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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 Seven: Playing in the Dark and the Nobel Acceptance Lecture


← 97 | 98 → CHAPTER SEVEN

“White writers, you know, write about us all the time. There are major black characters in Updike, in Ragtime, in all of them. That’s where all the life is. That’s where the life is. And the future of American literature is in that direction. I don’t mean that’s the only group, but that certainly is one of the major groups. Obviously, lots of people are interested in it, not just for research purposes as you know, but in terms of the gem, the theme, the juice, of fiction.” (Morrison, Con I, 28)

When Jazz appeared in 1992, it was somewhat eclipsed by Morrison’s first book of academic literary criticism, which also appeared in 1992, and was a book that in many respects changed the study of American literature. Playing in the Dark, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, lectures which Morrison had given at Harvard University in 1990 as the William E. Massey, Sr., Lectures in the History of American Civilization, were her prolegomena to what would be an increasingly active presence in all kinds of literary endeavors. One of the things this slim book did was to make critics, writers, and educators understand that “whiteness” was itself a definitional term: all literature heretofore had been uncategorized because it was written as white. Yet for Morrison, who had taken undergraduate literature courses at Howard University from the fine African American poet Sterling Brown and Alain Locke, the originator of the Harlem concept of...

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