Journal of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research


Ruf, Jodi


This paper explores how Toni Morrison, in her novel Beloved, treats the myriad ways in which slavery as a class system inflicted trauma on Black mothers and daughters, and how this trauma repeated itself to ripple outside slavery into freedom. Using historical research, E. P. Thompson’s definition of class, and Cathy Caruth’s work in trauma theory, an analysis of Morrison’s mother characters reveals a pattern: the pressures of the slavery class system warped mother-daughter relationships, inflicting trauma, and the trauma seemed fated to repeat itself over generations. Whether Morrison’s mothers were traumatized by labor demands competing with childcare for the mothers’ time, by being denied legal rights to their children, by the breastfeeding bond being broken, or by the over-exaltation of motherhood, the trauma alienates mothers from their daughters. Morrison’s juxtaposition of her characters’ traumatization under slavery and the repetition of trauma outside slavery demonstrates the trans-generational and lingering effects of slavery on Black motherhood, as her daughter characters relive their mothers’ trauma. A close reading of the character of Denver as a daughter tentatively suggests a way to heal and end the cycle of repetition: being heard by one’s community.