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Toni Morrison and the Maternal

From «The Bluest Eye» to «Home»


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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Chapter One: Mothers at Random in The Bluest Eye


← 11 | 12 → CHAPTER ONE

“My mother tells me that our landlord wanted to get us out of an apartment in which we lived—my mother, my father, myself and my sister—and he set the place on fire while we were in it. It was during the Depression… a lot of sharing of food, a lot of difficulty and desperation about work.” (Bigsby interview 250).

In attempting to write her first novel, Toni Morrison had developed opinions about what a Black woman writer’s task should be. Although she read widely, and had earned her English major and classics minor at Howard University (and had then earned her MA in English at Cornell University, writing a thesis on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!), she was prepared to set out only hesitantly on her own course. She knew she would not become a second Richard Wright. She thought, probably, she would not emulate Ralph Ellison. What she consistently said about those prominent African American men was that they sounded as if they were writing for white readers. As she said in the Bigsby interview, “The words of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin … were not talking to me. There was some editorial address going on as though they were clarifying something for other men, or maybe white people …. I know now that what I was longing for was a female presence, not a female character but a female voice. There was an attitude...

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