Recognizing Trauma, Expanding Treatment: Toni Morrison’s Portrayal of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in *Sula*, *Beloved*, and *Home*
I argue that one of the most major focuses in Toni Morrison’s novels is the exploration of trauma, specifically the forms of trauma that have afflicted the African American community. Although Morrison’s novels predominantly feature African American characters and communities, the traumatic events she explores, including active combat, domestic abuse, and deadly accidents, transcend racial boundaries. Trauma can be universal, and thus the arguments about trauma that emerge from Morrison’s novels, while certainly having significance in a racial discussion, should be thought about in universal terms as well. Morrison’s novels are thus tools with which to reflect on the implications of trauma in a global sense, and to investigate how descriptions of trauma are informed by—and even respond to—the historical moment in which they were written. While there are many ways of expressing and relating trauma, I will focus on Morrison’s literary portrayal of mental illness, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I will evaluate this issue in three of Morrison’s novels: Sula, Beloved, and Home. Morrison’s novels feature an abundance of mentally ill characters, which can be explained by the fact that mental illness is both a common physiological byproduct of trauma and a means of psychological detachment from unbearable traumatic realities. Morrison does not depict trauma merely to show its insidious presence in the African American psyche, and does not explore mental illness merely to demonize the systems and prejudices that instilled it. Instead, her novels offer complex meditations on the network of factors that give rise to mental illness over time, the treatment options available to victims of mental illness at the narrative present, and the impact of mental illness on both the individual and the community.