Guide Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart

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Select 'OK' to allow Verizon Media and our partners to use your data, or 'Manage options' to review our partners and your choices. You can always update your preferences in the Privacy Centre. Before you continue In "Contingent Foundations", Butler further problematizes the ontological materiality of body and sex-for her, sites of power relations. While reinforcing the illusion of universality and fundamentalism, she argues in favour of a "contingent" notion of the subject, without which, there is no political struggle:.

To deconstruct the concept of matter or that of bodies is not to negate or refuse either term.

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To deconstruct these terns means, rather, to continue to use them, to repeat them, to repeat them subversively, and to displace them from the contexts in which they have been deployed as instruments of oppressive power. To problematize the matter of bodies entails in the first instance a loss of epistemological certainty, but this loss of certainty does not necessarily entail political nihilism as its result.

If a deconstruction of the materiality of bodies suspends and problematizes the traditional ontological referent of the term, it does not freeze, banish, render useless, or deplete of meaning the usage of the term; on the contrary, it provides the conditions to mobilize the signifier in the service of an alternative production. In History of Sexuality Foucault I, also sees the connection between discursive practices and the materiality of the bodies, the site of productive power forces. Feminist materialism has also brought body issues back to the academic and political debate.

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In her text "Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter", Karen Barad proposes a "relational ontology" as the basis for her concept of "agential realism". She writes:. Far from the body having to be effaced, what is needed is to make it visible through an analysis in which the biological and the historical are not consecutive to one another Hence, I do not envision a "history of mentalities" that would take account of bodies only through the manner in which they have been perceived and given meaning and value; but a "history of bodies" and the manner in which what is most material and most vital in them has been invested.

Despite varied, complex practices, beliefs and manifestations, motherhood is a universal, transcultural experience, since the vast majority of women become mothers, and we all have had mothers once-men and women, no matter how complex the meaning of those two words. This relevant experience has been enriched by new practices and discourses. A vast material is increasingly being produced, not only trying to reinforce traditional ideologies but also radically contradicting them.

Apart from religious, scientific, legal, fictional material, we come across personal reports that explore the experiences of divergent forms of maternity, and of specific mothers or groups of mothers, such as poor, working-class mothers, immigrant mothers, black mothers, single mothers, "fallen" mothers, lesbian mothers, surrogate mothers, abusive mothers, homosexual couples who "mother" adopted children, and so many others.

In canonical literature, as well as in Western culture in general, the image of black women has been mainly that of an object for sexual pleasure. Other images constructed them as instruments for invisible reproductive and slave labor. If we focus our attention on fictional material and we move away from canonical literature, we identify novels written by black women writers that brings us a different scenario.

In contrast with the traditional, patriarchal, eurocentric image of the mother, contemporary black women writing is analyzed as a public celebration of the maternal presence, and her love for her children is seen as an act of resistance in developing a loved sense of the self, whose central aim is empowerment of their children in a racist society. In this context, home is a place for nurturance as resistance, a place to restore dignity denied in the unloving world outside the family, which naturalizes blacks as inferior. In her research about matrifocal family structures, the anthropologist Nancy Tanner shows how Western cultural biases, and what she sees as ethnocentrism in the social sciences, have profoundly affected kinship theory in general.

She compared the culturally defined role of the mother in Indonesia and Africa with motherhood among black Americans. Tanner shows a structural solidarity which places women in a strong position as mothers, a role that is culturally elaborate and valued more than that of wife: the cultural image of the mother as simultaneously strong and nurturing, a source of wisdom.

Community mothering-an inheritance from African communal lifestyle with its collective responsibility for childcare provides, according to Tanner, new models of social transformation in the black American family system, which, for her, has a matrifocal emphasis, with extended, flexible kin network system The contemporary American writer Toni Morrison reinforces the positive image of motherhood. In an interview with the researcher Andrea O'Reilly for her book Toni Morrison and motherhood - a politics of the heart , Morrison talks about her own experience of being a mother: "I have never felt oppressed or disempowered by it [ Her novels are peopled with remarkably strong mothers; however, she also exposes the harsh reality of black motherhood in racist Western society in its crude, physical manifestations.

In Morrison's Sula , the fiercely independent and much hated Sula Peace is raised by her grandmother Eva, because her mother was seen as a promiscuous, care-free woman who burns to death early in the novel, without ever playing the role of "the good mother"; it is suggested that Eva put her own leg under a train in order to get insurance money to raise her three adopted children.

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In The Bluest Eye the young Pecola gets pregnant by her own father-ironically called Cholly Breedlov e, giving birth to a dead child, after which she goes insane. These contemporary fictional constructions deal with the body of the mother in quite different images from those we see in canonical literature. Some of these dramatic images of the mother would not be uncommon poor, destitute communities, but it is almost completely ignored by writers in general.

Sometimes, these mothers come to the extreme action of committing infanticide, like Eva Sula and Sethe Beloved , the reasons for which are completely understood by the reader. In Beloved , Sethe gets pregnant from a rape that is witnessed by her black lover, who takes refuge in madness to cope with this most cruel form of emasculation and disempowerment a man can think of.

The pregnant Sethe gives birth to a child, while running away to escape slavery. The author describes the physicality of the birthing act in detail, which, based on my readings of contemporary Literature, is absent:. As soon as Sethe got close to the river, her own waters broke loose to join it. The break, followed by the redundant announcement of pain, arched her back.

And the strong hands went to work a fourth time, none too soon, for river water, seeping through any hole it chose, was spreading over Sethe's hips. She reached one arm and grabbed the rope while Amy fairly clawed at the head. When a foot rose from the riverbed and kicked the bottom of the boat and Sethe's behind, she knew it was done and permitted herself a short faint.

Morrison Leave before [ Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Once only, and in a radical way, this bigger-than-life character is in control of her child's body and life, as she never had been of hers. As the mixed-race female narrator of Barbara Chase-Riboud's novel 6 painfully exclaims: "I had learned so young that my body was not my own" The loosely autobiographical novel The Autobiography of my Mother , by the Caribbean-American writer Jamaica Kincaid, features conflict with both a strong maternal figure and colonial and neocolonial influences.

The main character's mother is absent from the whole novel, 7 which is narrated from the daughter's point of view. Xuela part Caribbean, and part Scottish and African begins her story by telling us she never knew her own mother, herself an orphan also; this painful realization recurs throughout the novel. Xuela longs to re constructing this presence in absence in a narrative which borders the Unheimlich 8 :. When my mother was born so I was told , her mother wrapped her in some clean pieces of cloth and placed her outside a place where some nuns from France lived; they brought her up, baptized her a Christian, and demanded that she be a quiet, shy, long-suffering, unquestioning, modest, wishing-to-die-soon person.

She became such a person. The attachment, spiritual and physical, that a mother is said to have for her child, that confusion of who is who, flesh and flesh, that inseparableness which is said to exist between mother and child? All this was absent between my mother and her own mother. How to explain this abandonment, what child can understand it? That attachment, physical and spiritual, that confusion of who is who, flesh and flesh, which was absent between my mother and her mother was also absent between my mother and myself, for she died at the moment I was born, and though I can sensibly say to myself such a thing cannot be helped, for who can help dying, again how can any child understand such a thing, so profound an abandonment?

I have refused to bear any children. These feelings are intercalated with events in Xuela's life, her solitary childhood without love or protection, her colonial schooling, her emotionless but intense sexual encounters which she enjoys without any feeling of guilt. Discovering that she is pregnant, she chooses not to be a mother herself and opts for a bloody, painful self-inflicted abortion, which leaves her barren for the rest of her life.

I did not smell of the dead, because for something to be dead, life would have had to come first. I had only made the life that was just beginning in me, not dead, just not to be at all. There was a pain between my legs; it started inside my lower abdomen and my lower back and came out through my legs, this pain. I was wet between my legs; I could smell the wetness; it was blood, fresh and old.

The fresh blood smelled like a newly dug-up mineral that had not yet been refined and turned into something worldly, something to which a value could be assigned. The old blood gave off a sweet rotten stink, and this I loved and would breathe in deeply when it came to dominate the other smells in the room; perhaps I only loved it because it was mine. When she detachedly faces the end of her rather nihilistic life, the personal narrative of these immanent sensations all point towards transcendence, towards the "thing greater than I am" The Nigerian-English writer Buchi Emecheta was sixteen when she married Sylvester Onwordi, and joined him in London, where he was studying.

She gave birth to five children in six years. It was an unhappy and sometimes violent marriage and, at the age of twenty-two, Emecheta left her husband, after which, she had to support her five children alone, while still writing and studying for her BSc degree in Sociology at the University of London, where she also got her PhD in Although she comments in an interview for the BBC that for her, children and creativity are strongly linked, 9 Emecheta is very critical of motherhood as vital in defining womanhood, as can be seen in The Joys of Motherhood.

Published in , her novel explores the burden of colonialism, racial prejudice and, especially the absence of the "joys of motherhood" for a mother of nine children. Emecheta unravels the ordeals of Nnu Ego, the worn-out West African "Everywoman", and ironic icon of maternal self-sacrifice. The novel begins with a dramatic account of her physical and emotional pain at the loss of her first child:.

She felt and at the same time, did not feel the pain. This was true of the pain in her young and unsupported breasts, now filling fast with milk since the birth of her baby boy four weeks before. Her baby Nnu Ego's arms involuntarily went to hold her aching breasts, more for assurance of her motherhood than to ease their weight. She felt the milk trickling out, wetting her buba blouse; and the other choking pain got heavier, nearing her throat, as if determined to squeeze the very life out of her there and then.

But, unlike the milk, this pain could not come out, though it urged her one, and she was running, running away from it. She had devoted her whole life to her children, a life of suffering and hardships in her herculean struggle for their survival, only to die alone, with no child to hold her hand and no friend to talk to her. She had never really made many friends, so busy had she been building up her joys as a mother.

An overview of the images constructed by patriarchal and colonial ideology about Afro-Brazilian women shows great emphasis on their bodies, as objects to be used and abused by men.

In Brazilian canonical literature, the image of black women and of the mulatto woman was traditionally constructed as that of an eroticized, "infertile" 11 woman, that is, they are never seen as mothers; on the contrary, they are always sexually available to satisfy man's sexual drives, adding to the arduous tasks of daily slave labour or in the kitchen, where they seem to enjoy their servitude, like Bertoleza. Beautiful and appetizing mulatto women such as Rita Baiana and Gabriela people Brazilian novels, thirsty for sex and eager to satisfy men's sexual urges; many other black female characters, sometimes envious spiteful of the beauty and youth they lack, are seen as "mules", destined to heavy work in the fields or in the slaveowner's kitchen.

At the same time, the role of the black woman as mother was cruelly distorted, especially during the harsh reality of slavery, when black women slaves did not mother their offspring, but the white children of their oppressors, as " amas de leite " milk nannies. The experience of motherhood for a woman slave was usually a painful and cruel experience; most often, their children had been the consequence of rape by white men.

The black men did not always treat black women in a loving, affectionate manner; sometimes, black women were the only escape valve for the fury, powerlessness, frustrations and cruelty which the black men had to endure in the hands of their masters. At the same time, these black mothers had to cope with their constant anxiety of losing their children, so often having to move far away from their mothers, because they were frequently sold into slavery to other masters.

Contemporary social reality shows us that among Brazilian women of African descent, a majority of females are heads of household, forming and maintaining matrifocal families. In literature by Afro-Brazilian women writers, images of mothers emerge that surprise and overcome all the stereotypes and transcend the physicality of this sometimes harsh reality. As numberless black women slaves, she experiences the monstrous forces of slavery in her own body, adding to the cultural, psychological, spiritual, and economic marks of slavery.

While still recovering from deep depression caused by such a traumatic experience, Kehinde realizes she's pregnant of the man she hates most.

Toni Morrison and motherhood : a politics of the heart

The birthing act is also shown in its physical details:. I prayed for him to be taken in Her arms, guiding the child safely out of my body. Other readings of Afro-Brazilian women writers' fictional narratives 14 reinforce the image of black mothers as varied and complex, with different reactions and attitudes to cope with the cruel reality of their lives, not only as slave women, but also in contemporary society, where their condition has not improved much.

The girl's mother dreams of milk, bread, money. She dreams of the medicine that her sick child needs, and a job for her drunk husband.

She dreams of a better future for her daughter, less haunted by poverty. The mother dreams of a life without so much need. Unlike us, he speaks roughly and with the hands in his pockets.