Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ronald Emerick, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Martha Bower, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Susan Comfort, Ph.D.


This dissertation focuses on Toni Morrison’s use of the grotesque as a social and political aesthetic. Various definitions and applications of the grotesque in art and literature are discussed in general and particular definitions and applications that pertain to Morrison’s novels are discussed and analyzed in terms of roles, functions, and purposes. In addition to the colloquial definition of the grotesque, the work of Mikhail Bahktin, John Ruskin, and Sigmund Freud aids in the identifications, as well as the work of more modern scholars of the grotesque such as Philip Thomson, Geoffrey Harpham, Bernard McElroy, Arthur Clayborough, Sherwood Anderson, Mary Russo, and Dieter Meindl. Discussions and analyses are situated in regard to Morrison’s potential purposes for writing, as well as recurring themes, motifs, and issues. Purposes, such as revealing African American female and adolescent self-hate, exposing oppressive social, cultural, and educational systems that negatively affect African Americans, and showing the paradoxical intersection between love and violence, are explored. Motifs, issues, and themes such as beauty, myth, mothering, stigmatization and marginalization of blacks, poverty, Western standard of beauty and double consciousness are examined as well.