Degree Granting Department
Elizabeth Hirsh, Ph.D.
Abject, Gothic, Conjure, Slavery, Discourse
Revisiting the American Gothic via Julia Kristeva's theory of "the abject" demonstrates how Gothic strategies expose the historical contradictions of race in works by Mark Twain, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Toni Morrison. As theorized by Kristeva in Powers of Horror, the archaic process in which the subject attempts to constitute itself as homogeneous by casting off or "abjecting" all that cannot be assimilated to the self-same necessarily opens the way to repeated returns of the abject(ed) and the "horror" it provokes. Because the Gothic enacts the return of the abject, it was itself abjected from the literary canon until recently. In American literature, especially since Reconstruction, Gothic horror subverts and reverses the process through which the new subject-nation mythologized itself as blameless by abjecting the African presence and the nightmarish history of slavery. Twain's The Tragedy of Puddn'head Wilson, Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman, and Morrison's The Bluest Ey
e and Beloved all deploy Gothic strategies to give voice to the unspeakable experiences associated with slavery and contest the rationalist discourses that enforce and legitimate racism. Twain's narrative celebrates the subversive Gothic storytelling of the slave Roxana but ultimately betrays the author's ambivalence toward racial identity. Chesnutt's use of the Gothic more decisively reverses racist abjection through the encounter between the ex-slave Julius, with his conjure tales, and the white Yankee investor John, who tries to understand Julius but cannot. In the twentieth century Gothic narratives by black writers focus on internalized racism. In Morrison's The Bluest Eye Claudia's abject-writing exposes the deadly effects of mainstream mythology and internalized abjection in Pecola's destruction. In Beloved Morrison uses the Gothic to create an alternative world and suggest a means of healing the effects of slavery through the ghostly figure of Beloved. These narratives exemplif
y the increasing power of Gothic to create an alternative perspective on the racist history and culture of America.
Scholar Commons Citation
Kim, Hyejin,, "The Gothic as counter-discourse: Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt and Toni Morrison" (2007). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.