Toni Morrison, V. S. Naipaul, and Ben Okri
Chapter Two - A shadowless participation: Toni Morrison’s Beloved and discredited history 43
Chapter Two A shadowless participation: Toni Morrison’s Beloved and discredited history Past lives live in us, through us. Each of us harbors the spirits of people who walked the earth before we did, and those spirits depend on us for continuing existence, just as we depend on their presence to live our lives to the fullest (John Edgar Wideman, Sent For You Yesterday). With this remarkable perception of the interdependence between past and present, John Edgar Wideman prefaces his prize-winning book Sent For You Yesterday published in 1983. In no way coincidentally, his particular insight of envisioning the past through the present is shared and heightened by Toni Morrison four years later in her widely acclaimed novel Beloved. However, the significance of quoting Wide- man’s passage as a prologue to this study on Morrison goes beyond an obvious intention of displaying certain continuity and renewal in African-American literary and cultural tradition, in which slavery is a central metaphor. This commentary provides a context for and a dialogic framework within which subsequent discussions on Mor- rison’s work may draw out points otherwise unnoticed. The discredited shadow of Africanist presence For one thing, both Wideman and Morrison have realized the im- portance of paying homage to their ancestors. In the cited passage, Wideman emphasizes our indebtedness to an ancestral past as its spirits live in and through us. Morrison echoes Wideman in her much- anthologized essay ‘Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation’ (1984) that ‘[w]hen you kill the ancestor you kill yourself’...
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