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Toni Morrison's Beloved - Identity Essay

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Review of "Beloved: A Question of Identity"  


In her essay "Beloved: A Question of Identity," Christina Davis discusses the issue of identity from an historical perspective, a textual perspective and an authorial perspective. She looks at the text in comparison to the slave narrative, explores how the text itself expresses issues of identity and describes Morrison's choices of authorship and their contribution to identity. Her exploration of the theme of identity calls upon the treatment of self-image, particularly in the context of slavery; and outward image as expressed by naming and other white descriptions of the black characters. Her organization of information is historically sequential, ordering elements as they occurred rather than in the narrative order of the novel.

Davis' introduction seeks to place the novel in the context of a slave narrative. However, she identifies several departures from the traditional form. Morrison creates a narrative which focuses on the individual rather than the collective. The novel favors the perspective of the oppressed to that of the oppressor. Davis identifies two ways that Morrison accomplishes this perspective. First, she describes not the "horrifying statistics of slavery" but instead seeks to explore "what it felt like" (151). This reorientation of topic is accomplished by taking "the individual out of the mass of statistics" (151). The second major device is the manner in which Morrison has "displaced the tone of the prose from the third person to the first" (151). Davis acknowledges that while the novel is not narrated primarily in the fist person, the main perspective is that of Sethe, who is gifted by Morrison with her own voice.

The first major division of the ess...


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...rison's authorial choices. The first is "the reclamation of black history" by the characters (155). By giving voices to enslaved characters, Morrison gives "them back their own history as human beings" as well as reminding the reader of that history (155). The second major effect is the fullness of character that results from Morrison's "mastery of the voices she speaks through" (155). Davis cites the sections of the novel which are delivered in the first person as particularly effective in producing the identities of Sethe, Beloved and Denver, the speakers. She identifies the chapter in which all three speak together as "the symbolic peak of the interaction among the three women and their search for identity" (155). Davis ends by praising the authorial skill of Morrison, as shall I.

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York, Penguin Books USA Inc, 1988.


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