Abstract

Taking feminist relational psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin's ideas of “mutual recognition” as foundation, and studying the female relationships—mothers and daughters and friends—in Toni Morrison's Sula, I trace the complexities of the psychological development of Nel and Sula and the subsequent damage done to their relationship as a result of the various factors inhibiting their ability to form a relationship based on intersubjectivity. Bonded together and in many ways fused in girlhood, Sula and Nel cannot maintain a friendship beyond adolescence because of the ways in which the racist, patriarchal society in which they are raised and are living denies them and their mothers the ability to see themselves and each other as full subjects. Furthermore, locating Morrison's novel of female friendship alongside debates regarding whether feminist initiatives should favor women's commonalities or sustain attention to women's differences, I contend that the kinds of problematic attachments illustrated in the novel undermine feminism as well when exuberant and sentimental fantasies about difference-defeating “sisterhood” obfuscate the recognition of other, separate subjects.

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