From the Master’s Maternity to Redemptive Nurturing: Liberating Motherhood in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Joanna Levin, Ph.D., Chair
Justine Van Meter, Ph.D.
Lynda Hall, Ph.D.
Science fiction author N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (2015, 2016, 2017), set in a distant future on an unrecognizable Earth, may seem worlds away from Toni Morrison’s seminal historical novel Beloved (1987), set in 1870s Ohio, but at its core the trilogy furthers an examination that Morrison began years before Jemisin began writing. Both authors situate their protagonists at the intersection of motherhood and slavery, asking what it means to mother under oppression and how we might liberate women from the racist patriarchy’s brutal rules of maternity. In this paper, I study feminist icon Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House” (1979) to develop two theoretical models of motherhood: the violently oppressive “master’s maternity” and the liberating, revolutionary “redemptive nurturing” model. I then trace Morrison’s protagonist Sethe and Jemisin’s protagonist Essun in their attempts to shake off the master’s maternity and embrace redemptive nurturing, ultimately arguing that, without Lorde’s key tool of interdependence, only one mother can fully assume the liberated role of redemptive nurturer. Ultimately, I find that, regardless of their protagonist’s status as nurturer, Morrison and Jemisin both suggest that whatever process dismantling the master’s house requires, its completion will be signified by a recasting of the concept of motherhood as one untethered to the mother’s physical body and based instead on the nurturer’s capacity to foster selfhood, community, and a continuous process of liberation.
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Stillman, Isabelle. From the Master’s Maternity to Redemptive Nurturing: Liberating Motherhood in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. 2023. Chapman University, MA Thesis. Chapman University Digital Commons, https://doi.org/10.36837/chapman.000487
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