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Toni Morrison and the Maternal

From «The Bluest Eye» to «God Help the Child», Revised Edition


Linda Wagner-Martin

In this revised edition, Linda Wagner-Martin offers a compelling study of African American writer Toni Morrison’s work, beginning with The Bluest Eye in 1970 and continuing through her 2015 novel God Help the Child. Wagner-Martin describes Morrison as an inherently original novelist who was shaped throughout her career by her role within families. Her study focuses on Morrison's use of family in her narratives, particularly on the roles of mother and child. Beginning with the paradigm of a good mother (Mrs. MacTeer) in The Bluest Eye, set against women who are found wanting in their mother roles, Morrison concentrates in various ways on emphasizing these mother characters. Sometimes those roles are peripheral; more often, they are central. In Sula, for example, the title character has no interest in mothering, but she shows herself to be the product of family disinterest; in Song of Solomon Morrison creates what she terms an ancestor figure to give guidance to the young; in Tar Baby Marie Therese continues that role. Beloved tackles many dimensions of a mothers role. As Morrison continues to write her varied and powerful novels, from Jazz and Paradise through Love, A Mercy, and Home, the attention to judging the efficacy of mothering grows. Finally, in God Help the Child, she attends to little else. 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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After Morrison’s Love appeared, she wrote a book for younger readers, reminiscent of The Black Book in the early 1970s. Remember: The Journey to School Integration (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) told the story, complete with black and white photos and pertinent news items, of the process of school integration. Morrison is at her best when faced with the reclamation of, and the creation of, history. That same year she received the award for “Arts and Communities” from the Academy of Culture in Paris, France, as well as the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction. She traveled to Scotland to give the Amnesty International Lecture.

By 2005, critics had lost count of the number of languages Morrison’s writing had been translated into: 28 is the most recent figure published. She also was invited to join the Universal Academy of Cultures, the International Parliament of Writers and Artists, and the African and Helsinki Watch Committee on Human Rights. In 2005, Morrison received the Coretta Scott King Award from the American Library Association, as well as a Doctor of Letters Degree from Oxford University in England. She gave the Leon Forrest Lecture at Northwestern University, and finished her opera Margaret Garner, which during this year and the next several would be produced in Detroit, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Charlotte, New York and other locations.

In 2006, Beloved was chosen one of the best novels in twenty-five years by the New York Times. That year Morrison received an...

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