• Beloved, Beyoncé, and the Burdens Of Our Past: A Critical Examination of Healing From Trauma in the African American Gothic

      Newman, Steve, 1970- (Temple University. Libraries, 2022)
      Despite being created nearly thirty years apart, Beloved and Lemonade are remarkably similar historical projects: both texts critically engage with America’s legacy of systemic racism to explore how past injustices create present-day inequality, arguing that the racist institutions that slavery was founded on did not disappear with the Emancipation Proclamation but instead continue to dramatically affect the everyday lives of people of color decades and centuries later. Both Morrison and Beyoncé allegorize this argument in their respective texts: in Beloved, Sethe acts as a microcosm for Reconstruction-era Black Americans grappling with the omnipresent effects of slavery’s legacy less than two decades after the end of the Civil War; whereas in Lemonade, Beyoncé uses her personal experience coming to terms with her husband’s infidelity as a way to examine racism’s effect on the Black family throughout American history. In both cases, this allegory serves as each woman’s proposed guide for personal and national healing in a country haunted by its racist past and present, and in both texts, the essential question becomes how to create a more just future from the wreckage of an unjust past — how to move “forward,” as Beyoncé sings in Lemonade’s emotional peak. The critical difference, however, is in how each author’s historical project merges the past and present and the largely different conclusions they come to as a result. This paper will focus on these differences between Beloved and Lemonade’s engagement with the past as a vessel for understanding the present through a comparative analysis of these texts’ functions as projects for personal healing, literary storytelling, and historical reexamination. First, I will explore the texts’ unique differences in medium and structure, paying attention to how the merging of past and present becomes an essential part of the storytelling process for each author. Second, I will contextualize each text within the legacy of African American Gothic literature, focusing on how the texts’ interest in Gothic symbols and motifs — especially ghosts and haunting — further blend past and present in ways that dramatically impact each story. Third, I will examine how each author uses water and fire as competing symbols for different processes of healing, connecting each to the texts’ shared fascination with memory as a means of reintegrating the past into the present. Finally, I will demonstrate how the conclusions each author comes to about how to approach personal and national healing in the context of systemic racism lead to vastly different paths for establishing a more just future, and I will argue that Lemonade puts forth a much more definitive model for healing with the past than Beloved, which offers an inconclusive position that is more in line with the complexities that arise from this question.