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Toni Morrison and the Maternal

From «The Bluest Eye» to «Home»

Series:

Linda Wagner-Martin

Linda Wagner-Martin’s study of African American writer Toni Morrison’s work, beginning with The Bluest Eye in 1970 and continuing through her 2012 novel Home, describes Morrison as an inherently original novelist who was shaped throughout her career by her role within families. Morrison speaks of herself, compellingly and frequently, as daughter, sister, wife, mother, mentor, and friend. The energy from playing these roles in her life helped to lead to her thoroughly distinctive fiction. The book charts Morrison’s changing vision as well. Morrison’s deeper and deeper involvement in the history of African Americans within the United States leads to her study of the urban in Jazz, of the all-black Western towns in Paradise, of the upper-middle class in Love, as well as her poignant study of the returning Korean War veteran in Home. Morrison’s 2008 A Mercy, set in the seventeenth century, reprises much of the power of the prize-winning Beloved and returns readers to the quintessential theme of parent-child relationships. 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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Introduction: Morrison and the Maternal

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← XIV | 1 → INTRODUCTION

“My mother, when she would find out that they were not letting Black people sit in certain sections of the local theater, would go and sit in the white folks’ section, go see Superman just so she could come out and say, ‘I sat there, so everybody else can too.’ It’s a tradition …. It’s an old technique that Black people use—you know, the first one in the pool, the first one in the school ….” (Morrison in Con I, 134).

Toni Morrison’s interviews, of which there are many, show the way she reflectively comments on even the simplest—and most predictable—questions. Her interviews also show that she tends to answer her questioners with a narrative scene, as here, when she recalls her mother’s comparatively radical social behavior. What Morrison’s autobiography shows clearly is that she was the child of two strong and sensible parents. As Chloe Ardelia Wofford,1 “Toni Morrison” grew up aware of gender differences. But she also grew up relying on both her hard-working and carefully modulated father, George Wofford, and her equally hard-working but perhaps more flamboyant mother, Ramah Willis Wofford. It is the mother’s voice that Morrison creates in the early chapters of The Bluest Eye. Whether speaking or singing, Ramah Wofford gave her daughter, who was one of four children—two girls and two boys—an audible guide to expressing conscience.

Because Morrison’s fiction shows her even-handed presentations of both men and women (often,...

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