Blog Question 11/3

*Please take a moment to fill out the anonymous midterm evaluation here:*

In many of the text’s we’ve read, gender circumscribes women in domestic spaces and or to domestic dependancies: Cass waiting for someone like Richard to take her from her Father’s house, Ida on Rufus to take her from hers. In  The Bluest Eye Pecola is “restricted by youth and sex” and therefore “experimented with methods of endurance,”(Morrison 43) unlike her brother, Sammy, who frequently runs away from the abusive household. Beloved opens by narrating the fact that by 1873 only only Sethe and Denver are left to experience the 124’s spitefulness. In the brief narration of Howard and Bulgar’s departures (3), what does Morrison seem to be suggesting about genders obligations, tethers, and relations to freedom (in considering this question more broadly it might also be worth thinking about/keeping in mind Cholly’s freedom (Bluest Eye 159))?

9 Responses to Blog Question 11/3

  1. Noah says:

    It is rather interesting to draw that through-line with the previous novels we’ve read. I think there’s definitely something to be said about the respective ways that Baldwin and Morrison write women, and the roles they play in each of their books that we’ve read.

    Especially considering the historical contexts of the texts we’ve previously read, it’s worth noting that socially and culturally, women were expected to be passive–to remain domestic. The predominant conception was that they didn’t possess the agency to be able to make big life decisions. I recall that horrible old phrase “the lesser sex.”

    With Morrison, who as we’ve noted is particularly interested in examining and subverting social norms, she’s doing some fascinating things with the roles women play/are expected to play in her novels. I’m very much looking forward to reading and learning more about these ideas and themes with the rest of Beloved.

  2. Abigail Gardener says:

    This is a very interesting parallel. The ability of Howard, Buglar, and Sammy (all young teenage boys) to run away/leave their current situation at will while the girls/women stay (mostly because they literally cannot leave) suggests that men have more freedom than women do. Howard and Buglar leave their situation without even thinking as soon as they decide that the house they are living in is unsatisfactory, but this is an option that never crosses Sethe or Baby Suggs’ mind. It is also striking to me that all the boys are so young; Howard and Buglar are thirteen and Sammy is fourteen. This seems to show that even young boys have more freedom and agency than adult women do.

  3. jkoslofsky says:

    Morrison implies a strong bond between the women of the household and the physical household itself. It’s a bond that Paul D disrupts almost immediately with his entrance to 124, and a bond that Sethe tries to form with Sweet Home: “This house he told her to leave as though a house was a little thing–a shirtwaist or a sewing basket you could walk off from or give away any old time. She who never had one but this one; she who had to bring a fistful of salsify into Mrs. Gardner’s kitchen every day just to be able to work in it, feel like some part of it was hers, because she wanted to love the work she did, to take the ugly out of it, and the only way she could feel at home on Sweet Home was if she picked some pretty growing thing and took it with her.”

    Mrs. Breedlove meanwhile, also posses this connection to a physical home, it just so happens to be the home she works at instead of the home she inhabits. Morrison clearly recognizes the significance of a physical home and the question of who runs away from home. I see the simultaneous beauty and horror of Sweet Home as another reflection and sharp contrast to 124.

  4. amthomas says:

    This is not fully-formed but I’m thinking about this in relation to nationalism. As I study various nationalisms, a common theme regarding gender is a notion that women are “stuck in time” while the men are progressive and move history forward. I’m wondering if anyone else is familiar with this theory and can help me apply this framework to these parts of the novels?

  5. Siobhan McKenna says:

    I agree with Abigail that the men have a greater ability, and therefore more freedom, to leave this house, while the women almost seem obligated to stay, unable to leave even if they wanted to. However, given what we’ve talked about in class about Morrison trying to break down these binaries within her writing, I think it’s interesting to consider why Morrison gives this ability to flee to the men and not the women. While it’s definitely true that women of this time were required to be the domestic & passive figure, which could explain why the women are required to stay in this haunted house, it also almost seems that Morrison is trying to suggest that these women are able to stay in 124 because they have more strength and patience than these men. “Neither boy waited to see more… Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods; the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed. No. Each one fled at once- the moment the house committed what was for him the one insult not to be borne or witnessed a second time” (3). This immediate flee the second things get a little abnormal suggests that these boys do not have the same type of patience or strength as the women, who are able to endure these infrequent bouts of terror by knowing that things will eventually calm down again. Therefore, it may not be that these women are/feel obligated to stay in the house, but that they see no reason to leave.

  6. Ryan Spencer says:

    I feel like the difference between staying and leaving, at least in Beloved, is a difference in perception between men and women portrayed by Morrison. It is interesting to note that while Paul D equates the feeling of the house to “evil” (10), Sethe says it is not evil but “just sad” (10). The fact that she sees it at sad shows that she seems to have some sympathy for the haunted house while Paul D, who sees it as evil, does not. Furthermore, Paul D seems to sympathize with Sethe’s son’s who ran off as he thinks “probably best… if a Negro got legs he ought to use them. Sit down too long, somebody will figure out a way to tie them up” (11). Thus two different attitudes between enduring and fleeing are expressed by men and by women in Beloved. I don’t know if Morrison offers an opinion beyond this depiction, though, she does not seem to condemn the boys for having run and most certainly does not condemn Sethe and Denver for having stayed.

  7. LaShawn Simmons says:

    I really enjoyed reading the comments so far. I agree with a lot of points brought in the discussion. In these readings specifically, men and women are subject to cultural expectations of their gender. Of those is the idea that women desire a man to rescue them/provide security. It is expected for men to fulfill their role as a protector. Though in many ways we see the characters both embody and resist these roles. This is especially true when examining Cholly as he runs away and even attempts to dismantle his household altogether. This idea is even more complicated as Paul D attempts to ward off the baby ghost. This upsets Denver who viewed the ghost as somewhat of a companion for her. The domestic sphere in Denver’s perspective isn’t secure for her due to Paul D’s presence. Even this minor interaction challenges the “innate responsibility” of a man to provide security.

  8. Conor Amrien says:

    I agree that Morrison is not necessarily condemning the act of staying or leaving in the text, rather an assertion as to the differences in how Black men and women attempt to escape the confines of oppression in the wake of enslavement. The women of the text, like in Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”, attempt to assert ownership over the home in order to assert it as a true living space. A place where they can be free to raise a family and live out their daily lives in peace. The concept of real ownership of space represents a form of freedom for a Black family, when previously, slaves could not call any land their own. Sethe, when she is stuck working in the kitchens of Sweet Home, brings salsify into the house so that she has something “living”. She feels that the space is without life for her; she cannot make it a home. While women were often expected to serve in the household, the men were often working on the plantation itself. Personally, I think Morrison is trying to convey that Black men feel they cannot tie themselves to a specific place because they are haunted by the fear of losing what they have, or of never truly having it in the first place. Fearing a sense of confinement within their own home, they are physically lost, while women are trapped by this feeling of “home” within the text. Is it possible to make 124 a home in the wake of the loss of Sethe’s baby? Can a home exist for them there if the dead baby reminds the men and women of the confines of slavery? The baby was not able to live, so both men and women fear permanence. Morrison confines Sethe to 124 because she wants to establish that freedom for her is the creation of “home” while for the men it is possibly the act of “finding home”.

  9. Sydney Exler says:

    I love the idea of connecting gender obligations and the notion of freedom, and think that your suggestion of such is wholly accurate, especially in “Beloved”. Despite her frustration with her disposition, Morrison never insinuates Denver’s desire to run away or abandon Sethe; alternatively, in the beginning of this novel Howard and Bulgar are not introduced as characters, but as as passing contextual information. I think that such is a common pattern throughout all of our novels because women tend to represent more domestic roles, and ultimately tend to embody the notions of ‘home’ and of ‘family’ (more so than men, for sure). This is important because they are seen as more passively pursuing freedom than men – for example, this is even supported by the fact that Baby Suggs gains freedom from a man (and not from a woman or from herself). I think that all of these things ultimately serve to represent men as inherently involved in the struggle for freedom to a greater extent than woman. I think perhaps this says more about representations of gender than of race. I also think that this whole conversation (while somewhat scattered and vague) relates back to “The Scary Mason-Dixon Line”, and Harris’ argument about how women authors tend to relate the horrors of the south more subtly and neutrally than men – while individuals like Baldwin focus on physical trauma, Harris argues that authors like Hurston and Morrison emphasize emotional closure and the ability to move forward. To this extent, perhaps we can understand Morrison’s characters as seemingly contributing less to the efforts for freedom simply due to her writing style and the way she constructs and represents her characters.

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