The Timeless Toni Morrison

The Past and The Present in Toni Morrison’s Fiction. A Tribute to Toni Morrison on Occasion of Her 85th Birthday

by Agnieszka Łobodziec (Volume editor) Blossom N. Fondo (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 168 Pages
Series: New Americanists in Poland, Volume 8


The book presents a cultural study of Toni Morrison’s fiction, focused on her representations of the past and present, along with the relationship between the two. The authors analyze Morrison’s texts not solely as aesthetic, autonomous objects but as manifestations of a cultural and creative practice closely related to actuality. They examine various incorporations of history in Morrison’s writings. The contributions search out thematic continuities as well as discernable ruptures in the texts while noting futuristic tendencies in Morrison's novels and the texts’ envisagement of the human race.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • History Imagination and Truth
  • How to Speak about the Unspeakable – Historical Trauma in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms (Agnieszka Gondor-Wiercioch)
  • Biting Iron, Forever Smiling: the Iron-Bit, the Wounded Mouth, and Un-Silencingin Toni Morrison’s Beloved (Irina Popescu)
  • Identity
  • Moving Beyond the Veil of Double Consciousness: Making the Past, Present in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (Tammie Jenkins)
  • From Essentialism to Choice: The Emergence and Intricacies of Contemporary Playful Racial Identities in Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child (Agnieszka Łobodziec)
  • Pragmatic and Linguistic Functions in Toni Morrison’s Beloved (Barbara Compagnucci)
  • Challenging Master Discourses
  • The Paradox of the Master Narrative: The Contradictory Voices of Toni Morrison’s Home (Stephanie Li)
  • Constructing the Long, Lost Son: Multiply-Voiced Discourses in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby (Misty Standage)
  • ‘We Are the Furrow of His Brow’: Countering Mythic History in Morrison’s Paradise (Ji Hyun Lee)
  • Challenging the Mirror of Whiteness: the Politics of Images and Sight in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (Blossom N. Fondo)
  • About the authors
  • Series Index

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This volume entitled The Timeless Toni Morrison has emerged in celebration of Toni Morrison’s 85th birthday in 2016.

Toni Morrison frequently underscores the role of history as a significant referent in the process of her fictional writing. In that vein, literary historical representations may evoke debate. Questions pertaining to the objectiveness or subjectiveness of the fictional portrayals, their correspondence between historical fact and fiction, the level of traditional realist artistry, and being overly literary representational might arise. Critics have applied the concepts neorealism, historical criticism, social realism, magical realism, and poetic realism in their analyses of Morrison’s fiction. Over against such theoretical polemics, Morrison accentuates historical accuracy. She seeks to fuse her artistic imagination with historical knowledge obtained by in-depth research. For instance, in response to the ubiquitous classification of her fiction as magic or incredible Toni Morrison contends, “I consider that my single gravest responsibility (in spite of that magic) is not to lie.” The novelist even ascribes more truth to fiction as opposed to documented history and other history-laden texts. She aspires to discover and reconstruct the truth by imagining the interior lives of her characters. For instance, with regard to slave narratives, she asserts, “I’m trying to fill in the blanks that the slave narratives left – to part the veil that was so frequently drawn, to implement the stories that I heard – then the approach that’s most productive and most trustworthy for me is the recollection that moves from the image to the text. Not from the text to the image.” As far as the representation of “major things that have been erased from our history […] the other things that were going on in the 1950s” in Morrison’s novel Home, the writer maintains, “In the United States, we think of the 50s as a kind of golden age. Right after the war, everybody was making money, the GI Bill was sending soldiers into college campuses, and the television was full of […] happy stories […] And I didn’t think so. I thought that there was a crust or veil that was being pulled over the 50s” (Interview. CBC).

With thought given to Toni Morrison’s perspective towards history, her literature invites considerations of issues such as intersections between historiography and historical fiction; differences between historiography and creative writing, objectivity, subjectivity, and truth; the historical context of the author, the reader and text; new historicism; slave narratives and neo-slave narratives; various forms of realism and literary representations of history; history and myth; language and ← 7 | 8 → discourse; image and imagination; meaning, interpretation, and ideology; the past and memory; the past and identity.

The questions that Morrison’s novels inspire include: What thematic continuities as well as ruptures can be discerned in Morrison’s texts? How and in what ways has Morrison’s world shaped her works? What other literary influences and interactions can be deciphered that bear on her art? What futuristic tendencies can be found in her literature and what do they envisage for the human race? What critical referents do her texts provide? What aesthetic peculiarities can be observed in Morrison’s works?

The aforementioned aspects have been thoroughly covered by individual contributors to this volume.

Agnieszka Gondor-Wiercioch carries out a comparative study of Morrison’s Beloved and Linda Hogan’s Solar Storm, which offer complex postmodern literary reconstructions of African American and Native American experiences of bondage respectively, which the novelists achieve through employment of creative imagination in envisioning the depths and circumstances of the historically documented acts of infanticide and in utilization of culturally unique narrative modes. Irina Popescu deconstructs Morrison’s employment of iron bit in Beloved as a signifier of silenced traumatic past that is confronted by individual characters in order to unveil the unspeakable truth.

Tammie Jenkins traces the development of Black American self-defined identity portrayed in Song of Solomon, as a spiritual and cultural journey from the sense of twoness towards self-integrity, exemplified by the character Milkman’s discovery of ancestral heritage and revaluation of his present experience. Agnieszka Łobodziec ferrets out the construction of identity as a playful, perpetual process that brings about the sense of uncertainty. Barbara Compagnucci undertakes a theoretical approach to Morrison’s explorations of the lives of African Americans, especially the subjugation of women in misogynistic and racially oppressed times. This she does by focusing on the importance of language using a postmodernist framework.

Stephanie Li analyzes Morrison’s novel Home, demonstrating how, since every story reflects its teller, narrative is inevitably composed of the biases and limitations produced by individual experiences. She shows in her essay how Morrison’s novel seeks to question, undermine and expose the master narratives produced by literary texts and national histories. Misty Standage contends that Tar Baby is comprised of several narrative layers, each layer providing context for and criticism of another. This, she maintains, keeps Tar Baby from being a narrative that universalizes black experience. Ji Hyun Lee examines Toni Morrison’s Paradise ← 8 | 9 → and upholds that the Disallowing – the traumatic rebuff that leads to the founding of Haven – informs the rest of the narrative. The author closely examines the formation, transmission and reception of the Disallowing myth, highlighting some of the unintended consequences of trying to control history. Blossom N. Fondo reads The Bluest Eye as a construction of the cultural desert which existed for the blacks in America prior to the publication of a novel such as hers, which dramatizes the dangers of an exclusivist narrative. ← 9 | 10 →

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History Imagination and Truth

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Agnieszka Gondor-Wiercioch
Jagiellonian University

How to Speak about the Unspeakable – Historical Trauma in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
Black literature Black history Black experience Racial identity Neo-slave narratives The past
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 168 pp.

Biographical notes

Agnieszka Łobodziec (Volume editor) Blossom N. Fondo (Volume editor)

Agnieszka Łobodziec is Assistant Professor at the English Department of the University of Zielona Góra. Blossom N. Fondo is Associate Professor at the Department of English in the Higher Teacher Training College of the University of Maroua.


Title: The Timeless Toni Morrison
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171 pages