Forgiving friends : feminist ethics and fiction by Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood

Benet-Goodman, Helen Charisse, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Bouchard, Larry D., Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Childress, James, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation uses the representations of women's friendship found in Sula (by Toni Morrison) and Cat's Eye (by Margaret Atwood) to frame an interrogation of contemporary ideas about friendship.

Aristotle's ideas on friendship are the underpinning for contemporary considerations of friendship. Many contemporary feminists find his work congenial, despite his misogyny. The representation of friendship found in Clarissa suggests that Aristotle's ideas cannot be applied unproblematically to the lives of women; the social constraints under which Clarissa and Anna live highlight the importance of autonomy for friendship. Aristotle so defines friendship that friends will never experience serious conflicts with each other and never need to forgive each other.

Sula works with three traditions of the apocalyptic: the biblical, the African American, and the postmodern. The novel defines friendship as a shared unity of perception that both requires and reinforces individual autonomy. Perception leads to responsiveness to others and integrates friends with their community. The rupture of Nel and Sula's friendship expose the fragility of friendship.

In Cat's Eye, the friendship between Elaine and Cordelia demonstrates how psychological and social pressures can operate within friendship as destructive possibilities. The epistemological uncertainties of the book frame Elaine's ontological uncertainties. Elaine finally attains a measure of ontological security by painting the story of her and then hermeneutically appropriating that interpretation. This provisional security enables her to forgive Cordelia, though the novel suggests that forgiveness needs a ground outside the forgiver.

The last chapter focuses on feminist accounts of friendship, particularly those of Janice Raymond, Mary Hunt, and Marilyn Friedman. Sula and Cat's Eye expose feminist accounts as Utopian in their assumption of friendship's beneficence. The novels iv also give us an expanded notion of autonomy as a process that operates throughout the course of a friendship. Further, they draw our attention to the neglected role of perception in the practice of making moral decisions. Finally the possibility of harm within friendship points towards the need for forgiveness, and towards the fragility of friendship itself. Friendship may be too fragile to serve as the central relational metaphor that feminists are searching for.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-19 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:36:42.

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