Transforming Melancholia: Depression and Female Coping in Morrison's Beloved, Jones' Corregidora, and Walker's The Color Purple
Within works of contemporary African American literature, topics such as psychic dysfunction and transgenerational trauma play a critical role. This is especially true in pieces of women-authored African American fiction that center female characters. While this literature offers complex narratives, mainstream literary scholarship has yet to examine these themes at length. The research that does exist tends to overlook the multifaceted psyches that female African American characters embody.
Drawing upon Psychoanalytic literary theory, this project centers Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Gayl Jones’ Corregidora. I examine how Denver, a main character in Beloved, and Ursa, the protagonist in Corregidora, embody symptoms of chronic depression and develop coping mechanisms throughout their narratives. I argue that these texts are significant in their unique portrayals of African American daughters who suffer from trauma passed down through their matrilineal ancestries. Each character’s depression manifests differently. A socially isolated Denver develops a complicated relationship with mothering, at times adopting the role of mother and later yearning for maternal nurturing. Meanwhile, Ursa seeks out creative expression—Blues singing—as a means to release the painful history her family has preserved orally for generations. In analyzing these characters, I seek to establish an in-depth understanding of how Morrison and Jones depict realistic aspects of psychic oppression that impact African American women. Additionally, I also engage questions of reproduction and memory, investigating how these concepts emerge in both works and what they signify in the larger context of daughters learning to survive deeply-rooted familial trauma.