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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 Four: Tar Baby and Its Multiple Non-mothers


← 55 | 56 → CHAPTER FOUR

“In those eight homeless years he had joined that great underclass of undocumented men. And although there were more of his kind in the world than students or soldiers, unlike students or soldiers they were not counted. They were an international legion of day laborers and musclemen, gamblers, sidewalk merchants, migrants, unlicensed crewmen on ships with volatile cargo, part-time mercenaries, full-time gigolos, or curbside musicians. What distinguished them from other men (aside from their terror of Social Security cards and cedula de identidad) was their refusal to equate work with life and an inability to stay anywhere for long.” (Tar 166).

That Tar Baby, for all the various misreadings of it that exist in criticism, is a kind of continuation of the themes and characters Morrison explored and presented in Song of Solomon makes reading this very difficult novel somewhat easier. Because people identified the character Jadine Childs with the book’s title, rightly, they read Tar Baby as a novel “about” a woman. Unappealing as Son Green is on his first appearance as he swims ashore from the ship he has just abandoned, he represents an ever-increasing type of African American man. In Morrison’s words, as she considered the progression of her attention in her first four books, “from a book that focused on a pair of very young black girls, to move to a pair of adult black women, and then to a black man, and finally to a black man...

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