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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 Nine: Love and Its Absence of Mothers

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“I’m interested in how men are educated, how women relate to each other, how we are able to love, how we balance political and personal forces, who survives in certain situations and who doesn’t and, specifically, how these and other universal issues relate to African Americans …. It’s an exploration of the possibilities of self and being human in the world, and it allows me to stretch and grow deeper. I always wanted to have some teeth in my work.” (Con I, 278).

For Morrison’s eighth novel, Love, reviewers were once again bemused: built as the book was around the life, accomplishments, sexual partners, and death of Bill Cosey—the proprietor of Cosey’s Hotel and Resort on Sooker Bay, the Florida Atlantic coast—the absence of this protagonist within the book was puzzling. The Cosey story was narrated, in fact, by numerous women—especially L, who had been his cook at the hotel during its prosperous days, and who herself had died in 1976. But as Morrison often chose to do, she kept secret the identity of that chief narrative voice. She had earlier learned that nothing but the mystery of that voice—or in this case, what became a set of voices—piqued her readers’ attention quite so well.

Not titled so ironically as some reviewers thought, Love spoke less to the male-female romance than it did to the female tendency to revere any patriarchal kindness. As Morrison had said...

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