Spirits as medicine for a dark past
Spirits play a important role in post-colonial and minority literature as a means of processing black pages from history, according to literary scientist Chia-Sui Lee. PhD defence 11 January.
It is a decisive point in time in the novel Beloved by Afro-American author Toni Morrison: the black community helps the main character Sethe to drive an evil spirit out of her house. It is the spirit of her oldest daughter, Beloved, whom Sethe had murdered to avoid her falling into the hands of a slave trader.
‘Morrison used this climax to draw attention to a collective trauma among the descendents of American slaves,' says Lee. 'In the time of slavery, slaves were often alone, and couldn't ask for help from people around them,' Lee explains. 'In Beloved, the Afro-American community is ready to drive out the ghosts of the past. That has a healing effect.'
Room for thought
Lee believes that ghost stories can create room for thought in countries and regions where there is one dominant story. In postcolonial literature and the literature of minority groups in particular ghosts can contribute to processes of healing, whether that is among present-day Afro-Americans or South Africa at the time of apartheid. Lee: ‘Ghost stories can teach readers such things as respect for traditions, ancestors and nature. In that sense, ghosts have agency, real power to bring about change.'
In The Woman Warrior by Chinese-American author Maxine Hong Kingston it is a ghost that draws attention to a moral dilemma. Hong Kingston tells the reader how her unmarried aunt became pregnant, was expelled from the community and eventually committed suicide. She later returns as a ghost. Hong Kingston uses this story to highlight the lack of women's rights in Chinese society.