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Toni Morrison and the Maternal

From «The Bluest Eye» to «Home»

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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 Five: Beloved, Beloved, Beloved, Beloved ….

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← 66 | 67 → CHAPTER FIVE

“Looking back at Morrison’s earlier books, impressive as they are, one feels that they are far more tentative and groping than Beloved. Sula, for example, biting though it is, seems a bit tendentious and schematic when compared to the dense, beautifully textured Beloved, and her mythic, large-souled Song of Solomon appears chunky and overlong against the sleek richness of this later book.” (Arnold Weinstein, Nobody’s Home 339).

Morrison’s fifth novel was clearly much more than the amalgamation of her years of studying craft. Beloved was not only the entire story of African and African American slavery, so that it included history, culture, ownership, power, gender, life and death, but it posed these huge thematic categories as secondary to the author’s real interest: how a slave mother survived when everything she loved most was about to be taken from her. As with her previous four novels, in Beloved, Morrison was intent on making the reader see the emotion that propelled the narrative—in this case, to recognize that slavery was immense love distilled into even more immense pain.

She makes two candid statements about the role of the slave mother in her Bigsby interview: in response to his historical question about the 1960s being “about” race and the 1970s and 1980s being “about gender,” Morrison replies that she feels “an equal commitment to both. Because making children out of black people, or making children out of women, in an effort to...

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