The White Gaze in Toni Morrison’s Beloved 12th Grade

Toni Morrison decided that if she were to write stories with white characters, as she had been asked to, she would not give their perspective any dominance or privilege over that of the black characters. The voices of white characters have outnumbered and spoken over those of black characters in Western literature for centuries. As an African American author, Morrison faced criticisms that came from the judgement of the white gaze. She responded to them with Beloved, her book that paints a picture of the white gaze in a way that reflects the way she had experienced it herself. A reporter asked Morrison if she would ever write something “not about race.” Translating this to “Are you ever going to write about white people?”, Morrison felt insulted that people interpreted the lack of white characters in her writing as something missing from the story, as if stories of black experience were not significant or interesting enough to stand alone. She said it was “as though [black] lives have no meaning, and no depth, without the white gaze.” To illustrate the dehumanizing effects of the white gaze, Morrison creates vivid scenes in which the reader has to confront the form it took in the 1870s.

Morrison’s Beloved challenges that...

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