How Does Toni Morrison's Beloved Reflect a Postcolonial Sensitivity

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Toni Morrison defines her writing as a kind of literary archaeology which relies on memory, history and autobiography. How does her literary practice reflect a postcolonial sensitivity?

The archaeologist sifts through the rubble of past civilisations for signs of human activity, in order to construct a picture of how people lived in the past. Like a kind of literary archaeologist, Morrison sifted through historical records and researched the diaries and memoirs of slaves and their owners before writing Beloved, in order to gain some sense of the experience of slavery as seen through the lives of ordinary people. As Morrison (cited in Conway, 2003, p.49) says: "The book is not about the institution - slavery with a capital S. It was about these anonymous people called slaves."

Beloved is not a linear tale told from beginning to end, but is written in fragments, with the reader left to piece the whole story together. The events of twenty years earlier are told through the fragmented flashbacks of the main characters, with some events retold through different perspectives and successive narrations adding further information. Like the archaeologist who works with broken pieces of pottery or human remains, each new piece provides more clues to uncovering a history long hidden. Each character provides different pieces of the story, through their memories and flashbacks, or sometimes the story is told plainly as if happening in the present. The confusion of past and presence gives a sense that somehow the past is very much alive in the present.

Before the story starts are the ominous lines "Sixty million and more" in reference to the estimated numbers of slaves who died on the passage from Africa to North America. For those wh...

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...a. In so doing Beloved becomes an important contribution to what Leela Gandhi (1998, p.8) calls the postcolonial "project of historical and psychological `recovery'."


Bhabha, H. (1994). The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

Conway, J. (2003). Issues and Themes in Contemporary Writing ENG00401 Study Guide Semester Two 2003. Lismore: Southern Cross University.

Gandhi, L. (1998). Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Harris, T. (1993). The Novels of Toni Morrison. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.

Kirshmann, S. (1998). A 'Beloved' Murder. Citybeat. Retrieved 17/9/2003, from the World Wide Web:

Morrison, T. (1997). Beloved. London: Vintage.
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