SLAVE NARRATIVE RETENTIONS IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN’S WRITINGS ABOUT MADNESS
Jeanne Phoenix Laurel
…[T]he genre of the psychiatric memoir or fictionalized account of madness by women authors bifurcates along lines of race. As I will show by using Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987), Nettie Jones's Fish Tales (1983), and Carolivia Herron's Thereafter Johnnie (1991), the dynamics of the slave narrative influence African-American women's writings about madness. (A similar kind of historical genre influence can be seen in the way slave narrators made use of the conventions of the Christian conversion narrative, the colonial American captivity narrative, and the sentimental romance.) Here, I am interested in the way the narrative voice is able or willing to articulate the speaking subject's relationship to madness, and the influence of the slave narrative in shaping that relationship. Rather than beginning from a state of wellness, descending into behavior and ideation which are abnormal, and then returning to a state of wellness, the narrative voice in these three texts blurs the lines between the mental-emotional states of wellness and madness. … [I]n the works by Morrison, Jones, and Herron, readers are not allowed an orientation to such a set of specific sympathies and interpretations. The narrative voice in these three works cannot or will not delineate the boundaries between "mad" and "sane." As a consequence, the question of fact -- of what really happened -- remains vague and contradictory. Because the facts are indiscernible, it is impossible to make an informed judgment about whether or not the consciousness that provides these facts is, indeed, "mad." As I will show, the disjuncture of facts, coupled with a convoluted, sometimes unchartable cause-and-effect sequence and with often ambiguous characterizations, is not so much a function of the madness within the text as it is of the slave narrative as an informing genre.
Beloved’s “Mad” Narrative Structure...
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