History and Space in
Contemporary North American Women's Fictions
Beloved: Backgrounds
  I. Slavery
a. definition 1. societal institution based on ownership, dominance, and exploitation of one human being by another and reciprocal submission on the part of the person owned. 
 2. Members of family can be separated at the will of the owner.
 3. Slavery at present--the selling of people or self-sale for special purposes--e.g. prostitution; the outpouring of mainland Chinese workers to places such as U.S. and Taiwan 

b. the Triangle Trade:
 1. route: from England, with merchandise such as weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, trinkets, and cloth, to the west Coast of Africa.  From Africa, with human cargo, to either West Indies or English colonies.  And then with agricultural products such as sugar back to England.
 2. "Middle Passage" (images)
 3. this trade is a source of wealth to tribal chiefs, to the shipping business, to plantation owners in the South, and to merchants and shipbuilders in the North.
 4. An estimated 8 to 15 million Africans reached the Americans from the 16th throught the 19 century, with a peak of about 6 million arriving in the 18th century alone.

c. Historic and thematic relevances to Beloved
1. Morrison was inspired by the real life story of Margaret Garner, who she read about in a 19th century magazine while editing a historical novel. Garner also escaped from Kentucky to Cincinatti. When tracked down she attempted to murder all four of her children but only succeeded with one.   Fugitive Slave Acts; Underground Railroad.

  II. Reconstruction: 
b. Reconstruction (1868 -): 
The Reconstruction experience led to an increase in sectional bitterness, an intensification of the racial issue, and the development of one-party politics in the South. Scholarship has suggested that the most fundamental failure of Reconstruction was in not effecting a distribution of land in the South that would have offered an economic base to support the newly won political rights of black citizens.  (source 1)

III. History of Black discourse--critical and literary

a. integrationism (e,g, Arthur P. David, Sterling BrownRichard Wright's Native Son,  Cf. Showalter 171.) 
b. separatism--e.g. Black Power and Black Aesthetics; 
c. reconstructionists--e.g. Henry Louis Gates 
questions: who can be the critic of black literature?  What's the function of criticism?  (e.g. Barbara Christian "Race for Theory")
'By 1970, beginning with the publication of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, black feminist writers and critics began to make their voices heard within the literary community.  "Looking for Zora"--Alice Walker...leading others such as Toni Cade Bambara in [this quest]for Zora Neale Hurston. . .  '

d. Black women writers: 
-- feminism//Afro-American discourse: " We have both followed traditional patterns in the institutionalization of critical momvents, from our beginnings in a separatist cultural aesthetics, born out of participation in a protest movement, to a middle stage of professionalized focus on a specific text-milieu in an alliance with acadmeic literary theory; to an expanded and pluralistic critical field of expertise on sexual or racial difference.  Along with gay and post-Colonial critics, we share many critical metaphors, theories, and dilemmas, such as the notion of a double-voiced discourse, the imagery of the veil, the mask, or the closet; and the problem of autonomy vs. mimicry and civil disobedience. (Showalter 170)
--development of Black female writers: 
1) 19th century: e.g. Frances Harper & Jessie Fauset.  "Of necessity their language was outer directed rather than inwardly searching" (Christian 235)
2) 20th century until 1940's: e.g. Dorothy West, Iola Leroy, Neila Larsen, etc.  conflicting needs for "economic stability and 'feminine ideal'" (Christian 236)  "On the one hand, the writers try to prove that black women are women, that. . . they are beautiful (fair), pure, upper class, and would be nonagressive, dependent beings, if only racism did not exist.  At the same time, they appear to believe that if Afro-American women were to achieve the norm, they would lose important aspects of themselves"  (Christian 235).  
* exception: Zora Neale Hurston.  (exploration of the self as female and black.)
3) 1950's: self-definitions began--"the complex existence of the ordinary, dark-skinned woman, who is neither an upper-class matron committed to an ideal of woman that few could attain, . . . , nor a downtrodden victim, totally at the mercy of a hostile society" (238) .  [60's: Few novels by Afro-American women were published.]
4) early 70's:  the black communities critiqued for their embodying racist stereotypes.  (e.g. The Bluest Eye)
5) mid 70's: heroines as socio-political actors in the world, not isolated from their communities.  
6) Morison: focused on Black men as well as women.

IV. Slave Narratives and Beloved: 
A. traditional slave narratives: 
". . . . In the "Introduction" to The Classic Slave Narratives, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. accounts for this phenomenon by reminding us that when the ex-slave author decided to write his or her story, he or she did so only after reading and rereading the telling stories of other slave authors who preceded them.  
. . .[Douglass's Narrative (1845) Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)]  As prototypical examples of the genre, they adhere to the narrative conventions carefully delineated and described by James Olney.  According to him, the vast majority of narratives begin with the three words "I was born" and proceed to provide information about parents, siblings, the cruelty of masters, mistresses and overseers, barriers to literacy, slave auctions, attempts, failures and successes at escaping, name changes, and general reflections on the peculiar institution of slavery.  As Valerie Smith points out, however, the important distinction between the narratives of Douglass and Jacobs is that while his narrative not only concerns "the journey from slavery to freedom but also the journey from slavery to manhood," her narrative describes the sexual exploitation that challenged the womanhood of slave women and tells the story of their resistance to that exploitation." (Mobley 191)  
B. Beloved and slave narratives      (Mobley 192)
"While the classic slave narrative draws on memory as though it is a monologic, mechanic conduit for facts and incidents, Morrison's text foregrounds the dialogic characteristics of memory along with its imaginative capacity to construct and reconstruct the significance of the past.  
traditional--chronological, linear narrative fashion
B--meandering through time, sometimes circling back, other times moving vertically, spirally out of time and down into space.  
p.. 192-93--"Unlike the slave narrative which sought to be all-inclusive eyewitness accounts of the material conditions of slavery, Morrison's novel exposes the unsaid of the narratives, the psychic subtexts that lie within and beneath the historical facts."  


1. "Reconstruction."  Encyclopedia Britannica
                       [Accessed March 18, 2002].
2. Showalter, Elaine.  "A Criticism of Our Own: Autonomy and Assimilation in Afro-American and Feminist Literary Theory."  Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism.  Ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl.  NJ: Rutgers UP, 1991.
3. Christina, Barbara.  "Trajectories of Self-Definition: Placing Contemporary Afro-American Women's Fiction."   Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition.   Eds. Marjorie Pryse (introd); Hortense J. Spillers.  Bloomington : Indiana UP, 1985: 233-48.
4. Mobley, Marilyn Sanders.  "A Different Remembering: Memory, History and Meaning in Toni Morrison's Beloved."  Toni Morrison.  Ed. Harold Bloom.  NY: Chelsea House, 1990.