Re-Defining Black Masculinities in Toni Morrison’s Novels

Conference: The Barcelona Conference on Arts, Media & Culture (BAMC2022)
Title: Re-Defining Black Masculinities in Toni Morrison’s Novels
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies and Theory
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Asmaa Aaouinti-Haris, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain


This paper intends to explore the ways in which Toni Morrison envisions alternative models for black masculinities through her diverse and multifaceted representations of male characters in some of her most intriguing works, namely Beloved (1987) and Home (2012).
Thus, my purpose is twofold: on the one hand, to demonstrate the feminist critique of hegemonic and racist models of masculinity that guides Morrison’s representations of black masculinities and, on the other hand, to analyze the strategies employed to subvert and deconstruct received notions of masculinity providing healthier, more inclusive and authentic ways of inhabiting black manhood.
In analyzing Morrison’s literary renderings of black masculinities, it is essential to consider Morrison’s reconfiguration of familiar ties and gender relations, specifically her ethic of refusal to binary oppositions, which I wish to examine through the lens of queer theory. By posing a challenge to monolithic ways of inhabiting manhood, Morrison’s male characters find alternative modes of being a man by referring back to women. It is thanks to those women in their families that the male characters are able to regard themselves free of received notions of masculinity and embrace their true authentic selves. Self-regard facilitated by these women, thus, enables them to heal from the trauma of their particular experiences.
In order to acknowledge the hybridity of male identities in Morrison’s fiction, this paper draws from Athena Mutua’s conceptualization of "progressive black masculinities" as "performances of the masculine self" which both reject notions of domination and “validate and empower black humanity.”

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