GENDER BLURRING IN BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON
Gender-Blurring is a term many people are unlikely to be familiar with despite knowing the noun “gender” and the verb “to blur”. The Oxford dictionary refers to gender as “the condition of being male or female”. This supports the assumption that Gender-Blurring involves women and men and with them their habits and dispositions. So what is Gender-Blurring? It is a term originating in literary studies and mainly referred to as a concept employed in the genre Neo- Slave Narrative and in African American Fiction. Toni Morrison is one of the major 20th century Afro-American woman writers and it is interesting to see how she treats the male and the female gender in her works.Belovedis the recent and most successful novel published by her. As it presents slavery through the eyes of Afro-Americans and also attends to the delicate topic infanticide,Belovedis an often discussed novel. My paper is based on my personal liking of the novel and as well on my interest how the male and the female gender are treated by Morrison. Thus, preceding a definition of the general terms gender and sex I will examine how the concept of Gender-Blurring is established in the novel.
1. DEFINITIONS - WHAT IS SEX, WHAT IS GENDER, WHAT IS GENDER BLURRING ?
If we speak about sex, it goes without saying that we talk about the biological distinction of men and women. Gender, however, is another way to refer to the male and the female sex. What is the difference? According to Elaine Showalter the term gender arose in the 1980s as a category of analysis. As talking about gender implies the involvement of both men and women the term gender theory marks a shift from women-centred investigations of the 70s to the researches on gender relations in the 80s. Robert Dale Parker mentions three models, which differentiate the designations sex and gender. All three of them consider sex the biological distinction of masculine and feminine and gender a behaviour, which is attributed to the male or female character. In the first model human beings are born with their sex, which is male or female and this sex establishes their gender. Sigmund Freud gives the short definition “anatomy is destiny” (Parker73) indicating the basic assumption that gender is dependent on sex. A second model differentiates sex and gender as two distinct features. This model came into existence in the 1970s and mid-80s as a theory established by the feminists. According to them, sex is the biological fact that distinguishes male and female, whereas gender refers to a cultural and more discursive arena. Thus, “females and males are born, whereas [...] women and men are made” (Parker73). This model has been regarded as highly useful, since it implies that gender is no longer a fixed and unchangeable fact. As every culture has its own view of what is typically male and what is typically female, the assumption of masculinity and femininity varies from society to society. This fact substantiates why this model allows the most interpretation of manhood and womanhood due to the fact that the borders of where male characteristic traits begin and female ones end are blurred A last model should not be neglected in this discussion. Contrary to the first model, which sees gender and sex as biological facts, it regards both the designations as based on culture. Thomas Laqueur’s statement “destiny is anatomy” (Parker73) explicitly indicates that this third model considers femininity and masculinity “seen through lenses colored by cultural and linguistic expectation and expression” (Parker 74). Nevertheless, this model is grounded on a questionable view of sex and gender, on account of the fact that human beings are definitely born with a sex that can nowadays be determined even before the birth by doctors. My paper will refer to the second model, as the cultural consideration of gender leaves the most space for interpretation and discussion. Therefore I will accept as a fact that sex precedes and is different from gender.
After the definitions of sex and gender the term Gender-Blurring is to be clarified, as well. In the concept of gender blurring a man behaves as it is expected of women and a woman’s behaviour conforms more to the male character than to her own female one. The completely equal treatment of men and women in slavery brought with it a severe disadvantage for the women: Female slaves had to give birth to many children on the economic ground that new offspring meant more slaves to the farmer. Weakened by pregnancy and birth, however, they were sent to the farm with the men and had to do they same hard work as the male slaves. In African American Novels and in the Neo-Slave Narrative the concept of Gender-Blurring was employed often, as it not only demonstrated this disadvantage of female slaves but also that men and women suffered equally under slavery.
Eventually, it is necessary to explain which character traits are considered typically male and which typically female. At this place I will refer to Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu’s “The Politics of Gender in Toni Morrison’s Beloved: If ‘a man ain’t nothing but a man,’ Then What Is a Woman?”. According to her fearlessness is commonly attributed to men (62), which implicitly denotes women as the weak gender, easier to frighten and therefore needing protection. Furthermore “it is generally held that men more often than women choose aggressive, confrontational behaviour, particularly when they feel threatened or bested” (Beaulieu 62) which defines the man as brave, tough and constantly ready to fight. Implicitly presenting an active will to change things as a typical male character trait it opposes to women, who are due to this more passive. A definite female tendency is to behave predominantly sensitive and emotional, whereas a man is less disposed to talking about his feelings and more likely forces back his emotions.
2. GENDER BLURRING IN TONI MORRISON’S NOVELBELOVED
2.1. SETHE - POSSIBLY THE MOST MALE CHARACTER IN THE NOVEL
This chapter is devoted to Sethe’s character. As a female ex-slave, she generally behaves as a woman. Yet, according to the concept of gender blurring, her acting does not always conform to what is regarded as feminine, thus her conduct can sometimes be much more attributed to a man’s character. With help of appropriate passages I will indicate that Sethe’s behaviour tends to agree with the typically male manner of taking action Sethe is physically very strong, even stronger than her two sons. According to Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu Toni Morrison already genders her characters in the first chapter of her novel. The reader is told that the house 124, Bluestone Road is “[F]ull of a baby’s venom” (Beloved3) and that Howard and Burglar have left the haunted house, being too timorous to cope with the baby ghost’s spirit. Their flight contrasts to their mother’s, their sister’s and even their grandmother’s behaviour, for they all stay enduring the poltergeist without complaining. Even Paul D who experienced brutality and cruelty under slavery says to Stamp Paid that “that girl in the house scares [him] the most” (Beloved234) by which he means the reincarnated dead daughter of Sethe, Beloved. After Baby Suggs death Sethe and Denver are the only people left in 124. Nevertheless, a conversation between Sethe and Paul D reveals that Denver suffers extremely from her lonely life in Bluestone road. On account of her nervous breakdown Paul D notices that she is “half out of her mind” (Beloved15) but Sethe in contrast with her can stand the terrible terror of the baby ghost’s spirit and does not even consider leaving the house. In one passage in the beginning of the novel she is even admired by her daughter for her intrepidity, which is evident, when Denver reflects on her mother’s character:
The one who never looked away, who when a man got stomped to death by a mare right in front of Sawyer’s restaurant did not look away; and when a sow began eating her own litter did not look away then either. And when the baby’s spirit picked up Here Boy and slammed him into the wall hard enough to break two of his legs and dislocate his eye, so hard he went into convulsions and chewed up his tongue, still her mother had not looked away. She had taken a hammer, knocked the dog unconscious, wiped away the blood and saliva, pushed his eye back in his head and set his leg bones (Beloved12).
In this passage Sethe’s fearlessness proves her gender blurred character. This is not the only situation, where her behaviour can be designated as male, though. According to Beaulieu not only courage is considered a masculine character trait, but also the readiness to fight, which is too manifested in the character of the African woman. Sethe has extremely suffered in her past as a slave. She was beaten and raped - events she suppresses after her flight from Sweet Home. Only 18 years hereafter and with the return of Beloved she starts to admit her memories to come back. With what effort she fights back her slavery past is evident when she hears Baby Suggs voice, who advises her to lay down “sword and shield” and to not “study war no more” (Beloved86). In Sethe’s own eyes “[t]he future was a matter of keeping the past at bay” (Beloved42) and she battles her memories with all her might. Nevertheless, she does not only aim at fighting back her past because of herself, but Denver is to be protected from Sethe’s terrible past, as well. The warlike behaviour of striving against something is normally associated with the male conduct and therefore gender-blurring is evident again.
Finally, a last situation demonstrates Sethe’s manly behaviour. Compared to every single male slave in the community in Sweet Home, she is physically and psychically the strongest character. The African Slave community in Mr. Garners farm consists of Paul A Garner, Halle, Paul F Garner, Sixo, Paul D Garner and, as the only woman, Sethe herself. While the slaves had a relatively good life under Mr. Garner, this is no longer the case when schoolteacher takes over the farm. As a result, the slave community plans to escape. However, what happens to all of the men? Sixo gets caught and is burnt, Paul A is never found and Paul F had been sold away before and is therefore not involved in the plan. Halle loses his mind, since he had to see the schoolteacher’s nephews taking Sethe’s milk and as Paul D describes it, he “had butter all over his face” (Beloved, 69), when Paul D saw him the last time. Halle is broken, although he has not been personally involved in the cruel action. The fact that Sethe as the victim can cope better with the traumatic incident than the man is remarkable. Paul D’s attempt to escape too fails and he is sent to prison. In the end of the novel he reflects on his life and realizes that “every one of his escapes (from Sweet Home, from Brandywime, from Alfred, Georgia, from Wilmington, from Northpoint) had been frustrated” and and that “he never stayed uncaught” (Beloved268). Sethe as the weak gender and even pregnant with Denver still manages to escape. She finds a job and raises three of her children without any male help. In spite of the experiences in her past as a slave she states that “[n]ot since that other escape had she felt so alive.” (Beloved191). Her physical power is manifested in the fact that her flight succeeds, although she is, as a women supposed to be the weakest character. Her psychical strength is rendered obvious as she can lead a self-determined and independent life after her escape from Sweet Home. Hence, gender-blurring can be observed again.
2.2. MOTHERHOOD - A GENDER-BLURRING IN ITSELF
Carole Boyce Davies denotes “Motherhood and/or mothering” as the “central and defining tropes in Black female reconstruction” (135). So it is no surprise that this can be found in Toni Morrison’s novelBeloved, as well. Motherhood naturally applies only to women, since only the feminine gender can bear children. Taking a closer look at Toni Morrison’s Neo-Slave Narrative one can observe that motherhood in the novel contains both very female but also very male character traits and is to be regarded as a Gender- Blurring in itself. In this chapter I will examine in how far Sethe’s behaviour as a mother and motherhood can be considered as feminine and also in how far it can be characterised as masculine.
The first aspect that indicates Gender-Blurring inBeloved’smotherhood is the fact that the sex of slaves was crucial, but the gender of no importance and the passage where Sethe tells her children about her own mother provides the proof. She cannot remember her mother well, since she was not only nursed by her but also “sucked from another women whose job it was” (Beloved60). Sethe’s mother shows her daughter a circle and a cross burnt in the skin on her rib, a mark, as a cow gets from a brand. She explains that, if something happened to her, Sethe can only identify her by her mark and not by her face. This touching story clearly expresses how terribly the Afro-Americans were treated in North-America. They were degraded as a supply of workforce rather than considered human beings. The slaveholders used the marks in order to distinguish which farm a slave belonged to, since this was the only decisive aspect about an African person. Individuality was regarded as redundant and names were unnecessary, because either the personal character or the gender of the slave was of no importance. Nevertheless, the sex of a slave was important, as women can reproduce themselves by having children and hence provide other young slaves. Sethe’s story about her mother demonstrates the irrelevance of genders in slavery. Above all, the cultural belief of what is male or female-gendered behaviour is of no importance, since the estimation of many individuals as a supply of instruments excludes the characterisation of one person as male or female. Gender- Blurring in this context originates in the manner, how the slaves were treated in America and can be seen in the book in the branding of the mothers. After the examination of how the concept of Gender-Blurring applies to motherhood in general it has to be taken a closer look at Sethe and in how far the concept is established in her role as a mother.
The central trope in the novelBelovedis Sethe’s killing of her daughter Beloved and it can be argued that this infanticide is a Gender-Blurring in itself. Sethe defines herself through her motherhood and on account of that through her children. Since she wants to spare her child a life in slavery, she decides to kill her baby. On the one hand this action is, without doubt, taken out of love, as Sethe aims at protecting her baby from the terrible experiences under slavery. As a consequence this killing out of love is an action based on her emotional feeling and hence agreeing with the habitual picture of a woman. On the other hand the brutal procedure of Sethe’s killing has to be taken into account, as well. She cuts the throat of her two-year old baby and wants to throw her other daughter Denver against the wall. Her obviously unscrupulous behaviour does no longer conform to a typical female character, as brutality is by and large more likely to be attributed to men. By no means I want to state that men are habitually brutal, however, Sethe’s murdering out of love is still a male action with a female origin. Nevertheless, the infanticide can be looked at as a gender-blurring for another reason, as well.
It is found inGender - voice - vernacularthat Eva in Morrison’sSulaclaims “maternal omnipotence” (131) by killing her son. This can be transferred to Sethe’s infanticide and completely contradicts to passivity and helplessness often connoted to the female character. Sethe has suffered painful experiences in her time as a slave in Sweet Home. As a result, she could not see her children being enslaved, as well. When schoolteacher finds her and wants to take her back to his farm, she comes to her decision, which is gruesome and mad: She wants to kill all of her children but only manages the murder of one. Infanticide is certainly the most terrible thing a mother can do to her children. Therefore it is a deed, many women would not dare to do and would estimate it as neither understandable nor excusable and would condemn Sethe by her action. Sethe does not conform to the picture of the classical mother who could never harm her own child. Yet, a closer look has to be taken at what would have happened to Beloved, if she had been a child of such a mother: Beloved would have been enslaved and would have had to experience hard work, violence and rape, as Sethe had before. This suggest the implication that the classical mother is in certain areas rendered helpless, since she does not want her child enslaved but cannot do but accept it. Sethe, however, does not want to accept her child as a slave and so she takes the only chance she has. Despite her risking own psychic hardship and a huge crisis between herself and her other daughter Denver, who is “scared of her because of it [the infanticide]” (Beloved205), she acts deliberately to spare her child a future equal to her own past. Sethe’s behaviour in contradistinction to the conduct of the classical mother testifies her power of self-determination. Her maternal omnipotence enables her to decide over her child’s life and death contradiction to other mothers who would not be so courageous as to oppose to their childrens’ enslavement by such an action. In conclusion a last aspect has to be taken into account, which is the reason for the infanticide.
Gender-Blurring creates Gender-Blurring. This is apparent when taking a closer look at the reason for Beloved’s death. Sethe kills her daughter as a result of herself being deprived of a mother. According to Aoi Mori “Sethe’s lack of communication with her own mother drives her into an extremely protective and, at the same time, deranged motherhood.” (Mori, 107). It is already that children of slaves were nursed by several mothers and marked with brands by their masters. In addition, the sex of female slaves was on economic grounds crucial for their master, their gender, however, of no importance. Women were denied to fulfil their role as mothers which draws to Sethe’s lack of a loving mother she can trust. As she did not experience a mother-daughter relationship in her childhood she behaves over-protecting towards her children and claims Beloved’s murder as the only chance for her child to be prevented from an unbearable life in slavery. The dehumanising treatment of female slaves, the term Gender-Blurring applies to drives Sethe to her desperate attempt to fulfil her role as a mother correctly and therefore to the infanticide which is as stated above a Gender-Blurring in itself.
2.3. LOSS OF MANHOOD - MALE AFRICANS IN SLAVERY
2.3.1. HELPLESSNESS - A CENTRAL TOPIC INBELOVED
While Gender-Blurring and womanhood have been analysed in the preceding chapter, the topic masculinity will be attended to now. Phillip M. Weinstein defines white American manhood as “the maintaining of self-possession, the adequation of one’s behaviour to one’s will, the ability to patrol one’s property - one’s self at all times, one’s wife in this instance - and guarantee that she remains one’s own.” (Weinstein 286). This definition, though, does not apply to Afro-American male slaves, as in the eyes of Anglo- Saxon Americans a slave is not a man. This chapter will show the deliberate and systematic deconstruction of manhood by slavery. As Mr. Garner and schoolteacher shaped the Sweet Home men’s idea of masculinity, their behaviour towards the slaves are crucial.
At first sight Mr. Garner seems to treat his slaves as men. A second sight, however, indicates that his attitude towards his slaveholding is contradictory. Mr. Garner seems to offer his slaves manhood by giving them names and allowing them to wear guns which was not usual among American farmers. In his eyes, he is a “real Kentuckian”: “tough enough and smart enough to make and call his own niggers men” (Beloved11). Nevertheless, his benevolent treatment of the Afro-Americans contradicts to the fundamental assumption of slavery that slaves are property. Due to the American law Paul A, Paul D, Paul F, Halle, Sixo and Sethe are his possession and regarded as objects by their master rather than persons. Mr. Garner’s contradictory behaviour is clearly observable in his selling Paul A Garner away. Slaves did not have a self-determined life. They had to work for the farmers and also Mr. Garner does not leave them any choice. This contradicts to Weinstein’s understanding of white manhood, which is defined by self- possession and the adequation of one’s behaviour to one’s will. Slaves did not own anything and were even refused to marry. This explains Mrs. Garner’s reaction to Sethe’s desire to get married to Halle. She does not take it seriously and laughs, as she knows, Halle and Sethe would be separated, anyway, if one part of the couple was sold away. If slaves are generally denied wives, the definition of manhood does again not apply to Afro- Americans.
As Weinstein states “the central damage done by slavery to black manhood was to cripple individual agency” (Weinstein, 290) and male helplessness is a central trope in the novel. Both Halle and Paul D suffer powerlessness most obviously established under schoolteacher’s leadership. If manhood means individual power, it is apparent inBeloved that the male slaves are deprived of this. In Sethe’s eyes the most terrible action done to her in slavery was the boys’ taking of her milk. As Paul D reveals, Halle must have watched the scene from the loft, still he cannot interfere and help the woman. In our traditional view of role models, which in this case agrees with the African imagination of gendered behaviour it is the man’s psychical and physical power, which enables him to protect and to defend the woman, especially the woman he loves. InBeloved, though, Halle cannot behave corresponding to general expectations. He experiences inability and helplessness, for he cannot do but watch the scene, and after this situation he does no longer feel as a man. He is aware of his moral duty to protect Sethe, however, he was unable to fulfil it, when Sethe’s milk is stolen. By virtue of this knowledge he loses his mind. Here it is remarkably demonstrated, how helplessness and the inability to act individually damages the male slave’s manhood. Although this is terrible for both genders Halles losing is mind reflects that it was more difficult for men to cope with it.
Paul D has to endure the same helplessness: Seeing Halle the last time he cannot talk to him, as an iron bit in his mouth hinders him. Sethe wonders, “what it was like for him - about how offended the tongue is, held down by an iron, how the need to spit is so deep you cry for it” and states that “[P]eople [she] saw as a child [...] who’d had the bit always looked wild after that” (Beloved71). This illustrates how terrible it was for any human being to be deprived of the power to express oneself.
2.3.2. MISTER - THE DRAMA OF PAUL D’S MANHOOD
Paul D as the only one of the male community who finally manages to escape from Sweet Home suffers from a personal crisis about masculinity and especially his own manhood. Even 18 years after Sweet Home he is haunted by an identity crisis which is reflected in several passages of the book. Paul D has a crucial experience when he watches Mister, the cock of the farm, which at the same time functions as the beginning of his problems.
Paul D realises that the cock is more ‘man’ than Paul A, Paul F, Halle, Sixo and he himself together. Tied and with an iron bit in his mouth he sees Mister and compares himself to the animal. While the rooster is free and can move as he pleases, Paul D’s hands are in chains which renders him unable to use them. The cock is allowed more self- determination than Paul D, a feeling that is reinforced by the iron bit, the slave has to keep in his mouth so as not to be able to speak or to scream. Painfully Paul D realises that an animal has more rights than he as a human being, for he is only the property of a slaveholder, who denies him the simplest rights a white person naturally has. According to Genovese “The slaveholders compelled them [the slaves] to submit to physical abuse in the presence of their women and children; made them choose between remaining silent while their wives and daughters were raped or seduced and risking death” (Weinstein 287).
Paul D experiences such harrowing powerlessness, which haunts him all his life after Sweet Home. Only in Sethe’s presence does he narrate the first time his traumatic experience with the rooster significantly called Mister. He even reveals her his dismal recognition that slavery and crucially schoolteacher’s terror have emasculated him and have changed him forever.
“He sat right there on the tube looking at me. I swear he smiled. My head was full of what I’d seen of Halle and before him Sixo, but when I saw Mister I knew it was me too. Not just them, me too. One crazy, one sold, one missing, one burnt, and me licking iron with my hands crossed behind me. the last of the Sweet Home men. Mister... he looked so... free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. Son a bitch couldn’t even get out the shell by hisself but he was still king and I was...” Paul D stopped and sqeezed his left hand with his right. He held it that way long enough for it and the world to quiet down and let him go on. “Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn’t allowed to be and stayed what I was. Even if you cooked him you’d be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn’t no way I’d ever be Paul D again. Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.” (Beloved72)
In this passage it is most evident that Paul D’s powerlessness and helplessness is the start of his crisis. Yet, if schoolteacher changed him there must have been a time when he felt as a man and was allowed a personal identity.
This identity was shaped by Mr. Garner. Nevertheless, it was his benevolent behaviour leads Paul D into his personal crisis. Mr. Garner gives his slaves names and allow them to wear guns, still the Afro-Americans in Sweet Home remain his property. This results in Paul D’s insecurity about his manhood. He recognises that Halle, Paul A, Paul F, Sixo and he were called men, but only by Mr. Garner, only in Sweet Home and only until Garner’s death. Outside the farm, in prison and under schoolteacher they were never announced men anymore. As a result Paul D ponders over the question if he is a man anyway or if his manhood was simply a benevolent idea of his master. With the question “Was he [Mr. Garner] naming what he saw or creating what he did not?” (Beloved220) Paul D doubts both his own and the male community’s manhood. Even years after being a slave he still reflects on his master and wonders what he was before Sweet Home and before slavery. “What would he have been anyway - before Sweet Home - without Garner?” (Beloved220) is the crucial question he does not find an answer to.
Weinstein states that “[I]f manhood means self-ownership, Paul D is owned by others” (287). This ownership does not only refer to the fact that slaves are owned by white farmers but also to the fact that Paul D does not even have power over his own body. In the prison in Georgia his health condition becomes serious: “Paul D’s hands disobeyed” (Beloved108) in the fields in Georgia and he has to vomit despite an empty stomach. This reflects his powerlessness about his own body. The slave has not only ceased to be a man after Mr. Garner’s death but also to be a human being with the ability to control his own body.
As stated above Gender-Blurring denotes a man’s female and a woman’s male behaviour, but this is not the case in Paul D’s issue of his manhood. Hence the deconstruction of manhood through slavery does not follow the concept of Gender- Blurring, at first sight. It is observable that the Afro-American male slaves are not rendered more female through slavery - a recognition which presents the Anglo-Saxon Americans and all sympathisers in an even worse light at second sight. The emasculation of slaves did not move into the direction of femininity - which would mean a blurring between the male and the female gender - but completely denied them existing as a human being, at all.
3.BELOVED- A FEMINIST NOVEL?
In the wake of the examination where the concept of Gender-Blurring is established inBelovedit is now essential to elucidate why the author Toni Morrison employed it. Due to this the effect of this conception on the reader has to be analysed. The last chapter of this work will concentrate on Toni Morrison’s aim and the function of Gender-Blurring in the novel.
The concept of Gender-Blurring characterisesBelovedas a feminist novel. This conclusion can be drawn by analysing the character of Denver, the daughter of the protagonist. The girl, who in the beginning does not dare to leave the house alone and is desperate in the situation in 124 develops into a self-confident young woman by the end of the story. While her mother is captured by Beloved’s possessive behaviour and is gradually becoming weaker, Denver is determined to help her mother, finds a job and starts to work as a support for Sethe. She takes over the leadership of the house, the duty Sethe was in charge of before. Significantly the responsibility is transferred from one woman to another but not to a man, for instance Paul D, who could have stayed and helped, as well. Her self- conscious character is rendered apparent in her conversation with Paul D in the end of the novel. When he proposes her his opinion about 124, Beloved and Sethe, she replies “I have my own.” (Beloved267) Paul D realises that Denver has “grown” (Beloved 267) and ceases to consider her as a young, helpless girl as she had been introduced in the beginning of the novel. Furthermore a man running towards her calls her “Miss Denver” (Beloved 267) also suggesting the end of her childhood and the beginning of her youth. Denver does not only mature, she even gains courage to the extend that she opposes to her mother in a dangerous situation. When the black female community of the village come to 124, one white male person, the abolitionist Edward Bodwin is among them. Sethe who wrongly identifies him as schoolteacher tries to kill him and is hindered by her own daughter, whose fearlessness is reflected in this situation.
A closer look at the female community in the village also reflects the feminist aim of Toni Morrison. Beloved vanishes, as female strength and solidarity leave her no choice. Denver is not so powerful as to force Beloved away, thus she needs the help of other people. Here it is important to mention that it is a decision of the women in the village who support Denver. Their solidarity with Sethe and there collective courage empower them to combat Beloved. Significantly, the only man among them - Mr. Bodwin does not play an active role in this situation and remains a non-participating extra in the background. By and large, Toni Morrison embeds numerous weak male characters in her novel and opposes them to the powerful and self-determined female characters. This contrast is most evidently indicated by the male slave community in Sweet Home and their failing to escape, while Sethe leads a self-determined life in the wake of her enslavement. The concept of Gender-Blurring inBelovedgenerally attributes weak female character traits to men and strong male character traits to women consequently impairing manhood. However, a novel concentrating on slavery in North-America would contain a too specific topic to be only presented as a feminist novel.
In the context of Afro-American servitude it is Toni Morrison’s aim to show the inhumanity of slavery. As stated above, both women and men were denied the existence as human beings while being enslaved by Anglo-Saxon American masters. The concept of Gender-Blurring therefore functions not only as a blurring between the male and the female gender but also functions as a blurring between human beings and objects reinforcing the impression of how terrible life must have been under slavery. At this point it is to be added that Gender-Blurring in the context of slavery does not only apply to the slaves but also to their masters. Their cruelty was far from being humane and thus they could be seen as machines without scruple or a guilty conscience.
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