Publication Date

8-1-1998

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Art

Abstract

Ghost stories are an ingrained part of most cultures because, typically, humans must be forced to confront those elements of their individual and communal past that they would prefer to ignore. Accordingly, ghosts have embodied weaknesses and hidden evils that must be assimilated and transcended, and writers have embroidered a variety of subtexts upon the traditional fabric of ghostlore. Specifically, both William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Toni Morrison's Beloved employ ghosts as symbols of man's archetypal desire to hide his past. A careful examination of the texts in these ghost stories, of the cultural folklore included, and of the ghosts' influence on individual characters reveals both writers' insistence that man must find the delicate balance between ignoring/evading the past and being consumed by that past. Both writers also explain that the individual's identity must integrate the past, but not be stifled by it. These works differ in that Shakespeare illustrates how man is destroyed when he does not find that balance and does not incorporate his past into his identity, while Morrison depicts the psychic balm that results from confrontation with and acceptance of the past as her characters face a new, more authentic life. While Shakespeare draws upon his society's widely accepted belief system, Morrison, operating in a culture alienated from its own mythic heritage, consciously constructs a mythic framework acceptable to the skeptical twentieth century reader.

Disciplines

English Language and Literature | Folklore