Document Type


Date of Award



School of Communication (SOC)

Degree Name

MA in English

First Advisor

Michael Zeitler


This thesis provides a systematic study of the theme of the search for self-identity in Sula, Beloved, and Jazz. Previous research on this information area shows that the theme is prevalent in each of Morrison's novels, but this thesis will explore each character's journey by linking characters from the novels who share parallels. To demonstrate and analyze Morrison's development of the theme, each chapter reads the author's work alongside data that has been collected from secondary sources such as literary articles and critical essays. Chapter 1 connects Morrison to the theme by illustrating the way in which she came into her own identity and found her own voice during the writing process for Sula by defying conventional norms for African-American women writers. It also shows how Morrison effectively uses the historical time periods of each novel to demonstrate the theme through the characters. Chapter 2 examines the search for self-identity in Sula and Beloved through the characters of Shadrack, Eva, and Sethe. Each character lives through a horrific experience and views death as a preferable way of escape. Instead of killing themselves, they each contribute to the death of another person. Shadrack lives 1 2 through WWI and becomes obsessed with death. Eva lives through abandonment and kills her son, Plum, in order to save him from the traumatic effects of life after WWI. Sethe lives through slavery and kills her baby girl to save her from life as a slave. Shadrack creates an identity for himself through National Suicide Day which leads to the deaths 9f many of the town residents. Eva breaks free of the identity forced upon her by her husband and society by creating an identity of strength and independence. Sethe releases herself from the oppressive control of her past and creates an identity of freedom and peace. Chapter 3 examines the search for self-identity in Sula, Beloved, and Jazz through the characters of Nel, Denver, and Dorcas. Each girl is a product of an identity that has been placed upon her. Nel is a victim of the identity that her mother has given her. By facing her past she is able to form her own identity apart from Sula. Denver is an emotionally stunted girl whose identity is the product of isolation, but Beloved forces Denver to face her fears and develop maturity and independence. Dorcas searches for someone else to give her an identity, and when Joe fails to mold her, she submits the creation of her identity to her boyfriend. Chapter 4 examines the search for self-identity in Jazz through the characters of Golden Gray, Joe, and Violet. Violet and Joe never know Golden Gray personally, but they are haunted by a past involving him through True Belle and Wild. Golden's sense of identity is shattered when he learns that he is of mixed race. His journey to find his black father leads to a discovery of an identity that he never knew he possessed. Throughout the course of his life, Joe creates seven separate identities for himself. By forgiving his mother for abandoning him, he is able to heal his marriage and create a final 3 identity for himself. Violet creates an identity for herself when she forgives her mother for abandoning her. This brings healing to her broken marriage and the painful memories of her childhood. Chapter 5 concludes the thesis by reinforcing the way in which Morrison uses the historical past to illustrate the theme of self-identity through the characters and demonstrates Morrison's contribution to the African American identities