Date of Award
College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences (COLABS)
MA in English
Dr. Charlene Evans
William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! and Toni Morrison's Beloved depict the humble beginnings of protagonists who are haunted by dispossession, estrangement, and fragmented lives. Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! is a bildungsroman about a modem man who has a grand design for an empire, but disenchantment in the post-Civil War south disrupts Thomas Sutperi's plans. When the South loses the Civil War, his dynasty deconstructs itself. Multiple narratives reiterate the story of this enigmatic man whose dynasty becomes an American tragedy because of his family's nostalgia for the Old South, incest, and miscegenation. In contrast, Toni Morrison's Beloved is a modem stream of consciousness narrative with elements of romanticism. Rather than relinquish her newborn daughter to a life of slavery, Sethe who is a fugitive slave, slits Beloved's throat. Eventually, Sethe lives in a house that becomes a place of celebration and healing,
but her memories are repressed due to the horrors of slavery. Beloved returns as a ghost, determined to restrict her mother's freedom, and to swallow Sethe 's identity as a free person of color. Sethe's life remains fragmented until she exorcises Beloved from the house, reconstructs her identity, and achieves selfhood, transcending her American tragedy into the American Dream. Initially, Sutpen's story has the elements of a realized American Dream based on the possibility of reinvention and a grand design, but his life is fragmented by his deception, his family who hates him and the miscegenation of his descendants. Sutpen's mistreatment and rejection of females lead to the demise of his life and legacy. Yet, Sethe's acceptance of her own personal and communal history leads to female empowerment, which contributes to her selfhood and legacy as a mother. Consequently, Sutpen (patriarch) and Sethe (matriarch) are the primary focus of the thesis. Sutpen and Sethe are symbols of the American and African American experience. The violence that occurs in their houses and on their property is the direct and indirect result of dispossession, estrangement, and the fragmented personal and cultural identities of the owners. It is as if Sutpen's 100 and Sethe's 124 are metaphors for violence and eventual healing. Sutpen's home disintegrates into rebirth by fire. Sethe's home is reborn by the expulsion of slavery's spirit named Beloved. Rebirth, redemption, and reinvention are the ultimate American experience in both Absalom! Absalom! and Beloved.
Fain, Kimberly Katrina, "Dispossession, Estrangement, and Fragmented Identities in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! And Toni Morrison’s Beloved." (2013). Theses (Pre-2016). 227.