The Quest for Home in Toni Morrison’s "Beloved"

Seminar Paper, 2010

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 ApproachtotheConcepts ofHome
2.1 Gothic Fiction and the Haunted Home
2.2 Postcolonial Fiction and the Lost Home

3 Settings ofHome in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
3.1 SweetHome
3.2 124Bluestone Road

4 Conclusion

1 Introduction

Home is depicted in literature in a variety of ways and throughout different literary genres or modes, images of the home are created. Sometimes home may appears as motif, other times as symbol or protagonist. Even though its description is change with the context in which it is used, from peaceful over haunted to impossible, it remains a central motif in literature nevertheless. Maybe it isjust this versatility ofhome that accounts for its popularity in literary history. The topic ofhome in literature is a far too broad topic to be covered in a paper of this length. Actually Rosemary Marangoly George claims that claims all fiction can ultimately be read in terms ofhome (George 1).

However, this paper will attempt to analyze the concepts ofhome in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Sites of home in Beloved are seldomly what we expect them to be, because the author wants us to question our understanding of home and the processes that constitute it. So far remarkably few critics focused on home in Morrison’s novel that is based on the historical person Margaret Garner. Among those who did are, most notably, Danielle Russell and Justine Tally.

The following examination of home in Toni Morrison’s Beloved will attempt to analyze the sites ofhome in the novel. Further, it will focus on two main settings ofhome, the Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky and the house on 124 Bluestone Road in Ohio. Not simply the buildings provide home for the protagonists in Beloved, but more often other characters are a site of home. For instance, Baby Suggs will be argued to be a home place. Besides, attention will be paid to the clearing as home and more abstract, motherhood. In the end this all should lead to the conclusion that home in Toni Morrison’s Beloved could be argued to be an element of postcolonial Gothic.

In order to consider this, an examination of the concept of home in Gothic as well as postcolonial literature seems helpful. Note on the restrictions of this essay may seem necessary, as only a short and unfortunately survey of the concepts of home in Gothic and postcolonial fiction can be given. Nonetheless, effort was given to mention the major developments of home and give possible motivations for employing it. The paper will then continue with a closer examination of the sites ofhome in Beloved mentioned before.

2 Approachtothe Conceptsof Home

2.1 Gothic Fiction and the Haunted Home

Some elaboration on the term Gothic fiction might be necessary in order to examine how home functions as an element of it. First of all, Gothic fiction is often defined as “[a] type of romance {q.vf very popular from the 1760s onwards until the 1820s” (Cuddon 355). However, this definition seems too narrow for the purpose of this paper. Therefore Michelle A. Massé’s definition appears to suit better, as she regards Gothic as a mode of writing: “‘Gothic’ increasingly becomes an adjective as well as a noun, a literary mode as well as a genre” (235). This seems more reasonable as images of home as an uncanny space are not limited to Gothic romances solely.

It could be said that the most significant symbol for home in fiction is the house. As Liliane Weissberg notes “[a] house as a home is, indeed, a recognizable commodity” (106). For that reason the haunted houses so common in Gothic fiction can be read as relating to home or more clearly, to what haunts the home. Obviously it is not intended to reduce the interpretation of haunted houses in Gothic fiction to reading them as home, as that would be an oversimplification of the symbol. To return to the issue of home as a frequent element of Gothic fiction, a closer look at the concept of home in general might be required in order to account for its use. The term home is often associated with safety, shelter from the outside world, peace, family and heritage. Moreover, home is essential to identity formation; it is the place of the self. As Emma McEvoy points out, “Gothic phenomena implicitly discuss the psyche, [...] in material terms (the haunted castle, etc.) [...]” (19). Although McEvoy takes the position that this is the reason for the Gothic’s inferiority compared to the Romantics, her statement highlights the effect of haunted houses. Haunted houses are not only a convenient setting for stories ofhorror, but they reflect the self.

One point of interest when analyzing the way in which the motif of home is used in Gothic fiction is, that it is first in the Victorian age that “Gothic moves into [...] the ordinary bourgeois home” (Warwick 35). As a result, home is infiltrated with Gothic images and becomes the haunted home. One of the main reasons for this change in settings from the dark ruins and castles in early eighteenth-century Gothic fiction, e.g. Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto., to the bourgeois homes in nineteenth-century Victorian Gothic can be attributed to a growing uncertainty about the rapidly changing British society. Consequently, the ideas of home and domesticity gained in importance in Victorian society and literature. Take, for example, the notion of the popular term “angel in the house”, which refers to women embodying the ideal ofVictorian femininity and domesticity.

Home takes on even greater significance for those who leave their home country, as was the case for the British colonizers. Howe1 acknowledges the value of home for colonizers in literature by stating that “[n]owhere [...] is Home spelt with a larger capital letter” (George 42). This shows the close relationship between the British Empire and the concept ofhome. In contrast to the growing meaning of home as shelter, several authors made use of the Gothic mode to describe the settings of home in their novels. A prominent example for this movement would be the Bronte sisters. In novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, they both explore the negative effect of the Victorian demands for home and domesticity using the Gothic mode in their description of the places women inhabit. As Alexandra Warwick notes in Victorian Gothic, “the Brontes’ domestic spaces, and the state of marriage or family life that the spaces embody, are terrifyingly ambiguous” (30).

More pointedly, the concept ofhome in the Gothic mode is not limited to a certain time. Throughout literary history there have been instances, where the home has been described as uncanny. Cases in point are Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, William Faulkner’s A Rosefor Emily or more recently The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. As these examples demonstrate, the Gothic mode is also not limited to a certain place. Quite the contrary seems to be true, as the home as Gothic element is found in literature produced in Britain, but likewise from America, India or Australia, to name but a few. The next chapter will attempt to account for this observation in the context of postcolonialism.

2.2 Postcolonial Fiction and the Lost Home

In order to proceed with an analysis of the concept of home in postcolonial fiction, it seems appropriate to first of all elaborate on the meaning of the term ‘postcolonial fiction’. Usually three forms of postcolonial literature are distinguished. First of all, the term postcolonialism refers, according to John McLeod, to either literature “produced by writers from countries with a history of colonialism” (McLeod 33), e.g. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Second, postcolonialism is concerned with “reading texts produced by those that have migrated from countries with a history of colonialism” (McLeod 33), e.g. Salman Rushdies Midnight Children. Last but not least postcolonial theory is applied to “re-reading texts produced during colonialism” (McLeod 33), e.g. Joseph Conrad’s Heart ofDarkness.

As stated in chapter 2.1, the Gothic home appears in fiction written by authors of different places, though the genre of Gothic is rooted in England with Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. One reason for the utilization of the Gothic mode by postcolonial writers, such as Pauline Melville in Eat Labba and Drink Creek Water, is that the “[...] diasporic spread of Gothic from England to Scotland, Ireland, North America, Australasia and beyond is inescapably the movement of colonial expansion” (Spooner and McEvoy 51). As Catherine Spooner and Emma McEvoy suggest, the Gothic is a literary mode of writing well suited to one of the major aims of postcolonialism, that of “writing back to the centre” (McLeod 25), due to its close relationship to the Empire. To get this discussion on a concrete footing, let us consider Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s canonical Jane Eyre, which gives voice to Antoinette or Bertha, the madwoman in the attic and her experiences as Creole. By changing the focus of the novel from the English heroin Jane to Creole Antoinette, Rhys allows the other side of the story to be told.

It could be argued that the concept of home is central to postcolonial fiction as well, not only because it is an element of Gothic fiction, but also because the notion of home itself is problematic in a postcolonial context. George claims in her introduction to The Politics of Home., that home is a central concept to literature in general in the past 100 years (George 1). The space called ‘home’ is not limited to a house or family, but also describes the community and home country one either belongs to or does not. Through the motif of home, postcolonial writers can thus express the protagonists’ struggle with cultural in-betweenness. A fine example would be Pauline Melville’s Eat Labba and Drink Creek Water. Her female protagonist is constantly travelling between London and Guyana, but realizes that “[w]e do return and leave and return again, criss-crossing the Atlantic, but whichever side of the Atlantic we are on, the dream is always on the other side” (Melville 139). With these words the protagonist exclaims her inability to find her home, or maybe more accurately her home country, due to her hybrid identity. Her condition is caused by the processes that constitute home or as George relates “[...] the basic organizing principle around which the notion of the ‘home’ is built is a pattern of select inclusions and exclusions. Home is a way of establishing difference. Homes and home-countries are exclusive” (George 2). Postcolonial subjects, however, do not have one home-country only and are hence excluded from both.


1 Quoted in George, R. M. (1996). The Politics of Home. Postcolonial Relocations and Twentieth-Century Fiction. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

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The Quest for Home in Toni Morrison’s "Beloved"
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