Comparing the Role of the Ghost in Morrison's Beloved and Kingston's No Name Woman

Comparing the Role of the Ghost in Morrison's Beloved and Kingston's No Name Woman

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The Symbolic Role of the Ghost in Morrison's Beloved and Kingston's No Name Woman


The eponymous ghosts which haunt Toni Morrison's Beloved and Maxine Hong Kingston's "No Name Woman" (excerpted from The Woman Warrior) embody the consequence of transgressing societal boundaries through adultery and murder. While the wider thematic concerns of both books differ, however both authors use the ghost figure to represent a repressed historical past that is awakened in their narrative retelling of the stories. The ghosts facilitate this retelling of stories that give voice to that which has been silenced, challenging this repression and ultimately reversing it.

The patriarchal repression of Chinese women is illustrated by Kingston's story of No Name Woman, whose adulterous pregnancy is punished when the villagers raid the family home. Cast out by her humiliated family, she births the baby and then drowns herself and her child. Her family exile her from memory by acting as if "she had never been born" (3) -- indeed, when the narrator's mother tells the story, she prefaces it with a strict injunction to secrecy so as not to upset the narrator's father, who "denies her" (3). By denying No Name Woman a name and place in history, leaving her "forever hungry," (16) the patriarchy exerts the ultimate repression in its attempt to banish the transgressor from history. Yet her ghost continues to exist in a liminal space, remaining on the fringes of memory as a cautionary tale passed down by women, but is denied full existence by the men who "do not want to hear her name" (15).

Kingston's narrator tackles this repression when she sympathetically frames No Name Woman's story as one of subjugation, pointing out that "women in the old Ch...


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... "The Woman Warrior as a Search for Ghosts", Sato examines Kingston's symbolic use of the ghost figure as a means of approaching the dramatic structure of the text and appreciating its thematic search for identity amidst an often-paradoxical bicultural setting.

Sonser makes this argument through a comparison of Beloved with Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Her essay, "The Ghost in the Machine: Beloved and The Scarlet Letter", draws strong parallels between the two female protagonists, Sethe and Hester, who challenge the oppressive frameworks of their societies. Despite the ideological incongruity of Hawthorne's patriarchal Puritanism and Morrison's racist slavery, Sonser still finds a shared thematic "intersection of subjectivity and social power" (17) that resonates in the stories of two women's attempts at self-definition from the margins of society.

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