Sacred Spaces: Feminist Revisions in Toni Morrison’s Paradise

By Mandolin Brassaw.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In Paradise, Toni Morrison undertakes a full-scale revision of normative Christian theology through the inclusion and integration of gnostic scripture. Paradise depicts the all-black town, Ruby, whose citizens are proud, confident, and self-sufficient, traits they equate with racial purity. They are a community of African Americans isolated from the white world, but purity and isolation become the justification for the violence they enact on five women living in a nearby “Convent.” Through her depiction of Ruby and its men, Morrison challenges separatist ideologies that romanticize communities based on isolation and exclusion, even when that isolation is a response to racial violence. The gnostic scripture Morrison posits as an alternative emphasizes diversity over exclusion; the novel argues that violent history perpetuates itself without the revision of limiting and destructive myths and cultural practices that motivate it. I will argue that Morrison rewrites the gnostic poem, “Thunder, Perfect Mind,” as an alternative to normative, patriarchal Christian theology in the novel. All the Convent inhabitants are women; this aligns them with the feminine, divine speaker of “Thunder, Perfect Mind,” a character who possesses an important insight concerning the relationship of the soul to the world around it. This alignment rewrites women as spiritual leaders, and it revises the concept of the divine to include feminine characteristics. Ultimately, Morrison has revised biblical scripture (and particularly the concept of a “paradise” based on exclusion) as a way to criticize American history and rewritten non-biblical sources to envision a future in which patriarchy, racism, and colonialism are eradicated through the revival of suppressed cultural myths. Relying upon the authority of this gnostic text, Morrison labors to create new myths that could provide the foundation for social change.

Keywords: Feminist Revisions, Gnosticism, African American Literature, Toni Morrison

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 12, pp.15-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 500.936KB).

Mandolin Brassaw

University of Oregon, USA


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