Hamline News

April 27, 2012

Spirits and Saints: Religion and the Supernatural in Morrison and Naylor

Abigail Strait, Advisor: Veena Deo

Elements of the supernatural and Christianity have played a large role in African-American culture and African-American texts. There are plenty of articles about how each of these elements works separately in the literature, but few about how they work together. Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, two celebrated African-American writers, include both Christian elements and voodoo or phantoms in their novels. This article looks at how these two contradictory components work together in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day. There are specific Christian rituals in these novels, as well as plot lines and values that match with religious ones. At the same time, a ghost is the title character in Beloved, while Mama Day centers on a woman who uses “hoodoo” in conjunction with naturalistic healing methods. The article also discusses how this relationship between Morrison and Naylor differs and is similar. These differences and similarities reflect on the mentality, tradition, and history of African-Americans, particularly in the context of liberation theology, a movement in Christianity that interprets Jesus as a revolutionary and his teachings in terms of freedom from oppression. This essay examines how this type of theology combines with folk religion and elements of African beliefs to produce the unique faith system we read about in Morrison and Naylor.