112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Rethinking Gothic Temporality: Beloved's Ghost on Legree's Plantation

Jon Blandford, Bellarmine University

While we usually think of Gothic temporality in terms of the past returning to haunt the present, this paper argues for its potential to operate in the other direction, analyzing the extent to which Uncle Tom’s Cabin might be read as “haunted” by future events.

Proposal: 

We usually think of Gothic temporality in terms of the past returning to haunt the present, the resurfacing of horrors that frustrate our attempts to distance ourselves from the more unpleasant aspects of our personal and collective histories.  This paper reconsiders Gothic temporality as having the potential to operate in the other direction.  More specifically, I analyze the extent to which the Gothic elements of the later chapters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin might be read as “haunted” by two future events: Margaret Garner’s murder of her two-year-old child in 1856, and Toni Morrison’s fictionalization of the Garner story in her novel Beloved.  Reexamining Uncle Tom’s Cabin through the lens of Beloved’s Gothic imagination unsettles the tidy resolution of Stowe’s novel, in which Cassy—a Gothic mother who, like Garner and Morrison’s Sethe, killed one of her children to save it from a life of slavery—is safely domesticated by way of a sentimental reunion with her long-lost daughter Eliza, whose escape across a frozen Ohio River rather strikingly anticipates Garner’s real-life flight to freedom.  Stowe’s inadvertent foreshadowing of these future ghosts subverts her efforts to exorcise the demons that haunt both Eliza and Cassy, opening up alternative interpretive possibilities that connect her novel to Morrison’s critical re-envisioning of the history of slavery and the literatures of abolition.