The Daughter's Return: African-American and Caribbean Women's Fictions of History

By Caroline Rody | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Daughter's Return

In a climactic moment of Julie Dash's 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, the notyet-born girl who narrates this ancestral story runs in slow motion across the screen, amidst a shiny aura, straight into the big belly of her pregnant mother, who stands with arms outstretched to receive her daughter. In Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) a murdered baby girl returns from death in passionate longing for the ex-slave mother who killed her, and in the ensuing drama nearly strangles her to death; when Morrison's heroine discovers the identity of this “devil-child, ” she says, “You came right on back like a good girl, like a daughter” (261, 203). These two instances of daughterly return, one of desire blissfully fulfilled and the other of grief turned lethal, both can be seen to allegorize the imaginative return of a late twentieth-century woman writer to her traumatic ancestral past.

In the emerging body of literature identified in this study, history is reimagined in the form of a romance: the romance of a returning daughter and a figure I call the mother-of-history. Coming back like daughters—intensely devoted and yet convinced of the arrival of their own moment— African-American and Caribbean women writers recast the conventions of historical fiction as well as received narratives of their peoples' founding trauma, New World slavery. Staging dramatic, often fantastic encounters with the past, they foreground the mother-daughter relationship as the site of transhistorical contact.

To say that these writers face history as daughters is to emphasize both the ethnic and the feminist character of their historiographic project. Ethnicity is a vexed, imprecise cultural and political term, essential for this study only insofar as it describes a literary condition; that is, a writer's subjective sense of being the inheritor of a certain people's story. Reimagining an inherited his-

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