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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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← 168 | 169 → Notes


1. The strange resistance of critics who observe African American fiction is clear when John F. Callahan’s 1988 In the African-American Grain, The Pursuit of Voice in Twentieth-Century Black Fiction, for example, did not mention Morrison. Instead Callahan used as writers more contemporary than Ellison (Ellison’s Invisible Man is the fulcrum of this study) both Alice Walker and Sherley Anne Williams. As Charles Scruggs pointed out in 1993, “The line from Native Son to Invisible Man and Go Tell It on the Mountain is direct …. From the publication of Go Tell It on the Mountain in 1953 to the publication of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, there is a gap of seventeen years.” (Sweet Home 167–8).

1. Often referred to as “Chloe Anthony,” this is probably her real given name—though sometimes spelled “Ardellia”; as was the custom in the 1950s, Toni Morrison took her husband’s surname when she married. The impact of “Toni Morrison” evidently pleased her, though the grandmother for whom the “Ardelia” stood was much beloved. Morrison says she had never given her publisher a title page for The Bluest Eye, so she was surprised to see her name as Toni Morrison. In her Bigsby interview, she said at that time she was always “Chloe [Wofford] … I certainly wanted my father’s name on there.” (Bigsby 272).

← 169 | 170 → 2. One of Morrison’s poignant scenes, marked as much by silence as by language, shows Pecola...

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