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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 Six: Jazz and Its Mothers and Non-mothers


← 83 | 84 → CHAPTER SIX

“The sense of knowing when to stop is a learned thing, and I didn’t always have it. It was probably not until after I wrote Song of Solomon that I got to feeling secure enough to experience what it meant to be thrifty with images and language and so on. I was very conscious in writing Jazz of trying to blend that which is contrived and artificial with improvisation …. I was always conscious of the constructed aspect of the writing process, and that art appears natural and elegant only as a result of constant practice and awareness of its formal structures.” (Morrison, Con II, 81–2).

In 1971, as we have seen, Morrison wanted to displace discussions of “women’s lib” with an emphasis on concerted efforts that might improve the general human condition. She quotes Representative Shirley Chisholm in calling for “a woman’s political movement.” (Nonfiction 30). By 1985, however, Morrison had moved closer to developing a gendered self-consciousness. In “A Knowing So Deep,” she said,

“I think about us, black women, a lot. How many of us are battered and how many are champions. I note the strides that have replaced the tiptoe …. I think about the Black women who never landed who are still swimming open-eyed in the sea.” (Nonfiction 31).

Morrison establishes the black woman figure at the center of the world through describing the woman’s life force: “you carried inside you all there was...

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