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Reading Testimony, Witnessing TraumaConfronting Race, Gender, and Violence in American Literature$
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Eden Wales Freedman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781496827333

Published to University Press of Mississippi: September 2020

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496827333.001.0001

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“This Thing We Have Done Together”

“This Thing We Have Done Together”

Haunted Witnessing in the the Novels of Toni Morrison and Jesmyn Ward

(p.145) Chapter 4 “This Thing We Have Done Together”
Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma

Eden Wales Freedman

University Press of Mississippi

This chapter analyzes Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) alongside Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones (2011) and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) to investigate how contemporary African American literature witnesses the aftermath of slavery alongside the intersecting jeopardies of blackness, womanhood, and poverty. Both authors’ novels prompt readers to engage the trauma of American slavery. Ward’s books also treat other racially-charged traumas, such as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the incarceration of African Americans as a contemporary form of slavery. Both authors’ novels employ ghosts to symbolize the need for American trauma to be witnessed. In contrast to Morrison’s Beloved, however, Ward’s ghosts do not need to be exorcized in order for communities to heal. Instead, Ward’s ghosts resurrect to witness testimonies cut short and to impel even reluctant readers to confront, through fiction, America’s painful histories.

Keywords:   ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, incarceration, Jesmyn Ward, slavery

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