Guid Essay

Guid Essay

Toni Morrison Post Colonial Feminism

The author is of the view that third wave feminism which includes black feminism is a speaking back to the white Westerns. The African American writers by writing back to the ideologies set by the colonizers did well in their works of fiction.

Toni Morrison, an African American novelist in her novels did a wonderful job of writing back. The present author defined first of all the ideas of culture and imperialism discussing the conceopt of Edward Said, Homi K. Bhabha and many other intellectuals who strove hard to produce marvelous works of criticism in which they pointed out the ideologies structured by the West. Gayatri Spivik’s ‘Subaltern’s study’ is also discussed. and applied to Morrison’s selected works of literature.

The author pointed a few key point of postcolonial feminism and tried to show them in Toni Morrison’s novels in order to prove his agenda that Morrison is a really a leading figure whose works show Feminist Postcolonial Approach.

Fore Word -A Writing back by an Afrcian child

I want to begin my paper with a poem which was written by an African child, and was nominated for the Best Poem of 2008. The title of the poem is “Color” which is a “speak back” attitude to the white:

When I born, I black;

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When I grow up, I black;

When I go in sun, I black;

When I scared, I black;

When I sick, I black;

And when I die, I black;

And you white fellows;

When you born, you pink,

When you grow up, you white,

When you go in sun, you red,

When you cold, you blue;

When you scared, you yellow;

When you sick, you green;

When you die, you grey;

And you call me coloured.

Chapter One: Introduction

The present paper is an analysis of colonialism, imperialism, feminism, and postcolonial feminism. Postcolonial feminism is also called as Third World Feminism or Black Feminism. The author first of all explains the idea of colonialism according to the Professor Edward Said that he discussed in his work Colonialism and Imperialism in which Said defines the colonialism and imperialism. Said gives in detail the ideology of the West how they structured the binaries oppositions and gave the concept of Orientalism by suggesting the idea of educating the others. Homi K. Bhabha gives the concept of hybridity and Gayatari Spivik ‘s famous work of ‘Subaltern can speak’ are discussed in the following research paper.

The author also explained the key points of postcolonial feminism in this paper and then with the reference of different writers discussed Toni Morrison’s novels in the light of these salient features of postcolonial feminism.

First of all the author analyzed Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eyes and showed the elements of postcolonial feminism race, gender , and identity in this novel. The author is of the view that Pecola’s wish to have Blue eyes is an escape from racism and to wipe out all ugliness not only from her community but from all the world.

The next novel that is analyzed is Sula in which again the author tried to show the salient features of postcolonial feminism that is to speak back or showing the importance of female characters in the form of Sula and other female characters. The author from the original text proved that the white folk in fact brought all the blackness.

The third novel which is discussed with reference to the postcolonial feminism is The Beloved, in which the key concept of postcolonial feminism is discussed is mother-daughter relationship and idea of mothering which is discussed with the reference of Morrison’s theory of Mothering taken from her interviews is discussed.

Finally the author concludes the paper in which he gives his finding about Toni Morrison and her novels that her works are true representative of postcolonial feminism.

Chapter Two: Colonialism and Postcolonial Explained

PROFESSOR SAID says that his aim is to set works of art of the imperialist and post-colonial eras into their historical context. “My method is to focus as much as possible on individual works, to read them first as great products of the creative and interpretive imagination, and then to show them as part of the relationship between culture and empire.”(Said, 22)

If we observe the basic theory behind the postcolonial feminism we will come to the point that this theory itself is supported by the theories of psychoanalysis, Marxist-feminism and post-colonialism. In this paper I am going to trace out the Feminist Postcolonial Approach in Toni Morrison’s novels. The author is of the view that Toni Morrison being an African American writer focused her work on the above mentioned approach.

Before we progress it is necessary to go through the main idea and the main points which are the backbone of the postcolonial feminist approach and before that we have to discuss in detail the features of colonialism, post-colonialism and feminism.

If we try to find out the roots of Postcolonialism we will come to the point that postcolonialism is specially a postmodern intellectual discourse consisting reactions to and analysis of cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. In anthropology it can be defined as “the relations between nations and areas being colonized and ruled”. It comprises a set of theories that are found amongst history, anthropology, philosophy, linguistics, film, political science, architecture, human geography, sociology, Marxist theory, feminism, religious and theological studies, and literature.

To destabilizing Western ways of thinking in order to create space for the subaltern, or marginalized groups, to express and produce substitutes to overriding discourse is the critical nature of postcolonial theory. Often “postcolonialism” as a term is taken to mean just a time span after colonialism. This thing creates a problem because the “once colonized world” is full of “contradictions, of half-finished processes, of confusions, of hybridity, and liminal ties”. In order words, it is suggested that the word postcolonialism has plural nature as it does not simply refer to the period after the colonial ear.

The goal of a theorist is to find out the residual effects of colonialism on cultures and hence the main objectives of such theorists are to account for and combating these effects on the cultures. It does not simply mean to find out the historic aspects of these areas but it also comprises how these areas can move beyond this period together, towards a place of reciprocal respect.

The main objective of these theorist is make clearing space for the multiple voices of these areas and these were the voices which were previously silenced by the dominant ideologies-subalterns and among these discourses as is recognized this space should be cleared within the academia. In his book Orientalism, Edward Said explained very clearly that scholars who studied what used to be called the Orient (mostly Asia) totally overlooked the assessments of those they actually studied while preferring instead to rely on the intellectual superiority of themselves and their peers which was the approach forged by the European imperialism.

It is recognized by many of the post-colonial thinkers that there are many assumptions which are underlying the “logic” of colonialism and these are the forces which are active today. This is also argued by many of the thinkers that studying both the knowledge sets of the dominant groups and those who are marginalized as binary opposites maintains their presence as homogenous objects. Homi K. Bhabha thus emphasized his agenda that only hybridity can offer the most profound challenge to colonialism. He thinks that the postcolonial world should valorize spaces of mingling; spaces where fact and legitimacy move aside for ambiguity. (Bhabha, 1994). What is left by Bhabha is offered by Spivak’s as the agenda of usefulness of essentialism.

Chapter Three:

African American Studies and Postcolonialism

A Need To Talk Back

“Colonial racism is no different from any other racism.” says  Frantz Fanon and if we compare African American Studies and postcolonial studies we will come to know that though they belong to different fields but they share a lot concerning a goal of destabilizing racial hierarchies and debates concerning the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is exactly the same as that of between masters and slaves in a bondage. Even within the United States and other area which are known as postcolonies we find the current reality of discrimination and racism towards minorities or populations of minority joins these two studies together through neocolonialism.

Precarious of current American educational policy, a prominent black feminist Bell Hooks states, “I believe that black experience has been and continues to be one of internal colonialism” (148). The necessity to decolonize the attitude of present-day America fuels existing efforts in regaining and convalescing minority history and literature. Hazel Carby in her Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of Afro-American Woman Novelist points New sociological and literary approaches to history become beneficial methods for reclaiming the past and imitating culturally sensitive paradigms for the futureCritics like Henry Louis Gates, Barbara Christian, Ella Shohat and Homi K. Bhabha are associated through a need to “talk back”.

Another key question in postcolonial feminism is who speaks for whom and whose voices are heard in discussions of Third World women’s issues. The lack of voice given to Third World women remains a problem as does the failure of Western women to problematise the role of the West in the issues discussed. The question of voice was raised by Gayatri Spivak in her influential essay ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1988) in which she analyses ‘the relations between the discourses of the West and the possibility of speaking of (or for) the subaltern woman’ (Spivak : 271).

Race and Multiculturalism in Academia: Writing Back

Toni Morrison, Marlene van Niekerk, and Anthony Appiah are considered to be the Pen World voices in the PEN WORLD VOICES FESTIVAL 2010. The issues such as representation, nationalism and essentialism are fleshed out from African American Studies and Postcolonial studies and hence literature and literary theory under the core of these disciplines become sources of for such social commentary. Nation-making and redefinition of nation, along-with the obscuring between public and secluded spaces are among common subjects, critics in both fields are fast to point to the hazards of hurriedly discharging this literary work as political.

Gates writes of a need to dissipate the myth of supposed primacy of “Western tradition” over the “so-called non-canonical tradition such as that of the Afro-American”. Especially cognizant of the dangers of essentialism in his book The Signifying Monkey, Gates studies the need “to create a new narrative space for representing the recurring referent of Afro-American literature, the so-called Black Emperience”( Gates ,111).

Similarly, critical of essentialism , Homi Bhabha, a projecting Cultural Studies and Postcolonial critic, connects the two fields together as he remarks: “The intervention of postcolonial or black critique is aimed at transforming the conditions of enunciation at the level of the sign…not simply setting up new symbols of identity, new ‘positive images’ that fuel an unreflective ‘identity politics'”(Bhabha, 247)

Bhabha and Toni Morrison

Bhabha even conducts a detail reading of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in the introduction of The Location of Culture. Scholarship does indeed overlay in stimulating ways between these two fields. Much in the same way Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark examines and counts the ways in which white selfhood in literary America is further established by actualizing “black” occurrence.

Edward Said’s Orientalism seek “to show that European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self”(Said,3)


The juncture of race, ethnicity and gender politics has shaped challenging debates in the works of Bell Hooks, Barbara Christian, and Shirley Anne Williams as well as in the work of Gayatri Spivak and Chandra T. Mohanty. Patriarchy often becomes a symbol, a trope of power inequity and the offender for the ills of colonialism and neocolonialism. Bell Hooks states in Outlaw Culture, “For contemporary critics to condemn the imperialism of the white colonizer without critiquing partriarchy is a tactic that seeks to minimize the particular ways gender determines the specific forms oppressions may take within a specific group”(Hooks, 203)

There is also a risk of totalizing along with this intersection. Barbara Christian in “Race for Theory” that attentions against essentialist constructions of black womanhood, equates the dangers of an excessively rigid black feminism to the colossal, monotheistic Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Chardra Mohantly needs against the same essentializing exercise in the growing discourse on Third World feminism. Negotiations of class are similarly called for in both fields of study. Remarkably, Hooks remarks upon what she sees as an ignored problem in cross-cultural feminist discussion in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. She states, “We often forget that many Third World nationals bring to this country the same kind of contempt and disrespect for blackness that is most frequently associated with white imperialism”. (Hooks, 93)

Chapter Four: Postcolonial Feminism and Black feminism

Postcolonial Feminism is also called as Third World Feminism which is a form of feminist philosophy and is concerned about the idea that colonialism, racism and long lasting effects of colonialism in the postcolonial settings, are bound up with the unique gendered realities of non-white and non-Western women. Postcolonialism criticizes Western feminists as they have a history of universalizing women’s issues, and their discourses are often misunderstood to represent women world-widely.

Black Feminism argues that sexism, class oppression, and racism are inextricably bound together. The way these relate to each other is called intersectionality. Forms of feminism that strive to overcome sexism and class oppression but ignore race can discriminate against many people, including women, through racial bias. The Combahee River Collective argued in 1974 that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression.(Wikipedia)

Postcolonialism gives the idea that the term ‘woman’ is used as a universal group and that they are only described by their gender and not by social classes and ethnic identities. It is also believed that the mainstream Western feminists ignored the voices of non-white, non-western women for many years, thus creating resentment feminists in developing nations.

Postcolonialism involves the descriptions of many experiences endured during colonialism which include migration, resistance, slavery, difference, gender, race, place, representation, suppression, and responses to the influential discourses of imperial Europe. Postcolonial feminists observe the parallels between recently decolonized nations and the state of women within patriarchy-both take the “perspective of a socially marginalized subgroup in their relationship to the dominant culture.

Postcolonial feminist have had strong ties with black feminists because colonialism usually contains themes of racism. Both groups have struggled for recognition, not only by me in their own culture, but also by Western.(Wikipedia).

Thus it can be said that Postcolonialism discusses the issues of the women of those areas which were once the colonies of the West and it lumps up together all the women of the world. Feminism raises this agenda that all the women of the world have their own special identity and they should be regarded as independent personality apart from their sex and sexuality but postcolonial feminist also see that the fate of non-white and non-western women is different from the women of the west as theses non-white and non-western women are not enjoying the rights as the women of mainstream are enjoying .

Postcolonial feminist approach gives rights of raising their voices which were once silenced by the colonizers.

It can be inferred that as women were doubly colonized in the era of colonization by their own male members of the society, and these non-white and non-western women were thrice colonized as they were considered less than the white women.(Web)

Chapter Five:

Postcolonial Feminist Approach in Toni Morrison’s Novels

Larry Schwartz in his essay compares Toni Morrison’s art of writing with William Faulkner’s art of writing although in her interview Toni Morrison claimed that she is not like Faulkner but the deep study of her novels prove this fact.

Toni Morrison being an African American writer is considered to be one of the renowned postcolonial feminist writers who touched the very idea of raising voice of repressed group of the black women. Her novels Beloved is considered by many to be her most impressive work of literature to date (winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1988), she has also written many award-winning novels including The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Jazz, Tar Baby, and Paradise. Like Beloved, most of Morrison’s work deals with the struggles of African Americans, especially women (web).

The Bluest Eye (1970)

Toni Morrison in her novel “The Bluest Eye” highlights the idea of racism. In the colonial period the legacies of colonialism were consistently bound with racism. In this novel Morrison very clearly depicts the effects of the legacy of 19th century classical racism for poor black people in the United States.

In the novel the daughter of a poor black family, Pecola Breddlove, internalizes white standards of beauty to the extent that she become crazy about it and bore a wish to have blue eyes. The idea is very clear that binary oppositions structured by the Western White class concerning the beauty and ugliness are still at work. Even today we people think to be white is the standard of beauty. In the binary oppositions like man/woman, white/back, Occidental/Oriental, Rich/poor and such like those all the elements on the left of the bar are considered to be the supreme while the elements on the right are marginalized or rendered as Others. Pecola is seen so influenced by these binaries that she tries to escape from this so called or structured ugliness of her own society or race of colour. Her ardent wish for blue eyes comes to stand for her wish to escape the racist, unloving, poor environment in which she lives. For a long time mainstream white Western feminism paid negligible attention to the problem of race.

Racism was considered secondary to patriarchy and had been one of the biggest problems of the non-white women. Many white women were of the claim that they did not see dissimilarity or to act upon it. It took a long, hard scuffle by black women to have racism included on the feminist agenda. One of the most moving and influential critiques of white satisfaction came in 1980 from the radical black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde: “By and large within the women’s movement today, white women focus upon their oppression as women and ignore difference of race, sexual preference, class and age. There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist”(Lorde, 116)

Morrison in the novel tries to explain why Pacola wanted to have blue eyes, let us see the following lines which are taken from Chapter 3 of the “Autumn” section:

It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different

Here the narrator tells about Pecola not only wanted to have blue eyes to look beautiful but in fact it was her thinking that with blue eyes everything will also change. These blue eye speak about her wish to have liberty not from ugliness of blackness but the ugliness of the dark thoughts and her desires to bring in a change in her black society.

Toni Morrison is of the view that beauty and ugliness are the matters of seeing and to be seen and both are linked with eyes. It is a famous saying : When you look with loving eyes all the world looks lovely. The same idea is discussed in “The Bluest Eyes” where Pecola wants to look everything beautiful and to be looked beautifully. Her own community that was colonized are not colonizing Pecola due to her blackness though her internal portion was not black as she totally internalized whiteness. The idea is also seen in the Heart of Darkness where the symbols of black and white colours depict Conrad’s point of inward blackness and whiteness. Morrison uses the same technique by showing Pecola’s internalizing whiteness.

Here it is also clear that solid propensity of white women to disrespect racism was an effect of white privilege- a point women of colour were forced to make repeatedly:

“As Third World women we clearly have a different relationship to racism than white women, but all of us are born into an environment where racism exists. Racism affects all of our lives, but it is only white women who can ‘afford’ to remain oblivious to these effects. The rest of us have had it breathing or bleeding down our necks. (Moraga and Anzaldúa 1981: 62)

There is another key factor of postcolonial feminism in the novel as Pecola is raped by her own father who did all this in the result of that humiliation that he suffered when he was having sex first time and was humiliated by two white men. Thus patriarchy is seen in this violence which is done to Pecola as she is colonized by her own father. Pecola’s rape is the depiction of destruction of cultural identity of the Black community.

Similarly, the seeds of marigold which did not bloom is also a depiction of colonization as their own soil did not permit those seeds to bloom as was commented by Claudia, Frieda and hence Pecola which is also a proof of ineligibility of their own black community. Pecola is a hope of decolonization as she wanted to be heard, to be seen beautiful and her illegitimate progeny is a symbol of her wish which was not allowed to be born.

Toni Morrison here wants to depict that Black society was week at that as they did not allow Pecola to flourish and this thing compares the novel with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart where Okonko was not supported by his own clan. All what is done with Pecola is true picture of Black feminism.

Sula (1974)

In the present novel the female characters are the embodiments of the matriarchal authoritative of women. The novel depicts the social problems that were and are present in the society. Morrison tries to depict that these female characters attenuate the male characters. Eva, Helene, Hannah and Sula all represent such figures which are the driving forces which precede the plot of the novel.

Morrison wants to show that all the members of the society are the important ingredients who add flavor to the society. All the female characters are made central in the novel hence this novel proves to be a pure example of novels of postcolonial feminist novel.

According to the post colonial theory the female part must speak back to the so called norms which are carved out by the males. The novel gives an exact example of “subaltern can speak” as the main character Sula is the symbol of such a person who being a female has power to chose her own way of living as she went away and comes back and proves herself such a person which is needed by the society.

The novel shows that all the female characters of the novel are so important part of the Black community and their existence is necessary for bonding the society together. Sula also maintains the interdependence and closeness of the society with its members.

Sula will open your eyes to social problems which exist in the present day. The women in the book such as Eva, Helene, Sula and Hannah represent the matriarchal authoritative women, weakening the male characters. Women drive the action in the story and give their importance in the family. They present their importance in the Black community and their existence in bonding it together.

Morrison also shows in the novel the dying of blackness when Sula says:

“‘You think I don’t know what your life is like just because I ain’t living it? I know what every colored woman in this country is doing.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Dying., Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a stump. Me, I’m going down like one of those redwoods. I sure did live in this world.'”(143)

These words spoken by Sula on her deathbed which she expressed to Nes her thoughts concerning her thoughts about the life styles that was accepted and the positions of women in Medallion. The line speaks “dying” old system. 

Sula also establishes the closeness and interdependence of the community with its members. The novels shows that each and every member is just like a spice that gives special flavor and odour to the community and which is essential for the society. In Sula all the characters including Shadrack and the Deweys give every individual importance in the community.

Thus Sula proves to be full of such evidences which proves that there are elements of third world feminism in the novel as Sual’s actions are the alternates of her voices which were silenced before.

Chris Weedon in her article “Key Issues in Postcolonial Feminism: A Western Perspective” writes that: ” in 1984 Black American feminist Barbara Smith spoke of being part of a Third World feminist movement: ‘And not only am I talking about my sisters here in the United States-American Indian, Latina, Asian American, Arab American-I am also talking about women all over the globe—third World Feminism has enriched not just the women it apples to, but also political practice in general'(Smith:27). Thus the Third World Feminism is giving all the women especially the Black ones power and confidence to speak and now they are not silenced as were before.(Weedon).

The Beloved (1987) The depiction of Morrison’s theory of African American mothering articulate in her novels, essays and interviews

Mothering is considered to be one of several key points of ideas of postcolonial feminism which is highlight in the present novel “The Beloved”. The novels is set after the American Civil War (1861-1865), it is inspired by the story of an African-American slave, Margaret Garner, who temporarily escaped slavery during 1856 in Kentucky by fleeing to Ohio, a free state. A posse arrived to retrieve her and her children under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slave owners the right to pursue slaves across state borders. Margaret killed her two-year-old daughter rather than allow her to be recaptured. (Wikipedia).

In the novel Sethe in an attempt to save her children from slavery slaughters her eldest daughter and it is assumed in the novel that her daughter return as a ghost named Beloved because the same word was inscribed on the head stone of her grave. The novel depict the mother daughter relationship which is the one of the central key points of postcolonial feminism.

“The maternal bonds between Sethe and her children inhibit her own individuation and prevent the development of her self. Sethe develops a dangerous maternal passion that results in the murder of one daughter, her own “best self,” and the estrangement of the surviving daughter from the black community, both in an attempt to salvage her “fantasy of the future,” her children, from a life in slavery. However, Sethe fails to recognize her daughter Denver’s need for interaction with this community in order to enter into womanhood. Denver finally succeeds at the end of the novel in establishing her own self and embarking on her individuation with the help of Beloved. Contrary to Denver, Sethe only becomes individuated after Beloved’s exorcism, at which point Sethe can fully accept the first relationship that is completely “for her,” her relationship with Paul D. This relationship relieves Sethe from the ensuing destruction of herself that resulted from the maternal bonds controlling her life.”( Demetrakopoulos, pp. 51-59)

Motherhood , in Morrison’s view, is fundamentally and profoundly an act of resistance, essential and integral to black women’s fight against racism and sexism and their ability to achieve well-being for themselves and their culture. The power of motherhood and the empowerment of mothering are what make possible the better world we seek for ourselves and for our children. This, argues O’Reilly, is Morrison’s maternal theory-a politics of the heart.(O’Reilly)

In spite of the mothering, the novel also depicts the theme of slavery and its havoc which is seen as destruction of identity. It also shows the importance of language and community solidarity.

Toni Morrison also depicts the blackness hidden under the white skins of the White people which is evident from the following line taken from Chapter 19, at the beginning of Part II, 

White people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way . . . they were right. . . . But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place. . . . It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread . . . until it invaded the whites who had made it. . . . Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.

Stamp Paid here consider the ways in which slavery in fact corrupts the identity and he “it was the jungle whitefolk planted in them. And it grew and spread”. The idea is very clear as is evident in Heart of Darkness where Joseph Conrad tried to say the same thing that the white were black from within and the same idea we find in Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare where Portia’s picture was in Lead, a black material, and in Othelo , Iago was white from without and was black from within. Here Morrison tells the same thing that only white fellows were in fact black from within. It is an apt “writing back” to the White colonizers which is a salient feature of postcolonial feminist writing.


It is evident from the above going discussion that Toni Morrison’s works are based on the postcolonial feminism in which she very skillfully highlighted the idea of gender, race, sex and identity and similarly she also highlights the concepts of ‘talking back’ and making a space among white feminism. As the mainstream white feminism at first could not give proper position to non-white and non-Western women , black feminism became able to raise their voice and were able to even write back and hence succeeded in making their own identity.

Toni Morrison hence secures a very apt position among the postcolonial feminist who helped these thrice colonized black women to stand up for making their own identity.

The above mentioned three novels also show the death of the protagonist. The death in also a theme of Toni Morrison’s novels which is also meaningful as the slavery is the destruction of identity which is depicted by death of the characters.

The above discussed novels cover show many key points of postcolonial feminism.


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