Inscribing Beloved: The Importance of Writing in Morrison's Novel

In an essay entitled "Writing, Race, and the Difference it Makes," Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discusses the way in which over the course of history, a binary has existed between whiteness and writing, blackness and silence. Summarizing this tradition, he writes, "Human beings wrote books. Beautiful books were reflections of sublime genius. Sublime genius was the province of the European...Blacks, and other people of color, could not 'write'" (56). Attacking a tradition of European writers including Kant, Hegel, and Bacon, Gates outlines the way in which whites asserted their superiority through writing, and maintained that superiority through the suppression of black voices or "pens." For example, a 1740 South Carolina Statute made black literary mastery unlawful, thereby preventing blacks from developing the tools to break out of the inherent hierarchy (58).

In the final pages of Toni Morrison's Beloved, when Sethe pleads, "I made the ink, Paul D. He couldn't have done it if I hadn't made the ink" (271) she alludes to a larger theme of the novel, and one with which Gates is extremely concerned - the relationship of writing to the institution of slavery. The ink to which...

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