Date of Award

May 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Member

Rhondda Thomas

Committee Member

Erin Goss

Committee Member

Matthew Hooley


While Toni Morrison’s work is often a topic of critical conversations regarding race and gender in the United States, less attention is paid to her 1997 novel Paradise. Morrison’s many-layered, multi-voiced work explores the tensions between the rigidly patriarchal, all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma, and the wayward women who live in a nearby mansion known as the Convent. The women create an unlikely community at the Convent, and Ruby’s patriarchs are so threatened by them that they murder the women. In this paper, I argue that the women in the Convent community enact alternative ways of being by claiming waywardness as a liberatory subject position. Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals provides definitions of wayward and waywardness from which I contextualize the women’s community as well as their relationship to Ruby. Drawing further on Elizabeth Spelman’s work in “Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views,” I connect the body/spirit dichotomy engendered by Plato, Christian, and Western philosophies to Ruby’s rigid standards of womanhood which the Convent women defy. The body/spirit binary relegates women to the object position of waywardness when they are perceived to be lacking virtue. However, when the Convent women claim waywardness as a liberatory subject position, they reject the body/spirit binary altogether and unite the two through a spirit work ritual in the Convent’s cellar. I contend the women’s waywardness, the Convent, and their ritual are interlocking facets of their transformation. Waywardness is both the basis of their community and the social position which allows them to imagine and eventually enact alternative ways of being apart from patriarchal control.



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