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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 Ten: A Mercy and Abandoning Mothers


← 135 | 136 → CHAPTER TEN

“The plot, the lean plot, is information. This is what happened. But the meaning of a novel is in the structure …. We learn something today that clarifies something ten years ago. Or we think the most momentous thing that ever happened was something that happened yesterday or twenty years ago only to learn that it was part really of something else, or that it wasn’t momentous at all. So that the way in which the mind takes in the varieties of experiences of life and other people, has to be reassembled for its meaning and that’s where the structure, at least what I work very hard at, is the sort of deep structure, what is there underneath this activity. And then you see it from another person’s point of view; not just one character but another’s, and how and when that information becomes available to the reader seems to me to be the real adventure.” (Con II, 218–9).

By moving back to the seventeenth century for A Mercy, back to times when there was no automatic racial identity to slavery or indenture, Morrison tried to present a race-free canvas. Just as she had said emphatically (above) that “We don’t live lives in plots,” she had learned to avoid chronological schemes—so that once again the narrative of this novel draws on a number of seemingly different plotlines. There is, however, a central story—that of Florens, the Afric slave that Jacob...

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