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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 Eleven: Frank Money, Cee, and the Maternal in Home


← 150 | 151 → CHAPTER ELEVEN

“You have to be interrupted. There was never a place I worked, or a time I worked, that my children did not interrupt me, no matter how trivial—because it was never trivial to them. The writing could never take precedence over them. Which is why I had to write under duress, and in a state of siege and with a lot of compulsion. I couldn’t count on any sustained period of free time to write. I couldn’t write the way writers write, I had to write the way a woman with children writes. That means that you have to have immense powers of concentration. I would never tell a child, ‘Leave me alone, I’m writing.’ That doesn’t mean anything to a child. What they deserve and need, in-house, is a mother. They do not need and cannot use a writer.” (Con I, 238).

Throughout Morrison’s innumerable interviews, many of them collected in two hefty volumes as “Conversations,” the author comments about her identity as mother. That she raised her two sons as a single parent, and that she has been mindful throughout her life of their needs, contributes to this self-identification. In her writing of Home, her 2012 novel, those needs were even more pressing: Slade, the son to whom the book is dedicated, the son she called a “brilliant writer” and with whom she wrote many children’s books, had contracted pancreatic cancer. He died in mid-December, 2010.1


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