Example English Literature Essay: Ways in Which Toni Morrison Portrays Negative Representations of her Female Characters

Example English Literature Essay: Ways in Which Toni Morrison Portrays Negative Representations of her Female Characters
Toni Morrison is considered to be one of the most popular and most important authors of the 20th Century, especially considering that much of her literary work has actively challenged the stereotypes that have been imposed on African American women throughout history. The characters in her novels are beautifully crafted in order to allow the reader to explore their journeys and the way in which they are presented, thus questioning the perspective of history that has been created.
However, many of the stereotypes have undoubtedly stuck in the African American conscious and so it is necessary to initially perpetuate women in those images prior to examining exactly how to expel those stereotypes for good. According to Ghaly, “Rethinking the traditional perspectives on identity and its relation to culture, [Morrison] eschew binary logic to explore multiple forms and root causes of social marginality.” As such, with this in mind, this essay will examine the African American female self in its stereotypical form within Morrison’s work and how it is constructed in relation to black feminist thought. This will be done with a view to concluding that Morrison undoubtedly goes some way to dispelling such negative representations and furthers the achievements of black feminism thought in the process. The book used for examination will be Sula (1973).

Black Feminist Thought and Negative Stereotypes

Patricia Hill Collins is one of the foremost scholars concerning the way in which African American women have been portrayed since the 19th Century, offering analysis as to how and why many black authors, intellectuals and prominent figures have been able to challenge stereotypes over the years. She stated that: “Black women intellectuals have laid a vital analytical foundation for a distinctive standpoint on self, community, and society and, in doing so, created a multifaceted, African-American women’s intellectual tradition.” Collins’s argument is indeed correct in that numerous authors have provided a firm analysis of the race’s female self through the eyes of the individual rather than the dominant white perspective. In highlighting this, Collins has also identified numerous themes, or “...six distinguishing features that characterize Black feminist thought may provide the common ground that it so sorely needed both among African-American women, and between African American women and all others whose collective knowledge or thought has a single purpose.” Those six areas that provide common ground and thus a common feminine experience are work and family, controlling matriarchs, self-definition, sexual politics, love relationships, motherhood and activism. Although these six areas provide common ground and thus can also form a collective identity of African American womanhood, they also provide the foundation of negative representations.

Dubey states that “...the black writer must replace negative stereotypes with positive images.” However, the use of the term “replace” gives the impression that negative stereotypes should be ignored rather than examined and developed in order to expel them, ensuring that female characters are allowed to evolve into positive images. Conversely, Collins advocates empowerment via experience and consciousness and that implies exorcising negative representations by exploring them thoroughly in order to humanise the black female experience. Morrison subscribes to this particular perspective, as her characters prove. However, it is necessary to explore the characters in Sula in order to assess whether or not she goes further to challenging representations in relation to black feminist thought or not.

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