In Toni Morrison’s Paradise, female domination is used as a tactic to suppress. The form of domination that occurs most often in the town of Ruby is the silencing of its women. By keeping the women silent, they are keeping them powerless. The only significant contribution that women were allowed to make in the formation of Ruby is in deciding on a name for the town. It is stated that “the women had no firm opinion until the nephew’s mother died” (Morrison17). This one opinion was accepted and because it honored “one of their own.” Ruby Morgan, the sister of Deacon and Steward, was a member of the 8-rock community. Although a woman, she had some respect in the exclusive community. Outside of this one exception, women in Ruby were not given a voice and were not included on the majority of the decisions that were made in the town. During the discussion over KD slapping Arnette, the women were not included. As the men discussed the matter downstairs, the women, including Arnette, the one involved stayed upstairs. The only indication given of their presence in that the “tippy-tap steps of the women who were nowhere in sight” (Morrison 61) could be heard by the men.
In addition to keeping the women from using their own voices, the male dominators of Ruby speak down to and about women. The descriptions that the men of Ruby use when they speak of women are degrading and condescending. Steward Morgan is the most vocally misogynistic of the Ruby men. While in the Convent, during the attack he criticizes the women in the Convent, and insults all women. Morrison tells us that Steward thinks “what…could do this to women? How can their small brains think up such things…” (Morrison 8). He is perplexed by the idea that a woman could conceive such a thing. Women in the town of Ruby were expected to look and act is a certain way, one that was mild and non offensive to the men: “the women of Ruby did not powder their faces and they wore no harlot’s perfume” (Morrison 143) They were not to challenge the male authority that ruled the town. Even Steward’s own wife is not included in the events that take place in Ruby. Dovey Morgan comments on how no one asked her opinion about the words on the Oven and what she thought it should say. It is stated that “they were just women, and what they said was easily ignored by good brave men on their way to paradise” (Morrison 201-2). The thought and ideas of women were simply cast aside and insignificant and trifle ideas.
The power that the women in Paradise have is given to them by the men in their lives. Fleet says that the final decision over how KD would repay the Fleetwood family would be up to his wife; however, she is not included on the discussion (Morrison 61). The men in the town have an idealized perception of women and their roles in society. The male desire to silence women does not simply apply to the women of Ruby, but in all women that they perceive as a threat to their perfect existence. It is this desire that motivates the brutal attack on the Covent. For the men, the attack is necessary: “Silencing these women provides an outlet for the anger that the townspeople have for their own static lifestyle as they deny and cover over Ruby’s limitation. These women have seen the people of Ruby at their weakest, as adulterers, drunks, liars, would-be murderers of unborn children, and men expressing emotional needs as sexual desires not fulfilled or endorsed by their belief system and rigid code of behavior” (Romero 418). The knowledge that the women at the Convent have made them dangerous. Dangerous because they have healed the wounds that kept them silent. They have overcome, through their relationship. The women at the Convent have gained a voice, as explained by Collins “black women’s journeys often involve ‘the transformation of silence into language and action'” (Collins 105).
In Part 3, I will discuss mothers and other mothers in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.
Patricia Hill Collins. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routladge, Chapman and Hall Inc: New York, 1991
Toni Morrison. Paradise. Plume: New York, 1999.