Rescuing the dead girl: Toni Morrison and goddess mythology

Date of Completion

January 1995


Black Studies|Folklore|Women's Studies|Literature, American




In New Dimensions of Spirituality, Karla Holloway and Stephanie Demetrakopoulos define Morrison's works as a "thealogy" (Holloway 160). Demetrakopolous in particular examines Morrison's fictional women as goddess figures with strong connections to nature and to the earth. Other critics (including Marianne Hirsch in The Mother/Daughter Plot and Madonne Miner in "Lady No Longer Sings the Blues) have also noted the presence of a Demeter figure in Morrison's novels, yet none to date have provided the details which I believe are crucial to understanding the extensive role the Demeter/Persephone myth plays in all of Morrison's novels. The Kore myth (the tale of the dead/buried Persephone whose only hope of reclamation lies in the love and remembrance of her mother Demeter) is the central and informing motif throughout Morrison's entire literary corpus. Rescuing this dead girl, the Kore figure, is not only a major project for Morrison: it is the driving force of her literature.^ Morrison's mythico-political style allows her to reclaim African American history and to critique American culture within the medium of myth. The image of the Kore figure, the dead girl torn asunder from the maternal embrace of Demeter and of the archetypal mother's reclamation of this dead girl translates for Morrison into a political ideology of community and collectivism. Taking on the role of revisionist historiographer Morrison, like Demeter with the buried Kore, re-members a past that traditional historians have failed to take into account, that of the African experience in America. Each of her novels is well-informed, replete with images from actual historical times and events, and each one benefits us by allowing us to experience a more intimate knowledge of our own history, black and white alike.^ Both personal and collective survival, Morrison's novels imply, depend upon a reconnection to community and the spirit of collectivism and interdependence, not only in and between the African American community but also between communities of all races. Such a spirit of collectivism is reflected in the Kore myth and the archetypal feminine which "is thought to 'hold the entire human race together'"(Kerenyi 12). ^