Fatherhood and the Literary Imagination: Toni Morrison’s Portraits of the Emasculated and Commodified Fathers in “The Bluest Eye and Beloved”

Clara Osuji

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As the subject of fatherhood continues to receive scholarly attention in the twenty-first century, evidenced by the mounting weight of academic discourse on the subject; it also becomes more appealing to contemplate how literature contributes to the discourse of the father through the genre of the novel. Terry Eagleton succinctly observes that all literary texts contain one or more sub-texts, and that there is a sense in which they may be spoken of as the “unconscious” of the work itself (155). By examining the emasculated father (due to racism) and his complement, the commodified father (as a result of slavery) in the selected narratives, Morrison’s imaginative vision of the enfeebled father is brought to the fore. Although Beloved and The Bluest Eye have been examined mostly as Sethe’s and Pecola’s stories respectively, they are read here as sub-texts of fatherhood. Therefore, by exploring the key father characters in these texts and employing Carl Jung’s psychoanalytical concept of Individuation and R.W Connell’s Marginalised masculinity as analytical tools, the paper delves into some of the challenges that confront father characters and how they respond to these challenges which, ultimately, engender their statuses as emasculated and commodified fathers. This paper thus, examines the resultant ruptures in the psyches of the father characters which may have triggered the crisis that precludes their uncomplicated transition from boys and men to husbands and fathers. The paper concludes that the characters’ failure to achieve individuation is significantly implicated in their status as enfeebled fathers in the two narratives. 

Keywords: fatherhood, emasculated, commodified, masculinity, wellbeing


The enfeebling effects of the legacy of racism and slavery on the identity and image of the African-American father and the implication on his fatherhood underscores Toni Morrison’s artistic vision of fatherhood in The Bluest Eye and Beloved. Although Morrison generally resists feminist branding, her literary imagination of fatherhood is deeply steeped in gender ideals that often tilt towards empowering her female characters and disempowering her males. Thus, most critical opinions on these novels arefeminist readings that often demonise, ignore or pay scanty attention to the father characters. The respective readings of Beloved by Rose Lucas (39), Doreen Fowler (9) and Heller (116) indicate as much. For instance, their silences or near-silences on Halle (the main father character in Beloved) are clear signals of the extent to which his fatherhood status and roles have not only been overlooked and marginalised, but also symbolically erased. In this context, unlike his spouse who remains strong and enduring, Halle the father, becomes invisible; a mere male slave figure in motion – wandering both psychologically and physically, which is also suggestive of Morrison’s anti-male sentiments.

It is, perhaps in recognition of this commonly perceived feminist predisposition in Morrison’s writings that Nancy Kang notes that “the discourse of masculinity [in Morrison works] is often overshadowed by a stronger female presence and by extension, essence” (837). Katrin Rindchen also appears to acknowledge the general mould of strong female versus weak male character representations in Morrison’s novels when she lucidly remarks:

                     By and large, Toni  Morrison  embeds  numerous weak  male characters

                    in  her novel and  opposes  them  to  the  powerful  and  self-determined

                    female  characters.  This   contrast  is  most  evidently  indicated   by the

                    male slave community in Sweet Home and their failing to escape, while

                    Sethe leads a self-determined life in the wake of her enslavement. (15)

Consequently, The Bluest Eye and Beloved have been generally analysed through themes of male oppression, which are mostly chronicled through the experiences of their female protagonists, Pecola and Sethe (Rahmani 62, Madden 587, Ahlawat 57). However, in this paper, the two novels are examined through their key father characters, and therefore, read as sub-texts of fatherhood. Interestingly, Morrison depicts variations of men’s portraits as enfeebled fathers which are evidently discernible in the two texts. As a result, she opens a window through which the reader re-examines and appreciates how Cholly and Halle perform their roles under different challenging circumstances.

Fatherhood is commonly perceived as a status which connotes power and privileges; hence, it is incompatible with slavery or any form of subjectivity. But Morrison’s fathers, typified by Cholly and Halle, become reversals of the archetypal man of unrestricted power and privileges. In this manner, the author provides insights into the socio-economic, environmental and personality constraints which inhibit their role performances as fathers and, ultimately, categorise them as emasculated and commodified fathers. Mathew Salafia perceives the word ‘emasculation’ as a metaphor which signifies “any practice that diminishes the potency of men in the family or in the society more generally; to deprive of masculine vigour or strength; to weaken; to make effeminate” (311). Similarly, the term ‘emasculated’, as employed in this paper, refers to loss of male role, identity or qualities. On the other hand, Manuel Velasque explains that “commodification is the social process of rendering something capable of being bought or sold in the market” (335). Thus, the derivative term, “commodified,” as utilised in this essay, relates to the idea of making something into a commodity, often times, at the expense of its innate value. By exploring the key father-characters in these texts, deploying the relevant psychoanalytical and masculinity concepts of “individuation” and “marginalised masculinity” as analytical tools, a deeper insight is gained into some of the challenges that confront them and how they respond to these challenges which engender their enfeebled-fatherhood statuses.

Portraits of the Emasculated and Commodified Fathers in The Bluest Eye and Beloved

Morrison’s portraiture of Halle and Cholly as men who are ravaged by the legacy of slavery and racism in Beloved and The Bluest Eye still convey the experiences of fathers in disparate settings across diverse regions and geographical boundaries. Her interest in history enables her to excavate the past and bring its facts to the present. Thus, she lays bare the overarching ills of slavery and racism while attempting to reverse patriarchy, as it were, by her constructions of strong female characters such as Sethe in Beloved (1987), Pilate in Song of Solomon (1977),and Sorrow in A Mercy (2008). In this manner, she recreates male characters such as Cholly and Halle whose roles, conduct and statuses are dictated by the prevailing order of racial discriminations and slavery at different times in nineteenth-century Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky and Lorain in Ohio.

Fatherhood revolves around roles. Roles are tied to statuses which, in turn, are tied to performances. What, then, is the real worth and status of Cholly and Halle as fathers in slavery and under racism? How does the emasculated or commodified father claim and preserve his fatherhood within the economies of racism and slavery? The two novels elicit some germane questions on the position or ranking of men who are immobilised by the enfeebling circumstances of slavery and racism: Are males of this strain capable of being husbands and fathers? Can they be categorised as real men? In fact, are they truly men? Technically, yes, they are men and can be husbands as well as fathers.  But functionally, No. They are rendered derelict by the reason of their statuses and social milieus as victims of subjugation and thus, marginalised. In her ground-breaking work, Masculinities, Raewyn Connell puts forward the idea of multiple masculinities and explains that marginalised masculinity is realised when gender comes into contact with other structures such as class and race (64). In the light of this explanation, Cholly and Halle’s masculinity is marginalised by the existing structures of racism and slavery in their individual environments.

Accordingly, a father character such as Halle, in The Bluest Eye, is perceived by his white owner as a man who is wedged between a strange label of a “boy-father” which may be described as infantile masculinity and, therefore, weighs very little or nothing on the scale of conventional manhood in Kentucky. Morrison’s texts, ultimately, become established as readings of paternal subjectivity, powerlessness, depravity, degradation and absence. Her father characters, exemplified by Halle and Cholly, become “un-well men” who have been traumatised and wrecked by the exertion of slavery and discriminations. A comparative and contrastive examination of Halle and Cholly’s individual lived-experiences as fathers facilitates a better appreciation of their fatherhood conduct and limitations. Thus, to begin with, the portrait of Cholly as a father enfeebled as a result of racism with its attendant lack, and sense of hopelessness is explored in The Bluest Eye.

Disadvantaged from birth, Cholly Breedlove is not new to the experiences of emasculation as a husband and father. The reader gets to know that before his emasculated fatherhood status, he has been emasculated at birth by parental abandonment. As a young boy, he is further emasculated by the action of the unnamed two white men who humiliate him on his first sexual encounter with Darlene, a girl he meets during his aunt’s funeral. The two white men with guns and flashlights force Cholly to continue with the sex act for their amusement. Soon after this incident which leaves him bewildered, broken and psychologically wounded, he becomes more determined to find and, perhaps, bond with the father who had rejected him even before he was born. In the later chapter of the novel, the narrator makes clear what appears to be a synopsis of the genesis of Cholly’s own problematic fatherhood. She writes:

                      Having   no  idea  of  how  to  raise  children,  and  having  never  watched any  parent  raise  himself,  he  could  not  even  comprehend  what  such  a relationship should  be. […] had he not been alone in the world since he was thirteen, knowing only a dying old woman who felt responsible for him, but whose age, sex, and interests were so remote from him, he might have felt a stable connection between himself and the children. As it was, he reacted to them, and his reactions were based on what he felt at the moment. (160-161)

Cholly appears to have been conditioned from birth to live a reactionary life – not only in his relationship with his wife and children as mirrored in the excerpt above but, also in his relationship with the wider racial world of Lorain. Morrison gives the reason for his reactionary lifestyle as his lack of a father who would have duly socialised him into the workings of what it means to be a male and a father. When his biological father (Samson Fuller) coldly rejects him a second time after he tracks him at Macon, Georgia; Cholly descends into deep crisis. He continues to wander aimlessly until he meets and marries Pauline Williams. He remains unsettled even after being a father and would subsequently turn to rage, alcohol and violence. He becomes the father of two children who are unable to develop any positive or wholesome racial consciousness that would counteract the degrading influence of the dominant white society. Thus, unlike Mr. Mac Teer, who holds his family together and protects his children in the discriminative world of Lorain, Cholly is incapable of steering a family whose members imbibe a culture of confidence in who they are, and what they look like, because they are driven by the belief that they are “relentlessly and aggressively ugly” (38). The author keenly allows the reader take a glimpse into the damaging mindset of this family headed by Cholly, which spurs their unfounded unique sense of ugliness:

               You  looked  at  them  and  wondered  why  they  were  so ugly; you looked closely and could  not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction,  their conviction.  It was as though some mysterious and all- knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted  without  question. (40)

How does a man who received no love or affection from his parents be emotionally expressive and protective of his own children? “Many of a man’s urges to bear and nurture babies,” Richard Spooner insists, “reflect his desire to draw from his past experience, especially the relationship he had with his own father” (1775). Unfortunately, Cholly did not receive any form of love or affection from his parents and, therefore, has no such past father-child experience to draw from. As a victim of parental rejection, Cholly has no idea of how to relate effectively with his wife and children, or even what it means to be a man, a good father and a decent husband. Consequently, he is clueless on the roles expected of him in these areas. He feels awkward in his home since he had never experienced what a family unit with two parents and children feels like, so, in his new statuses as a husband and a father, he feels caged in. For this reason, essentially, he attempts to cover up his sense of inadequacy and awkwardness by a flagrant display of the same reckless freedom.

Jung’s psychoanalytic concept of “individuation,” is related to those of the “Shadow” and “Persona.” Jung explains that “individuation” refers to the process by which a person becomes a psychological “individual,” that is, a separate, indivisible unity or “whole” (275).  Michael Atkinson clarifies that the shadow is a figure that embodies the negative aspects of one’s personality, and maintains that the “negativity” provides the reason the shadow is repressed (85). Cholly, like Halle, appears mortified by his enfeebled status; and as a result, refuses to incorporate the unattractive and negative identity of a “hopeless indigent black” into his conscious personality. The implication is that he fails to achieve individuation, hence, must constantly ward off his shadow (undesirable characteristic/realities). The shadow represents his unwanted self which persistently interferes with the market-image (the persona) he projects to the world around him which he must suppress. Masked pains have their attendant psychological crisis and excessive censorship sets in motion inner conflicts. Along this line, Cholly and Halle also compromise their health and wellbeing.

Halle wears the mask (persona) of an unbreakable man in order to hide his vulnerability and powerlessness as a mere commodity owned by Mr. Garner. On the other hand, Cholly feels compelled to hide his frustrations occasioned by racial discriminations behind rage, violence and alcohol. Consequently, their troubled fatherhood dispositions can also be chiefly read as their inability to attain individuation – a refusal to accept and deal constructively with the fact of their enfeeblements. For Mr. Garner, Halle is a slave foremost; his fatherhood does not count, and as a matter of fact, he is merely allowed to procreate for the sole reason of profit. Conversely, for the racial world of Loraine, Cholly is just an ill-mannered black brute. Unfortunately, both characters choose to conform to racial and class stereotypes instead of confronting their tribulations by tackling the challenges they face and charting alternative courses in order to be better men, husbands and fathers.

Consequently, as the Breedlove’s racial environment with its attendant oppression continues to deny them of opportunities which are easily available to others, Cholly’s masculinity is grossly marginalised. He becomes exasperated by his inability to provide for his family, therefore, loses interest in things generally and just wants to be left alone. In the third chapter of the novel, the complete members of the Breedlove family – Cholly, Pauline, Pecola and Sammy are introduced to the reader in their abandoned-store home on the southeast corner of Broadway and Thirty-fifth Street in Lorain, Ohio. It is early on a very cold morning, Pauline is already in a fighting mood and reports to her husband that there is no coal in the house. Cholly had come back home last night too drunk to quarrel, so the fight is postponed to the next day when Pauline “came swiftly into the room and stood at the foot of the bed where Cholly lay. ‘I need some coal in this house.’ Cholly did not move. ‘Hear me?’  Mrs.  Breedlove jabbed Cholly’s foot. Cholly opened his eyes slowly. They were red and menacing” (39).

The smell of Cholly’s whisky and the early morning fights which typically ensue from their usual verbal engagements often leave their daughter (Pecola) revolted, nauseous and breathless in her bed. Their son, Sammy, reacts to the quarrels by cursing or at times joining the mother to fight his father and wishing his mother would kill Cholly. In the course of the verbal exchanges which precede the current fight, Pauline tells Cholly to his face that he is not useful to the family, “You sure ain’t bringing in nothing. If it was left up to you, we’d all be dead…” (41). It is at Pauline’s mention of Cholly’s impotence (emasculation) in relation to his provider-role that, in spite of his drunken state, a bubble of violence surges in his throat before the brewing combat finally erupts between them.

The reader also gets to see another side of Cholly’s destructive nature when he had earlier burnt his family house and as a result of this criminal act, “put[s] his family outdoors” (18) so that his wife and children had to be urgently distributed to different homes by the county. The narrator explains the difference between being put out and being put outdoors by clarifying that “if you are put out, you go somewhere else; if you are outdoors, there is no place to go” (17). In his neighbourhood where the average black family scraps and saves in the hope of buying a little property for themselves and moving out of their rented apartments, Cholly’s neighbours fail to fathom his irrationality. Accordingly, their judgement on him is ruthless. The narrator echoes what seems to be the general opinion of Cholly in his neighbourhood:

                 Cholly Breedlove, then, a renting black, having put his family outdoors, had catapulted  himself  beyond the reaches of human consideration. He had   joined the animals; was, indeed, an old dog, a snake, a ratty nigger.

                Mrs.  Breedlove was staying with the woman she worked for; the boy Sammy, was with some family; and Pecola was to stay with us. Cholly was in jail. (18) 

What informs the tragedy that Cholly’s life eventually becomes is a complex blend of the ugly events which culminate to shape his conduct, perception and reaction to the world in which he finds himself. Gena Elise Chandler explains that the complexity of Cholly’s character does not stop with just one violent act (the rape of Pecola). Cholly’s adult behaviour, like  that  of  all  of  the novel’s  characters,  Chandler insists, has  roots  in  a  painful  childhood, thus, the powerlessness that he experienced as a child does not go away. She further explains that while Cholly is able to overpower his wife and his child physically, he still cannot overcome the white world and their perception of him as an ignorant, black brute.  As a result, his helplessness in the white world manifests in violence at home (73). No matter the degree of helplessness promoted by Chandler as an explanation to Cholly’s conduct, the society expects a certain level of decency and role performance from its members as men and fathers.

Although Halle fails to protect himself from the negative psychological effects of slavery by loving his family “too much” which is against the code of slavery, his error happens to be on the side of virtue, and therefore, might be overlooked and forgiven. However, Cholly appears revoltingly deficient in respect of some basic expectations like avoiding what is morally wrong and making rigorous efforts in the marketplace in order to perform the provider-role. Having failed in these crucial areas of societal demands and expectations, there appears to be no redemption for Cholly, either as a man in his community or as a father and a husband in his private domain. In his elected state of nonconforming disinterestedness, he becomes free to ignore or yield to any socio-familial demands and obligations. David Popnoe asserts that fathers simply choose to relinquish the responsibilities of fatherhood (14), truly, Popnoe’s assertion has Cholly right on the spot – he makes a choice to be reckless. This recklessness is evident in his plunge into an alcohol induced delirium, ensuing in the rape of his 11 year – old daughter, Pecola.

Ultimately, Cholly as a man and a father turns out to be an individual who has a complicated label, and his little girl, Pecola, becomes the unfortunate expectant infant-mother who is saddled with the weight of the outcome of incestuous rape. Aristotle examines the ends to which human conduct should be appropriately directed in his epistemology, based on what appears to be a careful observation of life and a genuine understanding of human nature. He rightly concludes that there is such a thing as injustice towards oneself (202). By defiling his progeny, Cholly’s actions amount to some sort of “self-wounding,” thus, an injustice towards himself. Also, his violence against his daughter seems to validate Popnoe’s avowal that men’s sexual behaviour can be promiscuous if “left culturally unregulated” (14). But the twist in Cholly’s case is that he acts with the consciousness that what he is about to indulge in is “a wild and forbidden thing” (162), yet he refuses to be restrained by that consciousness. For this reason, he is condemned, scorned and shunned by the society; Cholly flees this familiar and condemnatory environment for the workstation.

Conversely, in the slave narrative, Beloved, Halle is introduced as the last and, probably, the only surviving child of Baby Suggs, a slave woman in a Kentuckian plantation called Sweet Home. He is born in slavery and eventually raises his own family in the plantation. Remarkably, the character of Halle is another male depiction which contributes to the popular notion that Morrison generally creates strong female characters such as Sethe (whom she gives a masculine name derived from the biblical Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve), at the expense of her disempowered male characters who are often models of failure.  The character of Halle (a widely used female name), for instance, personifies the marginalised image of the slave father who is denied of any form of hegemony; hence he becomes incapable of exercising any form of self-determination.

Halle is indulged by the slave master to have a spouse, Sethe, and subsequently becomes the biological father to his four children (Howard, Buglar, Beloved and Denver). While Halle is recognised as the husband of Sethe and the father of his children; in the Sweet Home plantation, he is primarily, Mr. James Garner’s property. Thus, Sethe is deeply embittered when Halle fails to show up for their planned escape to freedom – an escape attempt they had arduously spent time planning. But, does a slave father own his time? Of course, he does not! Halle’s time is the exclusive preserve of his white master, Mr. Garner, who dictates and orders how it must be spent daily. Surprisingly, Sethe is enraged when she learns from Paul D. that Halle had witnessed her molestation and failed to protect her. Although the penalty for any form of slave-master confrontation during such incidents would have meant certain death for the slave. Sethe’s attitude speaks to internalised socio-familial expectations from husbands and fathers. As a consequence of these expectations, instead of empathising with her husband, she blames him for his powerlessness and subsequent inability to protect his “family.”  Again, what Sethe fails to grasp fully is the fact that what she perceives as the “Halle family” in Sweet Home plantation does not exist independently outside the holding of the white master. Halle’s “family,” is not only legally an extension of Mr. Garner’s family and household, but also rightly belongs to him.

Although Halle is allowed to have an unendorsed marital relationship, it is only tolerated because of the possible increase to the white owner’s slave holdings. He is a mere slave, and like other male slaves, he is stripped of all vestiges of masculine self-esteem. Hence, he is not permitted to accumulate property or personal belongings – he exists as a property himself. Remarkably, Halle is marginalised and disadvantaged by both class and race; thus, denied of any form of hegemony either as a father, husband or just as a man. While he may have fathered children, does his fatherhood prove his manhood? Is the slave – father a man? Are the children he has begotten really his? Is he, even, regarded as a real human being? Is he entitled to a name? Not only can the slave father not marry legally, he does not have a valid name. For instance, unlike their master whose name is James Garner, the Sweet Home slaves settle with what Hortense Spillers refers to as “dehumanized naming” (69) such as commoditised alphabetical identification or markers of Paul A., Paul F., Paul D., Sixo and Halle. Among all the slaves, Halle is the only one with a semblance of a normal name, even at that, his name is incomplete. Beyond this, dehumanising communication were also part of what slaves generally must contend with. Such use of language is evident in the text where Mr. Garner commodifies Baby Suggs by unflinchingly making reference to what he indicates as the different name on her initial “bill of sales” and “sales ticket” (142) from Carolina.  Also, Paul D. is traumatised when, for the first time, he learns his price in dollar (the amount he was purchased) from the casual conversations between schoolteacher and an unnamed white man.

Mr. Garner refers to his slaves as “men,” not “boys,” and occasionally quarrels with his fellow slave owners who take exception to his stand on the idea of addressing slaves as men. This also provides a mask of a special slave for Halle and the rest of Sweet Home men. However, they fail to recognise that Mr. Garner is merely adding value to his “commodity” by differentiating his slave from slaves in other plantations. This, he does by allowing his slaves to carry guns, engage in marital unions among themselves at their own will and seemingly treats them nicely. He would usually boast, to the consternation of his slave – holding colleagues about how special his slaves are. For Garner, a real Kentuckian is defined as “one tough enough and smart enough to make and call his own niggers men” (11). Thus, in the dialectics of slavery, the CEO of Sweet Home Plantation enterprise is merely perfecting his business strategy for increased bottom line and has no real interest in the welfare of his slaves. Therefore, whatever he appears to do in favour of his slaves is just to increase their market value as commodities and not necessarily out of human consideration or kindness. This is why a slave – father such as Halle can be casually, but, legally rented out to balance Mr. Garner’s debt or other personal obligations as he deems necessary. Through one of Baby Suggs’s (Halle’s mother) monologues, it becomes obvious that right from her first day at the Garners, she sees through their smokescreen:

                The  Garners, it seemed, ran a special kind of slavery, treating them like paid  labour, listening  to what they said, teaching them what they wanted to know. And he didn’t stud his boys. Never brought them to her cabin to “lay down with her,” like they did in Carolina, or  rented  their  sex  out  to other farms. It surprised and pleased her, but worried her too. (140)

Baby Suggs’ sense of ambivalence in the excerpt above belies her anxieties which stem from her lack of faith in the supposed kind gestures of Mr. Garner to his slaves as genuine. Although, the slave master “didn’t stud his boys,” (140) but the Kentucky community of farmers have expressed their honest opinion – “[a]in’t no nigger men” (10), thus, Baby’s only remaining son, Halle, becomes a commodified father who must work in the plantations from dusk to dawn, even on Sundays. His mother, Baby, is pleased because unlike the other neighbouring slave holders, Mr. Garner appears to treat his slaves more decently. At the same time,  she is worried because she seems to have an intense conviction that his decent treatment of the slaves is only a façade and makes no real difference because they still remain expendable products, albeit, with invisible price tags and bill of sales.

Examining the intersection of masculinities and fatherhood, especially grounded in socio-familial expectations, further helps explicate the predicaments of Morrison’s emasculated fathers. This, undoubtedly, also raises some pertinent questions such as: how do individual fathers who are marginalised by the structures of slavery and racism interact in the two narratives? How do they resist the labelling of irresponsible fathers or weak masculinity? How can they be effective fathers and good husbands? Well, while Cholly redirects his anger and frustrations to his family; Halle on the other hand, maintains the precarious persona of “a man nothing can break” which his frail psychological disposition could barely carry. The implication is that while Halle appears calm on the outside, nonetheless, on the inside he is broken into fragments which he must continue to cover up. Ironically, he sustains the persona of an unbreakable man who “slavery can’t bring down” (220) until he witnesses his wife’s molestation. Craig Garfield et al. assert that becoming a father has an impact on increasing the sense of well-being experienced by men, and they also emphasize that “fatherhood brings with it a sense of contentment, joy, pride and happiness” (4). While this assertion may hold true for male parents, generally, there are other issues men contend with which rob them of the joys and dividends of fatherhood. A good example is the issue of paternal powerlessness, as epitomized by Halle and Cholly. Their experiences as fathers force the reader to re-think the validity of Garfield et al.’s assertion because the sense of joy and fulfilment which they point to, do not in any way, reflect the lived-experiences of these fathers characters.

The label or designation of manhood, husbandhood and fatherhood is contingent upon the benevolence or otherwise of a slave’s white owner who, by implication, defines and constructs slave-fatherhood. Salafia points out that emasculation implies “to deprive of masculine vigour or strength; to weaken; to make effeminate,” (311) – all these apply to Halle’s position as a slave father in Sweet Home. Mr. Garner, unequivocally, displays his superior masculinity by exercising control in his slave enclave.  The subtle manner he marginalises the masculinity of his slaves, legally, leaves no room for any form of resistance because in reality, they are his property. Thus, Halle is just a piece of merchandise; an article of trade as far as Mr. Garner is concerned.  He owns nothing. As a result, his status and role as a husband and a father mean nothing. Also, Halle has no voice – for instance, he witnesses when his pregnant wife, Sethe, is raped and her breast milk stolen by schoolteacher and his nephews in the barn without protesting.  This incident happens right under Halle’s gaze while he is hiding in the loft for their planned escape to freedom later in the evening. He feels too impotent to intervene or defend her from her molesters. This experience becomes a turning point in the rupture of his mind.

In Sweet Home, Halle has a complicated gender status; he is neither a man nor a woman but akin to a boy who will never grow into manhood. Also, the reader gets to know from the narrative that Halle “is more like a brother than a husband to his wife, Sethe” (24), thus, by implication, he is also like a sibling to his children.  His masculinity is awfully marginalised by slavery, thus, he becomes a father who cannot convey his name to his children even though they belong to him biologically. Besides the fact that Halle is denied claiming them as his own, he does not have a name to pass on. He faces loss of manhood and must contend with the helplessness which this loss engenders in silence. Fatherhood, in this instance, becomes mere manual labouring and slave-breeding. Steve Pinkerton argues that what drives an individual mad is the silence that surrounds an unspoken trauma (5). This argument speaks true of Halle’s situation. He has no voice because he is induced to remain silent in the face of degradation. He foists an acceptable persona as a coping mechanism, thus, his trauma unremittingly intensifies and becomes excessive.

The crucial issues that call for considerations with respect to the status of the father characters in the two novels revolve around the following questions: How can a father break free from the stranglehold of servitude and segregation to nurture his children, meet the demands and expectations of providing and protecting his family? How does the father break out of the psychological crippling effects of enfeeblement? Giving that the experiences and responsibilities of fatherhood can be generally overwhelming, and as a result, capable of posing a great source of social, emotional and financial pressures as reflected in these two novels, how does a father in this category effectively succeed in his role as a care-oriented and provider father? Undoubtedly, the odds are toweringly high against Cholly and Halle. For instance, as a commodified (slave) father, relating intimately with one’s children and spouse can be disastrous. Thus, Halle loves his family too much for a slave father and gets hurt psychologically as a result. Conversely, as a husband and a father, Cholly internalises the ills of parental abandonment and racism. He becomes “dangerously free” (159) and gets overwhelmed by the consequential psychological trauma and financial lack.

Halle understands that to be an effective father he must escape from the slave enclave because his psychological well-being increasingly becomes volatile as he absorbs the harsh indignities of slavery. Unfortunately, like his other Sweet Home colleagues such as Sixo, Paul A and Paul F, the quest for freedom compromises not only his health but also his mental well-being and ultimately destroys him. Halle’s inability to protect his pregnant wife from the molestations as a result of his emasculated and commodified status as a slave father becomes the final blow that propels him into insanity. On the other hand, Cholly becomes overwhelmed by his state of reticence and powerlessness, thus, his endurance wanes.  He increasingly gets frustrated as well as abusive and takes to heavy drinking as an escape.  His problems are compounded when he molests his daughter while in a drunken stupor.  Whilst he expects his child and grandchild from his twelve year-old daughter, Pecola, Cholly is stretched beyond his limit of doggedness. To further deal with the negative reality of his insufferable existence as a man, husband and a father (i.e. his shadow, in Jungian terms), he eventually abandons his family. Thus, from the first chapter of the novel, the reader gets a perplexing posthumous account of his contemptible death in the work station. Ultimately, while Halle descends into madness, Cholly’s sense of disempowerment pressurises him to engage his wife in frequent fights until the incestuous rape of his daughter which signifies his final act of insanity.

Chimdi Maduagwu differentiates between incompetent and disempowered masculinities. He explains that incompetence grows from within because it results from the diminishing of masculine qualities and traits, while the sense of disempowerment is external, since it is a direct consequence of unfavourable socio-economic situation (26). Whilst Halle and Cholly are males who are marginalised as a result of slavery and racism, evidently, their fatherhood conduct fit the mould of Maduagwu’s notion of incompetent and disempowered masculinities. Nevertheless, the degree to which each father qualifies for these labels varies. Halle weighs more on the disempowered scale, while Cholly tilts the balance on the incompetent dimension. However, the significant concern here is that both fathers fail to achieve individuation, and hence, lack the necessary competence to cope realistically with their disempowered statuses as fathers and heads of their respective families. This is evidenced in the fact that the overwhelming effects of their powerlessness ensues in their psychological unwellness as they eventually lose their minds. Halle’s situation is even direr because he does not only lose his sanity, he also gets physically lost in the quagmire of slavery.


Jung’s individuation concept centers on the notion of coming to the realisation and integration of one’s state of true selfhood. Even as tough as the conditions of Cholly and Halle might have been for them to thrive effectively as emasculated and commodified fathers, the “competent-enough” father must be able to balance the socio-economic realities of his lived-experience and the exigencies of his private domain as individuated parents. Regrettably, as men whose masculinity have been marginalised as a result of racism and slavery, both characters screen their shadows (the aspects of themselves which they perceive as negative) while they project their personas (acceptable market image) and, therefore, suffer enormously. Cholly and Halle’s denials and/or refusals to accept their limitations and forge ahead, as much as it might be workable within their enfeebled conditions, is a critical contravention of the individuation process. Thus, in the characters of Cholly Breedlove and Halle Suggs, the reader comes face to face with the emblematical portraits of Morrison’s enfeebled fathers. Through these characters, the reader also appreciates Morrison’s artistic imagination of enervated men in nineteenth-century Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky and the Breedlove father in Lorain, Ohio, whose states of powerlessness as fathers, drove to destruction.


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