Historian Reviews Slave Novel
Welleseley Prof's Speech Opens Women's History Week
Books such as Toni Morrison's novel Beloved can be valuable resources in studying the emotional ordeals of slave women, a Wellesley history professor told about 100 people at the opening speech last night for Women's History Week.
In a speech entitled "History and Rememory: An Historian Looks At Toni Morrison's Beloved," Professor Jacqueline Jones said it is normally difficult for historians to speculate about the lives of slave women because primary sources written by whites or escaped slaves are unemotional and factual.
But, she said, "Morrison gives us a compelling portrait of one woman and what this grief and what this inner struggle meant for her."
Beloved was chosen as the topic of the first speech as a transition between Black History Month--February--and Women's History Month, Hathaway said.
Beloved--the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a Black slave woman and her child--shows the emotional side of slave women, a subject Jones said many historians are reluctant to investigate. But she added that studying this aspect of slave culture makes it easier to understand the institution of slavery as a whole.
Jones prefaced her speech by praising the growth of women's studies but added that more minority scholars are needed.
The Wellesley professor said the book correctspopular misconceptions about slavery. She saidmany believe slaves had no personalities and were"automatons" for their masters. But, as Morrison'sbook shows, slaves occassionally would refuse tofollow directions and would be violently punishedfor it, Jones said.
She added that slave women placed greatimportance on the well-being of their children.When a woman escaped from bondage, it was not forher own benefit but for the benefit of her child,Jones said.
Morrison's critical portrayal of aschoolteacher in the novel may actually be anattack on scholars who tend to ignore the emotionsof slavery, Jones concluded.
Women's History Week is designed to educatestudents and faculty about the field and toencourage its integration into College curricula,said Heather A. Hathaway, a graduate student whohelped organize the 10-lecture series.
"I am distressed that there is such anindifference within the [history] department aboutwomen's history. I think there's a lack ofcommitment to the field," she said.
Women's History Week is funded by the Women'sStudies and History departments, but otherdepartments are sponsoring events, Hathaway said