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PROJECT TOPIC AND MATERIAL ON RACE, IDENTITY AND PERSPECTIVES OF AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN IN THE SELECTED WORKS OF TONI MORRISON AND RITA DOVE
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This study is concerned with an appraisal of Race, Identity and Perspectives of African American Women in the Selected Works of Toni Morrison and Rita Dove about the African American community, within the context of the United States of America. Over the years African American women writing has not been accorded due relevance within the American literary space. As such, black male writers have dominated the literary scene for long, being literarily the spoke persons on the specific and general dimensions of black people‟s existence and experience in America. This position is now being contested by black women writers such as Toni Morrison and Rita Dove. In other words, the claim of a homogenous black experience is now being debated and challenged by these African American women writers through different literary platforms. Thus, these black women writers foreground women characters who are now subjects of their own narrations. This research apprehends the various views of African American women about themselves, about the African American community and how their perspectives have contributed significantly to shaping the concerns bordering on history, existence, experience and the community of black people in America via different literary platforms. Significantly therefore, this research employs various genres of literature, specifically the novelistic art form and the poetic genre, as parameters for the exploration of the complex dynamics of African American community in America. To this extent, the study contends that the poetic genre of literature is also a distinctive genre that similarly apprehends the African American reality and should be emphasized alongside the novel form which has gained popular acceptance in the literary circle. This thesis employs the postcolonial praxis as a rewarding paradigm for investigating the works of Morrison and Dove, especially as it facilitates the foregrounding of such critical parameters as hegemony, hybridity, mimicry, conflict, power dynamics, identity, gender to name a few and how these concerns are implicated in the existence and experience of black people in America. This research work is presented in six chapters. Chapter one is the introduction, which provides a background on the conceptual framework of the research. It comments on the origin and development of African American writing as well as the emergence of African American women writing. Chapter two delineates the dynamics of slavery in Morrison‟s A Mercy. Chapter three locates the place and position of African American identity in Morrison‟s Paradise. Chapter four interrogates the concept of race in the globalized American society in Rita Dove‟s American Smooth. Chapter five appraises the dilemma of mothering in Dove‟s Mother Love. Chapter six, the concluding chapter brings to bear the central arguments and findings of the study and its contributions to knowledge in the field.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TITLE PAGE i
TABLE OF CONTENT viii-ix
1.1 African American History and the Development of African American writing 1-4
1.2 African American Women Writing 4-7
1.3 Statement of the Problem 7-9
1.4 Research Aim and Objectives 9
1.5 Justification of Study 10
1.6 Scope and Limitation 11
1.7 Methodology 12
1.8 Theoretical Frame 12-19
1.9 Literature Review 19-26
2.0 Delineating the Dynamics of Slavery in Toni Morrison‟s A Mercy 27
2.1 Slavery and the African American Experience in Morrison‟s A Mercy 27-37
2.2 Interrogating the Hegemony of Religion in Morrison‟s A Mercy 37-45
2.3 Interrogating the Hegemony of Language in Morrison‟s A Mercy 45-50
3.0 Locating the Place of the African American Identity through the Perspectives of African American Women in Toni Morrison‟s Paradise 5
3.1 The Portrait of the Individual African American Identity in Morrison‟s Paradise 51-58
3.2 The Communal African American Identity in Morrison‟s Paradise 58-66
3.3 The Place of Women in Morrison‟s Paradise 66-78
4.0 Underpinning the Dynamics of Race in the Globalized America via African American Women Perspectives in Rita Dove‟s American Smooth 79
4.1 Race, Racism and the Globalized American Society in Dove‟s American Smooth 79- 90
4.2 Globalization, Change and the Integration of African American values into the Mainstream in Dove‟s American Smooth 90-101
5.0 Interrogating the Dilemma of Mothering in Rita Dove‟s Mother Love 102
5.1 Family and the Dilemma of Mothering in Dove‟s Mother Love 102-116
6.0 CONCLUSION 117-122
1.1 African American History and the Development of African American Writing
African American literature acts as a creative umpire that offers possibilities for blacks in the United States to mediate their general aspirations and desires. As a body of literature, black writing started in the 18th century as the medium that provides African Americans the platform to interrogate the dynamics of the African American identity, community and experience within America. According to Abah (2008) “the culture of African American writing is traceable to the middle of the 18th century, although the issues at the front-burner of this literature extend beyond two hundred years. In truth the life of bondage and enslavement became the necessary materials which were to translate into black writing”(7). Abah‟s contention brings to the fore the root and origin of African American literature and its relationship with the social context of America. Commenting on the destabilizing nature of the life of bondage in America, Kenneth Stampp (1956) observes that African Americans were seen as slaves who were “deemed, held, taken, reputed and adjudged in law to be chattel slaves, in the hands of their captors, owners, possessors, executors, and administrators, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever” (97). This debate suggests that the tragedy of blacks in America did not begin with the ordeal of Reconstruction, or with the agony of the civil war, but with the growth of what Kenneth Stampp sees as a “peculiar institution”, that is, the institution of slavery in the ante-bellum days. Thus, “the engendering impulse of African American literature is resistance to human tyranny and the dedication to black dignity and identity” (Gates et al 2003). In other words, the struggles against the institution of slavery in America formed the fabric for black writing and subsequently the impetus for its development. In his review of Frederick Douglass‟ Narrative of the life in 1845, Lucius Matlock as cited in Gates and Mckay (1997), notes that: The soil of slavery itself – and the demands for its abolition – turned out to be an ironically fertile ground for the creation of a new literature, a literature indicting oppression, a literature created by the oppressed: “from the soil of slavery sprung forth some of the most brilliant productions, whose logical levers will ultimately upheave and overthrow the system (xxvii). From Matlock‟s view it is evident that the context of the emergence of black writing falls within the purview of an unbearable social environment of slavery in America. Thus, Jonathan Earle (2004) posits that “the abolition of slavery further created the environment for the thriving of African American literature” (4). Evidently, Earle is of the view that the elimination of slavery paved way for a more suitable platform for the development of black writing. It is in the light of this therefore that African American writers employed literature as a medium to express the plights and hopes of black people in America.
Fundamentally, the literary text has been used to contest certain myths about the Negroes in America. One of such skewed myths is that Negroes, in contrast to peoples from other races possess certain racial traits which uniquely make them fit for bondage. Such myth was born out of the sheer misconceptions and even mischief of white doctors, scientists, and pseudo-scientists who had contrived a physiological basis for alleged temperamental and intellectual differences between white and black people in America (Stampp 1956:8). Accordingly, Stampp notes that one of such prejudices is traceable to Dr. Samuel W. Cartwright of Louisiana, who contends that “the visible difference in skin pigmentation also extended to the membranes, the tendons, and . . . [to] all the fluids and secretions” (8). As such, even the “Negro‟s brain and nerves, the chyle and all the humors, are tinctured with a shade of the pervading darkness” (8). Invariably, this and other Theological, Anthropological, Historical and Philosophical yardsticks were used to define the Negroes in America some years ago. By and large, the contestation of inferiority – superiority complex in America, that is, the tension of racial superiority can be premised on the writings of such white psychologists as John Fiskie and John W. Burgass, whose works gave further impetus to the belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority in particular and white superiority in general. To buttress this position, Hume as cited in Gates and Mckay (1997:xxx) avers that “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men . . . to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation.” Hume‟s derogatory view, promotes the superiority of white people over not only African Americans, but over all non-white races. This racist arrogance has largely informed the hegemonic positions by which white people have acted and dominated other races, particularly blacks in America. Again, the substance of this postulation is further brought home by Stampp (1956) who frowns at the erroneous assumption that blacks were barbarians who needed to be subjected to rigid discipline and severe controls and that their enslavement was significant for their own good and for the preservation of white civilization. This is further captured in the Preamble of South Carolina‟s Code of 1712, which reads thus: Of barbarous, wild, savage natures, and . . . wholly unqualified to be govern by the laws, customs, and practices of this province, they had to be governed by such special laws, as may restrain the disorders, rapines, and inhumanity to which they are naturally prone and inclined and [as] may also tend to the safety and security of the people of this province and their estates (2).
The aforementioned demonstrates the kind of prescriptive laws created by the Caucasians in America to subvert the voices, roles and positions of blacks who were brought to America to learn the “civilized ways” of white people among other reasons. It is against this background therefore that, in the 18th century, African American writers saw themselves as people with special mission to counter and debunk the notion of black people as being incapable of literary expression. It was writers like Jupiter Hammon, Phillis Wheathley and Lucy Terry who began to champion this course as pioneer African Americans to delineate black experience through literature in 1746 and 1761 respectfully (Encarta 2009). Wikipedia (2009:3) posits that, “Olauda Equino also made similar contribution in this regards”. Although, African American history and culture emerged out of the dynamic relationship between white and black people in America, African American writers sought to depict the nature and effects of the relationship between the two warring races. Thus, literature whether in the form of the novel, poetry, drama, and short story was used as a viable discursive site to illustrate the specific and general dimensions of the African American experience (Bryan 2004). 1.2 African American Women Writing
The explosion of black women‟s writing after the Civil Rights Movement in America is dubbed as the African American women literary movement (Jana Dreserova 2006:6). In view of this, since 1970, the sheer level of production of novels and books of poetry by African American women writers have been enormous. Henry L. Gates in Jana Dreserova (2006:7) contends that “this condition attest to the validity and consistency both of this new readership and of the movement itself”. This movement is considered to be an extension of the Black Arts Movement, as well as its repudiation. In this vein, African American women writers‟ works began to flourish in many publications and their works represented the legacy of the movement. Rowell in Jana Dreserova (2006:9) notes that some of the female authors tried to escape “the Movement‟s dictum that African American women writers should write solely for and about black people”. Among the black women writers who went contrary to this belief of black nationalist writing were Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Rita Dove, Maya Angelo to name a few. The 1970s in American literature can be described as the period of re-discovering the black women‟s literary tradition. Gates in Jana Dreserova (2006:9) notes excitingly “we are only just recovering piece by piece the parts of black women‟s literary past”. As a result, African American women writers trace their roots and descent from their literary foremothers, such as Phillis Wheatley, Frances Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Ann Petry, Dorothy West and Gwendolyn Brooks. By the same token, the 1970s seems to be very significant within the context of African American literature not only in terms of the books published since then, but also in terms of quality. More so, the works of black women in America began to enjoy a broader audience during this period. Gates posits that “the growing institutionalization of Afro-American literature in traditional English Departments has been concomitant with the growth of black women‟s literature” (9). It was within this period that black women‟s literature was published in the mainstream houses and they became popular in America and the world at large. Important figures in the promotion of black women writing and black literature were Toni Morrison and Rita Dove.
It is in the light of the above therefore, that Toni Morrison and Rita Dove creatively and variously delineate several perspectives about women of color or non-white women in America. To buttress this view, Seodial Deena cited in Damion O. Lewis (2009:9) discusses the fate of women, more appropriately, African American women like Morrison and Dove “who had no alternative but to discover and define themselves through their writings in order to liberate themselves”. The liberating act of writing for African American women is therefore of greater significance and precedence than for women who have not been classified as racial “Other”. Therefore, the tool of writing for African American women in the past and at present continues to create “a new territory for postcolonial women writers” (Deena in Damion Lewis 2009). Essentially, the novelistic art form helps Morrison ground her convictions and worldviews in the reality of the African American society she depicts. Morrison uses the novel as a cultural instrument to redefine time and space of the black community in America. Via this form she explores various aspects of African American experience including slavery, racism, identity and gender as well as individual and communal consciousness. In a similar manner, the poetic genre enables Rita Dove employ a special elevated poetic style modeled on American history and the tradition of black people in America. Through the composition in verse, Dove uses structure, diction, metaphor, imagery, enjambment to mention a few, to comment on a myriad of relevant issues implicated in not only in America‟s past but also on issues of global and contemporary persuasion.
Overall, this thesis is concerned with Toni Morrison‟s A Mercy and Paradise and Rita Dove‟s American Smooth and Mother Love as major sources for understanding the nature and dynamics of African American life and the black community in the United States. Their fierce condemnations of slavery, oppression, racism to name a few contrast sharply with far more complacent attitudes that prevailed even among white writers and the trivial roles given to black women by black male writers. Thus, the works of Morrison and Dove have increasingly recognized and provided the impetus for black women‟s relevance in the literary space. This has profoundly altered the older historical literary space predominantly occupied by men. To this end, it is important to look at race, identity and the perspectives of African American women about themselves, about the African American community and how their views have contributed significantly to shaping black identity, history and community in America.
1.3 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM Over the years, African American literary scene has been essentially male-dominated. Black male writers in America have been literally the spokespersons on the specific and general experiences of black people in America. As a result, African American women have been objects of debasement and marginalization depicted in the works of not only black male writers but also white American writers. Lydia Isah Kudi (2011) contends that “Black male writers have from beginning of Black literary activities in the United States of America been the literary spokespersons of African American experience”. Kudi‟s contention obviously suggests that the hegemonic dominance in the literary canon and discourse within America is particularly felt by black women writers, even though black men are not totally free from this domination. Black women writing in America has been twice removed, emasculated, and silenced from the dominant discourse.
In response to this, African American women writers like Morrison through the novelistic art form and Dove through the poetic genre, have set out to challenge the whole portrait of the African American experience overtime in black male narratives. In other words, the claim of a homogeneous black experience is now contested by African American women writers via different genres of literature. As such, African American male writers no longer hold the monopoly to creatively portray both black women‟s experience and the overall African
American life in literary works. Women are now subjects of their own narration. Thus, African American writers as Morrison and Dove are now subjects of their own stories. However, it is noteworthy that this research examines issues that transcend the borders of the oppression of black women which has become a common trend in literary criticism. This study examines broader issues and how they are implicated in the overall African American experience. Significantly therefore, it is important to look at the various perspectives that the African American women characters/poetic persona engender in the works of Morrison and Dove and how these views have contributed greatly to the African American history and literature. Similarly, more often than not, literary critics and scholars are always misled by concluding that all women writings are tailored toward the exploration of the oppression and stereotypes of women in the society. As a result, they narrow the interpretation of the works of Morrison and Dove down to a feminist standpoint, thereby limiting their views on the plethora of matters and concerns inherent in the narratives of these black women writers. In other words, this is what critics as Derrida, Foucault, Hegel, and Gates refer to as being “„a lynched‟ approach to an understanding of the African American experience” (Jakubiak 2006:2). Thus, this thesis hopes to fill the gap in scholarship by deploying postcolonial discourse as the framework that affords one the necessary platform to examine the expansive terrain concerning the writings of black women in America.
Beyond this however, a review of literature shows that although a lot has been done on African American literature, African American women writing, and on the works of Morrison alone or Dove alone, but little or less has been done in comparing the different genres of both women as black writers who have made vital contributions to the American literary canon. As a result there seem to be a gap left in the literary space because most people prefer to look at Morrison‟s or Dove‟s works separately. Thus, this research embraces the different literary platforms of African American women writers as unique mediums that apprehend the overall African American reality and experience. 1.4 AIM AND OBJECTIVES The aim of this thesis is to examine race, identityr54fd and the perspectives of African American women in the selected works of Toni Morrison and Rita Dove about the African American identity and community within the context of the United States of America. Thus, the objectives of this research are to underline the following: To examine the perspectives of African American women in the selected works of Morrison and Dove about the African American experience, through different genres of literature that the two writers deploy. To interrogate how these perspectives collectively define the unique experiences of African Americans in America, particularly the African American identity. To understand what factors constitute the reason behind the differences in perspectives and concerns of these women writers in relation to the African American community. To show how the perspectives of African American women characters portrayed in the works under study underline relevant issues implicated in black American history and culture. To show that the perspectives of African American women in the works of Morrison and Dove represent the various ideologies and worldviews of the writers.
1.5 JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY This study is necessary because it hopes to fill the gap within literary scholarship given that little or no attention has been paid in comparing two different genres of literature written by black women writers in America. In this regard, this thesis evaluates the works of Morrison and Dove as two writers who deploy different literary platforms to interrogate the African American experience. Using divergent genres, both writers draw their materials from African American experience and community. By doing so, this research contends that the poetic genre of literature is also a distinctive genre that similarly apprehends the African American experience and should be emphasized alongside the novel form which has gained popular acceptance in the literary circle. Beyond this however, it is important to understand the peculiar views of these African American women writers on the dynamics as well as the contradictions within America and the various ways in which their perceptions comment on the unique black identity in America. It is also important to understand why and how these women writers have sought to widen and enrich the African American culture and history through their works? Thus, by studying Morrison‟s A Mercy and Paradise and Dove‟s American Smooth and Mother Love, the study expands our understanding of the characteristic issues of the African American individual and community today. By deploying postcolonial discourse as a literary tool of analysis of these writers‟ works, this research expands our perceptions on the problematic of being black in postmodern America.
1.6 SCOPE AND DELIMITATION This research analyzes race, identity and perspectives of African American women in the selected works of Morrison and Dove as social, political, historical and cultural commentaries on the dynamics of the black American identity, community and experience in the United States. In doing so, this study has chosen Morrison and Dove because both writers essentially borrow their materials from the African American context. Although, Morrison‟s works reference America‟s past life and experience, Dove‟s works are more contemporaneous. It is noteworthy therefore that, both writers centralize the overall experiences of black people in America through female characters. As such, Morrison‟s and Dove‟s convictions and ideologies are evident in the female characters they depict in their works. Thus, a close study of Morrison‟s A Mercy and Paradise and Dove‟s American Smooth and Mother Love is the major thrust of this thesis.
The study limits the scope of its task to the aforementioned texts believing this to be a representative reflection of African American literature. Therefore, the books chosen for this study allows the research to explore deeply on the specific and general dynamics of the African American life. In other words, the texts under investigation are reflections of the socio-political and cultural realities of the African American society at large, seen particularly from the view point of African American women. As such, the study will be premised on how the various perspectives of African American women portrayed in the selected literary works of Morrison and Dove reconstruct important moments in American history. This will be achieved by locating both writers within the praxis of postcolonial discourse. Therefore, this research focuses centrally on Morrison‟s A Mercy and Paradise, and Rita Dove‟s American Smooth and Mother Love without much reference to their other works believing that a consideration of these texts shall enable the realization of the aim and objectives of this thesis.
1.7 METHODOLOGY In order to give this research a contextual framework, Morrison‟s A Mercy and Paradise and Dove‟s American Smooth and Mother Love constitute the primary texts of analysis. In this sense, this research depends to a large extent on the study of the primary texts in relation to the goals of the study. However, other relevant secondary sources as articles, magazines, books, newspapers, journals, internet sources, unpublished theses and dissertations, seminar presentations and e-books will be utilized effectively and extensively.
1.8 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK POSTCOLONIAL DISCOURSE AND CONCEPTUAL THEORY This study employs postcolonial discourse and strands of postcolonial theory as both the conceptual and the literary tool for the analysis of the primary texts. This choice is anchored on the fact the African American individual as well as the African American society in America has undergone various forms of colonialism, from 1619 – 1865. According to Michelle Russell in Blassigame(1971) “the fundamental relationship of the American nation to the African Americans she tries to rule domestically is a colonial one” (42). This assertion strongly implicates white America regarding its political and economic exploitation of blacks in America. That is, the relationship between white and black people in America is one that has made the black community in the United States peripheral and even expendable as a labor pool. Russell observes further that in the initial stages of colonization of black people in America four things occurred which we can identify as “Before Arrival” prerequisite. He posits thus: First, “recruitment” channels had to be established between European slavers and Africans in position of trust and power, who acted as mercenaries against their people. Secondly, African mercenaries and European colonizers had to cooperate in selecting and collecting large populations “suitable” for transport to the New World. Third, those who were lucky enough to be chosen had to undergo the shock of passage, usually with other blacks of different tribes whose local customs had previously set them apart rather than binding them together. And the fourth, upon landing in America, the blacks who survived had to submit to a plantation diaspora which was the final complement to the systematic separation and disruption of families and tribes that had begun with recruitment (45) The above sums-up the experiences of the African Americans who were forcefully removed from Africa and brought to America, „the New World‟, as slaves to advance the industrial development of America and enhance its economy. This brief preamble and what follows subsequently justifies the deployment of postcolonial discourse as the investigative tool of analysis for this research.
In recent years, the notion of postcolonial discourse or theory has posed some of the most far-reaching questions for literary scholars and students alike. By focusing on the issues of subjectivity, hybridity, mimicry, polyvalence, hegemony, race, identity, power, gender and knowledge, postcolonial discourse or theory enables readers to ask questions about who speaks for whom in the literary text, under what conditions and to what end? Since the wide spread collapse of colonialism, cultures that were former European colonies have been working to define and understand themselves outside the bounds of colonialism (Che Guevara 1964). In this respect, the field of postcolonial discourse or theory has been traced to the works of Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty, Homi Bhabha and Bill Ashcroft, who view literature and the society from two broad angles: how the writer, artist, cultural worker and his or her context has reflected a colonial past, and how he or she survived and carved out a new way of creating and understanding the world?
In line with the aforementioned, Morrison and Dove like other postcolonial writers, depict the African American experience, in a manner that speaks back to the whites in America, thereby, creating space for the subaltern or marginalized black society to produce alternatives to dominant discourse. In this respect, Edward Said as cited in Nyuykin (2012:19), avers that “the discourse surrounding the subaltern societies is coded by superiority that is not necessarily reflected in the realities of the concerned countries”. This simply means that whites in America attempt to study and explore the experiences of the African Americans and other marginalized people in America within an already coded discourse, failing to take into cognizance the realities of the black American community in America. In this sense, Achebe (2012:55) posits that “by „writing back‟ to the West we were attempting to reshape the dialogue between the colonized and the colonizer. Our efforts, we hoped, would broaden the world‟s understanding, appreciation and conceptualization of what literature meant when including African [American] voice and perspective”. In other words, by doing so, Achebe, like Morrison and Dove, engages in what Ode Ogede aptly referred to as „the politics of representation‟ (Achebe, 2012:55). Thus, one of the highpoints of postcolonial literature as evident in the works of Morrison and Dove is the challenge of stereotypes, myths, and images of the oppressed and silenced blacks in America which the writers recast through stories – prose, poetry, essays, short stories and dramatic texts. As such, Morrison and Dove seek to create space for black voices in America. This is especially true of voices that have been previously silenced by dominant ideologies. Bill Ashcroft (1989) buttresses this point further by observing that in the notion of interpolation “the dominated talks back by using the paradigm of the oppressor”. In other words, these writers create space for the marginalized African American voices within America, using literature as a potent source for negotiating the location, identity, and interests of African Americans in America. Due to the body of prejudices which have their root in the ignorant or malicious misrepresentations of the whites in America and the stereotypical image of black Americans, the marginalized blacks in America respond to their colonial legacy by “writing back to the centre” to borrow the words of Edward Said. The centre here is deployed to mean White America and the West with respect to their hegemonic dominance of the African American personality and the black American culture. Abah (2008:46) notes that, “although African American literary activity is a conscious attempt to mediate black experience; it has inevitably been a reaction to the literary representation of this experience by Euro-American, Anglo-Saxon oriented literary establishments”. Black writers in America within which group Toni Morrison and Rita Dove can be located, reject White America‟s interpretation of African American reality and experience. In other words, the relationship between the white and black people in America is a situation whereby white people arrogate power to themselves to define black culture and its discourses. As such, this thesis emphasizes how Morrison and Dove through their writings strongly debunk the basic assumptions of white people in America by proffering their own understanding and interpretations of art and black aesthetics. Thus, it is within this context that Morrison and Dove can be located as post colonial writers and critics.
More importantly, race, identity and perspectives of African American women in the selected works of Morrison and Dove are articulated by the characters and poetic personae that the writers portray in their works. By deliberately using women as enablers to portray the dynamics of the black family and community, Morrison and Dove convey the overall response of the marginalized black people in America. Not only that, they depict experiences that are symbolic of the various significant periods in American history. Thus, while on the one hand Morrison‟s characters reflect the experiences of black people before and within the context of slavery in the Ante-Bellum America, she similarly portrays the after-effects of slavery on the lives of her African American characters. Dove on the other hand situates her poetic personae within the context of contemporary America as they strive to apprehend the impact of globalization on their existence as blacks living within the multicultural context of the United States. Even though these writers share a lot in common, looked closely they still share a lot of differences. Edward Said cited in Gates (2008: 20) notes that the central feature of postcolonial theory “discusses the role of imperialism, colonialization, globalization, and their literature and language in the construction of Knowledge and the people‟s resistance to imposed frame works of knowing” (20). This assertion will be useful considering analogies between the African American experience and the hegemonic structures in America as depicted in the works under study. More so, this frame helps to reveal the biases, distortions and misconceptions about the marginalized and disenfranchised black race in America, a process legitimized in part by the hegemonic literature, spearheaded by White America.
In addition, this research re-echoes Gayatri Spivak (1990:10) who observes that “postcolonial theory covers a wide and diverse range of writing”. Such writings cut through history, language, feminism, culture, politics, economy, power, identity and a host of others. With this understanding, the dynamics of postcolonial theory is concerned with an appraisal of a plethora of issues including such issues as those of language, racism, slavery, colonialism, hybridity, hegemony, gender relations, race, identity among others. In truth, this study cannot
exhaustively explore all the poetics of postcolonial discourse. However, some of the strands espoused by Said and Ashcroft will be relevant to the aim and objectives of this research. It is in the context of the foregoing therefore that Franz Fanon (1963:43) contends that some of the major highpoints of postcolonial discourse or theory are anchored on the following problematic: Postcolonial discourse looks at the emergent forms of postcolonial identity after the departure of the colonizer and how hybridity, subjectivity and identity are essentially designated in various texts. It looks at the operations of mimicry, hybridity and cultural politics within and after colonialism. It involves appropriation of language and how hegemony is used to enforce submission and silence on the oppressed. It looks at the impact of colonization on postcolonial history, economy and culture. Postcolonial discourse identifies the role of hegemonic powers in the colonial and postcolonial societies. It also recognizes the ways in which place and displacement, race, gender, class, conflict, customs and beliefs are combined to construct and recast individual or group identity.
Again, all of these postcolonial tools will help in the analysis that this research undertakes by highlighting the ways in which Morrison and Dove privilege the perspectives of African American women as the creative umpire for depicting the nature of the disenfranchised and marginalized blacks in America. In order words, this research hopes to pick and explore some of the strands of postcolonial discourse from the theoretical assumptions of theorists as Edward Said, Franz Fanon, Bill Ashcroft and Antonio Gramsci. Invariably, by so doing, this will help to investigate how Morrison and Dove comment on the origin, problems and after-effects of colonialism on the cultural and social lives of black people in America. It is within this context therefore that Morrison‟s A Mercy and Paradise and Dove‟s American Smooth and Mother Love are encompassed within the framework of the postcolonial. Significantly therefore, in order to facilitate our understanding of the dynamics of the African American society, Antonio Gramsci‟s postcolonial notion of hegemony becomes one of the key elements to be used to investigate the political, social, cultural and economic predominance of white people over African Americans and other non-whites in the texts under study. Thus, hegemony as a form of control exercised by white people in America through what Gramsci calls “Ideological State Apparatus” ISAs – churches, schools, language, mass media, popular culture, trade unions, political parties etc – against blacks in America, becomes an important element in the analysis that this research undertakes.
On the whole, this research contends that because of the expansive nature of postcolonial theory, it affords this thesis the opportunity to investigate and examine a wide range of issues implicated in the daily lives of blacks in America. This brings to mind Che Guevara‟s (1984) contention that “all reality is a social construct”. From his point of view, no single or primary reality exists; instead, many realities exist. In disavowing a universal, objective reality, critics believe that reality is perspectival. Therefore to understand reality, this thesis contends that various perspectives must be harmonized so as to create a more detailed understanding of human identity, society and existence. In doing so, the postcolonial theory facilitates an understanding of the various perspectives on the African American experience that have been foregrounded overtime by Western critics and scholars. To this end, given the sundry and multi-layered nature of the works of Morrison and Dove, it is most appropriate to approach A Mercy, Paradise, American Smooth and Mother Love with an expansive and non-restrictive theoretical tool of analysis. Thus, the foregoing constitutes a justification for the use of the postcolonial theory to evaluate the works of these black women writers under study.
1.9 LITERATURE REVIEW
1.9.1. Toni Morrison In her article “Something Rogue: Commensurability, Commodification, Crime and Justice” Megan Sweeney (cited in Gates 2001:11), discusses the works of Toni Morrison and her exploration of the African American narrative. Sweeney views Morrison‟s works as stories that are both African and American as much as they are about the basic ideas of wealth, power, quest for happiness, family and love. In this sense, Sweeney‟s central postulation is evidenced by her proclamation of Morrison‟s use of narratives which allows her to indepthly explore the African American experience. In this light, it is the experience of African American women that helps Morrison to define the challenges of black people within the postcolonial American society.
In a similar way, New York Times (2008), submits that “A Mercy by Morrison reveals her, once more, as a conscious inheritor of the America‟s pastoral tradition, even as she implicitly criticizes it”. This means that Morrison adopts in A Mercy a pattern that portrays America‟s country life, while subtly criticizing it. This postulation is further given impetus by the New York Times which opines that “Morrison‟s latest collection A Mercy is distinctively postcolonial pastoral”. That is A Mercy is Morrison‟s way of celebrating and criticizing at the same time some of the ills of America‟s country life. Frontier (2008:3) further posits that Morrison‟s A Mercy contains both passion and skill in abundance, but more importantly, it presents her latest effort to reveal, to guide and to protect the African American identity located as it is within the larger American society. In her interview with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (2009) on A Mercy, Morrison states that, “I wanted to separate race from slavery”. To do so she moved as far as she could “to when what we now call America was fluid”. The stories in A Mercy are as layered in such a way that reflects America‟s past. Thus, A Mercy explores not only American pastoral past but also the early beginnings of slavery in America. In a similar fashion some critics have argued persuasively on the relevance of Morrison‟s Paradise (1998), to the black community. Zoe Heller (1998:10), disagrees with critics and scholars who believe that “Morrison‟s work can only be viewed in relation to its place in the canon of black women writing”. Heller seems to disagree with the reductive approach, which places a restrictive parameter on the universality of the text.
Rendered as multi-vocal stories of women who flee their broken lives only to have their restructured ones destroyed again, Paradise is layered with complexities (Lydia K. Isah 2011). The text which has multiple characters rejects a linear narrative. Readers are to understand the nature and life of these individual women characters as they each represent a chapter in the text. Lydia further posits that the novel is preoccupied by attempts by a group of black families to preserve their racial purity. Katrine Dalsgard, in her critique of Paradise notes that: “Rather than being linear and mono-vocal, as would befit a master narrative, It is an open-ended fabric woven by Ruby‟s multiplicity of fragmented and sometimes competing narrative voices. Moreover Morrison jumps back and forth between various points in time” This is Katrine Dalsgard‟s way of commenting on the complex nature of the plot of Morrison‟s Paradise. This research therefore attempts to transcend the skewed commentaries on Morrison‟s works, especially by feminist critics who are often misled to believe that Morrison‟s A Mercy and Paradise can only be assessed within the context of black women writing as they depict the oppression and plight of black women in America. By employing the postcolonial literary tool of analysis, this study hopes to expand the scope concerning reading Morrison‟s works, by looking at other relevant issues implicated in the overall experiences of black people in America.
1.9.2 Rita Dove Rita Dove like Morrison is an inspirational figure for African Americans and for women especially. Her works feature many iconic names with roots in African American social history including Billie Holiday, Rosa Parks and McDaniel. However, Dove is very much interested in what she called the “underside of history”, exploring the quiet lives of those who, like Thomas and Beulah, are omitted from the official record. Be they famous or humble, Dove‟s sensual technique collapses the barriers of history to bring the reader into intimate contact with her subjects (Fwanshishak 2006). Critic Helen Vendler has said this of Dove‟s poems: “they fall on the ears with solace”. This is partly because of Dove‟s musical background learning how to play the cello from her childhood days. This background underpins her immaculate sense of phrasing. Her poetry lives up to her own ideal: “I believe that language sings”. In this regard, this quality is amply reflected in American Smooth (2004) and Mother Love (1995).
Edward Byrne (2004) in VALPARAISO POETRY REVIEW avers that Rita Dove‟s American Smooth appears to have blended the lyricism which derives from her musical background with a fresh sense of movement and rhythm within the poems that owe something to her developed interest and participation in dancing. He observes that “the flow of the lines in her poetry seems even more subtle, more natural, and freer than in her past collections” (2). Critical commentary on Rita Dove‟s poetry has frequently focused upon its graceful phrasing of language. A Reviewer like Helen Vendler (2004) notes that, “technically her poems work by her fierce concision and by her exceptional sense of rhythmic pulse”. Certainly such a summary of Dove‟s poetic style, with its appropriate tone complemented by her finely tuned voice, provides an acute and accurate assessment for most of her poems presented in American Smooth. In a similar fashion, The Washington Post Book World (1995) buttresses the view that Mother Love (1995) shows Dove‟s grace and skill as a poet. The title announces the subject clearly, but the poems have a range of emotion and observation that surprises the reader continually. Mother Love by Dove underlines the dynamics of mother-child relationship especially in the black American context. The figures behind the poems are Persphone and Demeter, a daughter and mother who learned to be together and apart. In addition, real places and other mothers and other daughters blend with the mythic. The New York Times Book Review, 1995, on Rita Dove‟s Mother Love, posits that “Dove has survived overused source material by transforming it into something deeply personal. Most poets working this myth mistakenly try to enter a nonexistent past”. In other words, Dove has taken as source material one of Greek‟s Mythologies and has transformed it into something different and new. Thus, she has transformed Persephone and Demeter into contemporary idioms. In fact, by reimaging the myth, one can obtain many resonances with the present (Katrine Dalsgard 1997:2). This is the important point of Rita Dove‟s Mother Love: the fact of considering the past close to the present, of the two coexisting with each other. This research therefore transcends the views of critics and reviewers who limit their view to either the musical quality of Dove‟s poetry or the language deployed by the poet, thereby failing to apprehend in a holistic sense the perspectives of black women on the dynamics of African American identity, culture, history, experience and community, that Dove‟s poetry explores. It is against this background therefore, that this thesis interrogates the various perspectives, issues and concerns of women in the selected works of Toni Morrison and Rita Dove, through an expansive theoretical tool, that is, postcolonial discourse, in order to explore the various portraits of these women which collectively sum-up the overall African American experience.
WORKS CITED Primary Texts Dove, Rita. Mother Love. New York: Norton and Company, 1996. Dove, Rita. American Smooth. New York: Norton and Company, 2004. Morrison, Toni. Paradise. New York: Alfred A .Knopf Publishers, 1998. Morrison, Toni. A Mercy. New York: Aifred A.Knopf Publishers, 2008. Secondary Texts Abah O.A. Edward. “The Narrativization of the African American Experience in the Novels of Toni Morrison”. An unpublished Phd. Dissertation , Department of English and Literary Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2008. Achebe, Chinua. There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. London: Penguin Books, 2012. Ann B. Dobie. Theory Into Practice: An Introduction to Criticism. Michigan: Wadsworth Learning, 2009. Aschroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back. London: Routledge, 1989. Blassigame W. John. New Perspectives on Black Studies. London: University of Illinois Press, 1971. Daniel, Fwanshishak. “From Folk Tradition to Global Concerns African American Poetry; The New Focus in Rita Dove‟s American Smooth and Y.K. Komunyakaa‟s Die Cia Dau”. An Unpublished thesis, Depatrrment of English and Literary Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaira, 2006. Davis, Lenwood. The Black Woman in American Society: A Selected Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1975. Davis, Nathaniel. Afro-American Reference: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Sources. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985. Dhar, Tej. N. “Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity and Literature”. New York: St. Martin Press, 2003. Earle, Jonathan. The Routledge Atlas of African American History. New York: Routledge, 2000. Dreserova, Jana. “Black Feminism in the Poetry of Alice Walker and Rita Dove”. An unpublished thesis in Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English and American Studies, 2006.
Emily, Naussbaum. “American Smooth”. New York: Dance Fever, 2004. Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. Farrington, New York: Grove Press, 1963. Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. Harmondsworth: Peguin Books Limited, 1963. Fanon, Franz. Toward the African Revolution. Chevalier New York: Grove Press, 1970. Finck, Sylviane. “Reading Trauma in Postmodern and Postcolonial Literature: Chalotte Delbo, Toni Morrison and the Literary Imagination of the Aftermath”. An unpublished thesis, Louisiana State University, Agriculture and Mechanical College, 2006. Foucault, M. Power / Knowledg. New York, Colin Gordan Press, 1980. Frazier E.F. The Negro Family in the United States. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1939. Gates L. Henry et al. Norton Anthology of African America Literature. Second Edition, Vol 2, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003, 562-564. Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks, Ed. and Trans. Joseph A. Buttigieg. Oxford University Press, 1971. Jakubiak, Katarzyna. “Between Failure and a New Creation: (Re) Reading Yusuf Komunyakaa‟s “The Beast and the Burden” in the light of Paul Gilroy‟s Black Atlantic. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2006. King, Carol . “The Impact of Race, Gender, and Class on Identity in Morrison‟s Fiction”. An unpublished thesis in East Carolina University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English, 2009. Lewis O. Damion. “Postcolonial African American Female Writers and their Three-way Battle against Imperialism, Canonization and Sexism; Developing a New Multicultural Feminism”. An unpublished thesis in East Carolina University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English, 2007. Lyotard ,J.F. The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge. New York: University of Minusota Press, 1988. Lydia I.Kudi. “The female Perspective in the Selected Works of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison”. An unpublished Thesis, submitted to the Department of English and Literary Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2011. Miles, Emily. (Re)claiming Agency in Language: The Case of Contemporary African American Slave Narratives. New York: St. Martin Press, 2001. Morrison. T. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and literary Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. Morrison Toni. “Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech”. Legacies 4th Ed. Jan Zlotnik Schmidt, Lynne Crockett, and Carley Rees Board. Boston : Wadsworth Cengage, 2009. Nasidi, Yakubu. Lecture Notes: Literary Theory 1 and II, Department of English and Literary Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2012. Smith Zadie and Rushdie Salman. “Postcolonial Theory and Practice”. An unpublished Thesis in the Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English and American Studies, 2008. Spivak Gayatri Chakravarty. The Postcolonial Critic. London: Vintage, 1990. Journals Chuck Taylor. (2005). The Poetry Achive. Virginia, USA: Vol 17, 2005. Morrison .T. “Behind the Making of Black Book”. Black World: Vol 89, 1974. The New Yorker, Lxn, Vol 11, May 15, 1995. The Washington Post Book World: xxv, July 30, 1995. Webster, Roger. Studying Literary Theory: An Introduction. St. Martin Press, New York, Vol 4, 1990. Reviews Anderson, Perry. “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci”. New Left Review, 1976, 100-123. Bryan, Edward. “A Review of Rita Dove‟s Eight Book of Poetry”. New York: African American Review, 2004. David, Gates. A Mercy. By Toni Morrison, USA: New York Times Review, 2008. The New York Times Book Review, C, September 17, 1995, 41. Internet Sources “African American Literature” Encyclopedia Britannica Article,
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article223473. “African American Literature”, [email protected] [email protected] Premium Suit 2004 ©1993 – 2003 Dove, Rita. Online Interview with M. Wynn Thomas, August 12, 1995.
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