Date of Award

1999

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Karen Stein

Abstract

Recovering submerged histories is instrumental in counteracting colonial cultural hegemony and its persistent attempts to erase the past that subject peoples had prior to the epoch of colonial rule. In Toni Morrison's novels reclaiming the past is a necessary condition of subjectivity since it restores a voice and history to those who were deprived of the awareness of both. In other words, it is a restoration of subjectivity. In a postcolonial context, reclaiming the past means more than a linear or literal recording of historical facts. Rather the process of redeeming a past requires that victims of oppression recover their effaced traditions and exhume previously buried communal memories. To enable this process, the oppressed have rallied together and acknowledged their emotional devastation and physical wounds.

Chapter One explicates the importance that Morrison's novels The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon give to the process of past reclamation and traditional recovery: thus, a means of empowering black women against the oppressive institutions of a white culture and its impositions of white images on black girls. Chapter Two analyzes the literary and rhetorical mode in Beloved which defies historical definition, especially when the victims of slavery bind together and excavate memories of colonial oppression. By talking about the past, the oppressed will break the traditions of silence that denied their presence in history. Chapter Three investigates the issues of transitoriness evident in Morrison's novels Jazz, Sula and Tar Baby. In these three narratives, tradition is crucial in overcoming the effects of emotional affliction that resides within travelers who leave their old home to settle elsewhere. According to the narratives, to annul the emotional pain that results from leaving one's place of origin, migrants must sustain a fixed sense of identity through their recognition of the traditions and values of the old home. However, to be able to relate to origins, people need not confine themselves to the domain of home. Especially in Sula, Morrison insists that traditions should not fix us to one place. To keep traditions alive, we do not need to adopt the ghetto mentality that confines us to one locale.

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