Morrison, Toni (1931– )

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Date: 2001
From: African American Writers(Vol. 2. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Excerpt; Biography; Critical essay; Work overview
Length: 10,660 words

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Toni Morrison (1931– )



ALTHOUGH LITERARY HISTORY has been so much produced and owned by the canonical gatekeepers of particular social formations that one cannot always count on it to “tell the truth” about the cultural production of a marginalized group, such has not been the case with the work of Toni Morrison. She is, and will continue to be, part of the “truth” about African American literature, partly because her work as novelist, editor, and critic has been “caretaken” by critics of African American literature; partly because she has been instrumental in facilitating the work of other contemporary African American writers; and partly because she has actively engaged in the debates of the critical discourse of her time. Her novels have created space for black and feminist texts, changing the overwhelmingly male makeup of the African American literary canon. Most important, however, she produced some of the most artistically, historically, and politically important work of the twentieth century as well as some of the most formally scintillating and thematically surgical prose in the overlapping bodies of American and African American literature.

Political and cultural analyst Frantz Fanon’s delineation of the work of the native intellectual as a project of reclamation, committed to awakening his or her people, is a fitting description of Morrison’s work. She herself was nurtured by her parents’ insistence on narrating their own experiences, by her education, and by her own recognition of her connections to her ancestors. When Morrison says that she wants her work to come out of a specific African American structure and to keep a reader on edge the way a jazz chord does, she is enlisting in the project that Fanon describes as resistance to the cultural silencing of the marginalized by the dominant group. She makes visible what was invisible both within African American culture and, across the boundaries of race, outside African American culture. Her texts are worldly, emerging from and cutting across the political, social, economic, historical constraints of her particular culture. Her work and her discussion of it have helped us pinpoint her sense of that group in the world, while our reading of it has reminded us of the complexities of its worldliness and of our own. Believing that the best art is political—and that it can be made political and beautiful together—Morrison consistently presents the political, despite her occasional fear that within the terms of the kind of world we inhabit, her work does very little. Nonetheless, because her work remaps the terrain of African American cultural and social history and allows for a community of the imagination, it interrupts the ideology that produces the kind of world we inhabit.

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In the wake of her increasing presence in the international context—as attested to by the multiplicity of languages in which her novels have been translated and the attention to her work from scholars, critics, and readers from all over the world—and especially in the wake of her winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, Morrison has become a figure that challenges preexisting notions of an American writer, a black writer, a woman writer, and a black intellectual. Her writing has taken her around the globe but her movement has taken place in more spaces than bookstores alone. As part of a transnational group of intellectuals and cultural producers, Morrison moves in circles such as the International Parliament of Writers, the Africa and Helsinki Watch Committees, earlier presence in the worlds of publishing and the academy allow us to further complicate our understandings of those places as much as it challenges the various categories of writer and producer I allude to above.

One way to think about “what” Morrison has produced is to think about “how” Morrison has produced herself. On October 7, 1988, Toni Morrison entered the world of literary criticism with the Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Michigan, a presentation entitled “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” With this lecture she made apparent the most recent manifestation of her remarkable ability to recognize, seize, and intervene in the important moments of her time. In deciding to write and talk about literary criticism, Morrison joins Amiri Baraka, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Sterling Brown as critic and theorist of her own work and as a theorist about the presence of African Americans and their writing in the domain of American literature. In a gesture as timely as it was brilliant, she joined a community of scholars in order to revise and remake critical history.

The road to that lecture was long and marked by Morrison’s narrative and editorial projects. The University of Michigan lecture was presented five years before she became the first African American to win the Nobel Prize and on the heels of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her fifth novel, Beloved, ten years after the 1978 National Book Critic’ Circle Award for Song of Solomon (the first African American novel since Richard Wright’s Native Son to be chosen as a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club), and thirteen years after the 1975 National Book Award nomination for Sula (an alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club that also was condensed in Redbook magazine). Morrison’s debut as a critic was both an indication to the world that acts of creative imagination can be formally tied to acts of analysis and a reminder that the writer has been as much a part of a formal intellectual tradition as she is a descendant of storytelling forebears. In its enlarged and enriched published form, Playing in the Dark (1992), that lecture has circulated throughout the world of literary studies and has enormous presence in the collective literary historical and critical project of revising our construction of American literature, adding to that project Morrison’s interpretive prowess and critical acumen as she refigures some of American literature’s most canonical texts.


Although Morrison’s early life is full of the signposts to her later creativity, the Western myth (or cliché) of the artist as a singular, completely private, autonomous, and isolated individual does not accurately characterize Morrison’s development. With one exception, Morrison has consistently eschewed the tendency to think of herself in terms of narratives of originative and genius imagination. She grew up in a family of storytellers and musicians; both parents told ghost stories, and her grandmother played the numbers by decoding dream symbols. Although narratives of “other” kinds of reality were pastimes throughout her childhood, Morrison admitted, in an interview with Gloria Naylor, to having once thought of herself—when writing The Bluest Eye—as unique, under the erroneous impression that nobody else was writing the way that she was or was going to do so. She explained that she had fallen prey to that kind of thinking because she had Page 583  |  Top of Articlebeen ill-taught and did not know about people like Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thur-man. Her discovery that she herself participates in a community that at one time she had not known existed—that there is a powerful narrative dynamic within African American culture that informs a tradition—affirmed her sense that the world the way black women perceive it really exists.

Morrison insists on a political reading of her biography and asserts her recognition of having lived within a community with class solidarity and class critique. That class recognition and critique informs all of her texts, as does the generative power and specificity of the culture out of which she writes. She said in “Memory, Creation, and Writing”: “I simply wanted to write literature that was irrevocably, indisputably Black, not because its characters were, or because I was, but because it took as its creative task and sought as its credentials those recognized and verifiable principles of Black art.”

It was in the family and as part of a coherent community that Morrison the novelist, editor, and teacher was made and made herself. She was born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, as Chloe Anthony Wofford, the second of four children of George Wofford, a car washer, steel mill welder, and road construction and shipyard worker, and Ramah Willis Wofford, who worked at home and sang in church. Her mother’s parents had come north from Alabama via Kentucky, where her grandfather had worked in the coal mines, to get away, as so many others before and after them, from poverty and racism. Her father, who came from Georgia, bore the imprint of the racial violence of that state. Her mother once responded to an eviction notice by tearing it up, and she wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt to complain of bugs in the corn meal. Although neither parent was especially optimistic about the ability of whites to transcend their racism, they believed, nonetheless, in neighborhood community. Lorain was and is a steel town, multiracial and consistently poor, but Morrison learned early on what it meant to live in an economically cooperative neighborhood.

Toni Morrison Toni Morrison

From Lorain High School, Morrison went on to earn her B.A. degree from Howard University, where she worked with the Howard University Players and traveled through the South with a faculty-and-student repertory troupe. Audiences were for the most part black; she reports that she had virtually no contact with white people. After receiving her degree in 1953, she went to Cornell University for graduate work in English, completed a thesis on William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, and received her M.A. degree in 1955.

Morrison taught at Texas Southern University for two years (1955-1957), and then until 1964 at Howard University, where the Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael was one of her students. She described herself then (during the early stages of the Civil Rights movement) as not really interested in the integration movement. Although she knew of the terror and abuses of segregation, she was afraid that assimilation would have a diminishing effect on African American culture, and she was unper-suaded by the assumption that black children would learn better with white children. This Page 584  |  Top of Articlethinking was an echo of arguments that Zora Neale Hurston had made in the 1930s and 1940s. Morrison insisted that what African Americans needed was economic investment in materials for schools, in faculty, in buildings; she argued, as Hurston had before her, that with money black neighborhoods could be the sites of schools, and that mixing people of different races and classes would not solve the problems of racism and poverty.

While teaching at Howard she met and married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, and gave birth to two sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. Morrison describes these years as a period of almost complete powerlessness, a time when she wrote quietly and participated in a writers’ workshop, putting together a short story that would eventually become The Bluest Eye.

Morrison left Howard in 1964, divorced her husband, and a year and a half later moved to Syracuse, New York, where she began her career as an editor for the textbook subsidiary of Random House. In that time she would publish her book, College Reading Skills. She moved to a senior editorship at Random House’s New York City headquarters in 1967. She continued to teach—at Yale, at Bard College, at the State University of New York campuses at Purchase and at Albany, and at Rutgers University. In 1989 she became a member of Princeton University’s faculty as Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities; she also held the International Con-dorcet Chair at the Ecole Normale Superieure and College de France (1994) and spent one year (1998) as the A. D. White Professot.-at-La.tgs, at Cornell University. As might be expected, Morrison’s writing and teaching careers are studded with awards—national and international—and honorary degrees.

What might be less expected, and certainly less well-known, is the importance to black American intellectual history of Morrison’s career in publishing. In her position as senior editor at Random House, Morrison facilitated the careers of an array of black American intellectuals, making it possible for important fiction and nonfiction—including critical analysis, history, poetry, and biography—by numerous black writers to be published. Her work at Random House, which by the end of the twentieth century included a distinguished list of more than twenty authors and thirty-five texts, made possible the emergence of some of the most important work by black American authors of the last third of the twentieth century. She edited, among other projects, Leon Forrest’s There Is a Tree More Ancient than Eden (1973), The Bloodworth Orphans (1977), and Two Wings to Veil My Face (1983), George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye (1972), Ivan van Sertima’s They Came before Columbus (1976), the fiction and essays of Toni Cade Bambara—including Bam-bara’s posthumous novel, Those Bones Are Not My Child (1999)—Gayl Jones’s first three novels, June Jordan’s Things That I Do in the Dark (1977), Chinweizu’s The West and the Rest of Us (1975), and Angela Davi’ An Autobiography (1974) and Women, Race, and Class (1981).

Morrison also helped bring into being The Black Book (1974), a collection of materials from black history—representations of black lives as well as black cultural expression. It contains newspaper clippings, photographs, songs, advertisements, slave bills of sale, Patent Office records, receipts, rent-party jingles, and other memorabilia—in short, African American history as revealed in elements of material culture. Morrison produced this book at a time when many feared that the Black Power movement would be reduced to rhetoric and empty images, that its fading salience would silence past reminders of African American history, reminders that would not fit into the rhetoric of the moment or into black collective consciousness. While Morrison’s name appears nowhere on it, the collection was, according to Marilyn Mobley, Morrison’s idea, her project. Morrison saw it as the history made by unknown black folks, a record that framed the parameters of black existence in terms of the quotidian, giving their due to the noncelebrated and demystifying the relationship of blacks to their history in order to write new histories. The Black Book was Morrison’s intervention into historical discourse, a gesture that echoes Zora Neale Hurston’s commentaries on her anthropologicai Page 585  |  Top of Articlegatherings in the 1920s and 1930s, and her argument in the essay “Characteristics of Negro Expression.” Morrison’s intervention into historical discourse has also produced, so far, two collections of essays on topical issues: Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power (1992) and Birth of a Nation’hood (1997). These essay collections, addressing the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill controversy and the response to the O.J. Simpson trial respectively, are the result of her ability to make space for progressive politically-engaged academic contributions to the concerns of the nation as those concerns cohere around extraordinary events.

Equally important as the details of Morrison’s biography and her writing and academic careers are the contexts for the production of her books, the larger history of African Americans and women. The Bluest Eye (1970) was written during a period of an emerging black aesthetic, the cultural arm of the black militancy movement. The book’s opening lines imply the keeping of a secret—and it is a dirty little secret, not just of personal aesthetics but of race (there at the end of the Civil Rights movement) and of class.

Sula (1973) was produced in the midst of the reinvigorated feminist movement and debate. Morrison maintains that throughout their history in America, black women have been pro-tofeminists—aggressive, the objects of a labor history as oppressive as men’s, and required to do physical labor in competition with them. The relation between black men and black women turned out to be more of a comradeship than the conventional patriarchal pattern of male dominance/female subordination because of the demands of the labor: the requirements of the work were the same. Black women did not have the luxury of middle-class white women, were unable to “choose” to work or to be at home. Morrison’s thinking about feminism also bears the influence of her family experience—she has said that within her family, her parents confronted crises as they arose without adhering to a system of gender-divided responsibilities. She views the cooperative and ad hoc nature of their relationship, like the marriages of older generations of blacks, as having been a comradely partnership—a dynamic that she views as having died out as blacks came to participate more and more in the gender illness of the general culture.

Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), and Beloved (1987) are extended engagements with larger issues of group history. Song of Solomon sets that group history within the parameters of the family romance; Tar Baby focuses on the relationship of colonialism and its attendant history to the family dynamics and antithetical cultures within a multiracial household; and Beloved negotiates history as a narrative of the ownership of the most concrete fact of human existence—the body—as well as the most abstract of human relationships—love.

Jazz (1992) and Paradise (1998) extend the narrative and historical projects of Morrison’s first five novels and focus in even more intense fashion on the problems of narrative itself and its relation to the complexities, difficulties, and impossibilities of history, Jazz makes of the telling of individual stories a conversation about the parallel, intersectional, and contradictory dynamics of large and small history; of romance as adventure as well as sexual interplay,- of the making of a city as well as the fractures and fissures of neighborhoods; and of the weaving of multiple relationships. This work of multiple story structures is further complicated by the novel’s playful engagement with reading and rereading as a representation of the textual presence itself. A reader reading fazz serves as a cat’s-paw to the novel as the novel reads and rewrites itself. “Jazz” as a metaphor in the title might most productively be read as a matter of attuning the mind’s eye and ears to the intertwined play of reading and storytelling, where the same narrative can be repeated with infinite variation. The climax of the novel asks us to rethink what we know about erotic desire in terms of reading pleasure. Paradise continues the parallel, intersectional, and contradictory attention to history that fazz offers and is, at the same time, a further adventure into the constituting of community by the means of the mechanism of storytelling via the vehicle of control over the bodies of black women by describing the limitations and imperatives of those bodies.

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Toni Morrison accepting the Noble Price in 1993 Toni Morrison accepting the Noble Price in 1993

The Bluest Eye

One could say that Morrison’s first novel is a story of a barely pubescent girl, Pecola, told through the voice of another barely pubescent girl, Claudia. The story is a simple chronicle of Claudia’s journey to social maturation that also describes the psychological destruction of Pecola. Pecola is convinced by her family, classmates, and community that she is ugly. That knowledge, coupled with her rape by her father, destroys her. As with many descriptions that distort the reality of a narrative by reducing it to a summary without necessarily stating outright falsehoods, there would be some truth in that description. The text, however, quickly reveals itself as much more.

“Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941” we are told as the novel commences. Why quiet? We are being let in on a secret—not just the secret of the detritus of ideas of physical aesthetics but also the secret of the relationship of such ideas to racism and class oppression. The secret kept quiet in the fall of 1941 is that the community, having internalized the racism of the dominant group, is itself largely the reason for the failure of one of its flowers, Pecola Breedlove, to thrive. That that failure has its roots in the ground of a particular African American community forces readers to rethink the norms of our social formation, especially when the aberrations of those norms (black people’s physical appearance) play themselves out in juxtaposition to their most conventional representations (blond, blue-eyed dolls, movie actresses, models in advertisements, and pictures on Shirley Temple cups).

The novel states its agenda early when Claudia admits that narrating Pecola’s story is so painful and difficult that “one must take refuge in how” that story came to be rather than “why” it came to be. The Bluest Eye is a history of abstractions—racism and physical aesthetics—and their manifestation in a concrete world: in the distorting of one young black girl’s life. Pecola is the means by which her community pledges allegiance to an idea of personal beauty; however, her story is as much about the failure of patriarchal family values when those Page 587  |  Top of Articlevalues are based on restrictions of gender definitions and are at the mercy of the pressures of poverty and racism. The horror of Pecola’s existence is even more evident when it is set against the nurtured and nurturing lives of the MacTeer sisters, Claudia and Frieda.

The novel proper is preceded by subversion of the small and imperfect universe of the Dick and Jane story. That story, even in its conventional form, is already endangered: Jane can’t find a playmate, Dick can’t be found, the kitten won’t play. Still, despite these intimations of disorder, Mother laughs and Father smiles. The possible chaotic rendering of the family’s unity, however, seems to be held at bay by the very conventionality of the story’s textuality: proper punctuation, spelling, grammar, straightforward syntax, and uniform spacing and margins. The passage is repeated twice, and with each repetition the words are pushed closer and closer until the paragraph is meaningless. Squashed into incomprehensibility under textual compression, the deformed paragraph represents the deformation of Pecola’s family: under the pressures of economic impoverishment and the stultifying effects of past and present racism, the entire family is without the means and the confidence to hold its shape, to center itself, to make itself whole.

With the first epigraph from the Dick and Jane story (following the introductory chapter),


the text sets the terms. The last word, the key word “pretty,” is repeated completely four times, but the fifth attempt at the word stops with p. The word has no real existence because this section of the narrative is about the Breed-love storefront home, about which there is nothing intrinsically “pretty”: this house is hideous to the mother, Pauline, contrasted as it is with her’white, middle-class standards of beauty. The house is ugly, and even the addition of a new couch can’t make it “pretty” because the couch arrives damaged. The limits of Pauline’s vision are made manifest in the next section of the story, which is introduced by a passage focusing on the key word “happiness,” again repeated several times but truncated after the h at the end.

The family has no history of happiness. Pauline’s life has been economically and intellectually stunted, and Cholly’s life has been economically and psychosexually stunted by his racist experience as a teenage boy with white males who observe and interfere as he and a teenage girl have sexual intercourse. The children of the family are miserable and withdrawn. From such beginnings the narrative uses the rest of the Dick and Jane story to preview and parallel the deterioration of the Breedlove family even as it uses the seasons of the year to suggest the optimism of a cyclical universe. A reader is fooled into hoping that if one can get through the decay of “Autumn” and the dormancy of “Winter,” then perhaps the fecundity of “Spring” and the harvest of “Summer” will renew the malfunctioning world of the text’s beginning. Instead, however, the harvest of summer is monstrous—by its end (also the end of the text), Pecola has been raped by her father, assaulted by the world’s degradation of her appearance, and, finally, left only with the comfort of her madness—a dream of possessing the “bluest,” and hence the most beautiful and desirable, eyes.

Claudia’s narrative of Pecola’s story attempts to describe and account for what happens to her friend, but the story is bigger and more horrific than one young female child’s narrative can contain. While Claudia’s own story allows us to discover her world with her—that impatient and overworked mothers still clean up vomit and don’t want their sick children to die, that adults “issue orders without providing information”—and shows us Claudia criticizing herself (in short, “becoming” her own narrative), by the end of the novel even Claudia’s story is almost as severely circumscribed as Pecola’s: Pecola’s downfall has become Claudia’s guilt. Claudia is the one person to recognize that the responsibility for Pecola’s madness lies within every member of the community who did not fight to root out the possession of the black imagination that internalized racism takes.

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This novel is a chronicle of Pecola and her family under attack, an attack issuing from the pressures of racism. Cholly’s twisted psyche results from his inability to sustain his family economically in a world that both makes it impossible for him to do so yet demands that he must. The attack is made more vicious by Pauline’s infatuation with American movie aesthetics and middle-class standards of taste in place of connections to an older southern culture that might have sustained her in the North. Further, she works as a maid and is consumed by a damaging set of aesthetic identifications with her well-off white employer, identifications that prevent her from exercising her imagination or utilizing the coping mechanisms that enrich the MacTeer family both economically and culturally.

By extension, Pauline is part of what destroys her daughter; Pecola is done in by poverty, not just the poverty of the spirit that comes from living within the circumference of her mother’s damaging aesthetic but also the poverty of denied aspirations, the vicious cultural poverty that is the logical outcome of racism and the lack of economic mobility. Pecola is raped and made mad not because she is essentially an unloved and ugly victim, or because her community constructs her as ugly, but because she and her family represent the ugly secret beneath the surface of the Shirley Temple cup. That cup represents the attractiveness forced on the young black girls of the story,- such “attractiveness” is further enforced by the parameters of the Dick and Jane happy household story. The cup and the story belong to a world that is aestheticized in a particular way and underwritten by an economically comfortable existence. Pecola is the poor, black underside of that story, which by its presence serves to mark the value of its opposite.


The relationship between micro and macro history in her first novel also informs Morrison’s second. Sula pulls together a real history of a community forgotten behind the language of “a joke. A nigger joke.” The story parallels the history of a black community (the Bottom) and its origins in the false promise of a white farmer with the family histories of two young black women, Sula Peace and Nel Wright, and the military-induced psychosis of a black veteran.

What holds the Bottom together is a shared history both in that place and in the places in the South from which the residents have come. The history of Nel’s mother, Helen, the strait-laced daughter of a whore, becomes the engine driving her retreat into, and her insistence on (for her daughter), a life of arid, gentrified, and conventional deprivation nonetheless tragic for Helen’s inability to see its stranglehold on her and her daughter’s vitality.

The story is a multilevel narrative that pivots on the story of Shadrack the veteran, a schizophrenic who can conquer his fear of death only by externalizing it into a once-a-year ritual, “National Suicide Day,” and on the story of a man-loving female dynasty headed by Eva Peace, Sula’s grandmother. Shadrack’s psychosis draws in the entire community, just as Eva’s dynasty does. The complexities of this dynasty are manifested by the inability of Eva’s daughter, Hannah, to withhold herself from any man who wants her— she cannot understand why any woman would build her life around just one man—and by the ability of Eva to kill by setting fire to the one male most consistently responsible for her sense of herself as a mother.

It is these complexities that make possible the central richness of the text: its insistence that it is the multiple complications of interwoven identities that allow a community to be both a collection of individuals and an incubator of a common will. The Bottom both produces and contains the friendship of Nel and Sula, just as it valorizes the gender restrictions that make Nel a shadow of conventionality while providing the crucible that constructs the figure of adventure and curiosity that is Sula. Sula is, according to Deborah McDowell, the representation of a character as a process, not an essence. The narrative interweaves this “process” with the text’s presentation of Nel as the most historically conservative of constructions—the Page 589  |  Top of Articlepowerless, careful, and virginal “nice girl”—and thus highlights the interplay between Sula’s assumption of the male privilege not to be held down and Nel’s insistence on making the expected, stable, held-in-place “good life” for herself. The friendship between the two women is a powerful one, its potency made believable by the text’s excavation of how identity is both socially constructed and abrogated.

Toward the end of Sula, the same community that had allowed Nel and Sula to forge the terms of their togetherness by making their differences a subject of discussion, and not a reason for exile, constructs Sula as the demon witch “other” who, at least temporarily, causes the matrons of the Bottom to “become” better mothers by allowing them to define their “virtue” against her “evil,” just as earlier they had made moral alliances against her mother’s promiscuity.

While one grieves for such false consciousness and its deadly manifestions in this community of poor black people, for the series of tragedies throughout the novel—the deaths of a small child, of a sibling and parent, of a marriage, or even of an entire community (when the tunnel caves in on “National Suicide Day”)—the broken friendship between the two women evokes the deepest response. Their connection made the other relationships more coherent and salient, and made possible the exploration of what one was not, of what one might otherwise not have done:

“We was girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.

In mapping the terrain of possibility within the constantly negotiated spaces of race and gender, Sula ends with the severed connection between Nel and Sula, a sundering that is clearly more than the death of a friendship, that in fact represents the cessation of fluidity and its being forced into final fixity.

Song of Solomon

Morrison herself has made clear her interest in what is at stake in a critique of fixity, of stability, and it is on the ground of undermining the false comfort of an unquestioned economic, emotional, and familial stability that Song of Solomon rests. This third novel is the battleground for undermining the powerful but fallacious hold that fixity, unity, and closure have had on representations of African American culture. While most commonly regarded by critics as the working out of a mythic search for group and self, the politically and psychologically complex Song of Solomon is a novel of explicit and implicit critique. It is a critique of ownership psychology, patriarchal culture, and obsessive searches for narratives of authentic and stable “truth.” It is a text that takes seriously the tensions of the relationship between individual history and group politics.

At the same time, the text is a multilayered narrative whose protagonist learns to “read” through the layers of history that surround and intersect his life. The narrative explores the ways individuals and communities construct reality and political formations, and, within the dynamic play of African American vernacular language, it refuses to allow the reader to ferret out a single “truth,” the “real story,” the solutionis) to the mystery(ies).

The text sets up racial and economic oppositions without foregrounding whites and racist oppression; while it does not leave out external racism, it constructs that oppression from the black side. It begins with a community that is defined in negative reaction to a larger community: it is not on the “right” side of the tracks, its main thoroughfare is “Not Doctor Street,” and the hospital where the narrative threads are laid is “No Mercy Hospital.”

The characters must find their ways through the morass of that which defines them, just as the African American community outside of, as well as inside of, this text must think its way through the various possible political strategies. These two parallels meet in the fate of the protagonist, Milkman. Born on the grounds of No Mercy Hospital on Not Doctor Street, Milkman Page 590  |  Top of Articleis the human nexus of the forces engaged from the beginning of the narrative.

This is a narrative that complicates place. Home, for example, is where Milkman and his family live and rest, but it is also a place of obsession with money and death. Macon, Milkman’s father, has an office that is described not in terms of address or geographical relationship but in terms of its relation to its previous history, “Sonny’s Shop,” which is how the community sees it. Only Macon thought of it as his office and painted the word “office” on its door. Macon’s determination to “fix” meaning also is represented by a business concern (a summer community) named “Honor” on the lake—not a place as much as an exchange marker for the middle-class African Americans who can afford summer homes there.

Place is not simply location; it is what happened at that site, what was felt about that happening, and what people said about it. In response to the question of where her father was murdered, Macon’s sister Pilate answers, “off a fence,” “on our farm,” or “Montour County,” and all the answers say something while none of them leaves the questioner satisfied. Pilate herself conveys a meaning of which she is unaware, as Valerie Smith puts it. She sings a partial version of the biblical Song of Solomon wherever she goes, which means the family history is carried to various places by one who knows the text but not its relationship to its history or its meaning.

Pilate also embodies the mediating ground between the polarities of the political selves represented by Milkman and his more explicitly political friend, Guitar. She is, throughout the text, the locus for delineating history, personal connection, and alternatives to time and concrete reality. She maintains a political life— a critique of power relations—without explicitly discussing politics and represents the funky coming together of the modern and the folk. Pilate also represents, in her knowledge of all of the aspects of her world, the ability to manipulate that world, to alter, to make fluid what is “real,” but she retains the sense of responsibility that comes through in her history: “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body.”

It is finally that insistence on responsibility which stays with the reader and which undermines the assumption that Milkman’s flight at the end, over her dead body, is an untroubled and transcendent answer to his quest for his history. Even when successful as escape, flight leaves people behind, mourning. When unsuccessful, it leaves people behind, dead. Flight even facilitates the final and lethal showdown between bare-handed but no less inimical friends, the outcome of which is left open to conjecture.

Tar Baby

The indeterminacy of Song of Solomon is even more evident in Tar Baby, a far less read and written-about text. The difficulty with this novel may stem from the lack of distance from its content on the part of critics, who, like the central character, Jadine, are likely to have had elite educations, and on the part of readers, who, again like Jadine, are likely to be middle-or upper-class. It is more difficult to respond hopefully to a text that so ruthlessly demystifies both education and sentimentality in a way which suggests that neither education nor emotional engagement offers an easy resolution to problems of race and class. The text is also unsettling in its contemporary immediacy: readers cannot escape through it into another world—brand and corporate names so permeate the text that one’s nose is rubbed in the “this world-ness” of the story. And the dichotomies that are apparent are too “real,” too pointed, for the story’s lovers (or readers) to easily transcend the differences which are so interwoven a part of the text.

Set on a Caribbean island representing a microcosm of benevolence and benign intentions on the part of its white owners, the novel probes the more sordid underside and history of that benevolence. Valerian Street, the powerful white male figure, wears Margaret, his “Principal Beauty” wife, as an ornament. This human ornament is as cold and functionless as any of the inanimate sort: she cannot nurture her child—in fact, she is a secret child abuser.

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The conflicted household also contains Ondine and Sydney—the black domestic workers— whose niece Jadine is the surrogate child for Valerian and Margaret. Ondine nurtures Valerian and Margaret’s son and also knows Margaret’s secret. Gideon and Therese are the black “outside” workers, who do not exist for the “inside”—they are an undifferentiated part of the natural world that the inside world of artifice covers over. Therese’s name is not even part of the “owners” story—Margaret calls her Mary. And finally, there is Son—whose very name suggests a familial connection to the three couples that cannot be sustained and who is the catalyst for the action of the story.

The various dyads represent the conflicted grounds in the relationships between nature and nurture and between identity and responsibility. Jadine represents the embodiment of a possible bridge between the worlds, though ultimately she cannot reach and connect all the different sides.

The island on which the characters live and on which Son’s presence intrudes is a place that, according to legend, struck slaves blind. Amid the lushness of the “natural” foliage of the island lives the “unnaturalness” of maternal abuse with its counterpoint in the natural, primal, yet dangerous ants and trees. Stuck on the island for different reasons—she visits out of love for the inhabitants and he, out of fear for his life—Jadine and Son are both “tar babies,” both equally cultural icons, representations of cultural myths, and both equally unreal. To the ‘X&Tb “eatin ritneT tney represent caricatures of the arguments that seek to account for racial difference. Jadine has been nurtured much as a white middle- or upper-class young woman would have been; Son has been allowed, by the circumstances of his impoverished childhood in the South, to grow up essentially unsocialized, at least according to bourgeois norms and mores. The text puts the two together spatially with sexual attraction as the glue that causes them to “stick” to each other—they are tar babies with a certain fatal attraction for each other.

The subtext of the novel forces a reader to consider not only the dynamics of “nurture” (or lack thereof) and “nature,” but also the difficulty of defining a love affair that is caught on the horns of the dilemmas of gender and class. If Jadine is a particular kind of black woman and Son is a particular kind of black man, is the possibility of their joining arbitrary? Or does the text make their differences so thoroughgoing that the inevitability of “love” or sexual attraction is made a problem by recourse to representations of its difficulties when run through a matrix of polar differences? The text makes fun of the easy and romantic assumption that “love will find a way,” insisting instead that love lives in the world, and that the world is political.

At one end of the spectrum is the entirely comfortable world of Jadine’s surroundings. Yet that world is comfortable only because Valerian is blind to Margaret’s inability to care for their son, because Margaret has been content all of her life to be the “Principal Beauty,” and because the power of that household (represented by Valerian) remakes everyone in it to Valerian’s specifications, his need. Jadine is comfortable insofar as she represents someone who is constructed according to the desire of others. She is not “naturally” the child of Ondine or Sydney, although she is part of a kin relationship; she is only artificially Valerian and Margaret’s child; and she is attractive to Son only because he cannot see past the glitter of her surface to the emptiness below it. But Jadine is as much the product of her world as Son is the product of his. And this is not a text that will allow us to romanticize the “old South,” Eloe, from whence he comes. Against his own nostalgia for that place is the clarity of Jadine’s gaze on its incredible poverty, oppressive social mores, and restrictions based on gender.

The most fascinating aspect of this text is the interplay between Jadine’s gaze on Eloe and Son’s gaze on Valerian’s world—the two are incredibly critical of each other’s world at the same time they are both incredibly blind to the fact that each embodies his or her own world. Both Jadine and Son make the person to whom each is attracted “the other”; both find that “otherness” sexy, but both are finally defeated by the implications of that otherness. Jadine considers Son the physical side of herself, Son Page 592  |  Top of Articledesires the carefully nurtured artifice of Jadine, and in their commentary on their relationship the two take on the difficult definition of “blackness.”

In a colonialist world, the Isle des Chevaliers, who is really free to be “black”? Everyone is owned, including the owners, who are trapped by the responsibilities that go with owning the land and the humans who work on it and in the house. The “Philadelphia Negroes” (a play on W. E. B. Du Bois’s stunning sociological study of the black bourgeoisie in Philadelphia) is a title proudly claimed by Ondine and Sydney, who are domestic servants empowered by their proximity to the real owners and whose niece, Jadine, educated by the owners, represents the new native elite.

Within the constraints of this story, answers to the questions posed by the existence of these people, in that time and in that topsy-turvy landscape of anthropomorphic rivers and trees, are made impossible by the complexities present at the onset. What does it mean to be a black man or woman within the terms of colonialism? What is love when desire continually attaches itself to false exoticism? Whose vision can we trust when all people have power inequities from which they speak or financial interests to negotiate? Tar Baby is not a love story as much as it is the ground for first world and third world collision.


Beloved, like Tar Baby, is a history and a representation of the complexities of love and sexual attraction. It is a more hopeful story because while it suggests that racism and memory never die, it also suggests that it is the negotiation of history, both one’s own and that of the group, which makes love possible. This novel is, finally, a text about the community as a site of complications that empowers, as much as its social history within the larger formation debilitates, its members. What is most hopeful about the way in which the characters work their way through the complexities of that community and their relationship to history and memory is their realization that desire and autonomy are necessarily intertwined.

Beloved foregrounds the alienation of the slave’s body,- it focuses not only on the use of that body for labor but also on the uses of that body’s surplus production—affection from any slave (male or female), the children, and the milk of the slave woman. It delineates the incredible “othering” of the slave system, an othering that allows “owning” humans to put “bits” in the mouths of “owned” humans in the name of socialization and efficiency. The text defines the sexuality of male slaves by virtue of depictions of the inaccessibility of their desires.

More than a recounting of slave history, however, Beloved forces on our minds the implications of slavery’s existence in the emancipated present. Sethe escapes with her children from the actual scene of her enslavement, but because the tentacles of slavery follow her, she attempts to kill her children and succeeds with one of them. Long after the end of slavery, after the end of her societal punishment, the legacy of slavery—the obsessive presence of the dead baby’s spirit—manifests itself in the unhappy and traumatic atmosphere of the house, 124 Bluestone Road. The other part of Sethe’s slave past, Paul, comes into that house and provides the catalyst for the physical intrusion of the jealous part of Sethe’s slave past. The battleground among Sethe,- her living daughter, Denver,- her lover, Paul; and the spirit of the dead baby, Beloved, is also the place where rewritten history and memory construct the possibility for at least a negotiated autonomy. The characters learn to love because as survivors of a time when even love was so circumscribed that it had to take as its objects abstractions that could not be taken away by the owners, they realize that freedom finally allows a satisfaction that results from reconsidering everyone’s connections to everyone else and to memory. Slavery exists as a hold on the imagination; the relearning of human attachment is the way in which that hold is loosened.

Slavery is a narrative that draws on mono-logic memory—the horror of the material relation overwhelms every other kind of relation; Page 593  |  Top of Articleagainst that monologism, Beloved foregrounds the dialogic tendencies of memory and its imaginative capacity to construct and reconstruct the significance of the past. The narrative of slavery is chronologically linear,- Beloved, on the other hand, meanders, circles back, and moves spirally. It takes into account different versions of the past, not to construct a complete, whole, and monolithic account but to complicate any attempt at a monolithic account.

Morrison has repeatedly articulated her sense of awe of the incredible psychic power that ordinary black men and women had to exercise to resist the devastation of slavery. In Beloved she pays tribute to that power by not having recourse to a singular and heroic style of narrative, by not simply imposing one personal style. She allows the fractures and ruptures of individuals’ retellings of their stories to add layers of the narrative. The text avoids the trap of becoming a parade of mythic suffering woven into a cathartic maternal melodrama by insisting on historicizing everyone’s emotional responses, by delineating the individual strategies of resistance, and by including the clinical details of horrific instances like the severing of Beloved’s head so that readers are not lost in a maze of Sethe’s anguish. This is not a text that allows one to draw back and simply feel; instead, one is forced to look, to think, and to listen to characters account for themselves and for the forces acting on them. If the most damaging aspect of slavery was its insistence that black humans were animal-like in their lack of a psyche, this text reinscribes the complexities of those psyches with a vengeance.


The complexities of psyches and their engagement with and through history moves through Jazz and are moved by an urban cacophony of mobility: Jazz captures the wildness of the rural South moving North, trailing the possibilities and detritus of mysterious and mystified family romances,- the momentum of social challenges to the racial house—the United States—against the attempts of that house to stabilize and control boundaries among people; the impulse to carry and hold fast the embodiment of a dream. Joe’s murder of Dorcas is a palimpsest of male attempts to exert control over desire and the object of desire. It is the means by which he secures an unchanging vision of himself, a momento—a totem, even—of his self-idealization. And that murder looms larger or dwindles depending on the movement of the refracturing eye or “I” of history’s perception, the text’s perception, and the reader’s perception. A nonlinear set of tensions and negotiations—entanglements that are sometimes competing, sometimes intersecting, and sometimes knotted and webbed— make up the mess that is a city.

The migration into and transformation of the city is one of the means by which we understand modernity. In Jazz, we read of the city’s changing animation as the wildness of the South enlivens it, the novel also leads us to understand technology as the means by which personification is established in this new environment—as in the photography of Dorcas. But photography is also the mode of expression that makes Dorcas’s personification contingent, ephemeral. Dorcas is alive one moment, as her representation speaks to Violet, and dead the next, as an objet d’art and a finished story on a shelf.

The city rolls over, around, under, and through the circulation of stories and affairs—love, family, friendship—and provides a concrete staging ground for the parade of politics. Harlem stages itself, and the text provides a voice-over. But along with big and small spectacles, big and small machines—on the street, in the home, and in the beauty parlor, come the ghosts of old and new stories. Jazz and the “something” driving this text ask us repeatedly: Who are these people?

Morrison addressed the possibilities of the city for black writers in her 1981 essay “City Limits, Village Values,” wherein she positions the city as a space of negotiation. The city for black writers is not the scene of loss that it has often figured as for white writers—the loss of unbounded freedom, autonomy, and power.

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Nor is it the scene of alienation. Instead, the city serves as the ground of knowledge; it offers the concentration of the village ancestors and the complexity of life lived in dense layers of sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste.

The city is a text, which means it is a mystery as conventional as the son’s discovery of his father and as innovative as the making of female friendships and relationships out of the old shackles of a burned-out heterosexual romance. The friendships that Violet makes and the relationships that she sustains in the wake of Dorcas’s death and the burial of her own “old” marriage makes possible a different Violet and a more complicated new love affair. Nonetheless, nothing in Jazz is ever completely resolved, made, or thoroughly known. The possibilities are just reconfigured, the players repositioned, and another perspective voiced or revoiced.


That complexity of positioning and telling so central to Jazz also drives Paradise. The town Ruby, Oklahoma, created out of a promise, a covenant, that comes out of U.S. racial history, is the concrete embodiment of a foundational myth of purity, authenticity, and power as heavy and opague as the oven that holds the town in place. Like all foundational myths, the circulation of Ruby’s history is deadening. It is meant to keep memory alive, but like the ghost of a corpse weighing on the living, it silences the young for whom it is supposed to promise a different future.

By contrast, the various women who make their ways to Ruby, by chance and by choice, retreating from male-centered difficulty, make a space—the convent—that allows people to return from the dead. They move, in other words, from the places of traditional male control to a place of self-control. The convent is a place for healing, for coexistence that does not demand personal erasure as its price for making community. The stories are not told in strict chronological or linear fashion. They are interrupted, they spiral, ana even turn in on themselves. The convent is a challenge to the older ways and the older battles that produced Ruby. We could think of the convent as the embodiment of Morrison’s call (in her essay “Home”) for a “third, if you will pardon the expression, world”—a space where “one can imagine safety without walls, can iterate difference that is prized but unprivileged.” A space where one learns community as something embedded, not imposed.

As is the case with all of Morrison’s novels, history is represented, is told, as an interplay of larger forces and structures of power, as a force resisted and opposed, and as the intertwining of family narrative within a tapestry made up of larger stories. The history of the present is more fully apparent in Paradise than in any of her other novels with the exception, perhaps, of Tar Baby. But where Tar Baby takes up the history of colonialism as imbricated in the relationship between Jadine and Son, Paradise gives us a sharply critical take on black cultural common-sense as predicated on attempted male coloni-alization of female bodies and psyches.

That most of the women who become the objects of the black male executioners are themselves also black fractures the myth of racial solidarity. That one of the women is white but not identified specifically in the narrative allows us to question (without the certainty of a completely satisfying answer) what the representation of race does: where it tells us something, where it does not. That all who die are women is the final plank in the narrative’s building of a critical representation of mascu-linist black nationalist fantasies of control. Finally, however, the presence of death and life, or life in death, at the novel’s end allows us a sense of possibility: there are limits to the ability of “reality” to tell us all we need to know, there are limits of knowing itself. What kind of resurrection might be possible is the work of imagination.

Morrison’s texts have in common the project that she herself has articulated for black literature in general: if it is not concerned with the village or the community (however critically, one might add), then it has no reason for being.

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Selected Bibliography



The Bluest Eye. New York: Holt, Rinehart …. Winston, 1970.

Sula. New York: Knopf, 1973.

Song of Solomon. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Tar Baby. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Beloved. New York: Knopf, 1987.

fazz. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Paradise. New York: Knopf, 1998.


College Reading Skills. New York: Knopf, 1965.

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. (Essays.)

The Nobel Acceptance Speech. New York: Knopf, 1994. (Delivered in Stockholm on December 7, 1993.)

The Dancing Mind. New York: Knopf, 1996. (Morrison’s speech in acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, November 6, 1996.)


Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality. New York: Pantheon, 1992.

Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations. New York: Pantheon, 1996. (A collection of writings by Toni Cade Bambara.)

Birth of a Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case. Coedited with Claudia Brod-sky Lacour. New York: Pantheon, 1997.

The Big Box. Coauthored with Slade Morrison. New York: Hyperion, 1999. (For children.)


“What the Black Woman Thinks about Woman’s Lib.” New York Times Magazine, August 22,1971, pp. 1415, 63-64, 66.

“Cooking Out.” New York Times Book Review, June 10, 1973, pp. 4, 16.

“Behind the Making of The Black Book.” Black World 23:86-90 (February 1974).

“Rediscovering Black History.” New York Times Magazine, August 11, 1974, pp. 14ff.

“Reading.” Mademoiselle 81:14 (May 1975).

“Slow Walk of Trees (as Grandmother Would Say) Hopeless (as Grandfather Would Say).” New York Times Magazine, July 4, 1976, pp. 104ff.

“City Limits, Village Values: Concepts of Neighborhood in Black Fiction.” In Literature and the Urban Experience: Essays on the City and Literature. Edited by Michael Jaye and Ann Chalmers Watts. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1981. Pp. 35-43.

“Recitatif.” In Confirmations: Stories by Black Women. Edited by Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka. New York: William Morrow, 1983. Pp. 243-61.

“Memory, Creation, and Writing.” Thought 59:385-90 (December 1984).

“Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Examination. Edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1984. Pp. 339-45.

“The Site of Memory.” In Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Edited by William K. Zinsser. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

“Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” Michigan Quarterly Review 28:1 -34 (Winter 1989).

“The Marketing of Power: Racism and Fascism.” Nation 260, no. 21:760 (May 29, 1995).

Preface to Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions. Edited by Toni Morrison. New York: Pantheon, 1996.

“Home.” In The House That Race Built: Black Americans, U.S. Terrain. Edited by Wahneema Lubiano. New York: Pantheon, 1997. Pp. 3-12.

“Strangers.” New Yorker, October 12, 1998, p. 68.



Awkward, Michael. “Roadblocks and Relatives: Critical Revision in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.” In Critical Essays on Toni Morrison. Edited by Nellie Y. McKay. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Pp. 56-68.

—— Inspiriting Influences: Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American Women’s Novels. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Backus, Margot Gayle. “‘Looking for That Dead Girl’: Incest, Pornography, and the Capitalist Family Romance in Nightwood, The Years, and Tar Baby.” American Imago 51, no. 4:421 (Winter 1994).

Badt, Karin Luisa. “The Roots of the Body in Toni Morrison: A Matter of ‘Ancient Properties’. “African American Review 29, no. 4:567 (Winter 1995).

Bischoff, Joan. “The Novels of Toni Morrison: Studies in Thwarted Sensitivity.” Studies in Black Literature 6, no. 3:21-23 (1975).

Bjork, Patrick Bryce. The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place within the Community. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

Blake, Susan L. “Folklore and Community in Song of Solomon.” MELUS 7:77-82 (Fall 1980).

Bloom, Harold, ed. Toni Morrison. Broomall, Pa.: Chelsea House, 2000.

Butler-Evans, Elliott. Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.

Christian, Barbara. Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892-1976. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.

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Coleman, James. “The Quest for Wholeness in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby.” Black American Literature Forum 20:63-73 (Spring-Summer 1986).

Duvall, John. “Descent in the ‘House of Chloe’: Race, Rape, and Identity in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby.” Contemporary Literature 38, no. 2:325 (Summer 1997).

Erickson, Peter B. “Images of Nurturance in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby.” CLA Journal 28:11 -32 (September 1984).

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K. Anthony Appiah, eds. Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad, 1993.

Handley, William R. “The House a Ghost Built: Allegory, Nommo, and the Ethics of Reading in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Contemporary Literature 36, no. 4:676 (Winter 1995).

Harding, Wendy, and Jacky Martin. A World of Difference: An Intercultural Study of Toni Morrison’s Novels. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Holloway, Karla. “Beloved: A Spiritual.” Callaloo 13, no. 3:516 (1990).

Holloway, Karla, and Stephanie Demetrakopoulos. New Dimensions of Spirituality: A Biracial and Bicul-tural Reading of the Novels of Toni Morrison. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Holton, Robert. “Bearing Witness: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Beloved.” English Studies in Canada 20, no. 1:79-90 (1994).

Horvitz, Deborah. “Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved.” Studies in American Fiction 17, no. 2:157 (Fall 1989).

Hovet, Grace Ann, and Barbara Lounsberry. “Flying as Symbol and Legend in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon.” CLA Journal 27:119-40 (December 1983).

Kolmerten, Carol A., Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant Wittenberg, eds. Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-envisioned. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1997.

Lee, Dorothy H. “The Quest for Self: Triumph and Failure in the Works of Toni Morrison.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1984. Pp. 346-60.

Lester, Rosemarie K. “An Interview with Toni Morrison, Hessian Radio Network, Frankfurt, West Germany.” In Critical Essays on Toni Morrison. Edited by Nellie Y. McKay. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Pp. 47-54.

Lubiano, Wahneema. “The Postmodernist Rage: Political Identity and the Vernacular.” In New Essays on “Song of Solomon.” Edited by Valerie Smith. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

McDowell, Deborah E. “‘The Self and the Other’: Reading Toni Morrison’s Sula and the Black Female Text.” In Critical Essays on Toni Morrison. Edited by Nellie Y. McKay. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Pp. 77-90.

McKay, Nellie Y. “An Interview with Toni Morrison.” Contemporary Literature 22:413-29 (Winter 1983).

—— ed. Critical Essays on Toni Morrison. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

Middleton, David, ed. Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. New York: Garland, 1997.

Miner, Madonne M. “Lady No Longer Sings the Blues: Rape, Madness, and Silence in The Bluest Eye.” In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Edited by Majorie Pryse and Hortense Spill-ers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Pp. 176-91.

Mobley, Marilyn E. Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne Jewett and Toni Morrison. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

—— “Narrative Dilemma: Jadine as Cultural Orphan in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby.” Southern Review23, no. 4:761-70 (Autumn 1987).

Moglen, Helene. “Redeeming History: Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” In Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Edited by Elizabeth Abel, Barbara Christian, and Helene Moglen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Pp. 201-20.

Moraru, Christian. “Reading the Onomastic Text: ‘The Politics of the Proper Name’ in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” Names 44, no. 3:189 (September 1996).

Naylor, Gloria, and Toni Morrison. “A Conversation.” Southern Review 21:567-93 (July 1985).

O’Meally, Robert. “‘Tar Baby, She Don’ Say Nothin.’ “Callaloo 4:1-3 (February 1981).

Otten, Terry. The Crime of Innocence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989.

Page, Phillip. “Traces of Derrida in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” African American Review29, no. 1:55 (Spring 1995).

Peterson, Nancy J., ed. Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Reyes, Angelita Dianne. “Ancient Properties in the New World: The Paradox of the ‘Other’ in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby.” Black Scholar 17:19-25 (March-April 1986).

Rodrigues, Eusebio L. “Experiencing Jazz.” Modem Fiction Studies 39, nos. 3-4:733 (Fall 1993J.

Samuels, Wilfred D. Toni Morrison. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Smith, Valerie. New Essays on Song of Solomon. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

—— “The Quest for and Discovery of Identity in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” Southern Review 21:721-32 (Summer 1985).

—— Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Stepto, Robert B. “‘Intimate Things in Place’: A Conversation with Toni Morrison.” Massachusetts Review 18:473-89 (Autumn 1977).

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Weever, Jacqueline de. “The Inverted World of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Sula.” CLA Journal 22:402-14 (1979).

Willis, Susan. Specifying: Black Women Writing the American Experience. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.


Fikes, Robert, Jr. “Echoes from Small Town Ohio: A Toni Morrison Bibliography.” Obsidian 5:142-48 (Spring-Summer 1979).

Martin, Curtis. “A Bibliography of Writings by Toni Morrison.” In Contemporary Women Writers: Narrative Strategies. Edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985. Pp. 205-07.

Middleton, David L. Toni Morrison: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1987.


Four Girls and Toni Morrison. Landmark Media, 1994.

Identifiable Qualities: Toni Morrison. Corentyne Productions, 1989.

In Black and White. Part 3, Toni Morrison. Six Profiles of African American Authors series. RTSI Swiss TV/California Newsreel, 1992.

Toni Morrison with A. S. Byatt. Writers Talk: Ideas of Our Time series. ICA Video, 1989.

A Writer’s Work with Toni Morrison. World of Ideas with Bill Moyers series. PBS Video, 1990. (Interview by Bill Moyers.)

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1387200049