When Morrison describes her attempt to express black feminine subjectivity in The Bluest Eye, she claims that, “the problem, of course, was language”(211). According to Morrison, “ ‘civilized' languages debase humans”(Afterward, 216). Pauline, Pecola's mother, finds herself “oppressed by words”(112). How could Morrison express her characters' subjectivity using a language that inherently “debases” and “oppresses” it? What happens to Pecola is literally unspeakable, and Nel and Sula share a bond that is in many ways beyond language. To give voice to Pecola and Sula's silences, language itself would have to be subverted and rewritten. Morrison reinvents language, filling her story with a language of laughter, belches, and cries in which female characters strain against the bonds of masculine language to represent their own subjectivity. To explain the revolutionary mode that Morrison employs, it is useful to turn to the French feminists.According to Lacan, we form our identities through “alienation and subjection to paternal law”(Taylor). When we realize that our “selves” are distinct from the world (and this is achieved primarily through the recognition of sexual difference from the mother) language forms as a way to communicate with that distinct world, to fill the gap of meaning (Kristeva). The semiotic stage, in which there “are no distinctions”, is supplanted by a symbolic system that creates meaning through a self-other dichotomy. But what about a women, whose sexual difference from her mother, is not distinct? Lacan posits that language is inherently masculine because it is symbolic. Men submit to a “law of the father”, which is essentially a law of alienation and symbolism.
[...] In a world where everything is categorized in terms of opposites, top or bottom, rich or poor, white or black, Nel lets out a cry that no bottom and had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow”(174). The semiotic connection between Nel and Sula, and its subsequent rupture, is thus finally expressed in a moment that transcends language. Morrison asserts time and time again that white male discourse is inherently unsuited to portraying black female subjectivity. In fact, oppressive discourse can infect and rupture female subjectivity, as in Pecola's case. [...]
[...] Kristevan imagery celebrates the imaginary, pre-symbolic realm (Kristeva), so it's no surprise Nel and Sula are linked on a subconscious level: was in dreams that the two girls first met”(51). They both long for a fellow dreamer, someone with which to “share the delight of the dream”. Deeper than their individual egos is a semiotic consciousness that recognizes itself in another. Because this unity is deeper than language, it is characterized by a series of silences. In the passage that precedes the incident of Chicken Little, Nel and Sula dig a hole. [...]
[...] Truth seems to lie not only in what words say, but how they say it, as Claudia and Frieda listen for “truth in timbre”(15). Language can also be physical, “like a wicked dance”(15) of women talking, or abrasive, when Claudia's mother chastises her: “words chafe my cheeks”. Language can be colorful, as Mr. Henry's hopeful language appears to Claudia as “light-green words” which restore color to the day”(75). Words can also have flavor, as in Poland's “sweet strawberry voice”(58). Morrison reifies words so that their sound, texture and flavor is significant, independent from its symbolic meaning. [...]
[...] Morrison literally shapes silence in The Bluest Eye and Sula, reinventing language to portray feminine subjectivity. The first section in which Morrison asks us to rethink language is in the that begins The Bluest Eye. The first section, although the most conventional, feels strangely eerie and fragmented. The subjects, such as Jane and Daddy exist separately, like the “separate cells of consciousness” in which Pecola's family exists. This lacanian alienation is what Morrison refers to as the “barren white-family primer” which “does not in its present form handle effectively the silence at its center”(215). [...]
[...] When she sees Cholly for the first time, It was like all the bits of color from that time down home when all us chil'ren went berry picking after a funeral and I put some in the pocket of my Sunday dress, and they mashed up and stained my hips I could feel that purple deep inside me. And that lemonade mama used to make when Pap come in out the field. It be cool and yellowish, with seeds floating near the bottom. [...]
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