Chapter I Survival in White-oriented Society by PerformingRacial Identity
1.1 Linguistic Dimension:Performing as an Inferior Black
Foucault’s discourse theory exerts a strong influence on the formation ofButler’s view on gender performativity.Foucault holds the belief that history,systemand culture are the manifestations of modern social power.The subjectivity is nothingmore than a product constructed by the network of discourse.On the one hand,discourse exercises the power;on the other hand,discourse will be controlled andmolded by power.Foucault says:“Any education system is a political way ofmaintaining or modifying‘discourse’and possessing the knowledge and power ofdiscourse.”(Foucault,1971)According to Foucault,“there is only one relationshipbetween man and the world,that is,the relationship of‘discourse’through which man obtains knowledge.”(Wang,2010:190)Foucault points out that our major task is tofind out how the subjectivity is constructed by the power mechanism and howdiscourse is formed in such a power mechanism so that we can find ways to resist thepower.After Foucault expounds his understanding of the discourse,many feministscholars were attracted by his idea.The voices of women are annihilated by themainstream discourse in the West.For most theories in contemporary society are stillcontrolled by men,men control not only the power to speak in daily life but also inthe process of knowledge creation.Women are under the control of men in everyaspect.
1.2 Theatrical Dimension:Performing as an Obedient Black
In 1961,Austin illustrates how to do things with words through examples likejudge’s sentence,the officiant’s presiding wedding ceremony and naming someone orsomething.Austin described that the utterance that perform actions as“performative utterance”.As Sofer interprets that“These are utterances in which using a certainform of words is not to describe or express,nor to make a true or false statement.Rather,their point is to do something.”(Sofer,2009:2)He also effectively argued thatall utterances are performative,or rather,that all utterances have a performativeaspect.These utterances do not describe what is being done,nor state that it is beingdone—they actually do it.Therefore,we can conclude that discourse can perform anaction.
In Austin’s view,the performativity of identity places emphasis on“doing”,thatis,the behavior and action of the performer.Butler’s view bears a close resemblanceto Austin’s.Butler emphasizes that gender identity is not a“being”but a“doing”.Thesocial identity of subject is not preexisted and fixed but unstable and performative.There is no such thing as identity.It is what we do and perform.In other words,racialidentity is constructed by the action,while action is performed by the discourse,thatis,performative utterance.
Chapter II Survival in Patriarchal Society by PerformingGender Identity
2.1 Linguistic Dimension:Performing as an Eligible Woman
Foucault points out that power and discourse are inseparable.Discourse isproduced and disseminated by power,and its function is to provide some so-calledcorrect norms for the operation of power.As for identity,it can be performed by thediscourse power which is in the hands of the father or father-figures.Affected by Foucault,Butler perceives that there is no preexisted gender identity.Moreover,sometimes language and social norms can generate gendered identity.In thepatriarchal society,the discourses of males can affect the construction of genderidentity.In the novel,the phenomena of women confined by all kinds of rules anddiscourse can be seen everywhere.Take Bride as an example,she was stronglyaffected by patriarchal discourse from her boyfriend Booker and professionaldiscourse from her“total person”designer Jeri.She was eager to become a qualifiedwoman in their eyes.But the standard of eligibility is stipulated by man.
To begin with,Bride’s gender identity is performed under the control ofpatriarchal discourse.Bride has no boyfriend before she meets Booker,and she nevertreats any relationship seriously.Booker called Bride“‘baby’most of thetime”(Morrison,2016:11)and“sometimes‘you my girl,’accent on the my”(Morrison,2016:11).This address indicates that Bride seems like an appendage of Booker andshe was objectified in patriarchal society.However,when Bride’s boyfriend Bookerleft her and ended their relationship after saying“You not the woman Iwant”(Morrison,2016:8)and then Bride replied“Neither am I”(Morrison,2016:8),which can be interpreted as“I am not the woman I want either”.It could be arguedthat Morrison wants to tell us that the male characters are trying to impose their viewson how African American female identities should be constructed.What Booker saidruptures Bride’s subjectivity and the words Bride answered mean that she began todoubt herself and questioned what she really is.Bride was haunted by the six words“you not the woman I want”said by her boyfriend until she decided to find Bookerand searched for the meaning of the six words.
2.2 Theatrical Dimension:Performing as a Gorgeous Woman
Judith Butler describes performativity as a continual process of reinscribing andredescribing gender.Butler states that“within the inherited discourse of themetaphysics of substance,gender proves to be performative,that is,constituting theidentity it is purported to be.”(Butler,2002:65)Butler’s conception of gender as anact of linguistic construction relates to Austin’s speech acts.Austin denounced thatwords and language may contain the force of actions which indicates that sayingsomething means doing something.In theatrical dimension,Butler emphasizes thatgender identity is not a“being”but a“doing”and a process.The gender identity isnot preexisted and fixed but unstable and performative.As Butler claims,“gender isin no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various actsproceed”(Butler,1988:519).
As what has discussed above,Bride was an ugly little girl who suffered racismfrom both the white and the black.However,after growing up,Bride has emerged asa beautiful African American woman who has constructed her identity in a successfulway.The shame and rejection expressed by Sweetness in the past have been replaced by a totally different form of Bride’s body.Her story is shaped as“uglyduckling”(Paula,2018:610)tale in which she is transformed from an“ugly,too-blacklittle girl”(Morrison,2016:144)to a successful adult.She seems like a living proof ofwhat Simone de Beauvoir claimed that“one is not born,but,rather,becomes awoman”(Beauvoir,2009:19),implying that her“gender identity is constructed by acogito or agent,rather than inevitably by culture.”(Butler,2002:12)
Chapter III Survival in the Consumerist Society by Performing Class Identity.............................30
3.1 Linguistic Dimension:Performing as a Successful Middle-class Role............................30
3.2 Theatrical Dimension:Performing as a Money-oriented Middle-class Role....................32
3.3 Ritual Dimension:Performing as a Wealthy Middle-class Role.......................................36
Chapter III Survival in the Consumerist Society byPerforming Class Identity
3.1 Linguistic Dimension:Performing as a Successful Middle-classRole
For Michel Foucault,class hierarchy is not only a set of related economic,social, political and ideological inequalities determined by the mode of production,but also a“collective subject position constructed by discourse”(Barker,2000:362).Foucaultproposes that the ruling bourgeoisie uses disciplines to subtly and meticulouslymanage the population in daily life and penetrate power into the whole sociallife(Yang,2021:19).Same as what Booker said like“scientifically there’s no suchthing as race”(Morrison,2016:143),we can interpret that there is no preexisted classidentity.It is discourse that generates subjects of different classes.Class is intertwinedand interacted with the categories of gender and race.Therefore,one’s social classdivision is closely connected with the race and gender of that person.Female,due tothe position she holds in socioeconomic status,are classified into different socialhierarchies and bestowed the identity and status of this class.As a black female,it iseasy to find that Bride was classified into the lower class due to her gender and racialidentity.It is believed that the black holds the lower class in class division and it isproved to be true.
In the novel,there is no denying that Bride and her family were members of thelower class in the society.However,great changes took place in her adulthood.Shebecomes a successful regional manager in cosmetic company through sellingcosmetics to others.She seems to change the fate of being an inferior black woman.Meanwhile,the social class status of Bride also changes.From the poor childhood toaffluent adulthood,Bride goes through a lot and enters into the middle class incontemporary America.Bride’s image of a middle class is performed and constructedby the discourse of herself and other characters.
As a contemporary African American novelist,literary critic and so far the onlyblack woman writer who has won the Nobel Prize,Morrison shows her concern aboutthe fate and future of African Americans all the time,and her last novel God Help theChild is not an exception.God Help the Child is set in the acclaimed post-racialAmerica,and many people hold the belief that it is a world without racism.However,we can find that although it is in the twenty-first century of America,racism stillexists in an invisible way.This thesis analyzes the reason why Bride,an AfricanAmerican female,can survive in the contemporary society and how she performs heridentity from the perspectives of race,gender and class.In the end,it can beconcluded that among the African Americans,only the one who performs well cansurvive successfully in the world,which reveals the survival of the performer incontemporary America.
First of all,the racial identity Bride performs holds a crucial position in hercareer success in the post-racial society.Racism was proved to be deeply rooted inAmerica.For Bride,the past in her childhood is a nightmare because of the existenceof internalized colorism.Her father,Louis,abandons her and her mother never givesher any love or comfort.Nothing gets changed even after the successful election ofBarack Obama as president of the United States.The so-called myth of theforthcoming age of post-racial is an illusion.The purposes of African Americans wereto have the equal right to pursue their dreams and live a life different from the past.Bride is a typical African American who is eager to change her fate and forget hermiserable past.However,in contemporary America described in God Help the Child,unfortunately,racism still exists.African Americans,especially female like Bride,have to hide themselves and perform a second self to achieve success and live a betterlife.As an African American,Bride suffered a lot from internalized colorism from herparents and racial prejudice from the white in her childhood.