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The "Black Butterflies": Color in God Help the Child and the Inverted White Gaze


  • Claudia Bern

Summary, in English

The discourse on beauty has primarily been focused on the white gaze to prescribe its normative standards. The white gaze conceptualizes the way in which beauty is dwelled on within society: the foisting of Caucasian-looking beauty canons on black women, and the veneration of whiteness as superior. Black bodies are vanguards, either being desired or erased. In literature, the expression “white gaze” communicates an intended white reader, and the racial bias that confines black characters to marginal or non-existent representations in white narratives. In God Help the Child, Toni Morrison, exposes the “Africanist” (an exoticized, derogatory representation of African heritage), and inverts the gaze. Morrison’s storytelling is a polymorphic sensory experience of story and color, as the lives of her characters are saturated with the pigments of their ascendancy and traumas. This thesis is guided by the following research questions: How does blackness feature in God Help the Child? To what extent does an inversion of the white gaze take place in the novel? I contend that Bride’s dark skin is used by Morrison to define an understanding of race that compellingly re-signifies the very notions of race and racism inspired by the ’60s motto “Black is Beautiful”. The way in which the character intentionally turns her darkness into her greatest asset is validation of a self-authenticating strategy that suggests other, more affirmative and restored ways of tenanting in dark skin and blackness, both in the African American collective and the hegemonic society. By an inversion of blackness and its constructed postulates, Morrison gives agency to her protagonist. A sort of poetic justice occurs in the novel. Morrison fills the wounds of history with golden pipe dreams of blackness and inverts the white gaze. In effect, black holds all colors.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Chromatism
  • Dark Beauty
  • Ebony-Black Beauty
  • White Beauty
  • Black Skin
  • Blue-Black Skin
  • Afro-textured Hair
  • Black Color
  • White Mask
  • Slavery
  • Race Prejudice
  • Black Identity
  • Toni Morrison
  • God Help the Child
  • Africanist in Literature
  • Black Beauty in Media
  • Whiteness
  • Inverted White Gaze
  • White Gaze
  • Black Gaze.


  • Monika Class