Xiaoting Jiao

Professor in Department of Foreign Languages
Henan University
Appointment Dates:
(Apr 1, 2019 – Jun 30, 2019)
Research Project:
An Exploration of Toni Morrison’s Existential Anxiety
In her debut The Bluest Eye (1970), her masterpiece Beloved (1988), and her latest work God Help the Child (2015), Morrison devotes many interests in the existential anxiety of the heroines, who are anxious for their fate and death, for the emptiness and meaninglessness, and for the sense of guilt and condemnation (the underlined are from Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, 1975). However, this subject hasn’t been discussed extensively and systematically. In The Meaning of Anxiety (1950), Rollo May concludes that existential anxiety is essential to an individual’s growth, which contributes to what it means to be human and helps to enact their freedom to live a life of dignity. Therefore, to expose the existential anxiety in Morrison’s works and interpret the affirmative meaning of the anxiety turns out to be necessary.  Morrison’s extensive description of natural environment not only smears some poetic colors to the text, but also acts as the heroines’ (and her) efforts to withstand the anxiety, as natural space for them serve as free spiritual spaces like “the garden of Eden”. Morrison’s preferences to impressionistic style of writing reveal her anxiety of readers’ (esp., white readers’) reception and responses. Much of her attention is given to details, moments, “light” (the flare of their dreams), and “color” (the grounding color of the race). In handling the “shade”, she prefers “blue(s)” and “purple” rather than “black” exclusively etc. Morrison’s works also serve as “Les Lieux de Memoire” that are full of personal, collective and cultural memories, which reflect her resistance to oblivion so as to dilute the sense of “guilt and condemntion”. For example, black culture, mythology, religion, folklore and music, etc. are depicted extensively as cultural pieces. Historical events and sites, funerals and weddings, religions and beliefs appear frequently in her texts.