Adventures of the
Magic Black Daughter
History and “Renaissance” in Contemporary
African-American Women's Fictions
That history in Toni Morrison's hands becomes a “mother and child reunion” should be, in a sense, no surprise at all. Narratives of history always depend on the symbolic structure of the parental relation, the most immediate imaginable unit of history. If traditional, androcentric histories—literary and non-literary—tend to discover founding fathers, Morrison's recovery of mothers would seem simply to follow the logic of feminist “re-vision, ” in Adrienne Rich's inflection of the term. 1 “We think back through our mothers, if we are women, ” said Virginia Woolf (Room 76), and in the last several decades the work of feminist historians and literary scholars to uncover women's neglected history and writing—particularly the multifaceted exploration of motherhood and mother-daughter relationships—has established the recovery of the maternal as a central project of feminism, one with diverse cultural, political, and psychological dimensions. Simply put, a revised female self requires a revised mother.
So it is not matrifocality per se that most distinguishes Morrison's “history” among contemporary women's texts—in this Beloved has abundant company, especially in recent literature by ethnic American women. 2 Rather, what is distinctive is Morrison's elaboration of a daughter-mother romance, the child's active reunion with the mother, by which historical return is literalized and embodied in the meeting of the two female characters. Centering her history in the bodies of daughter and mother, Morrison locates the historical where it has least been recognized. In the central scene of childbirth in Beloved, and in the novel's obsessive mother-daughter dialectic, Morrison recovers what was always true: that the female body is the primary generator of history, that childbirth is history in the making.
In contemporary women's literature maternal motifs now predominate in