Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Gurleen Grewal, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tova Cooper, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Hunt Hawkins, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ylce Irizarry, Ph.D.


African American literature, justice, memory


This dissertation explores Toni Morrison's most prevalent motifs: the ghost, the orphan, and the outlaw. Each figure advances a critique of dominant narratives, specifically those that comprise history, family, and the law. In Chapter One, I argue that Morrison's ghost stories contrast two methods of memory, one that is authoritative and another that is imaginative, in order to counter the official renderings of history. Her ghosts signal forgotten aspects of American history and provide access to another storyline--one that lies in the shadows of the novel's principal narrative. This chapter compares the ghosts of Love and Home in order to show how Morrison uses ghosts as conduits of a subversive individual and communal memory. In my second chapter, I assert a reading of Morrison's orphans as blues figures. They attest to the destructive effects of race, class, and gender oppression, which render her characters biologically and culturally orphaned. I conclude this chapter by comparing Paradise and A Mercy to show how Morrison's orphaned characters posit an alternative model of kinship that is built from the shared project of liberation. In Chapter Three, I examine Morrison's treatment of the law and its foil--the outlaw. I argue that Morrison foregrounds criminality in the absence of the law and its apparatuses (courts, police) in order to subvert the social institutions that give rise to the ghost and the orphan. I compare the crimes at the heart of Tar Baby and Jazz in order to posit another notion of justice operating in Morrison's fiction. When looked at together, Morrison's triptych threatens the coherence of governing ideologies and offers a meditation on the transformative possibilities of narrative.