Toni Morrison: A Teaching and Learning Resource Collection

Morrison Criticism: Psychoanalysis and Trauma Theory

Limping or Flying? Psychoanalysis, Afrocentrism, and Song of Solomon
Author(s): Ashley Tidey
Source: College English, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Sept. 2000), pp. 48-70
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
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Keywords: Sigmund Freud, Death instinct, Dona Richards, Subjectivity, Afrocentrism, Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Main Claim: “Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon exposes precisely … [a] complicated coexistence of two cultural resonances—the African and the Western—that inform and reflect the development of the subjectivity of Milkman, the protagonist. In this case, two possible narratives of subjectivity can be used to interpret this double dynamic. On the one hand, Freud’s psychoanalytic discussions of the ‘death instinct’ in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) offers a powerful framework for describing Milkman’s constitution as a subject. On the other hand, the Afrocentric frame of thought that grounds Dona Richards’s essay ‘The Implications of African-American Spirituality’ (1985) provides a useful counterpoint to Freud and marks an equally powerful scheme for understanding the protagonist’s development” (50). 

Key Quotation(s): 

“The steps of Freud’s paradigm serve well, especially in Part I of the novel, as a descriptive model for Milkman’s growth, and yet the negative valuation attached to Freud’s notion of progression as regression is itself ‘undone’ in Morrison’s novel, in light of notions of the subject drawn from African traditions, which are inscribed in Part II of the text. Richards’s essay offers not only definitions of African notions of death and ritual but also, in her emphasis on the need for African Americans to affirm cultural connection to African heritage, an example of what she would term ‘Afrocentric’ interpretation” (51). 

“One can juxtapose Richard’s representation of the collectively defined identity of the African to Freud’s narrative of the singular self’s ‘undoing’” (51). 

“This essay explores the possibility of seeing in Morrison’s novel the co-existence of two such narratives of subjectivity; it examines, more specifically, the extent to which the application of a Western and non-Western narrative of subject formation yields conflicting interpretations of the novel and, in particular, of the novel’s ending” (51). 

Key Citations in Works Cited:

Awkward, Michael. “‘Unruly and Let Loose’: Myth, Ideology, and Gender in Song of Solomon.” Callaloo 13 (1990): 482-98.
Branch, Eleanor. “Through the Maze of the Oedipal: Milkman’s Search for Self in Song of Solomon.” Literature and Psychology 41.1-2 (1995): 52-84. 
Brenner, Gerry. “Song of Solomon: Morrison’s Rejection of Rank’s Monomyth and Feminism.” The New England Quarterly 15.1 (Spring 1987): 13-24.
Farrell, Susan. “‘Who’d He Leave Behind?’ Gender and History in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” Bucknell Review 39.1 (1995): 131-150.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1961.
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. 
Richards, Dona. “The Implications of African-American Spirituality.” Assante and Assante 207-32.

The Ghosts of Slavery: Historical Recovery in Toni Morrison's Beloved
Author(s): Linda Krumholz
Source: African American Review, Vol. 26, No. 3, Fiction Issue (Autumn, 1992), pp. 395-408
Published by: Indiana State University
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Keywords: Historicism, Trauma, Historical recovery, W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk

Main Claim: "In Beloved Morrison, like Du Bois in Souls [of Black Folk], negotiates the legacy of slavery as a national trauma, and as an intensely personal trauma as well. Both works challenge the notion that the end of institutional slavery brings about freedom by depicting the emotional and psychological scars of slavery as well as the persistence of racism. And both Morrison and Du Bois delve into the stories and souls of black folk to tap the resources of memory and imagination as tools of strength and healing."

Key Citations in Works Cited:

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. 1903. Greenwich: Fawcett, 1967.
Freud, Sigmund. IntroductoryLectures on Psychoanalysis. Trans. and ed. James Strachey. New York: Nor-ton, 1966.
Henderson, Mae G. "Toni Morrison's Beloved: Re-Membering the Body as Historical Text." Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text. Ed. Hortense J. Spillers. New York: Routledge, 1991. 62-86.
Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

"To Be Loved and Cry Shame": A Psychological Reading of Toni Morrison's "Beloved"
Author(s): Lynda Koolish
Source: MELUS, Vol. 26, No. 4, African American Literature (Winter, 2001), pp. 169-195
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS)
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Keywords: Psychoanalysis, Multiple Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, R.D. Laing, Julia Kristeva, Doppelganger

Main claim: "All four of these characters, and, to some extent, every black character in the novel who believes he or she has seen Beloved (as well as Bodwin, the one white character who also sees Beloved), experiences Beloved either as a fractured aspect of Sethe's psyche or as a kind of doppleganger for his or her own feelings of loss, grief, confusion, and rage, and, in the case of Bodwin, feelings of accountability, culpability, and guilt. The story not to be passed on, the story not told in traditional slave narratives, is that of psychosis, dissociation, of climbing out of one's body to forget 'that anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn't like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn't think it up' (251)." 

Key Citations in Works Cited: 

Christian, Barbara. "Fixing Methodologies: Beloved." Cultural Critique 24 .1 (1993): 5-15.
Henderson, Mae G. "Toni Morrison's Beloved: Re-Membering the Body as Historical Text." Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text. Ed. Hortense J. Spillers. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1991. 62-86.
Holloway, Karla F.G. "Revision and (Re)membrance: A Theory of Literary Structures in Literature by African American Women Writers." Black American Literature Forum 24.4 (1990): 6
Kristeva, Julia. "Women's Time." Trans. Alice Jardine and Harry Blake. Signs 7.1 (1981): 5-35.
Laing, R.D. The Politics of Experience. New York: Random House, 1967.

The Bonds of Love and the Boundaries of Self in Toni Morrison's "Beloved"
Author(s): Barbara Schapiro
Source: Contemporary Literature, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 1991), pp. 194-210
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Keywords: Psychoanalysis, Object relations theory, Feminist psychoanalytic theory, Intersubjectivity, Recognition by the Other, 

Main claim: "A free, autonomous self, as Jessica Benjamin argues in The Bonds of Love, is still an essentially relational self and is dependent on the recognizing response of an other. Beloved powerfully dramatizes the fact that, in Benjamin's words, "In order to exist for oneself, one has
to exist for an other" (53); in so doing, it enacts the complex interrelationship of social and intrapsychic reality. For Morrison's characters, African-Americans in a racist, slave society, there is no reliable other to recognize and affirm their existence. The mother, the child's first vital other, is made unreliable or unavailable by a slave system which either separates her from her child or so enervates and depletes her that she has no self with which to confer recognition. The consequences on the inner life of the child - the emotional hunger, the obsessive and terrifying narcissistic fantasies- constitute the underlying psychological drama of the novel." 

Key Citations in Works Cited:

Benjamin, Jessica. The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination. New York: Pantheon, 1988.
Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: U of California P, 1978.
Klein, Melanie. Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1946-1963. New York: Dell, 1975.
Miner, Madonne M. "Lady No Longer Sings the Blues: Rape, Madness, and Silence in The Bluest Eye." Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Ed. Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. 176-91.
Skerrett, Joseph T. "Recitation to the Griot: Storytelling and Learning in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon." Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Ed. Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. 192-202.
Wessling, Joseph. "Narcissism in Toni Morrison's Sula." College Language Association Journal 31 (1988): 281-98.
Willis, Susan. Specifying: Black Women Writing the American Experience. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987.
Winnicott, D. W. The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. New York: International Universities P, 1965.


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