The novels, Beloved, by Toni Morrison, and Mama Day, by Gloria Naylor, contain narratives of families with a history of slavery that explore how their female protagonists claim their identities within the new boundaries of freedom. Using a framework of the Domestic Gothic, this paper explores how formerly enslaved female characters claim new psychological territory in bounded domestic spaces by using the chores they were forced to perform during their times of slavery as a means to independence. Domestic duties such as cooking and gardening along with magical and religious ceremonies and acts of violence are passed down through the generations. They become a pathway to autonomy and reclaimed family memories. Yet, paradoxically, the Gothic message plays out in the domestic sphere of the female protagonists in both books, as their personal and communal slave histories come back to haunt the present day through the completion of every day chores and duties that remind them of the terrors of the past. The purpose of this paper is to explore how these women claim their own identities in a time when African American women were considered commodities.

Date of publication

Winter 12-9-2016

Document Type




Persistent identifier


Committee members

Carolyn Tilghman, Ann Beebe, Catherine Ross


Masters of Arts in English