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Figurations of Rape and the Supernatural in Beloved

Pamela E. Barnett
PMLA
Vol. 112, No. 3 (May, 1997), pp. 418-427
DOI: 10.2307/462950
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462950
Page Count: 10
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Figurations of Rape and the Supernatural in Beloved
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Abstract

The title character in Toni Morrison's Beloved embodies the history and memory of rape. In fact, her supernatural form is the shape-shifting witch, derived by African Americans from the succubus, a female rapist and nightmare figure of European myth. Beloved functions like a traumatic, repetitive nightmare: in addition to representing characters' repressed memories of rape, she attacks Sethe and Paul D. Morrison also uses the succubus figure to represent the effects of institutionalized rape during slavery. Beloved drains Sethe of vitality and Paul D of semen, and these violations represent dehumanization and commodified reproduction. Finally, by portraying a female rapist figure and a male rape victim, Morrison foregrounds race, rather than gender, as the crucial category determining the domination or rape of her African American characters.

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