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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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Chapter Two: Sula and the Individuality of Mothering

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← 22 | 23 → CHAPTER TWO

[Feminists] “were saying that we had to become friends, begin to call ourselves sisters. I remember thinking, what do they mean we have to begin. I reflected on those women in my family, my mother and her friends, who liked each other’s company and in their church called each other sister. I knew what the relationship among those women was, how they cared for one another, liked one another. I can hear them now, all that wonderful laughter about their husbands and sons. But it didn’t seem to me that the company of men, which they enjoyed tremendously, was especially important to them. They were just content with the company of women, sisters and friends and so on.” (Bigsby interview 273).

No other Morrison novel includes as many women characters (most of whom are mothers) as does her 1973 work, Sula. Yet the title character of this hegira is herself not a mother. She is everything else, however, including a witch, a killer, a soul mate of her best childhood friend, Nel, and an integral part of the female culture that dominates life in Medallion, Ohio. As Morrison wrote in her later “Foreword” to the 2003 issue of Sula, Sula must be placed with the novel’s mothers: “Hannah, Nel, Eva, Sula were points of a cross—each one a choice for character bound by gender and race. The nexus of that cross would be a merging of responsibility and liberty difficult to...

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