Otherness : defining the African American male and female and analyzing the relationship between public racism and strained private lives in Toni Morrison's novels Sula and Home.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Master of Letters


This thesis will focus on Sula (1973) and Home (2012). I chose these two novels because they allow the reader to analyze both gender perspectives as well as explore various time periods in American history. Sula is set mostly in the 1920s and 1930s, referencing the Post World War I era. Home is set in the 1950s and follows the life of a Korean War veteran. Both novels are therefore set during difficult times, times where communities are attempting to heal after trauma and loss of life. However, Morrison emphasizes that violence is not only present on battlefields, but on street corners, on trains, in backyards and in homes. There are no designated areas of violence or guaranteed areas of safety. This is especially true for the African American community. The word community" itself is tarnished since the African American community in these novels is hanging by a thin thread, desperate to stay intact but struggling in the face of certain violence and their uncertain future. As the white community's racism turns into violent actions, the black community loses control of their own personal relationships. Families are affected and struggle to simply survive. It is not only these personal relationships that are questioned but the concept of gender identity as well since the African American male and the African American female cannot be easily compared to their white counterparts. They face a whole other set of challenges that affects both how society views them and how they view themselves. ... The second chapter will focus on defining the African American female identity in Sula. I will discuss how such definitions are heavily based on community standards, complicating the manner in which these women view themselves. I will also comment on how these characters view their communities and society as a whole. Similar themes will be explored in the third chapter; this chapter will define the African American male identity in Home. This chapter will also analyze the role mental illness and racial violence plays in the African American community. I will attempt to break down the barriers these characters put up as a defense mechanism, noting their thoughts, emotions, and explaining why they act the way they act. Each character is complex and heartbroken. Their emotional strife, failed relationships, and lack of self-assurance in some way always links back to how society views and treats their race"-- Excerpted from introduction.