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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 Three: Replacement Mothering in Song of Solomon


← 35 | 36 → CHAPTER THREE

“I was having some trouble in the beginning, and writing in a desultory, aimless way, and then a terrible thing happened. My father died and I found myself so bereft, knowing he was not there, and so miserable that I gave up. But I remember thinking, ‘I have got to do something about this book,’ and when I sat down to do some preliminary notes, I remember thinking how convenient it would be if I knew what my father knew. For some reason that was the trick; it opened the door for me …. you go into another person’s mind, in this case my father’s, saying, if I knew what he knew about his friends, his father, his life, then I would know how to treat these men…. That gave me a very powerful sense of security.” (Morrison in Bigsby interview 270).

In her 2004 “Foreword” to the reissue of Song of Solomon, Morrison elaborated further on what she saw as her (deceased) father’s role in her creation of the Milkman Dead story—and of that young man’s family through several generations. The novel, originally published in 1977, was dedicated simply to “Daddy.”

In the second paragraph of the “Foreword,” Morrison writes again of her “unmanageable sadness,” this time grouping herself with her three siblings to draw a moving portrait of the family’s loss of their father. “Each of his four children was convinced that he loved her or him...

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