Restoring humanity to the slave: identity, masculinity and family in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Edward P. Jones’s The Known World

Famurewa, Ayobami Omobolanle (2014)



The study examined ways in which actual historical accounts were reconstructed in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. It discussed the distinctive ways in which the questions of masculinity, identity and family became important elements in the humanisation of slaves in the texts. The study carried out a comparative analysis of the treatment of masculinity, identity and family in both texts and situated the findings within the larger context of African American literary discourse on slavery. This was done with a view to exploring how Morrison and Jones used negative portrayals to assert the humanity of slaves. Both primary and secondary sources of data collection were used for the study. The primary source comprised Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. These two texts were used due to their peculiar reconstructions of slavery. A close reading of the selected novels was carried out to identify their peculiar artistic and thematic concerns. The second source included books, journal articles and the Internet. Data were analysed using postmodern theory. The results showed that in their exploration of the politics of representation in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, several literary critics devoted their attention to the positive portrayals of slaves to show how the two writers employed artistic strategies in the restoration of humanity to the slave. It found out that negative portrayals were often ignored or labelled as detrimental to the discourse of racial validation as it pertained to questions of identity, masculinity, and family. It further demonstrated that Morrison and Jones emphasise the humanity of slaves by making issues of identity, masculinity and family central to their narratives. This was done by demonstrating both the positive and negative aspects of the slaves’ character within the text. The study concluded that Morrison’s Beloved and Jones’ The Known World demonstrated that the evolution of the slaves’ identity and the process of individuation were closely tied to an attempt to reclaim, at the very least within the realms of imagination, their humanity even while they recognised the influence of social context on what was perceived to be human. Name of Supervisor: Dr. I. C. Anyadike Number of Pages: 121