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Representations of sexual difference/gender in Bennett and Royle’s An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory in relation to two characters in Morrison’s Beloved

Bennett and Royle (2009, 152-160) and Morrison (1987) have the theme of sexual difference/gender. While Morrison’s work concentrates on the slavery ear, Bennett and Royle’s work is an analysis of a number of works of art, a literature review. In both, gender is a major theme. This essay will review the relationship between the gender theme between Bennett and Royle’s work and relate the same with two characters from Morrison’s work. The characters to be used in this essay are Paul D and Baby Suggs. To do this, the various definitions of sexual differences reflected by Bennett and Royle will be related to the characters Paul D and Baby Suggs draw extracts from both readings.

The first definition of sexual differences according to Bennett & Royle (153) is based on the traditional settings of the society where a woman is considered subordinate to men. The authors even notes that there is satire in the definition as it is obvious “too common to bear any printable value” so to say. The author uses the word ‘of course’ to drive the definition home. An example of how women are subordinate is the relation between a husband and a wife in a family setting (Bennett & Royle, 153). However, there is some sense of biasness presented in the text. In pg. 153, the writer says these differences between male and female are based on stereotypes where man has unquestioned dominance while women have supposedly subordinate by virtue of being females.

Compared to beloved by Morrison, the picture is slightly different. The mood portrayed by Morrison in the entire text is that women have a role to play and their position in the society is not biased subordination, but participatory. For example, in chapter 9 Baby Suggs is presented as a very special woman. When seethe arrived at her way station, she (Baby Suggs) took her (Sethe) in with arms and nursed her back to health. Even though nursing is considered to the responsibility of women in the traditional society on which both texts are based, the author gives women a more dominating role in this responsibility.

The best example of women participatory role in social maters is when Baby Suggs freedom is bought by Halle in part one of the text. Baby Suggs travels to Cincinnati and there she adopts an inspirational role to the enslaved. In relation to An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory where women have a subordination role, Baby Suggs in Beloved organized and holds religious gatherings at clearing where she provides emotional and spiritual support to the black slaves (chapter 1). Even though she dies in part two, her memories are a great inspiration to her followers.

The second description of sexual difference is on the anatomy of man and female. Bennett & Royle have categorized this definition as essentialism. By virtue of being a man or woman, there are certain required essentials.  Essentialism in Beloved is best represented by love and desire for company. Paul D is the best example in his desire and continued longing for Sethe. Paul D based on the fact that he is a man, he longs for a female companion. Loneliness and search for company is a common thing among both gender, in chapter two of Beloved, it turns out that after Paul D. traveled, and it is now Sethe searching for him.

Essentialism is described as a dynamic aspect that is dependent of time and ideology. In Bennett & Royle’s work, essentialism is dependent on ideas. This would is to probably show that the description of essentialism in relation to gender is dependent on persons. Bennett and Royle (155) acknowledge that different arguments exist in terms of sexual differences based on essentials. In fact, they write “it could be argued that there is no such thing as a feminist, or a masculinity or a sexist, literary work in itself: it all depends on how it is read” (p. 156). In addition to the writers ideas, they also factors in the ideas of the reader.

In relation to Beloved, idealism is evident in the nature the various characters change. For example, while the grandmother, Baby Suggs, in chapter 3 is enthusiastic to preach to the enslaved, assumedly, freedom gospel abruptly changes and retires to her sick dead and prepares to die. Gender essentialism is described as dynamic by the author. On the other hand, Paul D in the preliminary chapters of the content is focused and determined in haunting for Sethe. However, in part two, he moves away and it is now Sethe who is haunting for him. In simple terms, it could be said that the priorities attached to gender change with time, and according to surroundings.

In Bennett & Royle (p. 157), sexual difference with specificity to feminism is represented as a struggle, a struggle from the patriarchal system. Unfortunately, the patriarchal system is oppressive to women thus the fight for liberation. However, as stated in Bennett & Royle (p. 156), some critics of this liberation campaign describe feminist’s liberation as deconstructive. This is used to mean, feminine empowerment is a disruption of the current and assumedly, the right way of life where women are subordinate. This destructive strategy is with regard to every and any form of essentialism. The word essentialism in this case is used to mean that, aspects of male and female are irreversible and it is better if they are left as they are.

In Beloved, this deconstructive strategy is probably the basis of the story. While in An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory it is used to represent the “undesirable” agitation for sexual freedom for the female gender, in Beloved, it is a requirement for the entire society. The society in Beloved is under slavery oppression. They therefore need to destroy the existing system bonds. Both genders are part of the struggle and unlike in Bennett & Royle (2009), Morrison (1987), presents the female gender as the fore-players in this struggle. The principal character Beloved is of the female gender. The referral character in this case Baby Suggs takes a dominant role in this destructive process and even in her final moments, she is praying for the people. As a show of the effect and influence of the female gender in Beloved, even after death, Baby Suggs memories play a big part in inspiring the people.

The deconstructive strategy takes diverging perspective in An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory and in Beloved. While in the former, it is seen as a negative strategy being pursued by the female gender, in the latter a positive element is being pursued by all Female characters among them Baby Suggs. While in the former is seeks to destroy the constructs of patriarchal hierarchies and entirely all aspects of essentialism, in the latter it is targeted to dismantling the slavery system. The elements in essentialism in this case included the negative attributes for the female gender among them, weakness, passiveness, irrational, impractical and absence.

Sexual difference is represented as ‘impractical’ and ‘insolvent’. Based on the conclusions made by the conclusion in Bennett & Royle, the only way out for the female gender to be liberated from the oppressive patriarchal system is madness (157). This means there is no, at least for now, any solution for the patriarchal systems and anyone who manages to step out, is considered mad. For example, in the traditional society, any woman who does not follow the stereotype pathway for women getting married is considered irrelevant or say mad. Getting married is the traditional gateway to children and doing so out of wedlock is considered a transgression from the norms, getting mad.

In relation to Beloved, the struggle to break away is hard but not dare. In part three, chapter 28 Morrison writes “I’m tired, Paul D. So tired. I have to rest a while.” Now he knows what he is reminded of and he shouts at her, “Don’t you die on me! This is Baby Suggs’ bed! Is that what you planning?” This extract combines both the characters being referenced in this text. While Paul D represents the make gender, Baby Suggs represents the female gender. They are both participating in the struggle against slavery. This extract shows how the fight is difficult but no one can dare give up, better die trying as Baby Suggs did.

From the above extract, Paul D complains of being tired, but he is reminded of the Baby Suggs bed he is sitting on and shouts that she should not die on him. Baby Suggs died while on a mission to inspire people assumedly towards freedom. The fact that Paul D is sitting on Baby Suggs bed could be well taken to mean, the fight away slavery though not yet won, it surely must go on. This is why Paul D does not what “her” to die. He must continue to push on and on until they are free from slavery. Contrary to the fight against the patriarchal system where the way out is creeping into madness, there is light at the end of the slavery tunnel so long as the people remain united and focused.

According to Bennett & Royle (2009, p. 159), sexual differences is represented as an efforts for identity and against marginalization, especially in the political sphere where the female gender has been sidelined for long. In addition, the assertion of having identity and marginalization simply mean there is marginalization and biasness base on gender. The effort to have members of the female gender in the political sphere is not because they really need to be there, but because they seek to do away with marginalization. To achieve this, they use the very marginalizing structures they seek to fight to get to power. As a result, they lack a foundation to achieve what they claim to.

Baby Suggs seeks to inspire the people both emotionally and inspirationally. This is a clear depiction of the state in which the people are in. the setting of the context is in the post civil war America and the black man was being used as the source of labor by the whites.

Sexual difference is used to represent the gender as unfocused and somehow disoriented. As the authors put it (159), “…involves not only difference between but difference within”. Sexual differences especially the female gender is presented as disorganized and “double”, it is therefore easy to lose focus due to the doubling natures. In Morrison’s work, dualism is shown by presenting some characters in person and in ghosts. The character Baby Suggs is introduced into the play as an old grandmother and she soon dies. It is only her memory that lingers on through the rest of the play after her death.

In conclusion, Bennett & Royle’s work and Morrison’s work have made representation on sexual difference/gender. Some of the representations in Bennett & Royle are complete contradictions to the gender representation in Morrison while others are similar. The representations are mainly on the female gender and they revolve around emancipation of the female gender.


Works cited

Bennett, A. & Royle, N. An Introduction to Literature Criticism and Theory (4th Ed), Pearson Education Limited. 16 July 2009. Print

Morrison, T. Beloved, New York, Penguin USA (Plume), 1987. Print.

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