic discourse still implies the ability to im agine the abject and calls for a softening of [the oppressing power] (K risteva 18). This transgressive Gothic mechanism becomes a welcome tool for those whose identity has been repressed and silenced. My study will examine how, in the development of the Gothic as
7 counter-discourse, the abject is always working against the abjection process that is forcedly imposed (on it) by the dominant discourse. I will focus on how the racial abject crosses over the boundary of the white-privileged society/discourse in a ghostly form, and how the writers I study wield Gothic strategies to conjure up sites of resistance. The persistence of the Gothic in American literature and culture suggests its importance as a dynam ic, powerful, and secretly subversive narrative tool; the Gothic masks its aggressive attack against all discourses that abjectify its existence, conj uring a Frankenstein of different shapes in text after text. III. Race and the Gothic in American Literature American literary history presents the horrifying disj unctions of the Gothic mode in many different ways. In the per iod of Settlement America was struggling with the wilderness and trying to build its national identity as a new-born country. In this context the American Gothic became deeply involved with Americas experience in the new world and emer ging national consciousness. Early American sermons and documentations, including many sermons by John Winthrop and Jonathan Edwards, often m anifested somber Gothic elements. Indian captive narratives or early slav e narratives expressed the feeling of entrapment in a Gothic fashion. Charle s Brockden Brown is widely recognized as the first Gothic novelist of America. Washington Irvings The Sketch Book ( 181920) fashions the Gothic in a jovial spirit (Birkhead 202). Edgar Allan Poes short stories, including The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), show the strong
8 influence of the European Gothic, while Nathaniel Hawthornes Young Good Man Brown (1835) and The Scarlet Letter (1850) evoke horrors in the puritan tradition and early Amer ica. Herman Melvilles Mody Dick (1851) "Bartleby the Scrivener" (1853), and Benito Cereno (1856) reach into the Gothic depths of the new American psyche. Around the time of the American Civil War, Harriet Beecher Stowes Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly (1852) antebellum slave narratives, including on es by Frederick Douglass (1845) and Harriet Jacobs (1861), and the fiction of Mark Twain often find the source of horror in the racially-rooted institution of slavery. Later, emancipation and the Civil Right Movements open the possibility of articulating racially caused horrors. In the American south the so-called Sout hern Gothic explored a range of social issues in a genre unique to American literature in works by William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Flannery O'Connor. Following Charles W. Chestnutt, the African American writers who most dr amatically magnify the powers of Gothic horror in an American context are Zora Neale Hurs ton (1937), Ralph Ellison (1952), Alice Walker (1982), and Toni Morrison. In 1921 Edith Birkhead identified Char les Brockden Brown as the first Gothic writer of America, and subsequently critics have followed her lead. Varma and Day also discussed Brown, Poe, and Hawthorne as American Gothic novelists. However, these critics did not address specific features of the American Gothic as distinct from British Gothic. Leslie A. Fiedler was the first serious critic to notice the pervasive Go thic influence in America, arguing that American writing has always been influenced by Gothic images. According to
9 Fiedlers Love and Death in the American Novel (1966), Gothic fears and anxieties haunted and em powered American novels fr om the time of the Settlement struggles. Americas early ex perience in the New World was filled with hopes, dreams, and new beginnings, and Americas Promised Land" seemingly was not the place for unpleasant, dark stories. Yet to the settlers, the unseen, unexpected world also suggested uncertainty and unformed horrors. Their European origins gave rise to c onfused feelings, especially in their murderous struggles with native peoples. Unknown threats in the wilderness haunted the settlers, and their ambiguous relationships with Indians and blacks often evoked terror, which became a re curring theme essential to American literature 2 Thus, Fiedler maintains, the American Gothic became a metaphor for a terror already planted in Americas c onsciousness (29). Gothic effects and images have been internalized deeply within Americas great literature; they exposed the corrupt underside of the American Dream of male Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Following Fiedler, Louis S. Gross differentiates American and British Gothic, claiming that the former has always engaged itself in the national predilection for self-reflec tion. Invisible, unspecified ghosts symbolize EuroAmericans guilt about their treatment of Indians and blacks, and have haunted Euro-American literary works, as many critics agree. In frequent encounters with natives and blacks, the settlers struggled to establish controlling relationships; 2 Leslie Fiedler repeatedly refers to our struggle with Indians and blacks, including only EuroAmericans even while he is discussi ng the racial issues related to Gothic. Fiedlers choice of pronouns clearly reflects how the self-identified dominant American consciousness continues to be constituted around the collective identity of white Euro-Americans.
10 they needed to set safe boundaries between themselves and the other, between cultured and savage, between dominant and dominated, and between master and slave. In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1993), Toni Morrison offers an in-depth discu ssion of how early American literature specifically formulates literary blackne ss and literary whiteness. According to Morrison, the American Dream and Americ anness (ideologically identified with freedom, newness, and autonomy) could be achieved in Gothic literature through expelling and transferring fear, insecuri ty, and terror into a symbolized blackness existing outsidethe Africanist persona. In other words, the Gothic is used to expel the Euro-Americans fear and insecurity from their consciousness. Therefore, Morrison emphasizes, the Euro-Americans autonomy and freedom could not be constituted without the pr esence of Africanist people. Early European American literature, which urgently wished to build and forge a national identity, projected the early settlers inner terror and inse curities into the form of an outside black body, blackness, the Not-me, and the abject, which needed to be expelled from a secure, freed border. Early American literature established the binary color imagery through which white privilege was forged in the new culture, and scientific ideology in the nineteenth century rationalized and reinforc ed this racism. Especially after the end of legalized slavery, the discourses of natural science served to shore up racial inequality. When Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservati on of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life in 1859, the idea that human traits were heritable yet mutable initially caused
11 a sensation and created confusion. But a few years later in Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (1883), Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwins, demonstrated that genetic features c an pass down through generations and introduced the term eugenics to designat e the science of race improvement. Galton and the eugenicists were convince d that social inequality was a demonstration of the natural order and a result of evolution. Eugenics promoted the mathematical measurem ent of "desirable traits and the suppression of those deemed undesirable through selective breeding and sterilization. In effect, the eugenics movement sought to engineer a scientifically rationalized process of national abject ion. Biologists like Charles White concluded that different skull sizes and sex organs were genetic and inherited, that blacks and whites belonged to separ ate species. The biologist Georges Cuvier asserted that the black was the most degraded of human races; and Louis Agassiz also saw the blacks as a genetically inferior separate species. In the name of science, these biologists just ified racist ideology and (re-)organized social hierarchy as legalized slavery had done in the prior century. Eugenia Delamotte emphasizes that Gothic revivals in Britain and the U.S. between 1765 and 1850 paralle led the period when concepts of race were established as biological, essential proper ties classifying humankind. In White Terror, Black Dreams, Gothic Constructions of Race in the Nineteenth Century (2004), Delamotte illustrates that biologi cal discourses in the nineteenth century marked off a dark mysterious Otherness from a normative c oherent white self. She argues that
12 the major conventions of (Anglo) Gothic consist of barriers and boundaries (veils, cowls, precip ices, secret doors, looked mysterious chests, massive gates, convent walls, bed curtains, and so on) between a stable, definable unitary self and a terrifying Other that both challenges and ultima tely establishes that very stability and definability. (25-26) The Anglo-Gothic novel therefore operates as a document in the history of racial formation and the construction of whitenes s (White Terror 19). In discussing the period from Ann Radcliffe to Herm an Melville, DeLamotte examines the Anglo-Gothic's reaffirmation of the raci al line and the concept ion of the dark, sexual, bestial, racial Others." This Goth ic discourse, furthe rmore, explores the assumptions upon which the scientific discourse is based, and exposes the horrific consequences of Western rati onalism. The Gothic often revives irrational superstitions like conjure (magic in a positive mode) and exposes the irrationality/absurdity of Western rat ionalized discourse. Gothic discourse, thereby, empowers the ones that the rationalized world of eugenics classified as inferior and animalistic traits, and sugges ts the possible transgression of these biologically determined boundaries. Even though the early American Gothic often de monized the racial Other, Gothic images have been repeatedly employed in American literature to expose the horrors of slavery, especially in antebellum slave narratives and novels. Harriet Beecher Stowes story, Uncle Toms Cabin (1852), condemns slavery by introducing the horrific picture of the pl antation and its brutal treatment of the
13 poor and benign slave, Uncle Tom. Frederick Douglass Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845) deploys Gothic conventions to describe demonic overseers and terrible systems, while Harriet A. Jacobss Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) uses Gothic imagery such as her story of an innocent girl striving to keep herself from her lecherous master and hiding for seven years in an attic. I believe that the Gothic wielded its maximum power of subversion after the Civil War. Late nineteenth century Goth ic literature often broke the black stereotypes and articulated long-hidden, lo ng-buried historical struggle and pain. In the last chapter of her Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation, Teresa A. Goddu discusses how Harriet Jacobs manipulates Gothic conventions to haunt back by staging her resistance (148). Discussing the caged slave image in Crevecieurs Letters from an American Farmer through Frederic Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, Goddu rereads the Gothic in historical context, concluding that the later American Gothic has served as a useful mode in which to resurrect and resist Americas racial history (152). I agree with Goddus hi storicizing of the Gothic in a political, cultural context. He r reading also verifies the intertextual relation of the Gothic and the accelerating power of Gothic strategies throughout American literary history. Goddus compelling argument about haunting back to the dominant racist discourse or national narrative does not pursue its discussion beyond antebellum slave narratives, however, nor does it explain precisely what strategies or features of the Gothic enable some writers to haunt back the dominant discourse.
14 My study will focus on later developm ent of the Gothic in America, identifying the Gothic strategy not only as a release of pain and trauma but also as a means of exposing the existi ng systems absurdity and symbolically reversing the master-slave dynamic. For African-Americans, Gothic strategies function positively and actively. Gothic discourses are forged into aggressive strategies to expose racial myths from the postbellum period through the present. Although Reconstruction ended up reinstati ng racist violence and oppression, the period opened a window for the racially repressed to fight back though such masked writings. I will argue that Gothics subversive strategies contest the historical contradiction of slavery that has undermined Americas idealized identity. IV. Gothic Strategies in Charles C hesnutt, Toni Morrison and Mark Twain African-American writers have used Goth ic strategies to express their sense of imprisonment and hopelessness in the racist cu lture of America (Gross, 65) to articulate the unspeakable, and to resurrect the unvoiced ghostly presence of African-Americans in official American history. The repeated returns of the black-abject 3 in Americas history have developed and accelerated the 3 My use of the black-abject implies a double meaning. In a social and cultural concept, the black abject refers to the image of African-Amer icans that has been shaped by white abolitionists and white supremaciststhe exiled African-American Ot her that is thrown off from the center of power. The historical change and development of such images is discussed in Jean Fagan Yellins research on the Woman and Sister emblem of a kneeling female slave pleading for freedom. According to Yellin in Women and Sisters: The Anti-Slavery Feminists in American Culture (1990), the antislavery feminists popularized t he emblem in the 1830s-1840s, so that they could create a counter-discourse against the patriar chal racist code, relating the enchained the black womanhood to confined white womanhood in nineteenth century. However, the popularity of the emblem produced many variations, the signification of which was reversed by the
15 power of the horrifying genre. In writers like Charles Ch esnutt and Toni Morrison, whose work I will examine in this study Gothic narratives become a site of resistance and a pathway through which the abject haunts back to the center. In addition, in the work of the Euro-Ameri can writer Mark Twain the Gothic also appears as a site of resistance to the dom inant discourse, but as I will discuss, Twains text is far more ambivalent in its deployment of the Gothic. Twain is not African-American like the ot her authors in this study, but it is meaningful to examine the Gothic strategies in this canonical writers often ignored novel, The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson To some degree, Twains position as a white male writer popular in t he nineteenth centur y limited his power to expand the subversive use of the Gothic strategy. Yet, Puddnhead Wilson does delineate a powerful picture both of a fe male slaves tactical, subv ersive use of the Gothic narrative, as well as of a Reconstruction era not-yet-ready to register the major trespassing of racial and gender boundaries. According to Shelley Fisher Fishkin and Twains autobiography, Twain often reco llected a time from his childhood when he sneaked out to a slave cabin to lis ten to a slaves ghost stories, whose rhetorical powers he realized only later 4 His understanding of Gothic rhetoric canonical authors and their works, Yellin argues. The canonical writers use of the emblem to reinforce the patriarchal order manifests the abj ection process of the dominant discourse. In attempting to sustain the existing order, they redefined the meaning of the image and abjected the African-American female outside their seamless system. Through such processes, AfricanAmerican images in white American culture were constituted as the abjec t. However, where Yellin stops her analysis of the abjected image of Af rican-Americans, the double meaning of the blackabject arises. Using the abjected position as a Go thic strategy, many writ ers, especially AfricanAmerican writers, have attempted to reverse a nd subvert the abjection process effected by the dominant culture or discourse. The black-abject tends to return and blur the boundary and regulation that throw them out. The black-abjec t, therefore, becomes the effective site of resistance in a racist discourse. 4 Shelley Fisher Fishkin in A Historical Guide to Mark Twain says that Twain was very impressed by black storytellers, and would emulate the le ssons in storytelling and satire he learned from
16 truly illuminates Puddnhead Wilson, where the Gothic wields subversive power against nineteenth century slave-holding America. Twains white-skinned black slave heroine, Roxana, exemplifies the black slaves rhetorical, maternal, secret Gothic power that the dominant culture fears. Defined as the lowest class in society because of her gender and race, Roxana is invisible and silenced. Yet she fashions a Gothic fiction that lets loose all the possibilities of the unknown and undoes the racial hierarchies of the town. However, in the end Twain seems to hol d a divided attitude toward his own heroines subversive powers. The novels conclusion recuperates Roxanas subversion and restores the st atus quo. In this sense Puddnhead Wilson mirrors white Americas ambiguous attitude about race in the later part of the century. If Twains Roxana fails to complete her subversive story, Charles Chesnutts Julius, an old black ex-slave, wie lds the full strength of the Gothic in The Conjure Woman (1899). Chesnutt, the first Afric an American fiction writer to earn a national reputation, main ly wrote the life of the South, inte rracial relation, and passing in late nineteenth cent ury. Although Chesnutt published three novels, a biography of Frederick Dougla ss, and dozens of short stories and essays, his first collection of conjure stories, The Conjure Woman, is more often discussed than any of his writing. Its in tricate frame narration allows the black former slave narrator Julius to undercut the dominant discourses of his time. Each story starts with t he Yankee investor Johns in quiry regarding his business them: He was tremendously struck by the storyt elling talents of Uncle Danl, a slave at his uncles farm . in a letter Twain wrote about him in 1881, he recalled the impressive pauses and eloquent silences of Uncle Danls impressive delivery. (133)
17 concern, leading to Juliuss telling t he corresponding antebellum story to John and his wife Annie. So, Juliuss conjure stories are framed by Johns narrative. Using this frame narrative, Chesnutt ca refully contrasts Johns rationalized, scientific narration with Juliuss irrational Gothic storytelling. He stages the narration between John and Julius as a power struggle to form and control the definition of the wo rld. Yet Juliuss story receives most attention and more credibility from readers. His conjure tales disrupt Johns justified and rationalized world, enabling Julius to obtain control over the frame story. I focus on seven stories which were published in 1899: The Goophered Grapevine, Po Sandy, Sis Beckys Pi caninny, Mars Jimmys Nightmare, The Grey Wolf Hant, and The Conjurer s Revenge. I also include short discussions on Tabes Tribulation and Dav es Neckliss which were added to the collection later. I give more full discu ssion on The Dumb Witness in the later half of the chapter. The Dumb Witness exhibits one of the strongest characters among Juliuss conjure tales, Viney, who overturns the masters tool in order to destroy her master. Viney, a former slave, manifests the essence of the Gothic abject: punished because she tells stories on her master, she uses the same tool of oppression, the ability of speaki ng, to subvert the master-slave dynamic. The Conjure Woman became a ground work articulating the AfricanAmerican presence through inarticulate Gothic sounds and imagery, to be followed by many writers works duri ng the New Negro Renaissance and later. Sterling A. Brown points out that Chesnutt presents Negro characters who were more than walking arguments or exotic oddities (126). In the works of African-
18 American writers including Zora Neal e Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright, the Gothic-abject continuously returns to the surface. Hurstons Their Eyes Are Watching God (1937), Wrights Native Son (1940), and Ellisons Invisible Man (1952) feature alienated AfricanAmerican characters and their ghostly voices. The protagonists first monologue in Invisible Man summarizes the ghostly presence of African-Americans in racist culture: I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those w ho haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substanc e, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because peop le refuse to see me (1). This statement articulates the voice of t he abject that has been oppressed in the Gothics racist use in history. He conf esses that he, as a black man, has been faded into, repressed to, and Gothicized as a caricatured ghost by whiteprivileged society. He was oppressed to be in visible in society. When only visible, he is identified with a monstrous bei ng in literature or mass media. Even though Gothic strategies ar e frequently employed by African American writers, critics didnt pay much attention to the Gothic or its effects in African American literature until the 1980s. Joseph Bodzio ck, in Richard Wright and Afro-American Gothic, argues that Richard Wright tries to show how the white mythology uses the Gothic to sustain its domination and rewrites the American Gothic mode to suit an Afro-A merican context when he allows the Gothic form to reveal the emotional and mystical entrapment that possessed both blacks and whites (35). Kathleen Br ogan mentioned the haunted narratives
19 of August Wilson, Morrison and Gloria Naylor in American Stories of Cultural Haunting: Tales of Heir s and Ethnographers (1995). Erik Curren examined in Should Their Eyes Have Been Watching God?: Hurstons Use of Religious Experience and Gothic Horro r (1995) how Hurstons Their Eyes are Watching God brings Gothic horror. G oddus attempts to historiciz e the Gothic also enable her to observe the subversi ve use of the Gothic in Gothic America Jerrold E. Hogle points out the features off the Goth ic tradition most essential to African American history in Teaching the Afri can American Gothic: From Its Multiple Sources to Linden Hills and Beloved published in Approaches to Teaching Gothic Fiction: The British and American Traditions (2003, 215). Henry Louis Gates, Jr.s rediscovery and publication of The Bondwomans Narrative in 2001 also evokes many critics interest s in the entrapped image of the Gothic. I argue that Toni Morrison is the writer who most fully exploits the subversive power of the Gothic, using it to deconstruct the mythology of whitemale centered society and to evoke the African-American presence that has been abjected in white-privileged cult ure. In Morrisons novels, black communities are often very intimate and have surreal and bizarre atmospheres, her characters being accustomed to livi ng in a world where the ordinary seems out of reach. Such communities offset and interrogate the rational principle of Western dominant discourse. So as to speak the unspeakable, Morrison must create the untouched, unreal, and uncanny place where she can summon the abject which has once been repressed. Speaking the unspeakable is taboo because it reveals the most irrational, unnatural reality/natur e of the dominant
20 discourse. To speak the unspeakable and to summon the abject, Morrison creates an alternative place with alter nate language, using the Gothic as a site between death and life, a site of the in-between. Morrisons first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), creates a grotesque, yet realistic world, ultimately subverting an American myth that violently abjects a black girl until she becomes a ghost a lienated both from society and herself. Morrison juxtaposes the perfect world of the Dick and Jane prim er with the world of the black girl, Pecola Breedlove, and her family: her father Cholly and her mother Pauline. Pecolas family reac ts to and consumes the whiteness myth smeared in the Dick-and-Jane pr imer and pervasive in American culture. Pecola wants blue eyes; Pauline seeks an image of herself as the movie star Jean Harlow and later as an orderly housemai d for a white family; Cholly at once pursues love and decides to be free from all social engagement and responsibility. The ways in which the Breedl oves deal with the white myth force them to become silent and invisible ghosts in the society where they live. The black community also internalizes hatr ed of their own blackness by demonizing the Breedloves as dirt and by throwing them off of the town. By separating themselves from the Breedloves and t he whores, the black community repeats the abjection process that whiteness mythology performs on the community. Thrown out of her own community, Peco la becomes the abjec t of the abject. However, Morrisons narrating power br ings the ghostly presences of the Breedloves and Pecola into the focus of the story. Morrisons circ ular pattern plot, multiple narrating voices, and use of speakerly, aural, colloquial language
21 creates an alternative di scourseher way to speak (or un-speak) the unspeakable. Moreover, the main narrator Claudia McTeers uncertain memory mixes the true and the false, fact and imagination. Such narration not only reveals the truth of the s econd slavery after desegregati on, but it also subverts white ideology by deliberately defamiliarizing the Dick and Jane story with the eradication of punctuation and spacing in her preface. Through such devices, Morrison reconstitutes a new-found black voice in the novel. This power of reconstructing the ghostly voice is maximized in Beloved (1987), in which Morrison rec ounts the journey of an ex-s laves reconciliation with the past. The dominant discourse, repr esented by Schoolteacher, Mr. Garner, and Sweet Home, names Sethe subhuman and animal. Such naming justifies Sethes position as slave, using the syst em and symbolic languag e that Kristeva (after Jacques Lacan) called the Law-of-theFather. Against her white master's repression and definition, Sethe keeps resi sting and finally escapes, crossing the river that symbolizes the boundary of slavery and freedom and of life and death. Her greatest resistance, however, is mani fested when her white master hunts her down to bring her and her children back to his system and order (that is, to slavery): she kills her baby at t he boundaries between slav ery and freedom and chooses to live in death, haunted by the baby ghost. I will focus on Sethes strategic but deadly act of infanticide, which scares away the white masters, and will explore how the novel Beloved defines the Gothic world as real and how Morrison uses this world to illustrate t he repressed consciousness of the AfricanAmerican presence. All Afri can-American characters in the novel accept the
22 haunting of Sethes house as true and acc ept Beloved, the (ghostly) incarnation of Sethes dead baby, as real. The novel even gives its ghost a body and a voice. When Beloved returns from death, she becomes the abject, transgressing the boundaries between matter and mind, bet ween life and death, and between subject and object. Beloveds ghostly pres ence in the black community pits her against the rational master narrative--par ticularly her existence on the border between life and deathboth symbo lically and psychologically. IV. Conclusion Literary history has shunned and abject ed the Gothic as an inferior genre even though Gothic images are prevalent in both Euroand African-American literature. This abjected, exiled genre tends to keep retuning as a ghostly form in American literature. The persistence of the genre relies upon its subversive use of Gothic strategy. The subversiveness of the Gothic in American literature and culture suggests its importance as a dynam ic, powerful, and secretly subversive narrative strategy; the Go thic masks its aggressive attack against all discourses that abjectify its existence, conjuring a Frankenstein of different shapes in text after text. By recovering those distur bing texts and by discussing the Gothic's alternative account of Americ an literature and history, this dissertation searches for the possibility and power of the Gothic strategy as a legitimate communicative discourse in American society.
23 Chapter II The Gothic as Abject in Mark Twains The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson According to Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson 5 (1894) is a kind of conjure novel 6 which intruded on and distorted hi s original intention. In the introduction to his story Those Extraordinary Twins, Twain describes what he calls a kind of literary Caesarean operat ion (119) relating to the genesis of Puddnhead Wilson While writing the story, Twain realized that a short tale had grown into a long tale, and a farce had split into a tragedy, so that the two stories obstructed and interrupted each other at every turn and created no end of confusion and annoyance (119) Therefore, Twain says he pulled one of the stories out by the roots and left the other onea kind of literary Csarean operation (119). He had intended to write a brief farce called Those Extraordinary Twins, but in stead Puddnhead Wilson and Roxana, originally the peripheral characters, pushed up into prominence a young fellow named Tom 5 Mark Twain read about so-called Siamese twins on December 12, 1891, inspiring him to write a story about them. Twain began to write the novel in summer, 1892. The first manuscript of the novel was not published although the revised version was serialized on the Century Magazine between December 1893 and June 1894. Puddnhead Wilson was published in November 1899, along with Those Extraordinary Twins Quotations in this chapter come from Puddnhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins. Ed. Sidney E. Berger. New York and London: Norton, 1980. 6 I use the term conjure novel as a novel emphasizing on the gothic strategy to summon the abject and to write its story. I will explain more about the word conjure in the next chapter.
24 Driscoll, and before the book was half fini shed, those three characters took over a tale which they had nothing at all to do with, by right (120). Roxana, Wilson, and Tom usurped Twains authorship and c onjured up a tragic Gothic plot. Twains composition proce ss mirrors another conjuration inside the novel. Roxana conjures her own Gothic plot and a m onstrous character which threatens the white-privil eged society of Dawsons L anding and counteracts its dominant discourse. Roxanas Gothic ficti on bestows a new identity and privilege upon her son Tom and subverts the existing racial hierarchy operated by law and custom. Roxanas ability to construct a Gothic scenario creates a counterdiscourse, exposing the laws and cust oms of Dawsons Landing as socially constructed fictions, not the self-evident, r easonable principles they purport to be. Roxanas Gothic fiction thereby affords her some release from her status as a slave woman, conjuring up the Tom-monster that evokes horror and fear in the town. The upheaval caused by her conjurat ion comes to an end, however, when Puddnhead Wilson, a white la wyer, devises a scientific, rationalized way to reestablish race. With this, Roxanas pl ot is demolished, and she collapses. Her revolutionary scheme is frustrated by Wilsons rationalization, and the white social order is recovered and refortified. Roxanas failed attempt to challenge the slave-holding town reflects the failure of Reconstruction; Twains disappointment in the period, as well as his own ambivalent racial politics, dr ove him to frustrate Roxanas plan, pulling her back down to t he level of a slave. While Roxanas rebellious characteristics, of course, reflec t Twains criticism over racist culture of nineteenth century America, Twains struggling authorship described by Twain
25 himself, epitomizes his ambiguous consci ousness on his contemporary racist discourse, rather than the cl ear intents of countering i t. Textual tension between rebellious characters and Twain also symbolizes the inner struggle to compromise his identity as a popular Euro -American writer and his responsibility as a social critic. Roxanas foiled plot in Puddnhead Wilson embodies Twains pessimistic commentary on Reconstruction in an uncanny way. Even though Puddnhead Wilson is set in a pre-Civil War slaveholding town, the novels implications clearly resonate beyond the pre-Civil War era amid t he issues of the Reconstruction era. The textual critic Robert Moss denies that Twain intended to write social criticism. Rather, Moss cites Twains letter to Fred J. Hall in 1892 as proof that Twain intended to write a fast-pac ed, popular story in order to compensate for recent financial losses. While it is true that Twain began the stor y for a financial purpose, as he wrote in the preface to Those Ex traordinary Twins, his original intent changed during the writing process. It is also hard to believe that a social critic like Twain ignored the most impor tant issues of the time when he wrote this novel. During the period when the novel was written and published, racism was at a peak in the South. In 1865 slavery had been abolished, and African Americans in theory acquired many civil rights. Howe ver, the Reconstruction era ended with the Hayes-Tilden compromise (1876) 7 which destroyed all efforts to empower 7 The Hayes-Tilden compromise was an agreement between Democrats and Republicans to resolve the presidential election of 1876. Sout hern Democrats agreed to support a Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, if he in turn would su pport increased funding for Southern internal improvements and agree to end Reconstruction. This meant white control in the South and reversal of all gains that blacks had obtained during Reconstruction. For further details, refer to C.
26 blacks and instead restored a vicious racial hierarchy. Soon the Jim Crow segregation laws were institutionalized and African Americans, disenfranchised throughout the South, becam e victims of escalating racial violence. According to David Lionel Smiths research, the racism of the 1890s was extreme: 235 lynchings occurred in 1892 when Twain b egan to write the novel; 200 in 1893; and 190 in 1894 when the nov el was published. The infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case 8 was in progress until the Supreme Court decided the equal, but separate principle in 1896. Eric J. Sundquist, in To Wake the Nations: Race in the Maki ng of American Literature (1993) argues that Puddnhead Wilson mirrors the authoritative cons titutional expression in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (228) Merit Kaschig says in hi s Vice Breeds Crime: The Germs of Mark Twains Puddnhead Wilson (2002) that Puddnhead Wilson is the fictionalized version of Americ as nineteenth century plutocracy (52). According to Kaschig, Wilson is a refo rmer of the moral corruption at the fin-desicle John Carlos Rowe (1982) argues in Fatal Speculations: Murder, Money, and Manners in Pudd'nhead Wilson (1990) that Twain addresses institutional issues of political economy, theo logy, and government, and that Dawsons Landing exists at the intersection of an older America and the aggressive society Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 52-53; John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 277-81; and Jerrold M. Packard, American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow, 60-62. 8 The Plessy v. Ferguson case (1892-96) challenged the Jim Crow statute that required racially segregated seating on trains in the state of Loui siana; it was passed after Homer Plessy, who was one-eighth Negro and could pass as white, claime d his right to ride in the seats for whites in 1893. For further reference on the case, see Plessy v. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537 (1896); Keith Weldon Medleys We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson. Gretha: Peliean, (2003); Heather Cox Richardsons The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901. Cambridge and London: Harvard IP, 2001. 220-21; and F. James Davis. Who is Black: One Nations Definition. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1991. 8-11, 42-47.
27 of the post-Civil War period. In By Right of the White Election: Political Theology and Theological Politics in Pudd'nhead Wilson .(1990), Michael Cowan also notes the complex interplay bet ween politics and theology in Dawsons Landing. Wilson C. McWilliams (1990) l ooks into democratic ideology and American history in P udd'nhead Wilson on Democrat ic Governance. Gregg Crane reads Puddnhead Wilson as a satire of Jim Crow positivism in his article, Black Comedy: Black Citizenship and Jim Cr ow Positivism. (2002, 300). Smith, in Mark Twain, Pretexts, Iconoclasm (2005), explores Tw ains rhetorical approach and the duality that enables him to remain a popular writer and white cultural icon while he mocks the same cu lture and race. As t hese critics agree, Puddnhead Wilson reflects the situation of the Reconstruction era. As Reconstruction represented an attempt to reintegrate the South after the Civil War and give blacks a more secure place in society, so Roxanas transposition of the babies identities chall enges the existing racial hierarchy, giving her baby a new identity in Dawsons Landing. The fa ct that Roxanas plot is thwarted by Wilsons scientific proof parallels t he way the Reconstruction era ended with aggravated racism and without fundam ental change to the dominant white supremacist ideology of America. Twains perspective does not seem to be identified with the white lawyer Wilson in the novel. It is reflected, ra ther, in the desperate yet powerful slave Roxana and her plot, which secretly pushes the social structure to the edge of destruction and horror. Since the first appearance of the novel in November 1894, many critics have agreed that Twains portr ayal of Roxana is compelling and that
28 her character possesses tremendous power A contemporary anonymous reviewer from The Athenaeum wrote that [t] he best thing in Puddnhead Wilson is the picture of the Negr o slave Roxana (215). Bernar d de Voto also describes her as memorably true and faithful in Mark Twains America (1932, 219). F. R. Leavis wrote in Mark Twain's Neglect ed Classic: the Moral Astringency of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1956) that her presence is a triumphant indication of life (238). In Mark Twain, the Development of a Writer, Henry Nash Smith argues that Roxana is "the only fully developed char acter, in the novelistic sense, in the book" (179). James Cox also calls her the pr imary force in the world she serves in Mark Twain: the Fate of Humor (1966, 262). Carolyn Porter in Roxanas Plot (1990), focuses on Roxanas subversive power as a black mother. But whether critics defend or attack Twains portrayal of Roxana, they virt ually all recognize the dark, secretive side of her power which evokes a sinister spirit in the novel. Puddnhead Wilson conjures up the revolutionary potent ial of Gothic in the figure of Roxana. More accurately, it is Roxana s perverse nature as a figure of the abject in Julia Kristevas sense that enables her to recognize the social, cultural boundary of race as a fiction of law and cu stom, not a substant ive line, thereby allowing her to write a Gothic story in which her own son functions as a monstrous figure, collapsing racial classi fications. Roxanas transgression of the racial line gives her a subversive power and releases a secret horror in the white patriarchal slaveholding society becaus e it shakes the racist foundation upon which the social system operates.
29 Even though the novel manifests a s ubversive and sinister scheme, few critics have noted the presenc e of Gothic elements in Puddnhead Wilson Those few who did so did not fully explore the us e of Gothic strategy, instead attributing the novels dark mood to Twains fi nancial bankruptcy and his growing doubts about human nature 9 Leslie Fiedler was the first cr itic to note Twains Gothic themes in Puddnhead Wilson In The Blackness of Darkness: The Negro and the Development of American Gothic, Fiel der reads the novel as a dark mirror image of the world and as Twains most Gothic book (92). Fiedler also emphasizes the absence of the river toward the North in Puddnhead Wilson as in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, saying that there is no way to escape that drift downward toward darkness to which the accident of birth has doomed [Roxana] and her son (As Free as Any Cretur 16). Robert Regan in Unpromising Heroes: Mark Twain and His Characters (1966) says that Puddnhead Wilson is chaotic and grotesque (207). Arthur Pettit also calls the novel semi-comic grotesque in The Black and White Curse: Puddnhead Wilson and Miscegenation (1974, 144). Justine D. Edwards offers more detail about Twains Gothic devices in the introduction of his Gothic Passages: Radical Ambiguity and the American Gothic (2003), explaining that Roxana uses the Gothic discourses of ambiguous racial di fference (xxvii). He also describes Toms passing as white as a repetition of the Gothic theme of the double. 9 John Carlos Rowe says in Fatal Spec ulations: Murder, Money, and Manners in Pudd'nhead Wilson that the novel is a product of Twains deterministic views (163). Dorothy Berkson also points out in Mark Twains Two-Headed Novel: Racial Symbolism and Social Realism in Puddnhead Wilson (1985) that Puddnhead Wilson is a symbolic working out of the idea of the foreordained nature of moral identity (314). Peter Messent argues in Toward the Absurd: Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee, Pudd'nhead Wilson and The Great Dark. (1985) that it is Twains move toward the Absurd in his later works, and it exposes the absurdity of social values (176).
30 Edwards argument is compelling, but his discussion is no longer than three pages. In addition, Edwards concludes that Roxanas action is based on racial essentialism, and he focuses mainly on Toms double identity. Edwards discussion limits the Gothic strategy to bi-racial characters and leaves out the complexity of Roxanas plot and her pos ition as the social ly-defined abject. My study considers Roxanas act as a strat egic deployment of Gothic to conjure a deformed and revolutionary creature in the nineteenth century American context. I will also argue that Roxana s plot damages to some degree Wilsons scientific witchcraft as s een in his restoration of the racist social order at the end of the narrative 10 In this connection I briefly examine the complexity and ambiguity of Twains position on racial issues. The novel begins with the description of Dawsons Landing as sleepy and comfortable and contented, imp licitly evoking the repressi ve racial situation in nineteenth century America (4). Undi sturbed and undisrupted, Dawsons Landing seems a stable, problem-fr ee town. It was fifty y ears old, and was growing slowlyvery slowly, in fact, but still it was growing (4). Dawsons Landing appears to be a peaceful place where people cherish honor, gentility, and respect. The first citizens of this res pectable town are the First Families of Virginia (F.F.V.)including Percy Northumberland Driscoll, Judge York Leicester Driscoll, Pembroke Howard, and Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex. The narrator emphasizes that all are gentlemen. Judge Driscoll is fine, and just, and generous (4); Pembroke Howard is also a f ine, brave, majestic creature who is 10 I will explain how Wilson operates witchcraft later in this chapter.
31 a gentleman proved by the Virginian rule (4). The F.F.V. represents the moral standards and values of Dawsons Landing. Its members also are the political leaders of the town. This opening description conclude s, however, with the one-sentence declaration: Dawsons Landing was a sl aveholding town, with a rich slaveworked grain and pork country back of it (4). Thus while Dawsons Landing appears to be a pleasant, peaceful place, it is a moral wasteland based on an inhumane institution. The narrator says th at houses are whitewashed, a fact which in turn was almost concealed by beautiful flowers (4, italics mine). Beneath the placid surface is a repress ed discord. The town has a definite, hierarchal borderline between black slaves and white ma sters; all wealth and pleasures are based on slaves sacrifice and work, Twain implies. Yet Dawsons Landing seems proud of its c ultivated and honorable version of slavery; townspeople compare it to the inhumane kind of slavery practiced down the river. White townspeople use the threat of selling their slaves down the river to control them. Their benevolent slavery, compared to down the river slavery, makes townspeople feel noble and gracious, Twains narrator says (12). On the night Percy Driscoll, one of the F.F.V., generously sells his slaves in the town instead of down the river, he feels so proud that he writes about the incident in his diary, so his son might read it a fter years and be thereby moved to deeds of gentleness and humanity himself (12). He feels like a god who stretched forth his mighty hand and closed the gates of hell against [the slaves]. He knew, himself, that he had done a noble and gracious thing (12). Their beliefs about
32 their practice of slavery as contrasting with practices down the river provide the white townspeople with a sense of identity filled with fake honor and dignity. In Dawsons Landing, no white person questi ons the institution of slavery. The towns pretentious attitude is not limited only to slavery. Their relation to outsiders also reflects a single-minded, self-satisfied spirit, expressed in their fascination with Europe, as when they init ially welcome the Capello, the Italian twins. But in fact, this welcome is based on marking the twins as the bizarre, exotic Other. The town thinks that the twins title of Count and their exotic stories will endow the town with glamour and a higher status. Aunt Patsy, their landlord, is proud of showing off her fine foreign birds before her neigh bors and friends, and the white townspeople come to see t hese aliens like exotic creatures in a zoo. The twins arrival is an exotic occasion that excites the dull conversation in the town. The whites overwhelming we lcome of the Italian twins seems to contrast with David Wilsons entrance into the town. Yet Wilson, like the twins, is also branded as an outsider longer than twenty years after his arrival. The townspeople isolate him due to a joke they cant understand because it passes over their heads. As a result, Wilson lives isolated and with a new, mocking nickname, Puddnhead. Wilsons fate showcases the townspeoples strong hatred toward the East. They feel insulted by different jokes and customs. So it is not surprising that Toms choice of Eastern fashion filled everybody with anguish and was regarded as a peculiarly want on affront (24). Anything different from the towns norm is marked as ex otic, abnormal, or wrong. Dawsons Landing is proud of its code of social norms and customs represen ted by F.F.V. It
33 is a homogeneous community where everyone respects the same values and is bound by familial relation and affection; it is like the sivilized place from which Huck Finn escapes. The prevailing attitude of the F.F.V. in Dawsons Landing is one of exclusion, a division of us and them. As Pederson points out, the white townsfolk only [speak] from the subjec t-position and promote the social code represented by the F.F.V. ( 181). In other words, the town repeatedly performs the abjection process, protec ting us the town from anything different or strange. Dawsons Landing can be compared to a Gothic castle haunted by unacknowledged racism, corruption, and hypocrisy. However, its self-conception is ridiculed by the introduction of Roxana early in the novel. A beautiful slave girl, Roxana is ethnically hybrid with a white appearance. From her manner of speech, we read, a stranger would have expected her to be black. But she was not (8). Her identity is not from her skin; her identity is only visible through her language and demeanor. Only one-sixteenth of her was black and that sixteenth did not show (8 ). Roxana is as white as anybody but one-sixteenth of her which was black out-voted the other fifteen parts and made her a Negro (8-9). Roxanas invisibly mixed blood matters not at all to her cultural, social, or legal identity. She is a Negro, and she constantly has to face everyday threats of beatings and of being sold down the river. Roxanas white skinned appearances manifest th e ambiguous distinction of race. She is defined only by a fiction of law and custom, which means that racial categories so defined function as a rhetoric that enforce s slavery (9). Officially, in Dawsons Landing there exist only two racial ca tegories, but Roxanas white appearance
34 blurred the clear separation between t he races essential to American race slavery in Susan Gillmans words (91). To make the bl urred distinction invisible in the slaveholding society, it is crucia l to create a mythical law and custom of drawing the bi-racial border line between black and white, slave and master, free and bond, inside and outside. Roxana, in this sense, stages American race relations. Her diluted black blood is the result of successive generatio ns of miscegenation; her sons dilution to one thirty-second is the further result of her secret union with Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex, one of the respectable F.F.V. Her own and her sons fair skin constitutes an irremovable proof of white mens interracial crimes. Yet Dawsons Landing is not disturbed. As long as t he fiction of law and custom conceals unmistakably visible signs of miscegenatio n by defining Roxana and her son as blacks and slaves, the town remains calm and peaceful. The regular crossing of the color line for the purpose of gratifying white male desires is an established, though unacknowledged, in stitution, completely integr ated into the equilibrium of the community. It is part of the foundation of racism and slavery in Dawsons Landing. Generations of white masters ra ping their slaves have, ironically, bestowed upon Roxana the power to cro ss the conventional color line because of her white appearance. When Roxanas master Percy Driscoll, threatens to sell his slaves down the river, she sees her opportunity to becom e the author of her own fate. After repeated thefts in his househ old, Percy Driscoll had pressured his slaves to confess by threatening to sell t hem all down the river. This phrase, as
35 the narrator explains, is equivalent to condemning them to hell. No Missouri Negro doubted this (12). It symbolizes slavery as social death, in Orlando Pattersons words 11 In the antebellum era, slaves lived under the continuing death threat to which they were nonet heless socially condemned. The master could kill or sell a slave at any time; a slaves life was always contingent on the masters decision. This condition also applies to their status in Dawsons Landing. In Puddnhead Wilson this deadly condition is identif ied with the threat posed by Percy Driscoll. Upon Driscolls threat, Roxana realizes that her very life and that of her son are permanently conditional: a possible death sentence can be bestowed or revoked at the masters will. This situation takes possession of Roxana with a profound terror (13). She realizes that her child could grow up and be sold down the river at any time! The thought crazed her with horror (15). This sharply-drawn moment in Twains text epitomizes the meaning of abjection, constituting the slaves state as a ki nd of living death or death-in-living. Confronting rejection and expulsion, Roxana finds a way of avoiding this social death. Understanding t hat her life as a slave is predicated on a threat of death, Roxana at first grasps power over her life and that of her child by deciding to end them both. She prefers death to her fate under slavery. She stoops over 11 Orlando Pattersons cross-cultural study of slavery, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study controversially defines a slave as a socia lly dead person (35). According to Patterson, the masters total power or property in the slav e means exclusion of the claims and powers of others [slaves] (35). Slaves have absolutely no ri ght and power in themselves as social beings. Therefore, the slave is desocialized and depersonal ized. Living as a slave is a primary act of submission, dishonor, and therefore degradation, Patterson argues (78). In other words, the slave is living-in-death or death-in-living. Such a condi tion describes social abjection in which the slaveabject is thrown off of the living social body, so that the white social order can preserve its power and property.
36 her baby and says: Oh, I got to do it, yo po mammys got to kill you to save you, honey  dey dont sell po niggers down de river over yonder (13). Roxana thereby exercises the power over her son and herself that imitates the slaveholders dominant position to possess the slaves life. Roxana carries out a death sentence without her ma sters consent and in her own way. Her decision is an act of claiming her mastery over her life and that of her enslaved son 12 Different from the masters power, of course, is her plan to resurrect her son. In Kristevas words, Roxana transforms the death drive into a start of life, of new significance (Kristeva 15). When Roxana prepares the death ritual and clothes her son in a white babys pretty bl ouse, she attempts to create I within the Other (Kristeva 15). The abject creates a self in the Other that has already projected away from the cent er-I. Kristeva explains that the centripetal tendency of the abject is an attempt to build the speaking being in the abjected being. Roxana and her son, the abj ected beings, are not allow ed to uphold an I-subject under slavery. They are not the speaking being, not the master not the subject. They are the Other. However, Roxana clai ms her ownership of her life and that of her son, shatter[ing] the wall of r epression built around her and her son as slaves. Invading the inside of the boundary, she sabotages and blurs the meaning of the boundary. Roxana resurre cts her son out of her masters anticipated death penalty by giving him a new social identity to decide their own fates. 12 Roxanas decision to kill her baby to save him from slavery is carried out in Toni Morrisons Beloved when Sethe kills her baby girl for a simila r reason. This scene is described in Twains somewhat humorous manner while Morrison provides a deeper psychological description of black motherhood. For both, this moment shows the ultimate resistance of a slave mother.
37 Roxanas Gothic fiction begins when she feels ready for the tomb in her slave cabin on the night of the threat from her master (13). But when she registers the fictionality of race (as reflected in her babys appearance in the white babys clothes), Roxana turns her dire ction from death to life. Switching the white masters baby and her baby is in effe ct an act of writing that exposes race as a fiction of law and custom, not as a definite or essential concept. Roxanas son was a slave, and by a fiction of la w and custom a Negro (9), but by her action Roxana exposes the fictionality of ra cial classification in Dawsons Landing. Her forging of this Gothic fiction resonat es with Kristevas words on the abject: At that level of downfall in s ubject and object, the abject is the equivalent of death. And writing, which allows one to recover, is equal to a resurrection. The writer then, finds himself marked out for identification with Christ, if on ly in order for him, too, to be rejected, ab-jected. (26) In the face of Percy Driscolls threat of death-sentence, Roxana recognizes her fate to social death. Yet this abject ed downfall, equal to death, nonetheless gives her a chance to be a savior to herself and her child by rewriting the racial identity of her son. Her action of exchanging the babies means writing a new fiction of race identity. Roxanas resurrection of her son is her way of articulating the abject, or performing a return of the abjec t. Kristeva explains such an act of writing as a-subjectivity or non-objectivity , that is, the articu lation of the abject propounds a sublimation of abj ection (26).Yet, this subl imation is performed at the limit of social or subjective identity ; therefore, the sublimation of abjection
38 does not include consecration, Kristeva explains (26). It is forfeited. It is not holy or beautiful. Instead, it brings monstrous and terrifying effects to the privileged party. Similarly, Roxanas writing becomes a strategy to resurre ct her son, but it also represents a monstrous threat and horror to the whitecentered town of Dawsons Landing. Roxanas power to resurrect her son depends on her ability to understand the absurdity of law and custom that defines race as untransferrable and unchangeable. Slavery is based in part on the distinct binary opposition of blackness and whiteness and, as many scholars point out, blackness and whiteness are only the metaphorical terms that are invisibly inscribed in American minds. Kenneth Rickard explai ns in Blood on the Margins: Reconstructing Race in Mark Twains Puddnhead Wilson . (1997) that in American ideology the one-drop rule is the primary construction of racial identity. Merely one-drop of African blood marks a person as bl ack. This one-drop rule was recognized as a matter of common k nowledge even in the federal courts. Rickard observes that the rule rests upon a metaphysical ideology that has no basis in biological fact, but it is a pro cess of mystification (66). From a similar perspective, in Representing Miscegenat ion Law (1988) Eva Saks collects and analyzes the American case law of miscegenation between 1819 and 1970. After the Civil War, miscegenation was counted as a crime of blood, a metaphor based on a figure of speech identifying white blood and black blood. Saks argues that miscegenation law was invented to protect and essentialize white supremacy and maintain the legal and scientific myth that the boundary between the races
39 was natural, ahistorical, and biological (53). Miscegenation law also originates from horror at the confla tion of [racial] difference because the body of miscegenation creates the mythical Mulatto monster that threatens the social, national body (Saks, 63). Lee Clark Mitche ll also argues in De Nigger in You: Race or Training in Puddnhead Wilson ? (1987) that the blood that determined race was an empty category and was invigorated by nothing but social convention (301). These studies expose th e black/white racial distinction as a mythical concept constructed by social need to protect white privilege. In this context, Tom becomes the most fragile s pot that manifests t he absurdity of the social myth of race category. In Dawsons Landing, this social myth of racial difference and its discourse legally and socially constructs Roxanas identity as that of a black slave regardless of her white skin. Percy Driscol ls threat reproduces the myth that the boundary between races is natural, ahistorical, biological, and therefore fundamental. When this legal myth drives Roxana to the edge of suicide, her desperate situation enables her to find in the white appearance of her son the fragile spot that threatens the social definition of ra cial identity (Kristeva 135). For Kristeva, it is the fragile spot that reveals our collapsed defenses of subjectivity and blurs inside and outside (135). Therefore, the fragile spot becomes a turning point where the abject returns. Roxanas and her sons white skin becomes the very fragile spot bec ause their physical whiteness contradicts their social blackness, providing Roxana an opportunity to cross the borderline of the metaphorical distin ction between whiteness and blackness. When Roxana
40 strips the babies, her baby Chambers, who becomes Tom after the exchange, and the white baby Tom, who later bec omes Chambers, and exchanges their clothes, she realizes that their differenc es inhere only in their clothes: Now who would blieve cloes could do de like odat? Dog my cats if it aint all I kin do to tell tother fum which, let alone hi s pappy (14). She notices t hat a difference in white and black blood exists only as a figure of speech in which each is mutually constitutive and equally fictitious (Saks 40). The black babys white skin allows her to bestow the same exchange value on the black and white babies. Roxanas ability to see exchangeability between bl ack and white empowers her to work as the abject that shatters t he wall of repression that white supremacy imposes on her and Tom (Kristeva 15). She overwrites the fiction of law and custom with her Gothic fiction by crossing over dichotom ous categories of black and white, noble and mean, and slave and master. Roxanas strategic writi ng is perverse because she adheres to Prohibition and Law and revokes them at the same time. Ro xana shows the pride of her white skin and ascribes Toms cowardly behavior to his black blood. Many readers criticize the fact that Roxana strict ly follows the existing system of white supremacy. Patricia Mandia writes in Children of Fate and Irony in Puddnhead Wilson (1991) that Roxana is conditioned to accept racial prejudice (63). Mandia says that Roxana and Tom are trained and fat ed by environment, which makes them tragic heroes. Mitchell ar gues that even though Roxana switches the white and the black babies, she does not thereby escape its [white societys] standard (302). Evan Carton even defines Roxanas act as only an imitation of
41 a fiction of law and custom in Puddnhead Wilson and the Fiction of Law and Custom. (1982, 86). Roxanas revolution, therefore, is not subversive, Carton argues. However, these critics underestimate the importance of the fact that in nineteenth century slave-holdi ng America, slaves were forced to be silent; they could not articulate their opinions. As Shelly Fisher Fishkin mentions in A Historical Guide to Mark Twain slaves would not express their pain and struggles to a little boy Twain 13 (133). Instead, they to ld the young Twain ghost stories. Similarly, instead of confronting her mast ers or fighting the system directly, Roxana performs as the abject under a Gothic mask in order to attack the fragile spot of the syst em. Roxanas plot ex poses contradictions in the white, slave-owning patriarchy. Instead of s peaking up against its injustices, she adopts the perverse strategy of the abj ect that turns [a prohibition, a rule, or a law] aside, misleads, corrupts." Roxana manipulates t hese laws in order to "take advantage of them; the better to deny them" (Kristeva 15) 14 Roxana secretly twists the existing fiction and rewrites it as her own. She kills the innocent white babys social identity in the name of life (her sons life), and she curbs the others suffering for [her ] own profit in Kristevas words (15). Roxana transfers her fear of social death onto the masters baby by giving him a 13 Fishkin describes Twains experience as a child listening to black slaves storytelling and admiring their rhetorical power. The limitation of sl avery prevents the slaves from articulating their pain to the white body eager to listen to them. In stead, they told the boy ghost stories, which hid their feeling under the mask of horror, and whic h I believe were refined and revived best in Charles Chesnutts conjure stories. Chesnutt insist ed that his stories came from his imagination based on research of conjure doct ors, but they may come from a similar spirit and nature. 14 Kristeva, in Powers of Horror, celebrates Contemporary literat ure that seems to acknowledge the impossibility of Religion, Morality, and the Law. Those texts firmly stick to the superego, yet they simultaneously are fascinated by the abject. Writing such texts strongly imply an ability to imagine the abject, Kristeva argues. According Kr isteva, such perverseness is required in writing the abject.
42 slave-name, and abjectifies the white baby using the whites law and custom which defines her and her son to be t he abject. Not only does she reject conforming to law and custom, she also uses this law against the white social order. Roxanas counter-fiction gives priority to the thirty-one white parts (31/32) of Tom over the thirty-second black blood and re-defines Tom as white. She willfully becomes monstrous when she defies the social order. When Vidar Pederson argues in Of Slaves and Master s: Constructed Identities in Mark Twains Puddnhead Wilson (1994) that Roxanas changing babies is not challenging the social system becaus e she never verbally questions the injustice of the system, this critic misses the perverse force of her act as the abject. On the surface, Roxana is submissive to the white-superi or social order, but her act subverts the white-centered towns order by using their own law against them. Roxana, therefore, becomes a site of horror to the slaveholding town: the black woman takes the most powerful plac e of the town, making her son its heir; she castrates its power; and finally she becomes the hidden but actual power who dominates patriarchal slaveholding society. Roxanas subversion is undetected by other townspeople. Not onl y does Roxanas strategy distort the white hierarchy, but the la ter revelation of Roxanas plot displays the absurdity and inadequacy of the system. For example, the impotent leader/real heir, false Chambers, is an embarrassment of the to wn. He cannot belong to any group of either whites or blacks and is still called Chamber s, the masters son, at the end of the novel. False Chambers becomes another abject invisible in the town.
43 He is living in death. Such a revelati on exposes the white myth that racial hierarchy is natural and inherited. Thus Roxanas transgression of the racial borders becomes the threatening origin of horror for the existing white patriarchal society. Her narrative releases a subversive force that redefines slave-holding Dawsons Landing as a slave-mastered town. Roxanas perverse Gothic power twists the concept of honor and genealogy. The genealogy of t he F.F.V. at the beginnin g of the novel reappears when Roxana gives her own version of the "Smith-Pocahontas" family: My great-great-great-grafather en yo great-great-great-greatgrafather was Ole Capn John Sm ith, de highest blood dat Ole Virginny ever turned out, en his gr eat-great-gramother or somers along back dah, was Pocahontas de Injun queen, en her husbun was a nigger king outen Africa. (70) Roxana insists on the family tree and claims nobility in her blood. Some critics bemoan Roxanas obsession with white ar istocrats and even her adoration of white supremacy. Mitchell argues that Roxana accept[s] her societys opposition of white and black as a distinction between mind and body (302). Forrest G. Robinson also writes that by attributing Toms cowardice to the one drop of his black blood, Roxana becomes the agent of the prejudice, the same as the masters cruel and self-serving white values (42). However, Roxanas attachment to genealogy and white values is better explained as the per verse act of the abject. Roxana invents the family tree of a slave who is not allowed to have a family name; she claims nobility that belongs only to white aristocrats. By
44 imitating the noble genealogy of F.F.V., Roxana mocks t he aristocrats obsession with genealogy and the superiority of white men. The pres ence of an Indian queen, an African king, and Captain John Smith suggests the long history of miscegenation from the very beginning of America. By contrasting the mixed family tree with white mens legitimate genealogy, Roxana ridicu les the pride of the pure-white, noble blood in white men. Roxanas family tree secretly distorts white supremacy and therefore deconstruc ts the social system again. Through the creation of a hybrid fam ily tree, Roxana gives herself another power of manipulating the i dentity-defining system of patriarchal society, the power of naming. Roxana secretly imitat es the power of the white master by bestowing upon her black son a surnam e, a privilege which a slave cannot have, and by blotting out t he name of the legitimate white baby (11). Roxanas power to erase the surname of the white family places her on an equal level with the white master who is able to give a death sentence to the slave. Her manipulation of this identit y-defining system accelerates when she blackmails her son in the latter part of the novel. Ro xana threatens to deprive Tom of the surname Driscoll by exposing his real i dentity. She completes her imitation of the white masters deadly power by enf orcing the death thr eat over both the rightful and the false heir When Roxana exercises her desire to distort the existing slaveholding order, it secretly bec omes a matriarchal plot in that only Roxana, a mother, can manipulate a surname and serve as the only parent for both Tom and Chambers. Indeed, all white fa thers in the novel are weak or dead: Colonel Essex is no more than a name; Pe rcy Driscoll dies bankrupt. Percy is an
45 ineffectual father who cannot even identif y his son without the markers provided by clothing. Both fathers are dead bef ore the major action of the novel commences. In the middle of the novel, J udge Driscoll, the living symbol of law and order in the community, is murder ed by Tom, the av enging agent who crosses over the color line. Judge Dr iscolls death suggests anarchy. By switching the only heir of F. F.V. with a black baby and by controlling the only heir of the white aristocrat, Roxana usurps the white father-figure in Dawsons Landing. She also assumes the position of mother for the only heir of F.F.V. and becomes a real ruler in the whit e-patriarchal social order. It is interesting that Roxanas subver sive plan begins in the white mans nursery. The nursery, in general, symbolizes maternal care and family succession. Yet, the Driscolls nursery agai n exhibits the weakest spot of racial identities. The white boys mother died within a week of childbirth, and the only mother in the nursery is a white-skinned black slave. In addition, the seemingly distinct racial boundary between the two babi es in the nursery can be discerned only by virtue of their clothes. No one except Roxana can tell the white baby apart from the black baby. In this frag ile spot of the slavery system, Roxana finds a beginning for her story. The place of the white heir becomes the most arbitrary spot where the raci al distinction is blurred, and the very seat of horror where Roxana starts forging her plot. As Roxanas story develops, the main stage moves to a darker and deeper place wh ich is capable of inhabiting the abject--the remote, haunted house at the end of the towns boundary (40). Nobody goes near the house, we are told It is a pale, weak, and wretched
46 place that symbolizes the hidden truth of the town. It is infamous as the haunted house the house of ghosts, the place of life and death (40). It is the place of alienation, horror, and t he ab-ject. This haunted house becomes the central stage where Roxana authors her plot, and controls and orders false Tom, conjuring up a black Frankenstein in him. It is a laboratory for her to make a monster, an avenging agent in the body of her son, Tom. Roxanas strong character and aggressive commanding ways are truly revealed and illuminated. In the wretched house, Roxana directs, commands, plots her own story. The mother-son relationship between Roxana and Tom becomes a perverse business partnership as well. As soon as Roxana reveals Toms switched fate at the haunted house, she tells Tom that [theyre] gwyne to talk business (42). Roxana claims her reward for making him a white heir: Didnt I change you off en give you a good fambly en a good name, en made you a white gelman en rich, wid store clothes on-en what did I git for it? (46). Roxana arranges monthly meeting at the haunted house for her allowance (of which she always takes only the exact amount). In addition to this business transaction, the monthly meetings satisfy both Roxanas need to rule over somebody and Toms pleasure of chatting with her (46). The mother-son relation falls into a trade partnership that satisfies mutual needs. Even though Roxanas subversive story is empowered by her extraordinary mate rnal insight which enables her to distinguish between the tw o new-born babies, Roxana confronts the complex problem of defining he rself as a black slave mother within the prevailing social
47 structure of slavery 15 Not only does she desert her role as a doting mammy to her white-master baby by condemning him to hellish slavery, Roxana plays the double image of a mother to her own son as well. Roxana performs as two different mothers, both nurturing and denying the autonomy of the child, both a creator and a potential destroyer. According to Kristeva, abjection evokes the theme of the two-faced mother (159). Kristeva explains that the baleful power of wo men to bestow a mortal life without infinity makes the mother Janus-faced, a figure who marries beauty and death (159, 161). While Roxanas initial act of changing the babies resurrects Tom from permanent social death, she acts on her power to erase his last name. When she meets Tom for the first time in several years, Ro xanas behavior resembles that of a stereotypical dot ing black mammy. But when her financial request is rejected, she turns herself into a vengeful monster, exulting over the fine nice young gentman kneelin dow n to a nigger wench (39). Roxana reveals the truth and urges Tom to call her mother in order to obtain control over him. Tom realizes that Roxana is the mother who can potentially destroy him; she becomes a fearful and bold figur e to him. Even Roxanas motherly 15 Deborah Gray White in Arnt I Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South documents the diverse myths and facts of female slaves in the antebellum South. According to her, the white slave-holding South created a long tradition of bl ack female stereotypes like the nurturing Mammy and the sexual Jezebel in order to maintain and ju stify slavery. However, the portrayal of Roxana in Puddnhead Wilson disrupts and breaks these stereotypes. Roxana is described as a desirable woman and the fair-skinned mistress of a white Virginia gentleman, but her maternal role for her own son, not for the white masters baby, is t he main force of the plot. According to Porter, Roxana is located in a region where mothers are sexual, slaves are powerful, and women are temporarily out of control, exposing the falseness of the Mammy/Jezebel opposition of black female (124). Roxana as a slave mother beco mes the blurred, confused, anxiety-produced region repressed by the binary Jezebel/Mammy. Again, she becomes an abject in crossing the boundary.
48 comfort terrifies Tom, so that intim acies quickly became horrible to him (81). Some critics like Linda Byrd emphasize Ro xanas love for her son. Yet Roxanas motherhood is or becomes rather close to a performance in a monstrous, calculated way 16 Roxana quickly switches between two different mother-roles in different situations. At times she is a loving, warm-hearted, pious, and simple black mother who can sell herself as a slav e to save her son. At other times, she is cunning and ruthless enough to threaten stabbing that same son. Half way into the novel, Roxana appears to be a tyr annical, gigantic mother-monster who resembles an invisible magician seen only to Tom. She is almost invisible to the white townspeople. Roxana is mentioned only in the context of Tom. Her ghostly presence controls Tom and teaches him subversive strategies. Roxana is simultaneously portrayed as a mammy and a Jezebel, a creat or (of life) and a destroyer, (the symbol of) lif e and death all at the same time. Roxana is the black power who conjures up sublimat ion and death at once; she wields the power of the abject and horror. Roxanas abjected strategy is most illuminated in the recurring disguises and cross-dressing of herself and her son. From early in the novel, disguises and clothes play essential roles in dete rmining identity in Dawsons Landing. Switching the babies is possible when Ro xana exchanges their clothes. As Linda 16 Roxanas complex motherhood is manifested in the novel. I believe Roxanas almost monstrous picture of motherhood is more likely fr om the view of the dominant discourse. Sethe in Toni Morrisons Beloved also presents a similar complexity as a mother, yet Morrison gives a deeper, psychological explanation from the slave-mot hers perspective. I will explore this further in the last chapter.
49 Morris points out, clothes are mark ers of identity, race, and gender 17 (37). The social definition of race and gender c an only be visible with clothing. As I mentioned earlier, Percy Driscoll, Toms fa ther, cannot distingu ish his son without clothes. The seemingly natural and cl ear boundary of racial difference disappears in the moment when Roxana exchanges the babies clothes. When she stripped off the slaves coarse cl othes from her son and dressed the naked little creature in the whit e babys beautiful shirt wit h its bright blue bows and dainty flummery of ruffles, the black ness of Roxanas son disappears (14). Without clothes, Roxana realizes, the babi es look the same. It is the most significant moment and driving force of her plot when she eradicates the boundary between races. Racial distinction slips further away when Roxana and Tom play with disguise. When Roxana escapes from th e deep-South plantation to which Tom has sold her, she disguises herself as a black slave by crossing over her gender and double-crossing her race. She dr esses as a man and blackens her white face in order to hide her white-fa ced black slave identity. She erases all visible signs of her social id entity, again showing that raci al distinction is socially constructed, not natural. When Tom also disguises himself as a Negro woman during his robberies of the neighborhood, he mocks and erases the distinction of 17 Linda Morris offers a lengthy discussion of the cr oss-dressing theme in her article, Beneath the Veil: Clothing, Race, and Gender in Mark Twains Puddnhead Wilson. Studies in American Fiction 27 (1999): 37-52. Morris studies how clothing as metaphor and cross-dressing address racial issues in the novel, and concludes that [w]hile the old categories seem to be reinstated, they are confounded to such a degree that the old order is shaken to its core (50). However, at the end of the novel, Roxanas son Tom remains mo nstrous and guilty of being a black slave, not of being a murderer; Roxana is reduced to a sinner. While this ending shows a shaken social structure, it is still ambiguous in that the change does not favor Tom and Roxana. Such an ending implies Twains divided, ambiguous attitude towards racial issue of the time.
50 gender and race. Only by disguising his fa ce, Tom ironically reveals his racial identity as defined by society. Tom again blackens his face to look like a black slave when he attempts to rob Judge Dri scoll and then disguises himself as a black girl when he escapes. Toms white-skinned face is erased, and his blackness revealed. Toms white-face becomes a disguise that enables him to hide the socially-defined b lackness and to be a white heir of the Driscoll. His real skin-color becomes a disguise for t he socially-given real identity, while disguises with coal and clothing reveal t he real identity. This situation itself shows us how absurd is the law of t he slaveholding town. Ironically, disguise reveals the black identity that society impos es on him. By the middle of the novel, Toms identity loses its social signification. Tom appears to be white to the townspeople, but he is black according to the socially rightful definition. He seems to be free, but in fact, he is a slave by law and custom. His name is not fixed, his gender is interchangeable by clothes, and his racial appearance easily fools townspeople including Wilson. Toms i dentity is hardly defin ed; it floats over all definitions. Roxana and Tom act upon and against the fiction through which identity is constituted in Dawsons Landing. Roxana and Tom perform a mingling of boundaries which stand for race and gend er, exposing the arbitrariness of racial and gender distinctions. As Roxana reverses the legal and so cial fiction of Dawsons Landing, her voice usurps the main narrative voice of the novel. The chapter after Roxanas switching of the babies begins with the narrators comment:
51 This history must henceforth accommodate itself to the change which Roxana has consummated, and call the real heir Chambers and the usurping little slave Tho mas a Becketshortening this latter name to Tom, for daily, as the people about him did. (17) Roxanas voice invades the main narration of the novel, and her Gothic narration overrides and usurps the narrative voice of the novel (120). Roxanas secret, uncanny plot becomes the main plot and mo tivation of the novel. False Tom, a black slave, becomes the c enter of the town and Roxa nas narration. From as early as Chapter 4, the quotation marks around false Tom and false Chambers, which indicate their illegitima cy, slip away. Everyone calls Tom and Chambers as Roxana names them, even after their real identity is revealed by Wilson at the end of the novel. Roxanas unnamable, unsignifia ble story devours and decenters the main narration and changes the legal names of the white and the black babies permanently, both in the nov el and in scholarly discussion of the novel. Roxanas interception of the narrative meets its climax in Chapter 18 when she returns from the South plantation on a rainy, sinister Friday. With blackened face in a black mans clothes and with her unkempt masses of long brown hair tumbled down, Roxana stops the legitima te voice of the main narrative for a while and tells in her own voice her own slave narrative about how horribly she was treated in the down-the-river plantat ion and how she finally escaped from it (85). Not only does her oral storytelli ng educate Tom about inhumane slavery, it also empowers him to act as an agent of vengeance and to murder the Judge, the symbol of the white legal system and Toms foster father. Roxanas
52 alternative, disruptive oral voice/language is mingled with the main narration and blurs the narrative boundary between them. As Fishkin argues in Was Huck Black? the blending of black voices with wh ite ones in Chapter 18 deconstructs race as a meaningful category again (144). However, Twains description of Roxanas son Tom manifests his ambiguous attitude towards racial prejudice /stereotype in his time. While Twain bestows a remarkable power upon Rox ana with whom readers can sympathize, Tom is described as an irreparable monster. Toms behavior is so awful that readers are almost relieved with his fall at the end of the novel. He abuses Chambers, robs his neighbors and uncle, se lls his own mother down the river, and even murders his foster-father. Tom once questions the racist system and its arbitrary social order on the night he di scovers his racial identity, yet such reflection does not last long. Twain does not fully explain Toms absolute monstrosity either. Toms abominable action may come fr om one drop of black blood, as suggested in Roxanas comm ent. Yet, the narration also suggests Toms bad habits are related to his wh ite upbringing and a college education. Toms final destination only implies possible explanations. Tom is sold down to river due to his social identity as a slav e, which Twains narrator particularly indicates to be absurd in tone; however many readers cannot help feeling safe and satisfied to see the most dangerous person, who happens to be a highly mixed mulatto, permanently branded and punished. Such characterization seems to be contradictory to Twains outspoken damnation of slavery. Twains ambiguous attitude toward Tom is paralle l to Americas common prejudice and
53 fear of bi-racial individ uals who were regarded worse than just being black due to their ability of crossing racial boundar ies. Therefore, Toms monstrosity 18 should be understood in the context of Americas deeply rooted fear of the abjected biracial individuals which even Twain could not fully overcome. Therefore, Twains ambi guity about race drives both Tom and Roxana into a downfall. Roxanas plot, before it r eaches its climax, is interrupted by the novels peripheral character Puddnhead W ilson. Wilson comes to center stage and restores the fiction of law and cu stom once erased by Roxana. Wilson introduces logic and reason into Dawson s Landing and returns subversive Roxana and Tom to less than their original place. He completes and strengthens, not just restores, white patriarchal so ciety. Pudd'nhead Wilson defeats Roxanas unreasonable and monstrous Gothic power with his normal reasoning and law, which destroy her lawlessness and detachm ent from the social order. Wilson, "incarnate analytic intelligence, the pers onification of science," becomes a hero to hush these threatening figures like the noisy invisible dog that broke the calm equilibrium of the town in the first chapter. Defending one of the Italian twins, Lui gi, who is falsely accused of the murder of Judge Driscoll, Wilson discovers not only that Tom is the murderer but also that Roxana switched her masters baby and hers at cradle. Wilsons proof relies on his old hobby fingerprinting 19 Wilsons fingerprinting method, although it 18 This bad nigger stereotype re curs in Morrisons Cholly in The Bluest Eye. However, she explains the complexity of black mens inner psyc he in an effective way. I will discuss this point in the later chapter. 19 Anne P. Wigger was the first critic to recognize the importance of the fingerprint in the novel in The Source of Fingerprint Material in Mark Twains Puddnhead Wilson and those Extraordinary
54 brings justice to this particular crime of murder, plays a role of reinstating the racial category stronger than ever. The fingerprint Wilson offers as a proof of identity is "a sure identifier" which all human beings carry with them as their physical marks (141). With this unchanging physical marker of personal identity, Wilson reaffirms the social fiction that racial differences are inherent and inerasable. For him, science and law bec ome the tools and permanent identifiers of racial identity. This amazing marker redefines and rebuilds the hierarchical boundaries of race when Wilson strips a ll disguises in Ro xana's plot and identifies false Tom's history: Every human being carries with him from his cradle to his grave certain physical marks which do not change their character, and by which he can always be identified and that without shade of doubt or question. These marks are hi s signature, his physiological autograph, so to speak, and this autograph cannot be counterfeited, nor can he disguise it or hide it away, nor can it become illegible by the wear and mutations of time. This signature is not his faceage can change that beyond recognition; it is not his hair, for that can fall out; it is not his height, for duplic ates of that exist; it is not his form, for duplicates of that exist also, whereas this signature is each mans very ownthere is no duplicate of it among the Twins (1957). After Wiggers article was publis hed, many critics developed interesting discussions regarding fingerprinting. Among these crit icisms is Lee Clark Mitchells article, De Nigger in You: Race or Training in Puddnhead Wilson ? She briefly argues that Wilsons fingerprinting suggests determinism of human fate unchanged by any amount of training. According to her, Twain displays his belief about the inability to alter ones endowments (306).
55 swarming populations of the globe. (140) Wilsons speech is eloquent and powerful, so that it sounds fascinating and even horrifying. He introduces this new identifier as the only absolute method for identifying individuals. It cannot be c ounterfeited, disguised, or hidden. As Pederson argues, although the fingerprint is racial-neutral because it is based on individual, not on group features, it reinforces socially constructed identities when it serves to define and connect who is white and free. Derek Parker Royal also says in The Clinician as Enslaver: Puddnhead Wilson and the Rationalization of Identity (2002) that this system of identification is used to reconfirm the former social order and is a powerful and irresistible tool to reestablish white patriarchy in the novel. Wilsons fingerprint is more logical and believable than Roxana's maternal abilit y to identify the babies. The Westernscientific, rationalized, and deterministic proof wins over Roxana's maternal instinct and intuition. It depersonalizes the person (Royal 427). The real black slave and the real white heir return to their rightful places. Wilson, thereby, serves to conceal the crime [slavery] wh ich lies hidden at the heart of society (Robinson 44). In Dawsons Landing, Wils on replaces Judge Driscoll, the symbol of the old order and power, and rebuilds the new social order and racial hierarchy, different from the old order yet same in its foundationonly more strongly fortified. Wilsons scientific proof succeeds in restoring the damaged patriarchal society and eliminating the anti-social, s ubversive abject, Ro xana and Tom, from the social system, drawing them down to t heir original positions. Roxanas strong
56 will and her strategy to intrude upon the center are defeated and permanently thrown off by the newly-established boundary. Twain concludes the novel with false Toms fate after Wilsons c ourtroom scene. Tom is sentenced to imprisonment for life at first, but creditors rightfully claim that Tom was lawfully their property and that the murder occurs due to the erroneous inventory (115). Everyone understands t hat there was reason in it. Everybody granted that if Tom were white and free it would unques tionably be right to punish himit would be no loss to anybody; but to shut up a valuable slave for lifethat was quite another matter (115). Therefore, Tom, redefined as a slave, black, nonhuman, and property, is pardoned to be sold down the river. Tom is reduced to simple property which cannot be judged ev en as a human being, and Roxana to "a poor miserable sinner, the permanently silenced abj ect: Roxana's heart is broken. . but her hurts were too deep fo r money to heal; the spirit in her eye was quenched, her martial bearing departed wit h it, and the voice of her laughter ceased in the land (47-48). Roxana becomes incurable, and her resounding voice is erased by making her invisible and eliminating her social existence. Wilson not only restores the white patriarchal order, he creates an invincible slave society by imbuing with logic and science a previously incoherent, unreasonable society. The power that was once secretly transferred to a slave mother is returned and remains marked at the site of white male supremacy. Wilsons fingerprinting releases the innocent man and punishes the murderer Tom. But Wilsons trial is no more than a stage performance. Wilson surprises and hypnotizes the audience with his fascinating materials. Twains
57 apologetic preface to the novel, A Whis per to the Reader, also ironically destroys the authenticity of Wilsons cour t speech. Although Twain insists that the law-chapters are right and strai ght thanks to William Hicks proofreading and revising, Hicks, Twains only authority on the court-scene, is a little rusty on his law (1). Confessing that Hicks word s are the only proof of the accuracy of the court scenes, the preface subverts the novels authent icity and reduces Wilsons performance in the cour t into a minstrel-like show. Wilsons trial scene conveniently resolves the issues in dispute mainly by discovering the black criminal. His speech does not clarify the motive of the murder, his speech is focused more on the switched babies than on the trial itself. He argues that Tom surely is a murderer because Tom is black and a slave. Wilsons proof is based on a belief that fate is inscribed in one s hand and cannot be changed. Wilsons belief reflects the popular practice of Eugenics in the early twentieth century which was used to naturalize racial hierarchy. In this sense, his firm belief in fingerprinting is no more t han another superstition that substitutes for the social fiction of Dawsons Landi ng. Wilson becomes a witch to conjure up another belief system out of science. As with Twains other novels, the ending of Puddnhead Wilson is ambiguous. Despite the restoration and reaffi rmation of the original social system, the very person who finally sees Tom and restores a semblance of honor and order to the community is a stranger who has acquired the title of Puddnhead. He lives at the end of the town, alienat ed from the townspeopl e. Wilsons house is right next to the haunted house where Ro xana resides. In addition, his reliance
58 on fingerprints as a means of criminal detection had been ridiculed for a long time by townspeople and undercuts the w hole structure of familial identity on which the society stands. His effort to establish a complete fingerprint file of every member of the community is a st ratagem for checking personal identity against human physiology as an absolute identity mark. Wilson refuses to rely on names and faces, the conv entional hallmarks of identit y in Coxs words (265). In fact, his arduous hobby is based on an e ssential distrust of the identity of the entire town. Mark Twain, while revealing t he failure of Reconstruction, defines the restoration as the result of stupidity drawn from a stranger. Even though the novel ends with Roxanas and Toms downfa lls and Wilsons success, it is worth noting that Twain entitles the novel The Tragedy of P uddnhead Wilson, not The Tragedy of Roxana, a Negro Girl nor The Rise of Puddnhead Wilson. Twain defines Wilsons success in and assimilation to Dawsons Landing as a tragedy, and Wilson, a new rising hero of the town, is permanently branded as puddnhead by Twain himself. In the course of the novel, Wilson loses a part of his legal name, and Wilsons restoration of the social order only results in one more reversion of a master and a slav e by creating a white-faced, whitelanguage speaking black slave and a ver nacular speaking white master who cannot endure the terrors of t he white mans parlor (114). Toms fate can be read as embodying t he situation of blacks in the 1890s. As Reconstruction fails, Roxanas plot is doomed to fail to subvert the slave system. Even though black slaves were legally emancipated, the fundamental racist mindset still domi nated nineteenth century Amer ica. The new president
59 and legal system approved the s egregation law in 1890s just as Wilson, a mayor of the town, substitutes fo r Judge Driscoll in the novel. Scientific discourse, including Darwinistic biology, was used to provide another proof of racial essentialism, defining blacks as inferior and unworthy of citizenship. This reality is more of a horror for Twain than Roxana s Gothic plot is to Dawsons Landing. Roxanas seemingly perverse mot herhood and Toms monstrosity remain unexamined and unexplained. In addition, Roxanas sudden change to a conforming slave falls into the stereotypical. The temporary subversion of Roxana and Tom is marked as sin at t he end of novel. Twains silence on (or inability to recognize) this ending reflects his ambiguous attitudes towards race issue in America. Nonethele ss, Roxanas spirit and her Gothic stratagems have haunted Americas minds, and have gained strength in later writers. As Kristeva argues, the abject never stops crossi ng the border and returning back to the center. Likewise, Roxanas abjected spirit keeps returning to critical attention and continues to be re-incarnated in subsequent literary works. Her subversive use of the Gothic is more developed and more aggressive in the African-American author, Charles W. Chesnutt.
60 Chapter III Storytelling and Resistance in Charles W. Chesnutts The Conjure Woman In a sense, Charles W. Chesnutts short story collection, The Conjure Woman (1899), begins where Mark Twains Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson ends. Twain, as a Euro-American writer, betra ys his ambivalence about the defeat of Reconstruction by relinquishing Roxanas subv ersive Gothic plot to the scientific, rationalized voice of Pudd nhead Wilson. Chesnutts conj ure stories, on the other hand, validate and develop the perspecti ve represented by Roxana. In Chesnutts world, Puddnhead Wilsons rationalized voice, resonating through John the Yankee investor who co mes to the South to exploit its resources, fails to convince readers and instead submits to the ex-slave Juliuss uncanny world view. Just as Roxana attempts to write her fiction in a Gothic mode, Julius, Chesnutts black storyteller, also port rays slavery as a horrifying reality and attacks racial domination in the post-Reconstruction era. Just as Roxanas Gothic scheme is contrasted with Wils ons scientific reasoning, Chesnutt contrasts Johns rationalized, scientific narrati on with Juliuss Gothic storytelling, thereby inviting the reader to glimps e the reality of slavery.
61 In each story except The Gooph ered Grapevine, the Yankee John expresses his business concerns and asks Julius for advice, since he is not familiar with Southern culture. Julius ans wers by telling a related story of antebellum slavery, which includes transfo rmations of human beings into animals or inanimate beings by means of the old superstitious belief called a goopher. 20 In Juliuss stories, a goopher turns a slav e into a mule, a wolf, a cat, an oak tree, a frog, or a bird; a white master is tur ned into a black slave. At the end of these stories, John claims to have discover ed Juliuss hidden agenda of personal gain in telling the conjure tales. Constantly attempting to destroy Juliuss credibility, John appears to be a more complex vers ion of Puddnhead Wilson in that he both rationalizes and capitalizes upon Southern resources. However, Juliuss ability to tell conjure tales and manipu late Gothic imagery constantly disrupts Johns rationalized worldview and empower s Julius to expose the absurdity of Johns attitude, one which condones the rest oration of white su premacy. Juliuss transformation tales conjure up the return of the socially repressed element that was abjected and Gothicized under slavery, thereby reconstituting a point of view that draws attention to the same danger of racial hegemony in postbellum America. Juliuss marvelous storytelling skill has been discussed ever since the novel was published. Many cr itics are amazed by the way Julius deceives John and manipulates the situation to maxi mize his benefit. I argue instead that Juliuss storytelling is intended to make the invisible slaves visi ble, to make their 20 Chesnutt, in his Superstition and Folk-lore of the South (1901), te lls how he interviewed conjure doctors and learned about conjuration. Goop her was the latter-day prevalence of the oldtime belief (231). Conjure doctors often use goopher dirt to heal scars, curse someone, or change a human being into an animal or inanimate thing. I will explain goopher further later.
62 silence shout, and to bring the margin into focus. He is a conjure man who calls up the abject that has been thrown beyond the social boundary, by using his secret formula of storyt elling. My discussion focuses on the way Julius uses Gothic strategies to conjure the abje ct and bestow a speaking power upon this non-speaking being. The tensions between Johns narrative and Juliuss tales have been discussed by many critics, particularly since the 1970s 21 David Britt in Chesnutts Conjure Tales: What You See is What You Get (1972), was the first critic to notice the importanc e of the double narrative structure in the text (271). Britt describes Juliuss narrative as an extended metaphor that reveals the dehumanization of the slave and criticizes Johns attempt to be the official interpreter of Juliuss meaning (275). In Expanding the Collective Memory: Charles W. Chesnutts The Conjure Woman Tales (1994) Sandra Monyreaux 21 Although The Conjure Woman was popular when it first appeared, the book did not receive fair critical attention until the 1970s. Chesnutts c ontemporary reviewers considered him a folktale writer or a regional Southern writer and conc entrated on his use of dialect and superstition, often comparing his tales with those of Joel Ch andler Harris and Thomas Nelson Page, writers of plantation tales in late nineteenth cent ury America. An anonymous reviewer in The Commercial Advertiser (June 20, 1899) said that the book was very limited and not artistic. Florence A. H. Morgan, in The Bookman (1899), even wrote that The Conjure Woman delineated the phase of slave life and a benevolent Uncle Tom-like charac ter who is devoted to his master (372-73). Another reviewer from the Boston Courier (2 Apr. 1899) praised Chesnutts true-to-life description and real portrayal. William Dean Howells, a leading critic of that time, described the conjure stories as faithfully portrayed agai nst stereotypes (700). Howells even compared Chesnutt with Henry James and Maupassant. Elrick B. Davis (1929) suggests that Chesnutt is in the history of American letters the most important writer Cleveland has ever housed (10). Until the 1960s such criticisms pigeonholed Chesnutt as a Southern writer. Robert A. Smith, in his short note of 1962, categorizes the stories as folktales of simple people who have nothing practical on which to depend (232). Donald M. Winkelman said that Chesnutts use of folklore was an artificial tool to make his real point, the post-bellum South, the humanity of the Negro, and his relationships with those around him (133 ). Julian D. Mason Jr. (1967) stated that the conjure stories are nothing if not Southern (83). He described Chesnutt as a type of the Southern writer who is only among the second rate of American prose writers (89). These early reviews and criticisms obscured the subversiveness of Juliuss storytelling and delayed more substantial studies on Chesnutts works.
63 emphasizes that The Conjure Woman presents a power struggle between the stories of John and Julius. Jeffrey Myers, in Other Nature: Resistance to Ecological Hegemony in Charles W. Chesnutts The Conjure Woman (2003), interprets the stories from an envir onmental perspective, emphasizing the struggles between human cu lture and nature. Myers em phasizes the contrast between Johns narrative that draws a line between self and the environment and Julius challenging voice that deconstructs such an illusory separation (10). Likewise, Johns frame story and Juliu ss oral storytelling engage in a power struggle to form and control the definition and viewpoin t of the world, as Joyce Hope Scott claims in Who Goophered Whom : the African American Fabulist and His Tale in Charles Chesnutts The Conjure Woman (1990, 57). Employing a rational, dogmatic worldview, John determines the boundaries in which he accepts or reject s the validity of experience. Johns narrative is based on the Western dream of control in a discourse of rationalization and science, as Ellen Go ldner says in Other(ed) Ghosts: Gothicism and Bonds of Reason in Melvill e, Chesnutt, and Morrison (61). Just as Puddnhead Wilson introduces scientific methods of differentiating a white master from a black slave to Dawsons Land ing, John also attempts to reform the Old South with a rational and scientific perspective. Johns frame story repeatedly ridicules blacks acceptance of irrationality and supernaturalism, defining black people as inferior and ignorant. John brings a rationalist way of thinking and abjectifies the black as subhuman and unfit for citizenship in the new nation. In this sense, Johns ra tionalism becomes the foundation of his
64 racism, and his arrival at the old Southern town can be defined as a return to white dominion and black disfranchisem enta new form of slavery. Although physical slavery has been abolished, the same mentality, fortif ied after the Civil War by discourses of science and rationalit y, still defines blacks as marginal: the new form of slavery is ideological dom ination. In Chesnutts stories, John attempts to abjectify Julius and blackness, while Julius, through his tales, conjures the abject which has been diminished to a ghostly presence or an inarticulate voice. John repeatedly label s Juliuss view of life as strange, different, and foreign, qua lities he attributes to supe rstition or ancestral feticism [sic] 22 By defining Juliuss worldview in these terms, John persistently dismisses and abjectifies Juliuss pers pective. Through Johns definitions, Julius becomes the not us. Johns repeated abjection of Julius and his tales reflects the national process of forgetting in post-bellum America as described by Amy Kaplan in Nation, Region, and Empire (1991). Af ter the Civil War, America needed to cultivate a sense of national unity. Post-Reconstruction ideology sought to forget the past and the legacy of slavery in order to rebuild the nation, according to Kaplan (241). In this context of national forgetting, plantation tales such as those by Joel Chandler Harris, Thomas Nels on Page, and their imit ators enjoyed great popularity. These tales cr eated a mythical, romanticized antebellum past, expressing nostalgia for antebellum slaver y. Such tales creat ed the image of a 22 Charles W. Chesnutt, The Conjure Woman and Other Tales. Ed. Richard H. Brodhead, Durham: Duke UP, 1993. 185. All quotations from this text will be indicated only by page number in parentheses.
65 benevolent and compassionate white master and his contented slaves living peacefully on the plantation. These gent le and often humorous stories often evoke a sense of stability and nostalgia. Forgetting the painful past through nostalgia seemed to create a national identity and a seamless social subjectivity. In doing so, the official ideology of Am erica registered all unfamiliar and strange views in terms of a crisis of subjec tivity in which strangeness embodies, in Kristevas terms, the excess that impedes the seamless integration into the social structure (Penny 128). In this s ense the period enacted a national process of abjection. Chesnutts stories are far from the plantation tales of Harris or Page. Chesnutt exposes a reality of the past slavery through Juliuss storytelling, reversing the national fo rgetting process. John finds none of their nostalgic sentiments in the stories Julius tells. Instead, Julius never indulged in any regrets for the Arcadian joyousness and irresponsibility which was a somewhat popular conception of slavery at the turn of the century (125). He often [speaks] of a cruel deed of white masters with a furtive disa pproval (124). Julius tales are filled with suffering slaves and thei r magical transformations that repeatedly undermine an objective world-view and deny the official vision of the nation. Thus John must accuse Juliuss tales of being deceptive, fictional, irrational, and different. From Johns point of view, Ju liuss way of looking at the past seemed very strange to us ; his view of certain sides of life was essentially different from ours (125, italics mine ). John differentiates and alienates Julius from his own subjectivityus. Johns subjectivity relies on scientific and rationalist discourses
66 that separate the us from the not-us Through his constant differentiation of Julius, John attempts to preserve his subjectivity and worldview by throwing off the improper, irrational black-abject. Johns discourse meticulously registers all instabilities that threaten his identity and perspective, repeatedly asserting the strangeness/ foreignness which is far from his objective truth. Even when John praises Juliuss remarkable rhetorical ability in storytelling, and even while comparing him to skillful storytellers lik e Aesop or Grimm or Hoffman, he never admits that Juliuss tales r egister historical truths (196). For John, the laborer was worth [sic] of his [Juliuss] hire (185). Not only does John alienate Julius stor ies, he identifies them as ghost stories by emphasizing superficial f eatures of the genr e and downgrading the stories as mere entertainment. He attri butes physical conventions of the Gothic to Juliuss conjure stories, thereby separating irrational, fictional narratives from truthful and authentic We stern discourse. For John, Juliuss conjure stories are only useful to relieve a dull Sunday afternoon. The Goophered Grapevine starts with the locale of a ruined plant ation on which Julius residesdecayed gateposts, rotting rail fence, and ruined chimney (33). In Po Sandy John categorizes Juliuss story of Sandy as a gruesome narrative (53). The outer story of The Grey Wolfs Hant also wraps around Juliuss story with a lonely and gloomy surrounding mood: The air had darkened while the old man related this harrowing tale. The rising wind whistled around t he eaves, slammed the loose window-shutters, and, still increasing, drove the rain in fiercer gusts
67 into the piazza. As Julius finished his story and we rose to seek shelter within doors, the blast caught the angle of some chimney or gable in the rear of the house, and bore to our ears a long, wailing note, an epitome, as it were, of remorse and hopelessness. (105) The somber night, blasting wind, and rain are typical signs of the Gothic. John encircles Juliuss story with these features ideal for the dark and solemn swamp and the heavy, aromatic scent of the day, faintly suggestive of funeral wreaths (110). Johns tries to contaminate Julius s subversive storytelling in and through such superficial interpretations. The Dumb Witness, one of the most powerful conjure tales, also starts with Johns sinister description of the old estate, recalling Edgar Allan Poes Gothic tales. By stipulating Gothic conventions as the background to Juliuss tales, John trivializ es Juliuss truthfulness; at the same time, he indicts the conjure as irrational and insincere. He reduces Juliuss narrating voice to an insignificant mu mbling, a barely articulate form of expression. When John dismisses Juliuss conjure tales as superstiti on, framing them as one-dimensional ghost stor ies, he also frames the Gothic itself in a manner that serves the dominant culture. Hemenway argues in Gothic Sociology: Charles Chesnutt and the Gothic Mode ( 1974) that the Gothic has expressed a Western racist psychology that defines blackness as evil and demonic. Johns Gothic code also reflects Hemenways account of early American Gothic. In Johns narrative, Juliuss story is an epi tome of remorse and hopelessness and charged with perverse energy (Hemenway 10 5). John uses the Gothic color code
68 to demonize blacks. Such conventions in Chesnutts stories, however, can function as a mask and counter-discourse that both obscures and expresses Juliuss rebelliousness and social criticis m. If the Western identification of blackness with evil is a strategy to build ra cial hierarchy, a bl ack storytellers use of the same conventions can become a counter-mask that disguises subversive resistance to white hegemony. In addition, the Gothics position as a devalued genre allows an opportunity for active re sistance of the kind described by bell hooks 23 Exploiting Gothic qualities, black speakers voiced their feelings under a mask. In fact, the Gothic genre itself embodies a ba ttlefield of competing discourses in which Western ideology abjec tifies racial others, but where these others also return in the ghostly guises of the abject. Goldner defines the Gothic representation of slavery as a mode of haunting in Other(ed) Ghosts: Gothicism and the Bonds of Reason in Melville, Chesnutt, and Morrison." For him, Gothic elements expose the distorti on in the lens through which rational discourse views the world (60). Gothic haunting thereby functions as the vehicle through which the suppressed returns (61). Such returns of the abject represent danger and horror relative to the boundarie s set up by the dominant discourse. Juliuss storytelling also wears this Gothic mask to summon the slaves ghostly presences. Likewise, through the Gothic qualities in Juliuss tales, Chesnutt offers a new perspective. 23 As I discussed in Chapter 1, bell hooks argues that the margin can be a site of resistance from which the oppressed can speak. hooks refuses to reverse the power hierarchy between the dominant and the dominated. Instead, she empha sizes the need to speak all that has been oppressed and silenced from the very site of resistance.
69 Johns manner of connecting Gothic qualities to the conjure stories emphasizes the impossibility of validating Juliuss conj ure tales. When Julius brings his rabbit foot as a good-luck cha rm in Sis Beckys Pickaninny, John admonishes Julius for superstition and cla ssifies Juliuss story as a very ingenious fairy tale which does not prov e that a rabbits foot is a good-luck charm (92). John chides Julius, saying y our people will never rise in the world until they throw off these childish super stitions (92). John believes that he honors the light of reason and common sense (92). Yet it is Juliuss conjure tale, not Johns philosophy, that heals Annies me lancholy: my wifes condition took a turn for the better from this very day [w hen Julius told the conjure story], and she was soon on the way to ultimate recove ry (92). Moreover, the frame story of The Gray Wolf Hant exposes an irony in Johns denial of trans formation. In the beginning of the story, J ohn reads a passage to Annie to relieve her boredom; but Annie finds it nonsense (95). T he passage is a philosophical, abstract explanation of the kind of transformation which is the center of Juliuss conjure stories. John reads: The difficulty of dealing with transformations so many-sided as those which all existences have undergone, or are undergoing, is such as to make a complete and deductive interpretation almost hopeless. So to grasp the total process of redistribution of matter and motion as to see simultaneously its several necessary results in their actual interdependence is scarcely possible. There is, however, a mode of rendering the process as a whole tolerably
70 comprehensible. Though the genesis of the rearrangement of every evolving aggregate is in itself one, it presents to our intelligence. (94-95) This passage supplements the transformati ons of Dan into a wolf and Mahaly into a black cat in the conjure story Julius tells them later. John reads the passage in his philosophy book that explains the same tr ansformations which all existences have undergone, yet he does not understand the possible transgression effected by metamorphosis in Juliuss stories (94). Johns tedious philosophic passage explains the impossi bility of comprehending transformations, yet John still demands a rational explanation for Juliuss transformation tales. Ironically, Johns denial of transformati on clearly exposes his inability to understand real meanings in the philos ophical passage. Even when John reads the passage about transformation, he does not seem to understand its meaning. Johns inability to understand this topic s hows that his confidence in philosophy and reason is actually another form of blindfold-belief. Chesnutt suggests that if Juliuss confidence in supernaturalism and transformation is a childish superstition, Johns belief in reason is it self a different kind of witchcraft or superstition. Juliuss power of Gothic storytelling makes the invisible visible and gives power to the indecipherable voice of t he ghost-slave. Juliuss tales resonate with cries that the master narrative renders i narticulate in order to construct a new meaning and signification. In Po Sandy, at Annies request, John decides to build a new kitchen, using the lumber of the old school house in the back of his
71 main house. One day John asks Julius to drive him and Annie to the sawmill to buy lumber, and there Julius interprets t he sound made by the circular saw as the blood-cuddling cries of the slave Sandy. At the beginning of the story, Julius establishes that Sandy had already lost his first wife who was sold to pay his masters debt; now his master is separat ing Sandy from Tenie his second wife by loaning Sandy, a monstus good nigger, to his relatives on other plantations. Tenie uses her conjuring power to turn Sandy into an oak tree to keep Sandy from being taken away and to preserve t heir relationship. But when Tenie goes away to nurse the sick mistress overni ght, Sandy, the oak tree, is brutally chopped up and cut into lump at the sawmill in order to build a kitchen which is later used as the old schoolhouse. In addi tion to Sandys cruel death, Tenie is tied to a tree in front of the sawmill to watch Sandy being cut to pieces. Tenie soon died of grief on the building floor, which has been haunted by their spirits ever since. Julius claims that Sandys moaning can be heard from the circular saw eating the log: [. .] the machinery of the mill was set in motion, and the circular saw began to eat its way through the log, with a loud whir which resounded throughout the vicinity of the mill. The sound rose and fell in a sort of rhythmic cadence, which, heard from where we sat, was not unpleasing, and not loud enough to prevent conversation. (45) While John describes the sound as unpleasing, Julius hears Sandys moanin en groanin en sweekin cries that cuddl e [his] blood (45). The saw suggests
72 the mechanical, inhuman system of slaver y. The process of the circular saw chopping the log is described as the oral activity of eating, which represents the deadly drive of the slaveholding society to devour the Other. This devouring act epitomizes slaverys tendency toward interiorizing and spiritualizing the abject, in Kristevas words (118-19). The eating action of the saw is equivalent to the abjection process enacted in slavery that robs the slave Sandy of humanity and makes him a part of the kitchen buildingpr actically and symbolically a prison of slaves. The saws mechanical action symbolizes the power of slavery that transforms black human beings into pieces of lumber. Slavery is symbolized by the repeated, mechanical action of the saw that reduces Sandy to an inarticulate cry because slavery legally defined persons as inanimate property, as chattel. But Sandys story does not end until hi s moans haunt the kitchen building. In the inarticulate sounds of the Gothic, Sandys abjected spirit keeps returning to haunt the kitchen. In fact, Sandys moans and Tenies spirit prevent the whites from using the building. Sandys ghostly presence gives the slaves an excuse to refuse to work at night. After listening to Sandys tragedy, Annie asks John not to tear down the old school. Instead, she allows Julius to use the building for his church meeting. The silenced, officially forgotten trauma of Sandy and Tenie returns as an inarticulate presence to haunt white supremacist society. The grotesque transformations at the center of Juliuss stories conj ure all that white society prevents and silences. Sandys ghos tly moaning expresses his grief over and refusal of family separations, and his resistance to oppre ssion. Memorialized
73 through Juliuss storytelling, Sandy dons a shape and proclaims the horrible reality of slavery. The ghostly sound of Sandys suffering resembles another slaves fate, as heard from a bullfrog in Tobes Tribulat ion. One night when Julius comes to Johns house, John offers Julius a dish of frog legs, but Julius refuses because he says the bull frog reminds him of som ebody wats los somewhar, en cant fin de way back (185). In Juliuss story, the slave Tobe is tu rned into a bullfrog. Tobe wants to escape to the North afte r hearing of another slaves success in escaping, but he is scared of being caught and punished. Therefore he asks the conjure woman, Aunt Peggy, to change hi m into another living form for a safe escape to freedom. After he is turned into a bear and then a fox, he is still scared and fails to escape. Finally Aunt Peggy ch anges Tobe into a bull frog. For fear of being caught, the bullfrog-man Tobe still stays in the pond near Aunt Peggys house until she forgets about Tobe and dies For forty years thereafter, Tobe cries for Aunt Peggy and freedom. The sound of frogs brings about the lament of a lost soul, which John never hears ( 185). Johns rationalism keeps him from hearing the slaves voice in the tale and understanding the meanin g of the story. Just as Tobe still is imprisoned in a bullf rogs body even after he is legally freed from slavery, African Americans in C hesnutts time continued to struggle with racial violence and discrimination. Tobes inaudible voice symbolizes the cries of black people for humane treatment and a di gnity that was still unavailable in post-bellum America. Both Sandys and Tobes fates suggest the tragic entrapment of slavery that can only be heard in the broken language of the
74 Gothic. Such Gothic voices summon and record the pain silenced by the dominant discourse. In Juliuss stories Gothic qualities me rge with the world of the goopher, the region of the marginalized and ab-jected. According to Robert Farris Thompson, the word goopher refers to g rave dirt, which has an et ymological root in the KiKongo verb kafwa, to die (105). Goopher dirt, therefore, is a substitution for corpse. (Puckett 249). If Kristeva is right in saying that the human corpse occasions the greatest concentration of abjection and fascination and therefore is the utmost of abjection, the goopher represents death infecting life. Abject (147, 4). In this sense, the goopher is working in-between death and life, inbetween all boundaries that Western t hought and philosophy define. Used for good or evil, the goopher is the abjected belief system that most radically challenges what the master discourse defines as normal and sensible. When John and Annie hear of the word goopher from Julius, they immediately dismiss it as an unfamiliar word because the goopher is the unknown and mysterious region to John and his dominant discourse (35). The goopher works at the site that John most fears and to which he is most blind, the boundary between rational and irrational powers. It can change a slave into animal, a white into a black slave, a child into a bird, a human being into a piece of ham. It ignores, invades, and blurs all the boundaries and bor ders. In this sense, the goopher works as a vehicle for the slave-abject to resist the oppressing system and stir up horrors to the point where the existing social system is turned into something undecidable and unstable (Kristeva 150) The goopher provides a means for
75 slaves to express deeply felt emotions to survive trauma, and even to change their situation. The incomprehensible goopher with its Go thic affinities threatens the identity of subject-whites and their dom inant discourse. John constantly posits binary oppositions and pres ents himself as the bearer of rational truth in opposition to Juliuss irrational and s uperstitious belief. John determines the boundaries between races, between the ani mate and the inanimate, between superior and inferior, between logic and nonsense. Such boundaries become more fluid and twisted in Juliuss tale. Transformations of a human being into an animal or an inanimate form expose t he distortions bound up in the rationalist societys institution of slaveryan institutional c onjuration that transforms humans into beings with the legal stat us of animals or property. Although Western racist hegemony is based on dist inctive differences between animal and human, black and white, slavery itself enacts the interchangeability between black and animal. John even compares Juliuss intellect with the base mentality of horses and dogs and dismisses the black mans belie f in the supernatural as childish (55, 83). Such a self-contradictory concept in slavery actually makes irrational transformations possible as Annie concludes from Sandys story: What a system it was . under which such things we re possible! (53). Sandys transformation, indeed, results from his des ire to preserve his family from the separation which they suffer under slavery.
76 The goophers perverse power lies in working along th e border of the mentality that cannot distingu ish between animal and human being 24 at once exaggerating, underscoring, and subverting the dehumani zing slave system. In The Goophered Grapevine, the slave Henr ys physical condition is bound to the vines and the plantation. Henrys conditi on, however, is caused by Mars Dugal' McAdoos greed. Mars McAdoo has asked A unt Peggy to goopher the grapevine, so that he can prevent slaves from eat ing grapes and so increase his profits. When Mars McAdoo discovers the new slave Henry has eaten grapes without knowing that the grapevine is goophered, he asks Aunt Peggy to reverse the conjure on Henry so he will not lose this more precious propertyHenry himself. As a result, Henrys health fluctuat es along the seasonal cycle. When grapes begin to grow, Henrys hair grows out and he gets stronger and younger; when grapes fall, he becomes bald, old, and weak Mars McAdoo finds a way to profit from Henrys transformation by selling H enry at a high price in spring and buying him back at the lowest price in winter. Henrys physical link to the grapevine represents the slaves fate as a pr operty to be traded at any time. Similarly, in Sis Becks Pickaninny Kunnel Penleton trades Becky for a race horse, separating her from her baby Mose, and equating her with an animal. Beckys new owner refuses to take her baby with her: I doan raise niggers; I raises hosses, en I doan wanter be bothrin wid no nigger babies. Nemmine de baby. Ill keep dat oman so busy shell fergit de baby; fer niggers is made ter wuk, 24 The perverse power of the abject was explai ned in the previous chapter. The goopher, as abject, works along with its adversary, just as Roxana both adheres to and twists the whites law and custom for her own benefit.
77 en dey ain got no time fer no sich foolisness ez babies (86). Slaves are not allowed to have feeling to gr ieve over the loss of family For him the slave is the same as a horse, or the less than one. D aves Neckliss includes the powerful psychological transformation of a slave who turns into ham. Dave is wrongly accused and punished for a theft by having a piece of ham shackled to his neck. Daves master does not investigate the ma tter or listen to Dave. Even after the ham is removed, Dave identifies himsel f with the ham and finally hangs himself like bacon in the smokehouse. This gr otesque psychological transformation demonstrates how the lives of slaves ar e legally treated as the commodities of white masters. As Eric Sundquist argues, Daves inability to give up the symbol of the ham dramatizes not only the dehuman ization of racism, but also the selfdestructive effects of African Amei rcans own acceptance (380). Chesnutt suggests that slavery not only makes and treats black slaves as working chattels but it also engraves their inferiority on them 25 Yet The Conjurers Revenge, cast in a comical idiom, suggests strong resistance to the psychological impact of slavery. After taking the conjure mans shote, Primus is turned into a mule by the conjure man and is re-sold to his master who does not know the mule is Primus. Unlike other stories, The Conjurers Revenge is centered on the Primus-mu les strange behaviors, rather than the transformation itself. The mule-man Primus acts just like a human being: he eats tobacco plants, drinks wi ne, and attacks Dan, another slave who 25 The self-destructive acceptance of what t he dominant culture engraves is grotesquely and powerfully depicted by Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye. I will discuss this topic further in the next chapter.
78 dates Primuss wife. This weird behavio r by the mule is soon reported to the master. The mule-man Primuss weird acts enact a refusal to be treated as a mule and a determination to retain his humanity. The mules coveting of wine, cigarettes, and a woman is strange to people because of course a mule is supposed to work and conform to its masters will. When slavery slyly rationalizes the abjection process that transforms blacks into chattel/property, goopher mirrors the way in which slavery works, yet reverses its core signification. Juliuss stories portray the power of the goopher as positive, not-weird, natural, and even no rmal, not as evil or simple trickery. The goopher becomes a means of heali ng and relieving the slaves agony. The goopher appears to be a positive force which is contrasted with Johns rationalized world and slavery. In Po S andy, the goopher is a tool for Sandy to avoid another separation from Tenie. The voodoo doll in H ot-Foot Hannibal marries the two lovers, Chloe and Jeff. Aunt Peggys goopher in Sis Beckys Pickaninny circumvents the masters tr ansaction to reverse the trade of Becky for a horse, reuniting the slave mother and her son. Mars Jeemss Nightmare includes a political conjuration of the white master who does not allow slaves to sing, dance, play, or marry. A slave, Solomon, asks Aunt Peggy to work a goopher to save him from the brutal wh ite master. Aunt Peggy changes Mars Jeems into a slave so that he will expe rience the inhumane system as a slave, and turns him back again later. Even though Mars Jeems believes his experience was only a nightmare, this nightmarish ex perience changes him into a noo man (67). The goopher allows Solomon to marry the girl he loves. In Juliuss story,
79 even a nightmare can benefit a slave whos e only resource of power was the magic of the conjure woman, according to Cary D. Wintz in Race and Realism in the Fiction of Charles W. Chesnutt (1972, 125). Gothic features in conjuration are positive symbols, just as Roxanas ac t of exchanging babies is the act of redeeming her son from social death. The conjure becomes a healing and redeeming strategy that prov ides power for the powerless; the goopher offers an alternative way of reasoning. Many early critics, including many of Chesnutts contempor aries, point out Juliuss shrewd motives in telling the tales, or criticize his acceptance of black stereotypes. In the end of ev ery story, John claims to detect Juliuss selfish intention to take advantage of him. Using th e tales, Julius tries to protect his gain from the deserted vineyard in The Goophered Grapevine, to use the old-kitchen building for his Church meeting in Po Sandy, to make John and Annie rehire his lazy grandson in Mars Jeems Night mare, and to buy a new suit in The Conjurers Revenge. Char les Alexander, an early revi ewer, wrote that Juliuss narratives spring from a motive of questionable selfishness (1899); Anonymous reviewers from The Southern Workmen, The Literary World and The Christian Advocate called Julius a schemer, hypocrite, and fancy liar. Wintz described Julius as an astute old Negro who took advantage of the white womans gullibility and sympathies and turned the whites belief that the blacks lack serious mental capacity back on to the or iginators of the my th (124). Melvin Dixon also describes him as a trickst er who fulfills his own material and psychological needs by telling folktales (186) It is true that Julius tricks John to
80 protect his living situation. Juliuss tr ickeries, however, ma y not be his main purpose or motive for storytelling. Johns questions trigger Juliuss past memories correspondent to the current happenings. Juliuss economic reason is only a red herring to hide his real intentions, in Eric J. Sundquists words (373). Julius uses the financial motive as a mask to disguise his condemnation of slavery. Often Juliuss trickeries provide comical scene to the readers. That is why early critics related Chesnutts conjur e tales to the Brer Rabbit tales that were extremely popular in Chesnutts ti me. Juliuss disguise as a trickster gratifies Johns expectation by giving him what he wants to see and believe. Juliuss subtle manipulation is more expl icit in A Victim of Heredity: or, Why the Darkey Loves Chicken. When John catches the black man who has been stealing his chickens, he invokes the popular stereotype of blacks as chicken thieves. Julius surprisingly agrees with Johns comment, returning the blame to the whites greedy motive: A wte mans ter balme fer dat (174). In Juliuss stories, a white slave-owner, out of greed, asks Aunt Peggy to goopher his black slaves to eat less while t hey work the same. The goopher seems to work at first, but soon the slaves get weaker and sicker. Aunt Peggy advises the white slave-owner to buy all the chickens to feed his slaves until they regain their original strength. The white master has to buy all chickens in the village in order not to lose his propertythe slaves. Accord ing to Julius, that is why blacks have to eat chicken. Juliuss story makes Anni e release the chicken thief, yet Juliuss stories are not limited to hel ping his fellow black man. By telling the greedy white slave-owners story, Julius ascribes the stereotyping of the blacks to the white
81 man and slavery, twisting the stereoty pes to reveal the more fundamental problem of slavery and raci st thinking in America. Juliuss description of little Mose in Sis Beckys Pickaninny also seems to embrace another stereotype, this one of singing and dancin g blacks. Sis Beckys little Mose, a shiny the Dark ey-eyedes little nigger, can sing en whistle des lack a mawkin'-bird (91). Mose often comes up to the masters house to entertain white folks with singing and dancing. This image of a singing black boy is reminiscent of the infamous Topsy 26 of Chesnutts times. Yet such minstrel acts, Julius emphasizes, enable Mo se to buy freedom for his mother and himself. The stereotype of a singing bl ack becomes both a mask that hides Moses desire for freedom and a strategy that raises money to fulfill his purpose. Such manipulation is empowered by Juliuss rhetorical skill in oral storytelling. His dialect further masks t he stories real meaning, counteracting Johns colonizing power. In effect, Chesnutts text bec omes a site of struggle between oral and the written culture. Juliuss marginalized, deviant vernacular overpowers Johns normal, stand ard written English. In st ory after story, Juliuss oral storytelling seems more credible to Annie and the readers. Juliuss language of the conjure creates a site of cultur al struggles because it operates on the border between two cultures, two different points of view, Johns rationalist, official discourse, and Juliuss oral folk tales. John repeatedly asserts that he knows objective truth in opposition to Juliuss superstitious fairy tale, and 26 Topsy is a little black girl from Harriet Beecher Stowes Uncle Toms Cabin. The Topsy character became a popular stereotype of a s illy dancing black girl which often appeared in minstrelsy and Tom shows in the nineteenth century.
82 insists that Juliuss speech is riddled with lies. But it is Juliuss stories, not Johns documents, that bear the sta mp of truth (92), the true story of antebellum history. John notices that Juliuss story has perspective and coherence (35). In fact, Juliuss vernacular trumps John s official language, inspiring more confidence and becoming a controlling voice in the work. Such manipulation with language and non-language is most clearly manifested in The Dumb Witness, one of the most subversi ve conjure stories. Although not included in t he collection of seven conj ure stories originally published in 1899 27 The Dumb Witness features one of the strongest characters in Juliuss conjure tales. Vi ney, a former slave, overturns the masters tool of oppression in order to destroy the master. The story begins with Johns description of Malcolms decaying estate When he passes the declining marks of the plantation, John sees Malcolm impl oring Viney, an old housemaid of mixed color, to tell him the location of va luable papers. Viney responds only with an inarticulate murmuring. According to Juliuss story, the unmarried Roger Murchison had inherited a large estate. Since Roger was often absent in the estate, his nephew Malcolm managed t he property, and Viney, the slave housekeeper, ran the house. Once Ma lcolm announced that he was going to marry a white lady, Viney became furi ous for some unstated reason and told Malcolms fiance something that made her break the engagement. When 27 The first edition of the conjure stories includ ed only seven stories, all of which contain a goopher: The Goophered Grapevine, Po Sandy, Mars Jeems Nightmare, The Conjurers Revenge, Sis Beckys Peckaninny, Gray Wolfs Hant, and Hot-Foot Hannibal. Richard H. Brodhead, in the Introduction of The Conjure Woman and Other Tales discusses the editors intention, arguing that other storie s not included in the first edition of The Conjure Woman lack recourse to conjure, but have ev en more subversive qualities.
83 Malcolm found out that Viney was re sponsible for the broken engagement, he punished Viney in some way the story does not specify. Soon after, Malcolm received a letter from the dying uncl e that he [Roger] had hidden valuable documents that would prove Malcolms right to the estate and fortune. The letter also indicated that only Viney, who is o f our blood, knew the hidden place (166). Malcolm was commanding, threatening, expos tulating, entreating her to try, just, once more, to tell him his uncles message (170). But Viney cannot reveal the place because she has lost her power of speech on account of the previous punishment. Upon Malcolms death, Viney reveals the location to his nephew, who restores the decaying plantation and estates. Ironically the papers were hidden on the seat of an old oak arm c hair where Malcolm had been sitting for years. Viney had pretended to lose her s peech in order to control Malcolm. Although the story does not explicitly include goopher roots or mixture, it features a strong subversive element in t he figure of Viney. Instead of using roots, Viney uses her relationship to language for conjuration. Like Julius, Viney is of mixed blood, combining Indian, black, and white (163). In addition, Johns observation strongly implies and Rogers lette r confirms that she is a Murchison: [Vineys] face was enough like [Malcolms], in a feminine way to suggest that they might be related in some degree (159). Yet she is excluded from the legitimate Murchison family. She is also physically silenced. When Malcolm punishes Viney, he proclaims, I will teach you to tell tales about our master. I will put it out of your power to dip your t ongue in where you are not concerned (165). Ironically, Vineys silence itself becomes her subversive strategy against her
84 master. Viney has a power over words since only her words can reveal the location of the documents; by silencing Viney, Malcolm disi nherits himself. By manipulating truth and meaning, she becomes a ma ster of her master. The power structure is reversed. Vineys silence contrasts with the logical Western language John treasures. Viney cannot speak a word t hat Malcolm or John can understand due to the wound from the prev ious mistreatment. Richard H. Brodhead claims that Vineys inarticulate babble may be a non-European language that sounds like babble to white folk, an issue that the tale leaves wholly enigmatic (18). I[John] thought at first in some fo reign tongue. But after moment I knew that no language or dialec t, at least none of European origin, could consist of such discordant jargon, such a meaningless cacophony as that which fell from t he womans[Vineys] lips. And as she went on, pouring out a flood of sounds that were not words, and which yet seemed now and then vaguely to suggest words, as clouds suggest the shapes of mountains and trees and strange beasts, the old man seemed to bend like a reed before a storm, and began to expostulate, accompanying his words with deprecatory gestures. (160) John calls Vineys language discordant and meaningless because he cannot understand meanings. Her language is like clouds that produce shapeless, abundant, and multiple meanings. Vineys babble sound has a power to make Malcolm bend like a reed before st orm and begin to expostulate,
85 accompanying his words with deprecatory gesture (160). Her inarticulate babbling, in reverse, silences Malcolm and becomes a constant reminder of his brutal act. Viney perversely exploits a slave ster eotype, frustrating Malcolms pursuit of the hidden papers. Malcolm hires a free N egro to teach Viney how to write so that she can write the location of the documents, but she pretends that she cannot understand the lessons. Malcolm doe s not even question her inability to learn because he attributes it to a remark able stupidity of slaves (168). Vineys performance of stupidity is credible to the white masters. Viney, like the stereotypically loyal slaves, stays and hel ps Malcolm after the Civil War, never leaving the estate. She does simple housework until others believe that she shares Malcolms affliction (170). She appea rs to be a female version of Uncle Tom. But Viney stays at the estate only to torture Malcolm and witness his misfortune and self-destruction. Performing her speechless role, she stays so that she can watch Malcolm with her inscrutable eyes (170). Vineys gaze at Malcolm is descr ibed several times in Johns narrative: She was watching him from the porch with the same in scrutable eyes (170). For years Viney watches him gr adually become unbalanced. Freuds The Uncanny interprets a phobia about ey es as revealing a deep terror that constitutes a castration complex. Scopophlia exists when one gets pleasure from looking at another person as an object. The individual becomes aroused from watching an objectified other. Laura Mulvey, in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, also emphasizes the significance of a dominant male gaze as
86 a tool of objectifying the Other 28 According to Mulvey, the bearer of the look has power to assign meaning to the lookedat-object. Kristeva further explains seeing as a process of abjection: V oyeurism accompanies the writing of abjection (46). Looking registers as the abject what the signifying system throws off of the system. It is no accident that pl antations are managed by a white overseers watchful eye in an attempt to maintain total control over their lives. Slaves had to cope with the constant pressure of being the watched. The act of watching abjectified and tamed sl aves. In the first encounter, Johns observation in Goophered Grapevine give s a minstrel-like picture of Julius even before he listens to Juliuss stories: He held on his knees a hat full of grapes, over which he was smacking his lips with great gusto, and a pile of grapeskins near him indicated that t he performance was no new thing (34). However, in The Dumb Witness, it is the (ex-)slave woman Viney who bears the gazing over her white ma ster. She bears and creates meaning, defining Malcolm as crazy and bizarre. John also states that Malcolms eyes were turned toward Viney (159). But it is Vineys inscrutable eyes that persist and remain till the story ends (170). Th is scene embodies what bell hooks calls the oppositional gaze. For hooks, the oppositional gaze responds to the dominant and colonizing looking-relations hip and is constituted by understanding and awareness of racial politics. The oppos itional gaze has been and is a site of 28 Laura Mulvey discusses how mainstream cinema structures ways of seeing and pleasure in looking (7). According to Mulvey, woman is an icon threatening male subjectivity because she represents castration. Thus, the male gaze functions to turn this threatening female figure into a fetish and objectify it. Mulveys classic article re lates to the power of the gaze in cinema, but her argument can also apply to the analysis of race relation.
87 resistance for colonized black people (116) So Vineys act of looking at Malcolm creates a critical space where the bi nary opposition of racial hierarchy is continually undermined (hoo ks 123). From the porch Viney watches Malcolm dying and decaying. Vineys gaze opens t he possibility of agency, manifesting her resistance in the face of structures of the white mast ers domination. In The Conjure Woman, Chesnutt similarly creates a space to open the possibility of a conversation between the oppressed and oppressor by summoning the abject that has been thrown off in the institution of Western hegemony and domination. In so doing, Juliuss conjure stories wield the subversive power to correct John and Annie, disrupt their binary thought, and instigate a form of multiple discourse. The Conjure Woman presented the African-American presence through t he apparently inarticulate sound and imagery of the Gothic; this strategy persi sts into the period of the New Negro Renaissance and into the late twentieth c entury. Other Afric an-American writers including Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright use Gothic elements in their novels. In contemporary writing, Toni Morrison brilliantly exploits the powers of horro r embodied in the Gothic-abject, with its uncanny ability to conjure the repressed of American history.
88 Chapter IV Reviving the Ghosts in the Machine: Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye While in different ways Mark Twain and Charles W. Chesnutt represent the ghosts of slavery which the dominant society has abjected, Toni Morrison, in The Bluest Eye 29 (1970) examines the inner struggle of African-Americans in a white-privileged world. In this context Morrison conjures up a range of monstrous images: a father who rapes his own daughter; an ugly, deranged girl who has no sense of self-worth and is finally impregnated by her father; a mother who does not love her daughter and is devoted only to the white family for whom she works. Releasing this gr otesque story of cultural monsters, Morrison subverts the central cultural my th of white-centered society as encoded in the image of Dick-and-Jane. Here I use the term myth in the s ense characterized by Roland Barthes as a paradoxically illusory reality that circulates widely and serves to systematize value in everyday life. Myth constructs a world for societys members and imposes a value that they follow (117). In Mythologies, Barthes challenges belief in the innocence and naturalness of such mythic texts and practices which 29 All quotations from this text are i ndicated with pages in this chapter.
89 fabricate the dominant ideology and mimic a universal order which has fixated once and for all the hierarchy of possessions . Myth functions as ideology that [immobilizes] the world and masks the real structure of power in society (155). A societys dominant myth characteri zes the identity and boundary of its members and provides a sense of solidar ity while alienating those who cannot assimilate to the myth. Myth becomes the imperialistic eye which both guards and supervises its members and judges them with its presented value. The Bluest Eye exposes the homogeneous, coloni zing power of American myth, and delineates the dilemma of Afri can-Americans who must live inside a myth to which they do not belong. Morrison argues in Playing in the Dark that the American myth creates Americanness, which reflects and preserves only the white male view (5). Her emphasis on such terms as Ame ricanness, white myth, and whiteness indict the myth that inscribes white lives and standards as neutral, normative and necessary for all to pursue and follow 30 AfricanAmericans confront the everyday contradi ction between a mythical world in which they have no part and a real world which th ey know well. Myth operates to make the African-American presence invisible and monstrous in American society. The Bluest Eye explores the monstrous, monolithi c power of the whiteness myth, reviving the ghosts imprisoned by the homogenizing myth machine, in order to construct a site of resistance. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison conjures up these ghosts in the machine whom she calls active but unsummoned presences that 30 Peggy McIntosh, in White Privilege and Male Pr ivilege, articulates that white privilege (the so called the myth of meritocracy) confers power not on ly in order to control other races but also to dehumanize and even morally murder them.
90 can distort the workings of the machine and can also make it work (Unspoken 13). In conjuring up the presence of the cultural ghost-abject, The Bluest Eye employs non-normative language and multiple narrating voices, including that of the main narrator, Claudia McTeer. Cl audia remembers her childhood from an adult vantage point, but she narrates the story from a childs point of view, albeit one that is often overridden by her ma ture voice. Claud ia re-members and articulates the ghostly presence of t he black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who phantasmatically conforms to the white myths monstrous power which defines her as ugly and strange. Claudias narra tion emphasizes the brutal power of white-centered culture, constructing Afri can-Americans as invisible, silenced ghosts, but also opening a potential site of resistance in the Gothic-abject. The Bluest Eye is connected to the Black Power movement of the 1960s, which aroused the anxieties of white Am erica. After the Civil Rights movement led the way to the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts that ended the Jim Crow laws, many African-Americans worked to co nsolidate their cultural heritage. The political activists of the 1960s advocat ed African-American features for black dolls 31 proclaiming Black is Beautiful. As Morrison acknowledges in the Afterword of the novel, [t]he reclamation of racial beauty in the sixties stirred these thoughts, made me think about the nec essity for the claim (210). However, Morrisons concern is not limited to the question of racial beauty In a 1974 New 31 In this connection, see Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P Clark. Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children. Reading in Social Psychology. New York: Henry Holt, 1947. 16978.
91 York Times Magazine article called "Rediscovering Black History," Morrison argues that the slogan Black is Beautiful shows a romanticized image of African beauty that focuses solely on physical appearance rather than "intelligence" and "spiritual health (14). According to Mo rrison, this approach evokes a reactionary politics that devalues Afri can-American experience and reproduces middle-class white values in an inverted form. Morris on, instead, seeks to "recognize and rescue those qualities of resistance, excell ence and integrity that were so much a part of our past and so useful to us and to the generations of blacks now growing up" (14). Merely proposing another st andard of black beauty creates another binary opposition. For Morrison, it is just another way of adopting white standards, and does not challenge the foundational problem of African-Americans symbolic non-existence in America. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison critiques the binary world of beauty and ugliness and its judgmental ga ze. She criticizes the psychically entrenched stereotypes of AfricanAmericans and summons up the abjected ghost of Pecola, who hopes to obtain the bl uest eye. To revive this abjected, ghostly, Morrison deploys non-normative language, experimental storytelling and Gothic elements as a counter-discourse designed to create a new AfricanAmerican selfhood. Morrison deliberately juxtaposes the black girl Pecola Breedloves grotesque story with popular reading ma terial, the Dick and Jane primer that was used in American classrooms during the early Twentieth Century. This primer represents the romantic beauty myth by portraying a happy, white middleclass family. The Dick and Jane story pervaded the educati onal system and was
92 a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon whose imagery was displayed in movies, billboards, cups, and candies. Pictures and stories related to the primer were displayed in shops, magazines, newspaper s, and window signs. In effect, this text became a cultural manifesto for an ideal white American family. Children were educated to believe that Dick and Jane were the idea l American children whom they should emulate with no acknowledgement that Dick and Jane represent only elite middle-class children of Angl o-Saxon heritage As Morrison argues in Unspeakable Things Unspoken, we are the subjects of our own narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience (9). The Dickand-Jane primer not only teaches childr en how to read and writ e language, but it also constitutes childrens first offici al and systematic enc ounter with language and cultural norms. In the preface of her novel Morris on deliberately defamiliarizes the Dickand-Jane story by eradicating its punct uation and spacing. Repeating the same text three times, she disfigures the te xt more aggressively each time. The second repetition omits punctuation and capitali zation, and the third even drops the spaces between words. Bar bara Christian explains in The Contemporary Fables of Toni Morrison that removing the punctuation heightens the lack of internal integrity essential to their simplistic order (61). Without these mechanical devices of spacing and punctuation the text loses its familiarity, meaning, function, and cultural pertinence. The pictur e of the white family is displayed as artifice, one produced by the machinery of myth. The rhythms of the Dick-andJane story undergo nightmarish acceleration, and the words fuse into a
93 monolithic chunk Here Morrison deploys the Gothic defamiliarization of reality in which something familiar becomes estr anged from us by deconstructing the grammar and the order of the story (Kilgore 220). Maggi e Kilgore, in her book The Rise of the Gothic Novel claims that the Gothics defamiliarization of reality suggests a tension between a lower nature and interfering system of repression, which internalizes the gothic conflict between individual and society (220). By rendering the Dick-and-Jane text unreadable, Morrison forewarns readers about the grotesque outcomes that this canonica l text evokes. When the devices of myth fail, this cultural manife sto becomes a misshapen monster. Similarly, Morrison situates Pecolas story in an unnatural seasonal cycle, deconstructing the mythical belief in wh ich everything is eventually revived according to a cyclical pattern of renew al. Morrison names each section after a season of the year beginning with Fall and ending with Summer. In Greek myth, the seasonal cycle is supposed to move from winter to spring, symbolizing the promise that everything will be revived and the dead will be resurrected. All elements of dark, coldness, and death are exorcised, while warmth, life, and revival are recycled. Morrisons use of t he regeneration myth, however, is deeply related to the abjection process which throws out all the dirt and impurities of a society in preparation for rejuvenation and solidarity among its members. Pecola does not belong to this ritual of regener ation because she is among the ones that must be thrown out of the cycl e so that the culture of whiteness can renew itself. Morrison, thus, starts Pecolas stor y with Autumn, moves to Winter and Spring, and ends with Summer, foreshadowing that the se asonal cycle will
94 produce a disastrous outcome As Christian explains, such unnatural seasons are ironic and brutal comments on Pecola s descent into madness (62). The Autumn chapter shows the environment in which the Breedloves live and suffer. Pecolas family lives in an abandoned st ore, not a green-andwhite house. The Winter chapter portrays how Pecola is rejected even in the black community and how colored folks assimilate and internalize whiteness and learn to despise their own blackness. Spring does not br ing renewed life either. The Spring chapter only provides a false spring day . Early in the chapter, the twigs bend into a complete circle, but their hopeful ness is only a change in whipping style (97). All Claudia can remember about Spri ng is the ache of being switched, the forsythia signifying death (97). Likewis e, the Breedloves suffer and are reduced to invisible ghosts by racism and the poisonous seasonal myth Pecola is raped by her own father, and descends into madness thanks to Soaphead Churchs evil scheme. The Summer chapter begins with the warning of storms and death. Frieda and Claudia plant seeds for Pecola but, as Claudia informs us at the beginning of the story, Claudias seeds wont sprout. Everything runs toward death and despair without a hint of hope, and Pecolas story sinks into the seasonal discontinuity and disorder which express the destructive outcomes of this particular myth. The s easonal titles stand out as perverse contradictions of Pecolas experience, and t here is no renewal for Pecola : renewal is only allowed to white Dicks and Janes. Pecola must be cast out of the regeneration cycle in order to ensure the safety of white cult ure, for her existence disturbs it. The seasonal cycle of the oldest Western my ths becomes a horrible exorcism of
95 blackness, which secures only the superio r position of white culture. Thus, the regeneration myth becomes a death process for Pecola. Morrison divides Pecolas story of despair and non-revival into smaller chapters, which are each preceded by a different portion of the spaceless, distorted text from the Dick and Jane primer. Except for the first one, these chapters begin with an unreadable phrase fr om the primer which corresponds to Pecolas life as described in the chapter. The fixed and perfect world of myth is sharply juxtaposed with the alienated world of Pecola and her family. Pecola does not have white skin with blue eyes like Jane. Pecola does not have anyone to love or be loved by: she lacks a friend, a dog, or a cat to play with. Pecola and her family are held in cont empt by the black community ; her father was the old Dog Breedlove [who] had burned up his house (17). Pecola does not live with a loving family; she lives in an abandoned store with angry parents who fight and curse each other every day. This abandoned place bot h represents and reinforces their physical and cultural alienation. To describe the condition of Pecolas family, the omniscient narrator uses a term that denotes both strong belief and legal condemnation: conviction. The narrator says that Pecola and her family ar e convicted as ugly. Their ugliness comes from the cultural, legal conviction. You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly. Then you realized that it came from conv iction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious, all-kno wing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without
96 question. The master had said, "You are ugly people. They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support fo r it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. "Yes," they had said. "You are right." And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it a mantle over them, and went about the worl d with it. Dealing with it each according to his way (39). As a legal term, conviction evokes a long history of injustice including segregation, anti-miscegenation and Jim Crow laws, as well as slavery itself, all of which have established Americas hier archical binaries of white and black. This system of legislated injustice enforces racial hierarchy and condones the superior value of whiteness. Having been sanctioned by the American legal system, the value of whiteness defines blue eyes in a fair, white face as normal and beautiful in opposition to inferior bla ckness. In this context, Pecola is convicted as ugly by the norms of white beauty. However ugliness is neither essential nor natural. It comes from a strong belief which has been repeatedly enforced in American cultur e and history. The myster ious, all-knowing master silently convicts the characters as ugly and useless without allowing any appeal or argument, and Pecolas family accept s the cultural norm without question. Their acceptance ratifies the cultural gaz e that judges them. T hey cannot see in themselves what every billboard, ever y movie, every glance called beauty. When they accept this gaze and reflect it back upon themselves, they realize
97 their differences from the norm and therefore recognize themselves as abnormal and freak[ish] This conviction and acceptance is disp layed in Pecolas encounter with Mr. Yacobowski, the owner of a candy stor e, who frustrates her attempt at understanding herself. On the way to the store to buy some candies, Pecola attempts to unravel a confusing social assumption: is the dandelion a weed or is it a beautiful flower? Implicitly, Pecola here struggles to discover whether she herself is a weed or a flower. At first s he enjoys the innocent view different from others: grownups say that the dandelions are ugly, but Pecola thinks that dandelions are pretty and even are the t ouchstone of the world (46). The dandelions are real to her. She knew the m (47). She is a dandelion. If she is able to find beauty in them, she can identify beauty in herself. Pecola attempts to accept her self by redef ining the beauty of the dandeli ons, the metaphor for her self-identity in that they also have been defined as ugly. She even feels a sense of belonging: owning them made her part of the world, and the world a part of her (48). However, when she looks up at Mr. Yacobowskis blue eyes and sees the vacuum, Pecola again shrinks fr om total absence of human recognition (48). Mr. Yacobowski does not see Pecola. He refuses to see or touch her: He hesitates, not wanting to touch her hand (49). For the store owner Pecola is nothing, not human, not even worthy of being seen. She is much like the little brown speck that destroyed her mother Pauline's tooth (116). As nothing but dirt, she is thrown off by Mr. Yacobowskis gaze. Pecola reads the disdain in his eyes and knows that [t]he distaste must be for her, her blackness (49). The
98 moment Pecola allows the globalized perspec tive of whiteness to invade her selfidentity, she sees the image of blue eyes close-up; before these eyes, Pecola shrinks into a shapeless, insubstantial ghost. She gives up her own perspective and re-defines the dandelions as ugly and weeds. When Pecola re-evaluates dandelions as ugly and negates hersel f, she dis-members her self. This self-negation darkens and reverses even the most positive experience in Pecolas lifeher first experience of menstruation. When Pecola stays with Claudias family for a while, she has her first period. Pecolas momentary terror at the blood soon subs ides when Frieda, Claudias sister, reveals its meaning to Pecola and Claudia: Noooo. You wont die. It just means you can have a baby! (28). As Kristeva indicates, menstrual blood stands for the danger to identity which haunts t he relationship between the sexes (71). Menstrual blood symbolizes maternal aut hority as opposed to the paternal power and laws of language, which discip line the body into a territory. In patriarchal society, archaic maternal authority is suppressed under paternal power to create a binary logic and gender hier archy, according to Kristeva. In this process of repressing archaic, mater nal power, menstrual blood, signifying sexual difference, is classified as defilement, something of shame. In The Bluest Eye, Pecolas first menstrual period is positively ritualized and validated under the maternal care of Mrs. MacTeer, the mother of Claudia and Frieda, who washes Pecola and her clothes with the mu sic of mothers laughter (32). Mrs. McTeers laughter celebrates Pecolas emerging womanhood. It is a pleasurable moment when Pecola realizes her pow er as a woman for whom Claudia and
99 Frieda are full of awe and re spect (32). But this mome nt turns is reversed the same night when Pecola relates this ex perience to her own loveableness. During the bedtime talk among the girls Pecola as ks, how do you get somebody to love you? (32). While Frieda and Claudia see Pecolas new experience as the power of being able to give a life, which deser ves awe and respect, Pecola brings up the question of passively being loved because her blackness makes her believe that she cannot be. Here Pecolas ability to bring life into the world becomes a questionable experience which forewarn s of the curse and shame she will experience because she cannot find any value in herself as compared to the cutest girl, Shirley Temple. When Pecola connects her experience of menstruation to the dominant social st andard of acceptance, the archaic power of womanhood is negated and abjected. Pecola projects the Dick-and-Jane world onto herself and judges herself based on what she learns from the white-centered cultural fiction. She is looking in the mirror and studies her self, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike (45). In the mirror she cannot find a socially sanctioned beautya blue-eyed, yellow-hair ed, pink-skin face, like the one featured in the popular baby doll or celebrity Shirley Temple This is the only beauty that society promotes and cherishes. When Pecola finds the secret of the ugliness laid on her black hair and black skin, she sees her self as abnormal, accuses herself of ugliness, and prays for blue eyes.
100 Pecola accepts blue eyes, fair skin, and blond hair as the standard of beauty, and attempts to remo ve her blacknessthe source of her ugliness, she believes. She even squeezes herself into non-being: Please make me disappear. She squeezed her eyes shut. Little parts of her body faded away. Now slowly, now with a rush. Slowly again. Her fingers went, one by o ne; then her arms disappeared all the way to the elbow. Her feet now. [. .] The face was hard too. Almost done, almost. Only her tight, tight eyes were left. They were always left. (45) Pecolas discovery that she is not J ane creates this almost grotesque selfeffacing wish. Her entire existence is blurred by her self-image of ugliness perpetuated by what she sees and reads. Pe cola sees herself only with the eyes of other people, the watchful eyes of the white myth (47). She sees and defines herself as an essence of ugliness associ ated with blackness. She is not seen even by herself, until she is driven into madness. This self-effacing wish is her desire to throw off her blackness, expel it from her self. Because she is only able to see herself through the socially sanc tioned gaze, she becomes invisible and cannot see anything worth seeing. She abj ectifies herself by reflecting the imperialistic gaze onto her self and re linquishes her own being to unbeing. She herself performs the abjection of blackness. As Trudier Harris notes, images of blond hair and blue eyes are constant reminders that blackness is of lesser value and that whiteness makes happiness and beauty (43). Pecola believes that blue eyes will allow her to unite
101 permanently with those pretty features and have everythi ng she wants, including acceptance, love, and visibility. She believe s that if she had blue eyes she would be beautiful, and her parents would not want to argue in front of their beautiful child. Theyd say, why, look at pretty-e yed Pecola, we mustnt do bad things in front of those pretty eyes (46). In this sense, the blue eye symbolizes the objectifying discourse of dominant hegemony. As Elisabeth Mermann-J ozwiak argues, vision is a tool for subjugation (193). The gaze/eye symbolizes the power to see a value which is produced through the cultural myth. The blue eye signifies the eye of whiteness, and the title The Bluest Eye symbolizes the dominant, m onolithic perspective of society. This singular eye is a parti cular way of seeing things. It is the homogenizing force, the hegemon ic gaze of the norm. This gaze circulates images that define beauty and rationalize and naturalize white superiority through signifiers such as Shirley Temp le, Mary Jane, and Jean Harlow. This convicting eye defines white beauty as uni versal. Pecola internalizes the binary oppositions: ugly and pretty, black and white, dark and light, bad and good, unfortunate and happy, abjecti on and acceptance. Pecolas craving for white beauty is associated with the devouring act. She drinks three quarts of white milk at once w hen she stays with Claudia because of her desire to see sweet Shir ley Temples face printed on the cup (23). Similarly, Pecolas gesture of eati ng the Mary Jane candy is the ecstasy of a transporting identity. For Pecola, [t]o eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Ma ry Jane (50). For Pecola, Mary-Jane
102 candy and the Shirley-Temple cup signi fy white beauty; she eats and drinks the signified symbols of whiteness, beauty, love, and acceptance. When she chews the candy, she phantasmatically internaliz es the whiteness that the little girl image on the candy cover represents, and she becomes a Mary Jane. By eating the signified beauty engraved in milk and candy, she introjects the white ideal and sanctifies herself. These devouring behaviors demonstrat e Pecolas consuming desire to purify her blackness and ugliness by m eans of the divine communion, as in Kristevas terms: I am divided and lapsing with respect to my ideal, Christ, whose introjection by means of numerous communions, sanctifies while reminding me of my incompletion. By absorbing the symbolic the abjection is no longer a being of abjection but a lapsing subject. (118-19) Holy Communion symbolizes a sinners temporal release from sin and subsequent purification. By devouring t he beauty symbols of the white-privileged society Pecola attempts to purify and save herself. She exorcizes her blackness, baptizing herself with whit e qualities. The Shirley-Temple cup and Mary Jane candy allow Pecola to carry the im age through her very being. George Yancy argues that Pecolas consuming the m ilk is the transubstantial power that creates a metamorphosis, changing her from black to white, from absent to present (311). However, as Kristeva indi cates, the communion of absorbing the symbolic is only temporary (119). C onsuming the signifier (of white beauty)
103 does not make Pecola what it signifies. Pecola experiences nothing but a momentary ecstasy/fantasy of being Mary Jane. Pecolas unfulfilled desire gradually r educes her into an invisible ghost in society She cannot pronounce the name of the candy she wants to buy when she confronts Mr. Yacobowskis blue eyes that look upon her with such distaste. Even in the rape scene, the only sound she ma kes is a hollow suck of air in the back of her throat. Like the rapid loss of air from a circus balloon (163). While Claudia and Frieda open the story and articulate their witnessing of Pecolas despair and tragedy, Pecola is not able to say a word. Pecola has no control over her body and no authority over the narrative. She is silenced or only allowed to make ghostly articulations because her presence is unbearable and unspeakable. In silence she regresse s into madness, disappearing from the center-world of the American myth into the marginalized Gothic world. She embodies the ghostly presence of the black who has been forced to internalize whiteness. She is the ghost of poverty, di sorder, funkiness, and blackness that has been abjected by the American myth. As Minrose C. Gwin describes her, Pecola is framed in the claustrophobic spaces where her blackness cannot be tolerated, and squeezed tighter and tighter until she shrinks into nothing (322). Her body itself becomes an uncanny stranger to herself. By splitting herself, she dismembers her self. Finally, Pecola abjectifies herself. A series of cultural and mythical symbols of whiteness driv e her into madness in which she hallucinates that she has blue eyes. Pe cola, in desperation, defines her own self as the other and c onjures up a friend out of her imagination to endorse
104 her non-existent white beauty. Pecolas se lf-negating wish, at last, is fulfilled. She exists only as the mythical blue ey e which exorcizes all her body and mind. She becomes an empty cultural signifi er (the bluest eye) without a signified (white beauty). Pecolas ghostly presence is inherit ed from and shared with her parents, Pauline and Cholly Breedlove. Pauline is first introduced to the reader in terms of her physical deformity: a crooked, archless foot (110). Paul ines lame foot makes her pitiful and invisible until s he meets and marries Cholly. But when Pauline moves to Lorain, Ohio, she has to encounter the white values implanted in the northern culture. She meets m any white people and assimilated black ladies, and the northern black ladies make fun of her because of her make-up, hairstyle, and dialect. To them, Pauline represents the essence of funkiness which white supremacist culture negates and expels 32 In an attempt to assimilate white values, Pauline straight ens her hair, wears high heels, dresses her hair like the white actress, Jean Harl ow, and goes to movies She attempts to be white. Yet, one bite of candy at a mo vie theater pulls a good tooth right out of her mouth. Teeth 33 are associated with aggression, and when Pauline loses a good tooth, she loses all aggression towa rds whites, as Katherine Gilbert observes (49). She loses all sense of self. Pauline then realizes that she cannot 32 I will discuss later in the chapter how Morrison uses the term the funkiness. 33 The tooth analogy is repeated in Chollys en counter with the white men who force him to copulate in front of them. He [Cholly] could think only of the flashlight, the muscadines, and Darlenes hands. And when he was not thinking of them, the vacancy in his head was like the space left by a newly pulled tooth still conscious of the rottenness that had once filled it (150). This symbolic rape experience takes away his a ggressiveness toward the white man and with it the possibility of growing into an adult.
105 even imitate white beauty and instead seeks beauty in the Fisher home where she works. Pauline accepts her situation. To survive in the system, she distances herself from all funky blackness by se rving white values. She cannot afford beauty herself, but she can dominate over other servants and create order and beauty for a white family. Housekeeping enables Pauline phantasmatically to bring her life into order. At the Fishers, she could arrange things, clean things, lines things up in neat rows . Here she found beauty, order, cleanliness, and praise (127). She becomes an ideal servant. Pauline desperately clings to her relationship with the Fishers but fails to care for her own daughter. She is fond of being called by her pet name Polly in t he Fishers house but stops taking care of her own children, who call her Mrs. Breedlove. Pauline cannot see her daughter Pecola because Pecola is ever ything that she is running away from. Pauline begins to distance herself fr om her daughters body because Pecola threatens her peaceful haven in the Fisher s ordered space. Pecola is an intruder in her mothers perfect world. Pauline is living in fear of be ing clumsy, fear of being like their father, f ear of not being loved by God, fear of madness like Chollys mothers (128). She cannot comfort or love her own daughter when Pecola gets burned by a spilled pie. Inst ead, Pauline runs to the crying white child. Incapable of loving her own childr en, Pauline becomes a loyal servant to the white householda black shadow lo yal to the whiteness myth. She thus exemplifies a stereotypical bla ck mammy for the white family.
106 While Pauline plays the part of th e typical black mammy, Cholly Breedlove does his as a bad nigger. Cholly burns his own house; he drinks and screams; he makes his wife support t he family; he rapes his own daughter. Behind this stereotypical bad nigger persona lies a history of distortions of the principal relationship and rituals of lif e, as Byerman says in Beyond Realism (102). Cholly lives outside and beyond the whiteness norm as a ghost-like character expelled from soci ety. The American myth reminds him of his lack of self-identity as a black man. Cholly internalizes the binary opposition of blackness and whiteness, identifying himself as evil. He remembers a watermelon breaking at a church picnic when he was still a boy: when Cholly sees a big black man, a father of a family lift the melon over his head to break it on the ground, he first wonders if God would be like the big black man. But soon Cholly corrects his first perception: He [Cholly] wondered if God looked like that. No. God was a nice old white man, with long white hai r, flowing white beard, and little blue eyes that looked sad when people died and mean when they were bad. It must be the devil who looks like thatholding the world in his hands, ready to dash it to the ground and spill the red guts so niggers could eat the sweet, warm insides. (134) Imagining that God is only like a white man with white hair and little blue eyes, Cholly accepts the binary opposition of blackness as devil and whiteness as
107 divine. 34 Such experience prevents him from forming an ethical base and compels him to identify himself as an ev il force in the white dominant world. Chollys internalization of himself as inferior and evil is also manifested in his first sexual encounter. This liaison, experienced with Darleen, is situated in the perfect garden of love . The smell of promised rain, pine, and muscadine made him giddy (146). Darlene looks sweet and pretty under the romantic moonlight. His own body make[s] sense to him for the first time (147). Although set in a sensual and benign context, this liaison is violently interrupted by two white men with long guns who force Cholly and Darleen to copulate in the round moon glow of their flashlig ht (151). Chollys sexual initiation becomes a puppet show under the white mens gaz e, which is identified with the flashlight they wield. The dominating and intimidat ing presence of the whit e men not only poisons Chollys first sexual experience but also initiates a chain of events that destroys his male identity. He internalizes this oppression and develops a distaste for his own black self. Because Cholly cannot hat e the white men who terrorize him, he transfers his hatred to Darlene (150). The my th of white superiority authorizes the white men to treat Cholly as a black-faced actor to entertain them, and his acceptance of this false myth strips Cholly of the ability to hate the men in return. Chollys feeling of vacancy (150) is uncannily repeated in the hollow sound made by Pecola in the rape scene. 34 Daniel Candel Bormann, in The Material Bodily Principle in Mikhail Bakhtins Rabelais and His World and Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye (1997), offers an interesting discussion of this scene focused on Morrisons narrative strategy of using what Bakhtin calls an opposition between high and low, abstract and material (391). Bormann ar gues that Morrisons narrative inverts the ambivalence of life and death t hat usually evokes a positive result in Bakhtin (393). The passage quoted above, however, displays Chollys acceptance of the binary enforced by white society.
108 Traumatized by repeated experiences of isolation, rejection, and violation Cholly declares a dangerous freedom fr om ethics and responsibility. Not only abandoned by his parents when he was born, and interrupted in his first sexual intercourse, but Cholly is rejected again by his father who Cholly finds after a long search. These series of experiences push him over the edge and make him abandon social responsibility: Cholly was free. Dangerous free. Free to feel whatever he feltfear, guilt, shame, love, grief, pity. Free to be tender or violent, to whistle or weep. [. .] Cholly was trul y free. Abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap ga me by his father, there was nothing more to lose. He was al one with his own perceptions and appetites, and they alone interested him. (159) Chollys experiences render him at once invisible and hideous in white-centered society. Abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap game by his father, there was nothing to lose for C holly (160). He is lawless and has no self control. As Morrison said in an inte rview, Cholly, indeed, is someone who is fearless and who is comfortabl e with that fearlessness It is a kind of selfflagellant resistance to certain kinds of control ( Conversations 165). Cholly is a lawless, a rascal, and an outcast, a bad nigger. For the black community, Cholly had joined the animals; was, i ndeed, an old dog, a snake, a ratty nigger (18). He epitomizes the abject. Chollys rape of Pecola is an uncanny repetition of his first sexual encounter, of his own experience of violatio n. Chollys first and final attempt to
109 console and love his daughter instead des troys her and finally delivers her to madness. He wants to help her. As Claud ia remembers, he is the only one who loved her enough to touch her, envelop her, [and] give something of [him] to her. Yet Chollys touch was fatal, and the something he gave her filled the matrix of her agony with death (206). Chollys warm embrace is mixed with hatred, and his lovely gift becomes the act of rape. In him, ev ery sense is mixed and confused. When Cholly sees his daughte r standing in the kitchen, he wants to help and love her. Yet, he remains mu te, helpless, and in turmoil, unable to communicate his changing feelings of tenderness and hatred (Cormier-Hamilton 119). Those mixed feelings are the reflection of his feelings towards Darlene long after the event of their lia ison, where his act of love became a puppet show for the white men, and his love for Darl ene ended in hatred and violence. The quintessentially domestic place, the kitchen, turns into a site of domestic violence. Cholly can communicate his love to his daughter only in this hideous and deadly action of raping her. This last action of love drives his daughter into madness, and he dies alone silently and invisibly in the workhouse. Chollys confusion reflects a loss of t he ability to distinguish me from not me, as Harihar Kulkarni argues (5). The rape scene clearly displays this confusion. Chollys mixed feelings of love and hate are ex pressed as puke. When Cholly sees Pecola in the kitc hen, he feels the sequence of emotions: revulsion, guilt, pity, then love (161) Yet, Guilt[y] and impotent because he cannot return the look from Pecolas haunted, loving eyes, his feelings soon resolve into hatred which [threatens ] to become vomit (161-2). Kristeva
110 theorizes that vomit/puke represents the abjected material that reinforces a sense of self. Disgust/filth is cast off fr om the border of the self. The unnatural feeling of hatred toward his daughter is about to be turned into puke and expelled from his system. Yet the puke does not come out of Cholly: This hatred of her slimed in his stomach and th reatened to become vomit. Bu t just before the puke moved from anticipation to sensation, Pecolas feet remind him of Pauline and this association fills him with a wonder ing softness (162). The impulse to puke changes into a feeling of softness and Cho lly swallows the abj ected feeling. He himself becomes the puke in its most perverse, socially abhorrent, incarnation, the act of incest. Morrison said that this perverse act is associated with effeminization (Unspeakable 23). Although the rape is considered the most masculine act of aggression in society, Cholly does not intend violence or aggression in his act; in fact, it is a per verse expression of his paternal love for Pecola. Thus, Chollys act is identifi ed with descriptions of a border of politeness, with tenderness and protect iveness (162). Socially abandoned to be the abject, Cholly is able to claim his paternal love only perversely. Pecolas self-condemnation is closely tied to the black communitys selfhatred and internalization of whiteness. When little bl ack boys jeer and taunt Pecola with Black e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddsleepsnekked, they are condemning their own blackness (65). Fr ieda and Claudia run toward them and break the circle of the black boys to save Pecola (from the insult of blackness). But the rescue turns out to be only tem porary when a high-yellow girl, Maureen Peal, draws a circle around herself that Pecola, Claudia, and Frieda cannot break,
111 shouting I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute! (73). Maureen articulates the privilege of her normative prettiness connected to her light skin, and separates herself from bl ackness. This brings back an incurable self-hatred to Pecola. Conscious of her ugliness and blackness, Pecola again seems to disappear where she stands: She seemed to fold into herself, like a pleated wing (73). Claudia and Frieda cannot break the spell of the cultural myth of whiteness or destroy the honey voices of parents and aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery light in the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen Peals of the world (74). To survive in white society some Afri can-Americans assimilate to the myth of Americanness. They never realize thei r identities as African-Americans; their identities depend on the white norm. They try to recreate the house of Dick and Jane and imitate the white family, but wit hout finding the happiness implied in the story. They learn to repress all desires, impulses, and human emotions because those are funky (83); in other words, they live as another type of ghost. Thus the character Geraldine tries to eradicate the funk, the kind of disorder that, for her, blackness exemplifies. As Chri stopher Douglas argues, the funk is embodied and racialized through the phenotypic differences that mark the social construction of race and that threaten to overwhelm the whitening process (141). Geraldine desperately engages in the whiten ing process. She does not want to live or look like an African-American; inst ead, she imitates t he white standard of living in speech, clothes, hair, and the like. She lives in the gold-and-green house of Dick and Jane and practices self-restraint and self-negation as taught in
112 school. For Geraldine, the racialized funk (blackness) is so dangerous as to invade and threaten her pursuit of wh ite happiness. It reminds her of her blackness from which she runs away. So she tries to eliminate every sign of the funkiness from her life circle. Precisely because Geraldines goldand-green house imitat es all features of the Dick-and-Jane house, it symbolizes Geraldines pale, empty life. Its elaborately artificial dcor obliquely reca lls the artifice of a Gothic house: The house looked dark. . What a beautiful house. There was a big red-and-gold Bible on the dining-room table. Little lace doilies were everywhereon arms and backs of chairs, in the center of a large dining table, on little tables. Potted plants were on all the windowsills. A color picture of Jesus Christ hung on a wall with the prettiest paper flowers fastened on t he frame. . More doilies, a big lamp with green-and-gold base and white shade. There was even a rug on the floor, with enorm ous dark-red flowers. (89) Such beautiful decorations, including a big Bible and a Jesus picture, do not guarantee Geraldine happiness. In the beautif ul house are no family pictures or voices. It lacks all liveliness. All the relationships in the house are artificial: her husband is an intruder in her wasteland, and Geraldines relationship with him is stilted (86). Geraldine m eets all the physical needs of her son Junior, but she does not talk to him or vocalize with him. She never cares about him as much as she does about her blue-eyed cat. Morris on deliberately uses a third person singular he (not it ) for the cat only when it is referred to in relation to Geraldine.
113 In a real sense, only the cat is her lover and family. When Geraldine negates her blackness in order to conform and to practice the whiteness from which she expects to get happiness, she ironically fa lls to a level equal to that of a cat. Geraldines identity is like that of a black cat with blue eyes, a comical and grotesque figure. She and her beautiful house are nothing but a shadow image of the Dick and Jane life (Furman 15). Geraldine strives to obtain the white happiness described in the primer by cutting off her blackness. Geraldines haunted house becomes the scene of a horrifying experience for Pecola, which is almost a parody of a Gothic story. Ra ther than a beautiful damsel seduced and confined in a Gothic castle, a black girl of sociallyengineered ugliness is lured into the dark house and imprisoned by a malignant boy, Junior: You cant get out. Youre my prisoner (90), he tells her. Yet when his mother Geraldine returns home, this damsel is accused of killing the cat which Junior had thrown at Pecola prev iously. Then the ugly black damsel is expelled, instead of rescued: You nasty li ttle black bitch. Get out of my house, Geraldine spits at her (92). The prince ss-rescued-from-the-Gothic-castle plot is reversed in Pecolas story because of her blackness. For Geraldine, Pecola is a symbol of the blackness from which she flees and which threatens to contaminate her house; her entry into the house marks the intrusion of black funkiness that taints Geraldines faux -white world and exposes its absurdity. Pecola is destined to be at once rejected in and then excluded from this mythical house. She compels Geraldine to perform an other purifying ritual of throwing the tainted blackness outdoors. Like the bl ack cat with blue eyes that was helpless
114 before Juniors abuse, Pecola is helple ss. The blue-eyed cats fate foreshadows her fate. Soaphead Church, perhaps the most gr otesque character in the novel, exceeds even Geraldines assimilating desire and sanctions the whitening process Geraldine pursues. He is a grotesque version of Faust who believes he could have done better than G od. Soaphead comes from a West Indian family, but he is obsessed with the European body. Racially, his family is mixed: his mother is half-Chinese, his father halfwhite and half-black. His extended family is mixed black and white. His family holds the theory that the fu rther they remove themselves from their bla ck roots, the better off they ll be. They stress education because they believe that it brings them closer to being "white" and further away from their African roots. Using his k nowledge and education, Soaphead theorizes, intellectualizes, and justifies the internaliz ation of whiteness. He believes that all civilization derives from the white ra ce (168). When Pecola comes to him seeking blue eyes, that symbol of wh iteness, Soaphead does not question the request because he truly has no doubt about the superiority of whiteness. Soaphead Church is a person who would al so believe that she [Pecola] was right, Morrison continues, he would be wholly convinced that if black people were more like white people they would be better off ( Conversations 22). Soaphead immediately understands and grants Pecolas request for white beauty. Convincing himself that only he can perfo rm a good miracle for the poor girl, he actually works as an evil agent to in carnate the horror at the heart of her yearning for blue eyes (204).
115 Yet it is Soapheads manipulative mur der of the old dog Bob that pushes Pecola into madness. Soaphead sees the ulti mate expression of the abject in the old dog. For Soaphead, the gunk that oozes out of the dogs eyes symbolizes the most disgusting essence, the source of horror: exhausted eyes ran with a seagreen matter around which gnats and f lies clustered (171). This image symbolizes death in a living being. It is grotesque to him because it shows the possible transgression of the boundary. [ T]o go near him [the old dog] is only the horror because it epitomizes the mo st abjected images, what he most wants to avoid. (171). He even feels a responsibility to finish Bobs misery. Yet, this grotesque image of the dog in fact shows Soapheads grotesque characteristics. His own family history itself is filled with transgressions of the racial boundary, yet he and his family maintain their belief in the clear boundary between races and racial hierarchy. For Soaphead those boundaries must not be violated. Thus Soapheads life goal is a consis tent identification of the gunk in his family and community, which he identifies with black ness. His evil deed in killing the dog is the symbolic act of abjection which pushes all disgusting images back to the side of death. When Pecola came to Soaphead for blue eyes, he finds a chance to abject both Pecola and the dog: he hands poison to Pecola and asks her to feed the dog with it. Watching the dog slowly di e, Pecola is pushed to perform the ultimate self-abjection and [st ep] over into madness (206). Like Geraldine and Soaphead, the bla ck women of Lorain also demonize certain other blacks--the three whor es and poor black families like the Breedloves--as a source of corruption. T hese whores, Pecola, and her family are
116 the communitys garbage. Michael Aw kward argues that the communitys abandonment of the Breedl oves evince a (silent) reje ction of white myth (70). Awkward claims that they wear the pa ttern of mask that scapegoats Pecola at the altar of white beauty as a gesture to fool the master, to appease the gods (73). It is evident that Pecola be comes a scapegoat through which the black community forms its identity. But Awkwar ds argument does not really explain the communitys victimization of Pe cola. In addition, this community is not itself aware of the mask which Awkward claims it deliberately wears. His claim that the double voicedness of the community is healed by Pecolas sacrifice sounds compelling, but this view does not acc ount for Morrisons technique of using multiple perspectives and voices. In fact the novels double voicedness is not in need of being cured. On t he contrary, Morrison reinforces and fortifies it, negating the monolithic, li near voice of Western writing, and deliberately multiplying the narrating voices. In critic izing Morrisons multiple voices, Awkward attempts to make her wr iting conform to a Wester n standard of monologism. The community as portrayed by Morri son does not see what is really destroying its life: racializ ed self-loathing, the loss of their own culture, and the yearning for white beauty. Since the black community internalizes the myth, it wields another monstrous power to expel and destroy an individual by performing the rite of abjection, as the adult Claudia understands: All of our waste which we dum ped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of usall who knew herfelt so wholesome after we
117 cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her po verty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we usedto silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, paddled our characters with he r fragility, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength. (205) This passage describes the abjection process as a purifying community ritual. Kristeva suggests that society clarifie s the distinction between the clean/proper and the filthy/improper, gaining an identity as a united society through the abjection process. Throwing off Pecola and her family, the black community attempts to physically and psychologically remove waste and dirt and gain the proper beauty which the white myth would endorse. Pecola is a scapegoat who, having been ejected, allows the city to be free from defilement in Kristevas terms (84). By expelling Pecola, the African-Americ an community again internalizes the whiteness myth and r eproduces the same abjection process in order to define themselves as clean, beautiful, and generous, and in order to forget their own nightmares. Comm unity members draw boundaries against Pecola, and she becomes a shapeless, voiceless, and grotesque shadow. Pecola becomes the abject of the abject.
118 However, Morrisons narrating skill shapes Pecolas ghostly presence, makes her visible to readers, and places her in American history, breaking the spell of the whiteness myth. Doreatha Dru mmond Mbalia criticizes the illogical structure and gaps in the novel as a mark of Morrisons undeveloped writing skills (37). Mbalia also argues that c hapter headings from the broken primer distract the reader from concentrating on t he narrative itself. It is true that the narrative is not logically maintained: it is not linearly structured with beginning, climax, and ending, and the st ories are not chronologica lly ordered. On the first page the novel reveals the surprising fact that Pecola has given birth to her fathers baby, and the plot of the novel moves back and forth constantly. The narrative contains many flashbacks, and th e narrating voices also are many and incoherent. The novel employs three narrators, Claudia, Cholly, and Polly. Its complexity should be considered as a counteraction, a counter-hegemonic discourse opposing the Dick-and-Jane myth The novels narrative calls upon multiple points of view, unlike the monolit hic primer which presents its version of American happiness as truth. By contra st, Morrison uses speakerly, aural, colloquial languages to transfigure the co mplexity and wealth of Black American culture into a language worthy of t he culture (Uns peakable 23). Morrison creates the figure of Claudia as an oppositional voice contesting the dominant discourse. Claudias narrative gives flesh and blood to Pecolas invisible body, revives her feelings humanity, voice, and shape, and remembers her dis-membered spirit. Claudia indirectly represents Pecolas perspective and translates her heartbreak. Pecola has no voice in the text, nor
119 does she have any control or authority over her life. Claudia creates a site of voice and resistance on Pecolas behalf. Claudia breaks through madness and silence to generate a survivor discour se (Gwin 326). Claudias narrative releases the grotesque image of a black girl and her dysfunctional family: modern monsters. Claudia thereby constitutes a site of re-mem ory, witnessing, and resistance. She carries on and translates Pecolas perspective and silence. Claudias ability to re-me mber the ghostly presence of the expelled girl is an attempt to conjure a Gothic-abject. Claudia, however, does not quite seem to be a reliable narrator. She tells the reader both in the beginning and at the end that she does not have a clear memory: my memory is uncertain (187). She sometimes gets the summers mixed up (187). Claudia is not sure if her facts are correct because she recognizes that memory transforms thi ngs, suggesting that she not only keeps secrets from the reader, but also mixes fact and fantasy. As Charles Chesnutts Julius did in his narrative, Claudia bri ngs up her memories and rearranges them, thereby shaking the boundary between t he past and the present, and between reality and imagination. Kristeva theoriz es that when narrated identity is unbearable, when the boundary be tween subject and object is shaken, and when even the limit between inside and outside becomes uncertain, the narrative is what is challenged first (141). Claudias narration shakes and destroys the monolithic point of view, suggesting the po ssibility of seeing things differently, and inviting readers inside the circle of st orytelling. Such a na rrative performs the abject writing that, according to Kriste va, threatens and upsets the binary world.
120 Claudias childhood experience of illness described in the first chapter anticipates her narrating power as the abject. She remembers that she was sick in bed and threw up: The puke swaddles down the pill ow onto the sheetgreen-gray, with flecks of orange. It moves lik e the insides of an uncooked egg. Stubbornly clinging to its own mass refusing to break up and be removed. How, I wonder, can it be so neat and nasty at the same time? My mothers voice drones on. She is not talking to me. She is talking to the puke, but she is calling it my name: Claudia. (9) Kristeva calls vomiting or food loathi ng the most elementary and most archaic form of abjection (2). She explains that the act of vomiting protects the me by expelling defilement within me. Vomit symbolizes the abject in a privileged way because, while the I wants none of t hat element, yet partially digested food is not the other for the me because it comes out of my own interior, out of myself. Puke confuses the identity of my -self. Claudia, however, describes the puke as both neat and nasty, something that resists being removed. She also remembers that her mother calls t he puke Claudia, her name. Claudias identification with the puke implies her art of the abject as a narrator in the story. Claudia refuses to repudiate the abject as society does; instead she finds neatness and beauty in it. Claudias strength lie s in her ability to look differently, which enables her to interr upt the abjection process and break through its logic. Claudias narrative endows Pecola with a story and a shape, placing the abjected being at the center of the nov el. By articulating the long-silenced story of Pecola,
121 Claudia explains why blackness comes to be expelled as monstrous from the American myth. Claudia dismembers a wh ite doll and plants marigold seeds for Pecolas black babys life out of her childlike and defiant wish to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maur een Peals (190). Grown up, Claudia gives very good attent ion to all Pecolas in delivering their secret, terrible, awful story (191, 188). As Claudia implies at the end of the story, white-centered society is bad for certain kinds of people: This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers (206). Just as Claudias marigold seeds fail to gr ow in soil that does not sustain them, the society that the Breedloves inhabit al lows no room for them. However, the ghost-generating myth is temporarily brok en through in Morrisons narrative, with its ghost-summoning Gothic spell. Thus Morrison re-covers the story which has been marginalized and excluded from the o fficial history of America and recreates the life of AfricanAmericans. As Morrison explains in Recovering, her narrative revives the grotesque picture of ghosts in the machine and searches for resistance and healing. In Beloved Morrisons ability to recreate an unspeakable reality snatches and drags her readers down into a still deeper level of the ghost-reviving Gothic, an alternative discour se horrifying to Western rationality, that becomes a site of healing precisely bec ause it allows the unspeakable to be spoken.
122 Chapter V Morrisons Beloved: Crossing the River Between Life and Death Set in the 1870s, Toni Morrisons Beloved (1987) recounts a former slaves reconciliation with her past, recons tructing the history of slavery through the perspectives of African-Americans in an attempt to heal it s traumas. Morrison tracks down the rememory of various people in a process that becomes a site of both resistance and healing. Beloved reflects Morrisons desire to revive lost African traditions and re-tell the history of African-Americans in their own voices. Beloved is a historical novel based on the story of the fugitive slave Margaret Garner. Morrison discovered this womans story in a newspaper report, printed in 1855, when she was working on The Black Book (1974) 35 According to the report, Garner attempted to kill all her children in order to protect them from being sent back to slavery, but in fact only killed one daughter. Morrison says in an interview with Walter Cle mons that the [newspaper ] clipping about Margaret Garner stuck in my head (75). This image of Garner drove Morrison to write Beloved, where she retells the story of Ga rners infanticide. But Morrison 35 The Black Book, compiled by Middleton Harris and edited by Toni Morrison, is an influential compendium of photographs, drawings, songs, letters, and other documents related to black American history from slavery through Reconstruction to modern times.
123 recounts a different story from the one in the old new spaper clipping, snatching her readers into the rememory 36 of Sethe, Garners counterpart in Morrisons retelling. In investigating Garners/Sethes inner life and the rationale for her action, Morrison breathes life into the co ld, barren discourse of the newspaper clipping that had paralyzed Garners soul in a few words. Morrisons figurative language imagines the complex interior life of the enslaved mother and the unspoken trauma of her enslavement, which in turn becomes a filter for collective history-memory. In this sense, Beloved is the return of a Gothicized historical reality. Morrisons recounting of Garners story therefore works as a counterargument to the newspaper clippingthe off icial history which arbitrarily draws a veil over proceedings too terrible to relate (Site 302). In The Site of Memory, Morrison defines her role as a writer as being to witness a truth about the interior life of people who didnt write it and to fill in the blank that the slave narratives [have] left (303). In order to deliver this inner truth, rather than merely reporting facts, Beloved follows the memories and emotio ns of the characters in the novel. The photographs, portraits, signat ures, and authenticating letters that often provided proofs in nineteenth century slave narratives do not appear. Instead, emphasis falls on dialogue and na rration: memories and storytelling are the tools of delivering this particular hi story. In fact, r eaders do not know the content of the newspaper c lipping that report ed the infanticide of Garner/Sethe. 36 Rememory is a word Sethes uses instead of memory. For Sethe, rememory designates experiences that never die and continue to exist in the present. She uses the word both as a noun and a verb.
124 In the novel, the clipping serves to info rm the readers that Sethe could recognize only seventy-five printed words and that the words she did not understand hadnt any more power than she had to explai n (161). In the novel, the official written report is reduced to almost nothing, and unofficial memories and personal accounts assume the voice of author ity. As a result, Morrison shifts the source of power from printed words to her own verbal account of Sethes story. Retelling the story thro ugh Sethes/Garners per sonal memory, Morrison resurrects an inner truth that has been si lenced because it is too horrible to speak, and explores the influence of the pa st on present life. She painstakingly exposes the need to reconcile with the past by conjuring up a collective past returned from the grave in the character of Beloved. Through this incarnation, Morrison invites readers to witness the things that were too terrible to be spoken. By articulating the unspeakable trauma t hat compelled Garner in real life and Sethe in fiction to kill their babies, Beloved creates African-American history as lived experience. Morrisons narrative becom es a site of resistance by bestowing voice and shape upon a ghost and reviving the dead letter of the past, thereby evoking horror. In delivering this horrific story of infanticide and haunting, Morrison forms an alternative world that does not conform to the dominant Western discourses that have prevented the abjec ted presence of African-Am ericans from being seen and heard. Because Morrisons story is unnatural and macabre from a rationalist perspective, she needs an alternative language and space in order to conjure it up. In creating the story, Morrison blend[s] the acceptance of the
125 supernatural and a profound rootedness in t he real world (Rootedness 342). From the first page of the novel, readers are pulled into the dread space of a haunted house, ignorant of t he how or why of its horror. An unshaped trauma returns in an unidentifiable ghost-human named Beloved; the plot is fragmented; narrating voices are entangled in va rious forms; the language is often undecipherable; many characters tell differ ent versions of memories and offer various interpretations; and readers are invi ted into the inner mind of the ghost. The novel even gives its ghost a body and a vo ice, thereby not only deferring the official history of slavery but also rec onstructing the story in different writing voices and interpretations. Beloved thereby challenges Western critical assumptions about the real and the unreal or supernatural. Gothic elements represent the most vivid reality of the formerly enslaved woman and the legacy of slavery. In the following discussion, I focu s on Sethes strategic but deadly act of infanticide, which conjured aw ay the white masters, as well as Beloveds ghostly presence in the black community and her resistance to the rationalist master narrative, as well as her existence-both symbolically and psychologicallyon the border between life and death. Morrisons narrative, in a sense, is delivered through the places which evoke the past memories: Sweet Home, the Kentucky plantation from which Sethe escapes, and Sethes haunted house, known as 124. These locations represent the rememory of colle ctive traumas and experiences, indeed rememory itself. As Sethe tells Denver, P laces, places are still there. If a house burns down, its gone, but the placethe pi cture of itstays, and not just in my
126 rememory (36). To Sethe, the past is alive in the present, and everything is held in memory, planted in place(s). For Sethe, a place from t he past, therefore, is in the present and can get yo u unless she and other characters "disremember" certain things and lock thes e things in the back of their minds. Thus, for Sethe and Paul D, the last surviving slave from Sweet Home, Sweet Home is the place that stays and repeatedly haunts them. As Denver, Sethes living daughter, notices, everybody run of f from Sweet Home cant stop talking about it; this is because Sweet Home is the place which has created the darkest, most unspeakable memories for Sethe and Paul D--memories that still persist in the present (13). Sweet Home is not a physically haunted house like 124. It rather haunts whoever was and is in it. Sweet Home has a sweet name with beautiful trees, yet it is not home for Set he and Paul D. It is the place that once gave them a certain identityas slaves and property; it made them non-beings and arrested their later lives. Sweet Home is a haunting house, not a haunted house like 124. The name Sweet Home, in a sense, becomes equivalent to schoolteacher and his discourse, and the discourse of slavery. Contrasted to Sweet Home, the numeral name of 124 is a thrilling enough prospective for slaves who had owned not hing, least of all an address, in Morrisons words (Unspeakable 31). Unlik e Sweet Home, the numeral name 124 is not characterized by its modifiers, but it is personalized by its own activity (Unspeakable 31). For Denver, 124 is like a person rather than a structure. A person that wept, sighed, trembled and fell in to fits (29). It is like a living being that calls her ghost companion. Stamp Paid, a prominent community member
127 who helped fugitive slaves, is unable to decipher the sounds from the house. 124, painted in gray and white, symbolizes Sethes state of mind and even the collective experience of slav ery. Sethes world, stri pped of hope and a future, is a black-and-white picture, haunted by the past. Like the novel Beloved, 124 is filled with flashbacks to slavery, Sweet Home trauma, guilt, and shame. 124 signifies the colorless, barren existence of the enslaved who have been deprived of a social life and self identity. Thus, it is no coincidence that Sethe stops thinking of colors, of the future, and of life after the infanticide. Sh e became as color conscious as a hen (38-9). Her r epressed rememory makes 124 a site dominated by black-and-white, devoid of diversity. In effect, 124 is a huge grave where Sethe has buried all her trauma and memories; when Beloved comes to the house, it becomes the slave ship where many captive people died during the Middle Passage. It is another characters love for colorsthat of Sethes mother-in-law, Baby Suggs--that allows the ghostly shouti ng to come to the house. Baby Suggs craving for color is her desire for a futu re and for healing, a desire that made the absence shout (38). For Baby Suggs, colo rs are identified wit h the ability to articulate the silence. Baby Suggs and Sethe had silently agreed that the enslaved past was too traumatic to speak. At the dying bed, Baby Suggs finds a power of articulation and of presence of self through colors. When Beloved coincidently appears at the house on the carnival day, the house becomes the site of speech for these repressed traum as, ultimately connected to the rowling of the people of the broken neck t hat Stamp Paid recognizes. Through her
128 conversations with Beloved, Sethes uns peakable thoughts [that are] unspoken fill 124, forcing her to face the enormity of the experience of slavery (199). The ghosts voice and shivering moves combine in the numeric name of the house where those experiences and traumas are expressed and reshaped. Thus, 124 transfers its ghostly power of rowling the unspoken to Beloveds disembodied existence, and becomes a counter-discourse to the official, dominant discourse symbolized in Sweet Home and schoolteacher. In this sense, 124 is the most plausible place for Morrison to start the story with the fully realized presence of the haunting of the d ead, the past, and the ghost (32). Sethes haunted house and the venom of a ghost on the novels first page confront readers with uncanny, irrati onal images. As Morrison explains in Unspeakable Things Unspoken, the reader, with incompr ehensible, abrupt information, is snatched, yanked, th rown into an environment completely foreign by something [that] is beyond control, but is not beyond understanding (32). Readers are snatched into Sethes haunted house where the old crippled Grandma, Baby Suggs, has just died, where Sethes two boys have run away, and where a deranged mother and her recluse daughter reside under the protection of a baby ghost. Schoolteacher, a new slaveowner of Sweet Home, and Sweet Home itself represent the institution and the essence of slavery as an expression of Western rationalist discourse. Schoolteacher particula rly represents the scientific racism used to rationalize slavery and, later, ra cist descrimination. Schoolteachers slavery essentializes Sethes identity as subhuman and animal, naturalizing the
129 boundary between whites and blacks thr ough language and the discourse of science. He measures slaves bodies and estimates their market values. His measuring string is a tool for keeping the clear boundary between black slaves and white masters. For schoolteacher, who uses the measuring string for slaves to determine their trading value, slaves are equal to numbers and to the cattle that should be tamed and work for his hous ehold. He is a student of racism and eugenics, founded on biosocial data of racial differences. Schoolteacher theorizes his racism on the basis of human hereditary and racial hierarchy, as does Soaphead Church, the demonic figure in The Bluest Eye Like Soaphead, schoolteacher believes that racial hierarchy is natural . Using an essentialist discourse, he defines slaves as essentially different from whites. His racial theory is based upon a binary oppositi on symbolized by the absolute, invincible line. Through experimentation, def inition, and note-taking, schoolteacher practices and theorizes slavery as part of authent ic and authorized Western history. Interestingly, schoolteachers met hods and theories are produced through the act of writing. Sethe recalls that schoolteacher asked the slaves various questions and wrote down their answers in his book. Sethe later realizes that schoolteachers book was a book about us (37). He records each slaves different characteristics, things thats natural to a thing, and (re-)creates the lined categories (195). Schoolteacher trains his pupils to neatly draw a line and write down the human and the animal characte ristics of a slave on each side. He naturalizes and formalizes these characteri stics through his writing. In doing so, he attempts to prove the inferiority of the enslaved and justify the inhumane
130 system of slavery. Schoolteachers writ ing and education perform the abjection process on the enslaved. Thus, schoolteache r reduces individuals to a few words and fixes this identity in his book by the mechanical act of writing 37 which becomes a tool of definition and ther eby of oppression. Sethe painfully remembers that when she is assaulted, and in a sense raped, by schoolteachers boys while pregnant, schoolteacher, their book-reading teacher, is watching and writing it up. 38 He is the witness and history-ma ker of the scene, a situation that could stand for the offici al history of slavery. The rape scene signifies the ultima te abjection that redefines the boundary between master and slave. According to Kristeva, pregnancy teaches the falseness of rigid boundaries between persons (144). The maternal body, especially the pregnant body, signifies the pr oto-social or anti-social because it collapses the differences upon which social order and social distinctions depend; in effect, it exhibits the arbitrary and constructed nat ure of all boundaries. Thus the maternal body must be abjected in order to maintain social order. Similarly, Sethes ability to create a life blurs the hierarchal relationship between the white masters and the baby inside her body, which damages their authority as slave owners. The white boys invasion of Se thes pregnant body, thus, symbolizes the abjection process which re-defines t he boundary between the master who legally owns the black body and the slave who lega lly belongs to him. By scarring the 37 This mechanical discursive action recalls t he fiction of law and custom dominating Dawsons Landing in Puddnhead Wilson the saw machine which chopped up Sandy, a slave turned into an oak tree, in Chesnutts Conjure Woman, and the superiority of white beauty which reduces Pecola to (soc ial) ghost in The Bluest Eye 38 Many critics use the term the rape to indicate the violation of Sethes body, so I use the same word with quotations in describing the incident. However, Sethe does not describe the scene as a literal rape; she emphasizes that they stole he r babys milk. I will explain this point later.
131 maternal body, the boys reduce Sethes body to a simple reproductive tool or container; by taking her milk, the source of her babys life, they re-claim their ownership of both Sethe and her baby; and by witnessing the scene, schoolteacher procreates the offici al record of history. Therefore, when Sethe tells Mrs. Gar ner about the rape, it is Sethes ability to speak that alerts schoolteacher. For schoolteacher, the incident should not be defined or interpreted as something for Mrs. Garner to [roll] out tears about (15): it should be the natural, plausible claim of a masters ownership. It should be reported only by his witnessing, writing, and def inition. Schoolteacher believes that definitions belong to t he definersnot the defined (190). The narrating power belongs only to schoolteac her, who represents white patriarchal culture and who is a speaking agent. Sethe, as a slave, is not allowed to tell her version of slavery. To punish Sethe fo r her vocalization, schoolteacher engraves marks on her back with whipping. School teacher made one open up my back, and when it closed it made a tree. It gr ows there still (1 7). Schoolteacher physically inscribes her body as his signature of ownership. Sethes scars, however, becomes an open text and sign to be read and interpreted by others, and even work as a counter-discourse against the culture that schoolteacher represents. Alt hough Sethes marks are intended to authenticate the slave owners ownership, they erase this original intention and recreates multiple meanings. For Paul D, it is at first a sculpture like the decorative work from an iron smith and later a revolti ng clump of scars, yet it soon becomes a trigger for rememberi ng a tree Brother, under which he talked
132 and rested with another Sweet Home man, Sixo 39 the most defiant figure in Beloved (16, 17). For Amy Denver 40 who helps Sethes escape and who assists in the birthing of Denver, Sethes back is not a mark of slavery; it is a painful yet beautiful chokecherry tree which is able to blossom (79). Baby Suggs reads it as roses of blood blossomed in the blanket covering Sethes shoulders (91). This mark also connects Sethe to another ma rk, that of her mother (61). Sethe remembers that her mother once showed her a mark consisting of a circle and a cross burnt right in the skin as a sign by which Sethe can recognize her mother. As Sethes mother uses the mark wri tten on her body by a slave owner as a reminder to Sethe, Sethes scars also become a sign that helps her understand and remember her mother. Sethes sca r, through re-readings, loses its signification of white ownership and becomes a floating signifier. The illusory, rigid relation between signifier and signified which schoolteacher planted is thus deconstruc ted. The meaning of Sethes scars is 39 Sixo is one of the Sweet Home men who is Morri sons most dramatic symbol of resistance in Lovalerie Kings words (274). Sixo refuses to speak English, the language of the oppressors, and ignores all the rules of Sweet Home. He sneaks out of the plantation to see his woman, a practice that protects him from bestial desires. He re fuses the system that denies his humanity. He recognizes that the Garners slavery is no differ ent from Schoolteachers. He has a knowing tale about everything, Paul D remembers (219). Sixo fo rges a knowing tale about the masters that mixes fact and fiction. For example, his kno wing tale about Mr. Garners death does not seem authentic or factual, but it is the only story t hat Paul D knows and delivers. Sixos last confrontation with schoolteache r exposes the absurdity of school teachers seemingly scientific racism and the slavery it supports. Sixo is able to see what schoolteacher expects him to say. He can penetrate schoolteachers intentions when other slaves think of him as a fool. Later Sethe reminiscences that schoolteachers questions t ore Sixo up (37). Sixo subverts the way schoolteacher produces signification. 40 Amy Denver is the white girl who helps Sethe es cape and give birth. She often attracts critics attention. Richard C. Moreland offers an interest ing reading of Amy Denver as an altered version of Huck Finn. He argues that while Twain fo cuses on the white, free nations ambiguously innocent heroism, Morrison focuses instead o n the runaway slaver, her family and her community (160). Morrison alters and twists a story of the innocent white boy with a black fugitive man into one of a ragged looking white girl with a pregnant fugitive black woman.
133 changing and still growing as Sethe says to Paul D (17). Stamp Paid symbolically links the growing tree on Set hes back to whites attempt to build a rigid boundaries when he attempts to vi sit Sethes haunted house later. This passage reflects, in more poetic language, Morrisons argument in Playing in the Dark about how early Euro-Americans fo rmulated arbitrary categories of blackness and whiteness, and the profound effect this construction had on their own identities: It was the jungle white folks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them ever y one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white ski n; the red gums were their own. Meantime, the secret spread of this new kind of whitefolks jungle was hidden, silent, except once in a while when you could hear its mumbling in plac es like 124. (198-99) This jungle is the place that whites planted in blacks. That is through the abjection process whites designate the place of socially defined evil and defilement as blackness, a wild, savage, tangled place. In order to create the concept of pure and benign whit eness, whites put all j unk and excrement in this artificially constructed jungle and push blac ks into it. They create and attribute the features of the Other to this jungle of blackness. Yet, as Stamp reflects, this jungle spreads and invades whites. It makes them bloody, silly, worse than
134 even they wanted to be (199). The jungle whites have planted in blacks returns to haunt whites themselves in ghostl y mumbling voices. Such voices keep returning to a place like 124, appearing as a Gothic haunting. The jungle in Sethe, which is planted by schoolteacher's oppression and abuse, drives her to escape from Sweet Home by crossing the river that symbolizes the boundary of slavery and free dom and of life and death. Brutally beaten and pregnant with her fourth child, Sethe crosses the river soon after delivering a baby on the way. Soon she is tracked down by schoolteacher and slave hunters who want to bring Sethe and her children back to his system and order. Haunted by images of Sweet Home, Sethes eyes register schoolteacher and his company as four horsemen, a si gn of apocalypse which would smash down her freedom. As soon as the four horsemen approach Sethes house, she drags her children into a shed and atte mpts to kill all of them. When Schoolteacher enters the shed, two boys are bleeding, a blood-soaked child lies down on the floor, and Sethe holds a baby with one hand and a knife in the other hand. Sethe was looking at him [schoolteacher] with all black eyes (150). It is not the infanticide itself that drives schoolteacher out. For schoolteacher, the worst was the womans eyes with no whit es [that] were gazing straight ahead (151). His look of righteousness that invades Sethes yard is dismissed in Sethes gaze (157). Unbelievable as a moth ers infanticide is, what schoolteacher cannot bear is Sethes gaze, because the gaze and witnessing belongs to an agent, a subject, and a speaking being. Thus he immediately denounces Sethes gazing eyes as those of a crazy wom an. Sethes gazing becomes the finishing
135 act of her counter-act. By the time she faced him, [she] looked him dead in the eye (164). Her gaze registers him as dead. Sethe becomes the agent of the incident and witnesses the scene with her own eyes. Like Twains Roxana, Sethe creates a subject in her abjected slave body and claims what a slave cannot. It is not what Sethe had done but what she claimed that amazes Paul D (164). [ A] used-to-be-slave [who] love[s] anything that much was dangerous (45). Sethe claims what a slave is not allowed to claimfamily, children, and motherhood. Set hes love is too thick for a slave. Her thick love cannot allow her children to suffer from slavery even if this means killing them. Her murder is a c onscious decision, an exertion of her will. Sethes act, uncannily, displays the social status of a slave mother who is a carrier of both life and death. Under slav ery, a slave mother, by giving birth, sentences her child to social death bec ause her birthing only produces another property, a slave, for her white master. Se thes infanticide symbolizes her fate as a slave mother who is destined to take away a life which she gave. Yet it is also a rebellious act because infanticide is perfo rmed from the will of the slave-abject who is not supposed to have any willpower. In fact, slavery does not allow a slave to own anything, including childr en; the system forbid s an enslaved mother from nurturing and loving her children. Thus Paul D soon learns about loving just a little bit (45); Baby Suggs learns to make peace with herself when she sees each of her children sold by slave-trades. By claiming this ove r-privileged right as a slave, Sethes unusual thick mother-love prevents her daughter from becoming a non-being in slavery.
136 Right after killing her baby girl, Sethe first gives milk to another living baby, Denver, who takes the dead sisters blood as well: Sethe was aiming a bloody nipple into the babys mouth So Denver took her mothers milk right along with the blood of her sister (152). In an unc anny way, this action repeats the white boys violationg of Sethes body, which Sethe repeatedly identifies with stolen milk. The invasion of the pregnant body damages her privilege or right as a mother. Sethes rape symbolizes and rein forces the slave masters ownership and negation of her motherhood. Sethes resistance is manifested through mothering her own child. Sethe kills her baby to protect her from the social death of enslavement and provides another baby daughter with both milk and the murdered babys blood in an attempt to nurture the baby. In this weird way, Sethe retakes and re-claims her motherhood, which was once negated and erased under schoolteachers writing. As Sethe tells Paul D, she stopped him [schoolteacher] from ens laving her babies, and took and put [them] where theyd be safe (164)one of them being secured on the other side of life, and another in the house of a ghost com pany (54). For this slave mother, ghostliness and death are safer place than Sw eet Home, the emblem of slavery. Sethes thick love, however, also creates an uncanny environment where she is trapped in the past with her guilt. S he isolates herself and her family from the community, enclosing them within the conf ines of 124. She constantly revisits her past, rather than planning for a future Sethes act saved her children from slavery, but also imprisoned her in the past. At the same time, Sethe tries to seal off her past because it is unspeakable; she tries to keep the past at bay through
137 her symbolic act of beating dough at t he restaurant where she works every day (73). She buries all recollection and luck (188-89). Sethe is not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry fo r more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day" (70) As in the conversation with Paul D, Sethe [doesnt] go inside where she locks her memories, just as Paul D locks his own traumatic memories in his chest (symbolized as the tobacco tin) (46). Going inside means remembering the painful past about which Sethe and Baby Suggs have agreed without saying so t hat it was unspeakable (58). Going inside brings the horror of pushing herself into a place [Sethe] couldnt get back from (72). Sethe does not allow herself to remember or f eel anything. Even when she talks to Paul D about the white boys violation of her body or the infanticide, she only circles around t hese topics without really expressing her experience and feelings. Unable either to articulate the past or plan for a future, Sethe is also disconnected from the community. As the Lorain ladies do to Pecola in The Bluest Eye the Cinncinati community shuts dow n to Sethe and abjectifies Sethe and Denver until Denver reac hes out to them later. The day after Baby Suggs throws a party to celebrate Sethes successful escape, the community turns angry and disapproving of what they read as the ostentatious excess of the party (137). Even though they enjoy and participate in the party, they think that the party and food are too much for the ex-s laves because, as Denver understands later, slaves are not allowed to have any pleasure. Just as schoolteacher gives a sad look at slaves playing games, t he community disapproves the bounty of
138 Baby Suggs party and the pleasure they experience. The scent of their disapproval made them neglectful enoug h not to sound the alarm about schoolteachers coming to recapture Se the and her children. Moreover, judging Sethe to be prideful, misdirec ted after the infanticide, Ella, one of the influential female members of the community, junked [Sethe] and wouldnt give her the time of day (256). In a way, Sethes life is frozen in time and space, and 124 becomes her prison-house. Her life becomes barren, color-blind. Sethe is blind to her own emotions and her inside, which causes her living daughter Denver to be isolated and intensely lonely. The figure of Beloved is the one who is able to penetrate into Sethes locked inside. Scholars have questioned the exact identity of this mysterious figure. Many agree that Beloved is Sethes murdered daughter, but Elizabeth House argues that Beloved is not the ghostly reincarnation of Sethes murdered baby but a young woman who has herself su ffered the horrors of slavery (17). Sharon Jessee sees Beloved as all the ancestors lost in the Diaspora, demanding restoration to a temporal c ontinuum (199). Tzvetan Todorov views Beloved as a ghost within the text (41). Denise Heinze states that Beloved is Morrisons most unambiguous endorsement of the supernatural, a memory come to life, and Sethes alter-ego ( 207). Trudier Harris reads her as the nature of evil (129). Andrew Schopp says that Beloved is a prime example of the unspeakable being spoken (356) Belove d, however, is hard to define in one word. She is a reincarnation of Sethe s dead daughter, a spirit of the past, a rememory, a young woman who has suffered slavery, and all the ancestors lost
139 in a slave ship. Beloved means death, memory, forgiveness, and punishment to Sethe, a new life for Denver, and consol idation with the community. Beloveds uncanny memory about the Middle Passage also offers a rediscovered AfricanAmerican history with a di fferent perspective. All efforts to nail down her signification fail. Many interpretations are possible, yet no one meaning can fully explain Beloved. As Denver notices in the novel, Beloved is more (266). Beloved defies all binary definitions and categorizations. She is neither absolute evil nor definite good. Beloved is both a monster to destroy Sethe and a life-giver who provides a chance for Sethe to have a future. In the Clearing where Baby Suggs used to preach, Beloved s choking hands are mysteriously overlapped with Baby Suggs loving hands that had bathed Sethe. Sethe comes with Beloved and Denver to the Clearing. When Sethe attempts to remember Baby Suggs loving hand and her message of love, Beloveds choking hands suffocate Sethe. Later, Beloved explains to Denver that it was the circle of iron, the symbol of slavery (101). In a way, Beloved is linked to Baby Suggs inspiration of love and freedom ; yet at the same time Be loved also signifies the chain of slavery, the horrific effects of slavery. The mark on Beloveds neck signifies Sethes ultimate resistance to schoolteachers racism. Beloveds presence drains Sethe and brings out the worst in all characters. Sethe gives up all responsibility for Denver and herself and dedicates herself only to storytelling for Beloved, suffocating herself with sham e and guilt. Paul D is fixed by this ghost-girl. Beloved haunts the characters and reveals their lo cked memories. Yet the exposed memories also empower eac h character to confront past trauma
140 and act on it. In a way, Beloved conj ures up the past from the repressed memories of Sethe and Paul D, and then swallows and diges ts the traumatic memories. Beloved, at time s, is an innocently slain baby who wants her mothers love, yet she uncannily remembers and embodies the ancient stories of the Middle Passage. Beloveds monologue in the middle of the novel addresses the voices of unknown slaves in the slave sh ips of the Middle Passage. She exists beyond time and place. When Beloved retu rns from death, she becomes the abject who transgresses the boundaries between matter and mind, life and death, and subject and object. As Beloved repeatedly answer s, she exists at the bridge or in the water which symboliz es the ambiguity and arbitraries of her being. Beloved bridges life and death, past and present, and reality and illusion. She is the spirit of the Gothic. In addition to this ambiguous existence, Beloved is a ghost who can think, imagine, and even dream. In the middle of the novel, re aders are invited into the ghosts consciousness. Sitting in the kitchen with Denver, Beloved pulls out her tooth and imagines dismembering her body piece by piece: Beloved looked at the tooth and t hought, This is it. Next would be her arm, her hand, a toe. Pieces of her would drop maybe one at a time, maybe at once. Or on one of those mornings before Denver woke and after Sethe left she would fl y apart. It is difficult keeping her head on her neck, her legs attached to her hips when she is by herself. Among the things she could not remember was when she first knew that she could wake up any day and find herself in pieces.
141 She had two dreams: ex ploding, and being swallowed. When her tooth came outan odd fragment, last in the rowshe thought it was starting. (133) Beloved loses a tooth and sudde nly visualizes the fragm entation of her own body into pieces. She cannot hold herself together. Then she remembers the recurring dreams of exploding or bei ng swallowed. Some crit ics read this particular moment of Beloveds fragment ation as her attachment to Sethe or her obsession. I partly agree, yet the passage offers mo re dimensions for discussion. In the context of the Gothic, Beloveds imaginary fragmentation signifies the reversal of the abjection process. Kriste va contemplates the utmost of abjection in the corpse. The dismembered, decomposing, or rotten body-parts remind us of death and make us confront death, which evokes horror, Kristeva theorizes. Therefore the dismembered body speaks of the horror of abjection. Beloved, the ghost in flesh-and-blood, visualizes her body parts as teeth, skin, arms, and head, and then dismembers the body par ts one by one like a decomposing corpse. She in a sense familiarizes herself with death. Belo ved herself is an already returned body of the abject, and her vision perversel y intensified death and dismemberment, precisely contrasting with the unified social body of Western discourse. Yet like Kristeva, Beloveds fragmented presence, in a way, also celebrates and emphasizes the abject. Kr isteva celebrates modern art and literature that evoke the pow er of horror through represen ting the abject (210). In the similar way these other modern wor ks do, Beloveds fragmented body calls attention to the abjected body and celebr ates it. Beloveds fragmented presence
142 cancels the Western discourse of (artif icial) unity and order. Elevating slaves lives, it recalls Baby Suggs message in the Clearing, addressed to the formerly enslaved members of the community, about loving each part of the once-negated slave body: Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touc h others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'c ause they don't love that either. You got to love it, You! ... This is flesh I'm talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. (88) Baby Suggss message of self-celebration is fully achieved through Beloveds fragmented body, which though negated as a co rpse, celebrates itself in its reincarnation. Beloveds fr agmented body, in a way, signifies the living-in-death existences of Sethe, Paul D, and Denv er. They also are fragmented corpses. Pro-slavery whites frame Sethes act of in fanticide as animalistic, bestial behavior that demonstrates slaves inferiority to whites, while abolitionists used the same incident as a simple propagandi zing tool, arguing that slavery leads to such behavior, reducing persons to the level of beasts 41 But both of these 41 Even for abolitionists like Mr. Bodwin, Sethes act is only a useful propagandizing opportunity to achieve their goal. The society managed to sp read the infanticide and the cry of savagery around and built a further case for abolishing slavery (260). As Denver saw later in Mr. Bodwins
143 interpretations reductively exploit and paralyze Sethes life and pain into a few formulaic words. Paul D also lives as an animal or a ghost that merely works, eats, and sleeps for about sixteen years. D envers life is limited to the haunted house where she ironically feels safest. She is scared to death of her own mother and has nightmares about Sethe cutting her head off (206). Beloved signifies the abjected body of all these formerly enslaved people and their fragmented community. While Pecolas imag inary self-fragmentation in The Bluest Eye is intentional and draws upon her negation of blackness and desire for whiteness, Beloveds involuntary fragmentation repr esents many possible meanings that are open to all the main characters of the novel and also to Morrisons readers. Like Beloveds fragmented body, her voice is incoherent, as seen most distinctively in her monologue. In the la ter part of the second section, Morrison records the stream of consciousness of the main characters--Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. Specifically, Beloveds monologue mixes tenses, blending time and space, connecting Sethes infanticide to nameless slaves experiences in the slave ship during the Middle Passage. Be loveds monologue pictorially re-plays the horrors of slavery and t he initial abjection of slaves In Beloveds narrative, a voice of the unknown in the ship addresse s those slaves who were forced to drink the white masters urine and eat excrement and were crouched under the house, a blackboys mouth full of money . .bul ging like moons, two eyes were all the face he had above the gaping red mouth . And he was on his knees . Painted across the pedestal he knelt on were the words At Yo Service (255 ). Even in the home of a supposed abolitionist, African Americans are depicted as inferior. That is how Baby Suggs realizes her self-less slavebody, the social abject when she is asked to fix shoes at the very moment of Sethes horrible act and family disaster. Baby Suggs is still a nigge r woman howling shoes (179) to white folks. Baby Suggs realizes that it is seen only as a momentarily rout of the abject. The whites wore her out and drove her to bed.
144 weight of corpses. Beloveds identity is repeatedly connected to those who lost their names in the Middle Passage, (re-)evo king the initial horrors of slavery. Beloved is beyond and across time and pl ace. Incoherent and fragmentary, she is not an empty signifierr ather, Beloved is something more. She contains many fragments of historical trauma, story, and experience. In a sense, she herself is a hybridized text which is fragmented and reconstituted as a montage. Beloveds textual body conveys tr auma, the past, and the memory of Sethe and other characters. Sethe kills her baby out of fear that the baby will be violated, yet, as Jan Stryz argues, that very act leads to Beloveds being made into a written image engraved on Belove ds gravestone. Stryzs argument is interesting and partially correct in that Se thes ultimate act of resistance freezes Beloved into a few engraved letters. Belo ved is frozen and abjected by slavery and by her mother. However, it is mo re important that Morrisons narration resurrects this abjected written im age in flesh-and-blood and reverses the freezing process. When Beloved comes back to life, she becomes a textual puzzle which represents Sethes hidden fear and memories. Yet this time, this text is not an officially written piece of paper. It is a living ghost-body, different from schoolteachers note-taking and mathematically measured records. This text asks questions and speaks out deeper trut h that the official history or the slave-narratives left behind. This textual body unfolds the multiple versions of a story and even calls for more. In Stam p Paids words, Beloved spits out unspeakable thoughts, unspoken (199).
145 Beloved's return, therefor e, is the step needed for Se the to forgive herself and move on with her life. As Ralph D. St ory says, Beloved has to return for Sethe to be reborn (22). Beloved works to open past memories and make Sethe articulate for herself the things she decided were unspeakable. By making Sethe explain the infanticide herself, Be loved becomes Sethes told story, a living text. Beloveds hunger for storyte lling ironically starves Sethes body yet revives her mind. Her return forces Sethe to confront the unspeakable past and to cope with the present. Through Beloveds gaze, Sethe can rememory and revision the past and live her life. Even though e very mention of her past life hurt, and everything in it was painful or lost, Sethe even finds an unexpected pleasure when telling stories to Beloved (5 8). Just as Roxanas re-writing of her sons identity resurrected him from so cial death, Sethes storytelling which allows [her] to recover, is equal to resurrection in Kristevas words (26). Sethe articulates her abjected life and her choice in her own voice, not focusing on detached writers of the newspape r stories instead. This arti culation of the abject brings her this unexpected jouissance under the guidance of Beloved who, like a Muse, inspires Sethe. In so doing, Beloved bridges Sethe s personal memory with the collective memories of the black community. Belo veds uncannily familiar questions let Sethe tell her stories and relate them to the collective memory. When Beloved asks Sethe about her mother, Sethe can c onnect her own mark to her mothers and then to the Middle Passage. Tossing De nvers hairs (like goopher powder) into the fire triggers Sethes memory t hat she had forgotten she knew (61). She
146 re-members how her mother and Nan, the nursing slave, came to the country across the Ocean, how her mother gav e her a name and loved her, how her mother and Nan spoke different languages, and how her mother died. Denvers hairs, like goopher dirt or a spell, conjure up hidden memories. These newly revived memories are related to Sethes roots, to the Middle Passage, to the mother language, and to Nans stories t hat place Sethe and her trauma in the register of the collective memo ry. They reveal that her pain is related to that of others and belongs to collective memo ry, not to an isolated incident. In a somewhat different way, Beloved touches Paul Ds deep inside which begins trembling when he confr onts his abjected (non-)being through Misters gaze. After seeing Sixo laughing as he is burned to death and after learning his worth at a slave market, Paul D, with iron bit in his mouth, leaves Sweet Home to be sold. When he turns around to see his beloved tree Brother one more time, Paul D instead sees Mister, the hateful rooster of the plantation, smiling at him in a tub. Comparing himsel f to Mister who looks so free, Paul D realizes his abjected selfhimself as socially dead. Even the rooster has a name and freedom; but Paul D has no self or possible identity. His name is conveniently alphabetized along with his fellow slaves (Paul A, Paul D, Paul F, etc). His market value is determined by schoolteachers measuring string and notes. The size of his teeth and buttocks determine his value. Stripped of agency, Paul D becomes the abject, a living ghost. Like Cholly in The Bluest Eye, Paul D accepts (the conviction of) his abjecti on and assumes a ghostly life for years. He walks, eats, sleeps, and sings. He shuts down his head and locks all that shame
147 him in the tobacco tin because the contents in the tobacco tin made him their prey (113). As long as he puts all of pains, shames, and guilt inside, Paul D does not have to feel a sense of failure (221). Imprisoned in a little box after killing Mr. Brandywine, the man to whom schoolteacher sold him, he was chained to forty other fellow prisoners. Living lik e an animal, Paul D, in his singing, repeatedly kills a boss, a master, and Life itself. As a song-murderer, Paul D beats Life to death and celebrates Mr. Death (109). Yet Beloveds presence reminds Paul D of something. Something, look like, I am supposed to remembersomething he locked in the tin (234). For Paul D, Beloved signifies a reminder of shame, his non-being/non-self, and the enslaved body. When Beloved seduces Paul D, she touches his inside enough to break the lock of the rusted tobacco tin and take out his red heart (117). When ev erything in his chest comes out, he is able to reflect and remember Sixos defiant death and his love, which later make Paul D return to 124 and ask Sethe for companionship. It is Denver, however, who summons Be loved to 124. As Sethe mentions, Denver is truly a charmed child. From the beginning (41). Born in the Ohio River, Denver bridges freedom and slaver y. Denvers miracle birth also connects the runaway slave Sethe to t he rugged-looking white girl, Amy Denver, after whom Denver is named. Drinking t he dying sisters blood along with her mothers nurturing milk, Denver also stands between death and life, between violence and nurturing. Discovering Sethe s infanticide causes Denver to keep earlier hunger for life at bay. Yet unlike Se the, Denver acts on that hunger first by taking lessons in Mrs. Jones house and then by summoning her sisters baby
148 ghost. Not only does she hear the baby ghost crawl the stairs of the house first, Denver identifies Beloved as her baby si ster almost immediately. When Denver claims to see Beloved by the strea m even before Beloved comes to 124, she shows a certain quality as a conjure woman, as also when Denvers hairs conjure up Sethes long-forgotten memories about her late mot her (75). Denver is indeed enchanted by the safety of ghos t company. Witnessing the presence of the ghost, Denver is able to enjoy ter ror in her eyes with a vague smile on her lips (18). Despite her craving for a company, the narrator particularly says that Denver takes pride in the condemnation Negroes heaped on them: the assumption that the haunt ing was done by an evil thing looking more (37). Denver enjoys and even celebrates the contempt, the abjection performed upon her family and house. Living in the Gothic world, Denver is the conjure woman who summons her baby-sisters ghost. Even though Denvers hunger summons Beloved to 124, Beloved opens Denvers eyes, guides her into collectiv e memories, and drives her out into the world and the black community. Denver re-hears the favorite story of her birth by telling it out to Beloved. When she tells t he story to Beloved, Denver begins to see what she was saying and not just to hear it (77). Watching Beloveds alert and hungry face, how she took in every word, asking questions about the color of things and their size, her downright cravi ng to know, Denver is able to picture her mother as a slave gi rl, pregnant with a baby and struggling to get to her children (77). Denver is experienci ng and engaging with the pastwith history. Denver was seeing it now and feeling it through Beloved. Feeling how it must
149 have felt to her mother. Seeing how it must have looked (78). Denvers storytelling is mixed with Beloveds lis tening and questions. It conjures up a duet, starting with Denver s monologue as they lay down together, Denver nursing Beloveds interest like a lover whose pleasure was to over-feed the loved (78). This sisterly duet connects Denver to Sethe and becomes a musical narrative. Denver actually becomes a part of the story. Denv ers birth story, which has been like a bill for her to pay becomes alive through Beloved (77). Denvers understanding of the history of slaver y is growing when she happens to glimpse a slave life through a unique experience in the cold room. One afternoon, Denver asks Beloved to hel p her get the cider jug in the cold room. As soon as the door is shut, Denver loses sight of Beloved in the dark and experiences ultimate loneliness and selfle ssness. Trudier Harris argues that the darkness of the cold house symbolizes Be loveds evil spirit because Beloved identifies herself with Dark. However, this is an argument based on the binary oppositions pervasive in early Gothic discourse. The darkness Denver sees in the cold room is more connected to co llective trauma, whic h has been eradicated from the official history and left black and dark. The cold room was used as an outdoor kitchen during slavery, and its function was changed when Baby Suggs moved a kitchen inside the house. Covered with a pile of newspapers on the floor and dark inside, the cold room symbolizes the life of the enslaved as defined and written by white masters. S eparated from the main house, this room signifies the place where slaves are supposed to belong. Thus, the cold room and its darkness are related to African-Americans abjected existence that is reduced to
150 nothingness. It is a blank image of text that should be written and reconstituted. Inside this cold house, Denver experiences a self-deprived slaves life: Now she is crying because she has no self. Deat h is a skipped meal compared to this. She can feel her thickness thinning, dissolving into nothing (123). Denver realizes that lack of selfthe ultimate identity of a slave--is worse than death something similar to be eaten alive by the dark. When Denver, like Sethe, decides to stay in the cold house and let the dark swallow her because there is no world out there, Beloved magically reappears before Denver to lead her out (123). This experience in the cold house bec omes a rite of passage for Denver to contact the inner life of the enslaved and her collective history. Beloved becomes the guide for Denver to step out to the world. In a sense, Beloveds questions and Sethes storytelling are a springboard for Denver. Sethes storytelli ng affects Denver most. By listening to Sethe, Denver comes to understand the connection between her mother and Beloved and the reason Sethe murdered her own daughter. By listening to Sethes stories, Denver understands what Sethe fears the most: That anybody white could take your whole self for anyth ing that came to mind. Dirty you so bad you couldnt like yourself anymore. Dir ty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldnt think it up (251). Denver hear s this explanation and interprets the message through her own eyes. Moreover, Morrison delivers Sethes explanation and voice through Denvers interpretation, ra ther than Sethes direct voice. This understanding makes Denver decide to ta ke action and assume responsibility, which gives her a new thought, having a se lf (252). Denver realizes she had to
151 step off the edge of the world to save her mother and herself (239). Denver then becomes the link that connects Se the to the community and breaks the abjection process inside the community. Many scholars argue that Beloved is exorcised by the community when at the end of novel, the community women come to 124 to rescue Sethe from the devil child who comes back to life. Da vid Lawrence argues that the ritualistic sacrifice of Beloved frees the community from this pervasive haunting (231). Linda Krumholz also says that Morrison performs a healing ritual for the characters, the reader, and the author. T he powerful scene where thirty women sing and march to Sethes haunted house exor cises the ghost-in-flesh. However, it is Beloved that casts a spell and performs an exor cism of all that has been repressed by Sethe, Denver, Paul D, and community members. The so-called devil child looks beautiful. It had ta ken the shape of a pregnant woman naked and smiled her smile was dazzling in the eyes of the women who gather to help Sethe (261). Beloved touches deep inside the community women, takes out their trauma and scars, devours them, and impregnates herself with them. Her belly is protruding like winning wa termelon with all the pains and shame not only of Sethe but of all the community members (250). As a result, Beloved reverses the abjection process that the black community had performed upon Sethe and her family. Still im planted with the ideology that slaves are not supposed to have pleasurable feelings on their own (209), the community could not allow any excess or pride that Baby Suggs and Sethe displayed. So they [heap] upon Sethes family the[ir] condem nation and assume the haunting was
152 done by an evil thing (37). Janey cannot bear the look of Sethes pride trying to do it all alone with her nose in the air, and Ella junked Sethe (254-55). Those reproaches are undone when they decide to come and rescue Sethe from Beloved. When these thirty women gather and come to the hill of 124, they experience a healing of their own. They first remember Baby Suggss bounteous feast and the pleasant feelings (258-9). Ella remembers and is able to connect her past trauma (leaving her baby who died five days after birth) to Sethes. When the women see Beloved from the hill, they can actually confront their experience and their unspeakable trauma, as well as Sethes. Inspired by looking at Beloved, the women holler all together. Their musical, communal response/exorcism is described with the revised biblical passage: In the beginning was the sound, and they all knew what that sound sounded like (259). Paraphrasing John 1:1, the passage in dicates the importance of musical expression in African-Amer ican culture, and authorizes its power that can break the back of word. The musical sound subverts and corrects the words in the newspaper clipping which initiates Morris on to re-write Garners/Sethes story. Such powerful sound makes Sethe [trembl e] like the baptized (261). The wave of sound finally breaks a spell previously cast by their enslaved experiences. Sethe experiences a rebirth to a possible future. Sethes rebirth is accompanied by the dj vu -like scene of the infanticide when she sees Mr. Bodwin who comes to 124 to pick up Denver for work:
153 Standing alone on the porch, Beloved is smiling. But now her hand is empty. Sethe is running away from her, running, and she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe has been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the peopl e out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind. Alone. Agai n. Then Denver, running too. Away from her to the pile of peopl e out there. They make a hill. A hill of black people, falling. And above them all, rising from his place with a whip in his hand, the man without skin, look ing. He is looking at her. (262) When Sethe spots Mr. Baldwin on the r oad, she mistakes him for schoolteacher who intended to take her children back to slavery. Yet this time she is running toward the white oppressor to attack him, not toward Beloved whom she believes to be her daughter. Witnessing Sethes acti on, Denver is running away from the safety of ghost companion towards the community. At this moment, the power dynamic is reversed once again. The th reat of the whit e mens apocalypse subsides. In addition, it breaks another dynamic inside the black family and community as shown in The Bluest Eye. The last scene changes the kind of cultural and family dynamic in which Ch olly is unable to hate the white men who terrorize him and Pauline is unable to lo ve her daughter. The black women in the community approach Sethes house together to help Sethe, not to judge her. The abjection that they had put on Sethe befor e is reversed as well. The community comes together to exorcise Beloved, w ho is filled with trauma and rememory. It is a powerful scene of re-discovering histor y, this time with the African-American
154 voice. Beloved resurrects and then revises the scenes from Morrisons own previous work. Morrisons writing may be as thick as Sethes love. Her language and plotline exemplify certain flaws in relation to the standards of realism and rationalism. Beloved s storyline is hard to follow. Morrison constantly changes the point of view within her narrative. She barel y uses transitions. The text flows from a scene to another similar scene, which causes confusion. Such changes in viewpoints, setting, and ti me add to a sense of disc ontinuity. Some reviewers criticize her style 42 However, Morrisons defective style is intended to challenge Western standards of writing. Morrisons na rrating is similar to the way Sethe is circling around her story. Paul D thinks that Sethe spins around the room, circling the subject and thus he catches only pieces of what she says (161) Circling, circling instead of getting to t he point (161). In orde r to tell the story which Western realism is unable to convey, Morrison likewise circles and repeats the narrative. Morrison even presents a character who refuses to speak English 43 In T. Mark Ledbetters words, Beloved has no plot but a series of plottings, stories within stories without respect fo r conventional time sequences of past, present, and future (80). Morri sons language reflects her desire to reconstitute and rediscover African-Americ an cultural history. In Beloved Sethes personal history is revealed so gradually, fragmented into symbols, and finally, [it] becomes one with the history of all African-Americans (Rigney 33). The story is 42 Carol Iannone criticizes the repetition of the story and its Gothic dimension as only designed to arouse and entertain (63). Stanley Crouch denounces the novel as a work of protest pulp fiction with overstatement, false voices, and strained hom ilies (68). Snitow calls it melodrama (48). 43 Lovalerie Kings article focuses on Sixos re sistance and rhetorical power as a trickster.
155 told by the collective voice of the enslaved and resonates with diverse memories and voices. In and through the act of reme mory, Sethes story is reconstructed and incorporated into the collective hi story of the black community. When Beloved narrates her storie s with language, the unspoken s pell/bond of slavery is broken; the ghostly voice is delivered. In the epigraph to Beloved, the haunting ghostly voice of the novel is compared to the Godly voic e that calls into light His people [Israel] and names them Beloved: I will call them my peopl e, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved (Romans 9:25). Re-citing the biblical text, Morrison bestows this holiest of voices upon her own act of Gothic/abject writing. Morrison connects her voices reconstructi on of the history of African Americans to Gods voice calling his people, and names the abjected social bodies of the enslaved as the beloved that is the authorized name of the chosen people in the Bible. Her holy voice breaks the mythified concept of blacks as the abject and breaks the long-persistent silence of hi story with particular voices. It shows that, as Baby Suggs advises Denver, we have to know [the story], and go on out the yard. Go on (244).
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About the Author Hyejin Kim was born on September 17, 1973, in Seoul, Korea. In 1992, she went to Sungshin Womens University locat ed in Seoul Korea, and received both her B.A. and M.A. in English Language and Lite rature. In 2000, she began to pursue her doctoral degree in English at University of South Florida, where she also taught English Composition and completed a certificate in Womens Studies. She will continue to publish and teach writing, lit erature, and cultural studies in Seoul, Korea.
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The Gothic as counter-discourse :
b Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt and Toni Morrison
h [electronic resource] /
by Hyejin Kim.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: Revisiting the American Gothic via Julia Kristeva's theory of "the abject" demonstrates how Gothic strategies expose the historical contradictions of race in works by Mark Twain, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Toni Morrison. As theorized by Kristeva in Powers of Horror, the archaic process in which the subject attempts to constitute itself as homogeneous by casting off or "abjecting" all that cannot be assimilated to the self-same necessarily opens the way to repeated returns of the abject(ed) and the "horror" it provokes. Because the Gothic enacts the return of the abject, it was itself abjected from the literary canon until recently. In American literature, especially since Reconstruction, Gothic horror subverts and reverses the process through which the new subject-nation mythologized itself as blameless by abjecting the African presence and the nightmarish history of slavery. Twain's The Tragedy of Puddn'head Wilson, Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman, and Morrison's The Bluest Ey e and Beloved all deploy Gothic strategies to give voice to the unspeakable experiences associated with slavery and contest the rationalist discourses that enforce and legitimate racism. Twain's narrative celebrates the subversive Gothic storytelling of the slave Roxana but ultimately betrays the author's ambivalence toward racial identity. Chesnutt's use of the Gothic more decisively reverses racist abjection through the encounter between the ex-slave Julius, with his conjure tales, and the white Yankee investor John, who tries to understand Julius but cannot. In the twentieth century Gothic narratives by black writers focus on internalized racism. In Morrison's The Bluest Eye Claudia's abject-writing exposes the deadly effects of mainstream mythology and internalized abjection in Pecola's destruction. In Beloved Morrison uses the Gothic to create an alternative world and suggest a means of healing the effects of slavery through the ghostly figure of Beloved. These narratives exemplif y the increasing power of Gothic to create an alternative perspective on the racist history and culture of America.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 175 pages.
Advisor: Elizabeth Hirsh, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.