Others, Monsters, Ghosts: Representations of the Female Gothic Body in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Love

  • Anya Heise-von der Lippe


Toni Morrison’s novels Beloved (1986) and Love (2003), although published at an interval of 17 years, share a common narrative approach towards the Female Gothic body as a symbol of corporeal violence. The female body has been at the centre of definitions of the Female Gothic since Ellen Moers coined the term in 1976, describing it as ‘the work that women writers have done in the literary mode that, since the eighteenth century, we have called the Gothic.’1 Subsequent approaches, in accordance with theoretical reassessments of gender, have largely replaced the author’s body with female bodies inside the text — spanning from the prototypical, or as Diane Long Hoeveler has suggested,2 professional victim to the monstrous feminine. However, as Morrison’s own critical approach shows, there is a crucial difference between narrative representations of black and white female protagonists in North American literary history: the white heroine’s economic value in the marriage market depends on the preservation of her virtue/virginity. In comparison, the black (slave) woman’s economic value is measured by her reproductiveness and ‘an uncontested assumption of the sexual availability of black females’,3 which cast her in the role of the deviant, monstrous other. This narrative construction of African-American otherness forms the centre of Morrison’s critical argument in Playing in the Dark (1993), while her novels explore gender and race as intertwined categories of power, discrimination and victimisation which have to be reassessed, undermined and deconstructed in various ways.


Marriage Market Nobel Lecture Woman Writer Subsequent Reference Narrative Perspective 
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  1. 1.
    Ellen Moers, Literary Women (London: The Women’s Press [1976], 1978), 90.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 7.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (London: Vintage, 1993), 23.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Catherine Spooner, Contemporary Gothic (London: Reaktion, 2006), 9.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 5.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    George Haggerty, Gothic Fiction/Gothic Form (University Park, IL: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989), 3.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    See Erich Kasten, Body-Modification (München: Reinhardt, 2006), 185.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Helene Meyers, Femicidal Fears (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001), 2.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Anya Heise-von der Lippe 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anya Heise-von der Lippe
    • 1
  1. 1.Freie Universität in BerlinGermany

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