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Toni Morrison and the Maternal

From «The Bluest Eye» to «God Help the Child», Revised Edition


Linda Wagner-Martin

In this revised edition, Linda Wagner-Martin offers a compelling study of African American writer Toni Morrison’s work, beginning with The Bluest Eye in 1970 and continuing through her 2015 novel God Help the Child. Wagner-Martin describes Morrison as an inherently original novelist who was shaped throughout her career by her role within families. Her study focuses on Morrison's use of family in her narratives, particularly on the roles of mother and child. Beginning with the paradigm of a good mother (Mrs. MacTeer) in The Bluest Eye, set against women who are found wanting in their mother roles, Morrison concentrates in various ways on emphasizing these mother characters. Sometimes those roles are peripheral; more often, they are central. In Sula, for example, the title character has no interest in mothering, but she shows herself to be the product of family disinterest; in Song of Solomon Morrison creates what she terms an ancestor figure to give guidance to the young; in Tar Baby Marie Therese continues that role. Beloved tackles many dimensions of a mothers role. As Morrison continues to write her varied and powerful novels, from Jazz and Paradise through Love, A Mercy, and Home, the attention to judging the efficacy of mothering grows. Finally, in God Help the Child, she attends to little else. In Morrison’s fictional world, drawing from the human and spiritual forces in both Africa and the United States provides some hope of a truly satisfying existence.

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Acknowledgments and Reference Systems


With thanks to all the students at both Michigan State University and The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who read Morrison’s fiction with me, and to the Modern Language Association many decades ago for inviting me to speak on Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I also am grateful for the suggestions of Professors Heidi Burns of Peter Lang Publishing and of series editor Yoshinobu Hakutani of Kent State University for improving the book.

A note on the reference system used. All Morrison’s works are abbreviated with either a single word or a phrase. I have assumed that three in-print collections will be available to readers: (l) Danille Taylor-Guthrie’s collection of interviews with Morrison, published in 1994 as Conversations with Toni Morrison by the University Press of Mississippi; (2) Carolyn C. Denard’s collection of Morrison interviews, published by the same press in 2008 as Toni Morrison: Conversations; and (3) Professor Denard’s collection of Morrison’s essays, titled Toni Morrison: What Moves at the Margins, Selected Nonfiction, also published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2008. I have used the abbreviations Con I to cite the Taylor-Guthrie collection, and Con II to refer to the Denard collection of interviews. I refer to Denard’s collection of Morrison’s essays as Nonfiction.

I have included many of the excellent essays and books on Morrison’s oeuvre in the Secondary Bibliography. There are still other works that—space permitting—might have been included. For their omission, my apologies.← XIII | XIV →

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