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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 Eight: Paradise and Its Mothers


← 108 | 109 → CHAPTER EIGHT

“For Paradise, I had heard this story in Brazil. There was a school, a convent for black nuns—young girls—and they were found to be secretly practicing candomble [an African Brazilian religion based on the anima, or soul, of nature] in the basement. The story was that the police shot all of these girls, when they were found not doing the Catholic thing. I saw them in my mind running away from the convent, running through the fields, running away from the bullets, running from men … so I cast it as a question: Who would shoot a bunch of women and why?”

Morrison continued, after telling interviewer Pam Houston this story in a 2003 interview, “Usually there is a ‘what if’ that might resolve the narrative, but the narrative is less interesting to me than the architecture, the language, all the other things that I can bring into the so-called story.” (AARP 123).

Here Morrison intrigues the reader once more—since her novel Paradise has nothing to do with Brazilian nuns. Instead, she tempts a kind of oblique understanding: the emotions of loss and waste that her image of innocent girls running for their lives provokes transfers easily to the scarifying opening of Paradise. “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.” (Paradise 3). It is a cascade of ironies—the title proclaiming that “paradise” could be thought of primarily as a murder...

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