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Morrison, Toni 1931–

Toni Morrison 1931

Writer

Schooled in Oral Tradition

Found Work Editing

Recovered Black History

Explored Cost of Assimilation

Won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes

Selected writings

Sources

Image not available for copyright reasons

When Toni Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her fifth novel, Beloved, the award brought her the national recognition many critics and fellow artists believed long overdue. Ms. Morrisons versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds, wrote Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood in the New York Times Book Review, adding, If there were any doubts about her stature as a preeminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, Beloved will put them to rest. But receiving the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature earned the author a dizzingly different slot in history as she became the first black woman ever to win the fields highest honor.

Since the publication of her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, Morrison has earned increasing critical and popular acclaim. Her works are taught in courses on the novel as well as in African American literature courses, and she is a sought after commentator not only on racial issues but on American arts and culture in general. She is held in high esteem by her peers, the reading public, and critics alike.

Paradoxically, Morrison attributes the breadth of her vision to the precision of her focus. Each of her novels highlights the struggles of black people to rediscover and maintain connections to their cultural history and mythologyto their ancestors, as she put it in an essay entitled Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation. Morrison envisions her literature of suffering and survival functioning as did the oral storytelling of the past, reminding members of the community of their heritage and defining their roles.

Morrison has fostered these ends by teaching such courses as African American literature and techniques of fiction at various colleges and universities, as well as by using her position as a senior editor at Random House to publish other black authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, Angela Davis, and Henry Dumas. Through her teaching and editing, therefore, as well as her own writing, she has exerted unparalleled influence in the African American literary renaissance of the past several decades.

Schooled in Oral Tradition

Morrisons early life was steeped in the black folklore, music, language, myth, and history that now richly

At a Glance

Born Chioe Anthony Wofford, February 18, 1931, in Lorain, OH; daughter of George and Ramah (Willis) Wofford; married Harold Morrison (a Jamaican architect), 1958 (divorced); children: Harold Ford, Slade Kevin.Education: Howard University, B.A., 1953; Cornell University, M.A., 1955.

Writer. Texas Southern University, Houston, instructor in English, 1955-57; Howard University, Washington, DC, instructor in English, 1957-64; Random House, New York City, senior editor, beginning in the mid-1960s. State University of New York at Purchase, associate professor of English, 1971-72; State University of New York at Albany, Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, 1984-89; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities, 1989-. Visiting lecturer at Yale University, 1976-77, and Bard College, 1986-88.

Awards: National Book Award nomination and Ohioana Book Award, both 1975, both for Sula; National Book Critics Circle Award and American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, both 1978, both for Song of Solomon; New York State Governors Art Award, 1986; National Book Award nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 1987, and Pulitzer Prize for fiction and Robert F. Kennedy Award, both 1988, all for Beloved; Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award from the National Organization for Women (NOW); Nobel Prize for Literature, 1993; founding of The Toni Morrison Society (education and appreciation group), American Literature Associations Coalition of Author Societies, 1993; named one Time magazines 25 Most Influential Americans, 1996; named 1996 Jefferson lecturer, National Endowment for the Humanities; National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Association, 1996. Honorary degrees more than 15 universifies.

Member: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, National Council on the Arts, Authors Guild (council member), Authors League of America.

Addresses: Home -Princeton, NJ,

texture her fiction. Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, she grew up during the Depression in the small steel-mill town of Lorain, Ohio, on Lake Erie. Her maternal grandparents, Ardelia and John Solomon Willis, had been sharecroppers in Alabama until they migrated north in 1912 to Kentucky, where John Solomon, a violinist, worked in a coal mine. Ardelia took in washing. When they discovered, however, that their daughters knew more mathematics than the one-room school-house teacher, they determined that they must move again. Continuing north, they settled in Lorain.

Morrisons parents displayed the same resource fulness, pride, and creativity that her grandparents had. Her father, George Wofford, was a shipyard welder who took such intense pride in his work that he would write his name in the side of a ship whenever he welded a perfect seam. A tireless worker, he held three jobs simultaneously for 17 years. Morrisons mother, Ramah Wofford, dealt diplomatically with white bill collectors, and once when the meal the family received on relief was bug-ridden, she wrote a long letter of protest to then-U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

George and Ramah thrilled their four children with ghost stories and nourished their pride with stories of black ingenuity. In an essay in the bicentennial issue of the New York Times titled Rediscovering Black History, Morrison captured one such instance: Oh Mama, I cried, everybody in the world must have had sense enough to wrap his feet. I am telling you, she replied, a Negro invented shoes. Morrisons mother sang around the house and in the church choir, and her grandmother kept a dreambook by which she played the numbers. Not surprisingly, Morrison characteristically juxtaposes riveting realism in her novels with what she calls forms of knowledge discredited by the West: lore, gossip, magic, sentiment. Many critics agree that both the searing accuracy of her portrayals of black life in America and the fabulistic qualities for which her work has been praised clearly derive from Morrisons own life experiences in a family of storytellers.

Morrisons appetite for stories led her to read voraciously as a child and adolescent. When she entered the first grade she was the only black child in her class and the only child who could already read. Before she graduated with honors from Lorain High School, she had read widely among the great Nineteenth-century Russian novels and such other European classics as Madame Bovary and the works of Jane Austen. She has cited these novels as particular influences on her, justifying the cultural specificity of her own work with reference to them. These classics, Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Susan Blake quoted her as saying, were not written for a little black girl ...but they were so magnificently done that I got them anyway-they spoke directly to me. She expanded on this comment in an interview with Walter Clemons for Newsweek: When I write, I dont translate for white readers....Dostoevski wrote for a Russian audience, but were able to read him. If Im specific, and I dont overexplain, then anyone can overhear me.

Morrison attended Howard University as an undergraduate, majoring in English and minoring in the classics. At Howard she changed her name to Toni because people consistently mispronounced Chloe. Howard disappointed her in many ways; she found the social life there shallow: It was about getting married, buying clothes, and going to parties, she related, as quoted by Blake. In the summers, Morrison traveled with the Howard University Players, a student-faculty repertory troupe that took plays on tour in the South. These tours, Blake suggested, provided a geographical and historical focus for the sense of cultural identity her parents had instilled in her.

After graduating from Howard, Morrison spent two years at Cornell University earning a masters degree in English. She wrote a thesis on the theme of suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, and then went on to teach English for two years at Texas Southern University. Morrison began to write when she drifted into a writers group after returning to Howard in 1957 to teach English. The only rule governing this group was that everyone had to bring something to read. In a conversation with fellow African American novelist Gloria Naylor published in Southern Review, Morrison explained that when she had run out of old junk from high school to bring along, she wrote a short story about a little black girl who wanted blue eyes. Out of this story she developed her first novel, The Bluest Eye, a novel that Naylor credits with having inspired her to begin writing seriously.

Found Work Editing

At Howard, Morrison met and married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architectural student. Though she speaks very little about this difficult period in her life, she has said that the marriage suffered because of cultural differences between them, and eventually it ended in divorce. In the early 1960s, Morrison returned with her two young sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin, to her parents home in Lorain. After about a year and a half, she found an editing job with a textbook subsidiary of Random House in Syracuse. It was there, each night after her children were asleep, that she returned to her short story and developed it into a novel. Though it was rejected many times, Morrison eventually found an editor who read an unfinished version of The Bluest Eye and encouraged her to complete it. In 1970, Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the novel.

The plot of The Bluest Eye is as simple as its implications are staggering. Morrison illuminates the multiple levels of victimization at work in brutally racist and sexist American society by placing at the storys center the quietly tragic figure of Pecola Breedlove, a little black girl on the verge of adolescence, who desperately wants to be loved. Barraged on all sides-from the movies, from teachers at school, from her own family-with the message that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned appearance of Shirley Temple is beautiful, she concludes that the reason she is ridiculed and hated is that she is black and therefore ugly. Violated over and over by other characters reacting to their own victimizations, Pecola finally retreats into insanity, believing that she is the most beloved little girl of all because she has the bluest eyes of all.

The Bluest Eye received a moderate amount of attention, for the most part appreciative. The very features of Morrisons writing that some critics selected for praise prompted negative criticism from other reviewers, and such divergence has been a hallmark of Morrison criticism ever since. For instance, though Frankell Haskell in the New York Times Book Review objected to a fuzziness born of flights of poetic imagery and a lack of focus in the novel, Phyllis R. Klotman praised its lyrical yet precise language in Black American Literature Forum.

Later in the 1960s, Morrison moved to a senior editorial position at Random House in New York City. She began to contribute articles and reviews to various journals, most notably the New York Times. At the same time she was writing her second novel, Sula, which was published in December of 1973. I always thought of Sula, Morrison said in an article in the Michigan Quarterly Review,as ...new world black and new world woman....Daring, disruptive, imaginative, modern, out-of-the-house, outlawed, unpolicing, uncontained and uncontainable.

Sula explores the life and death of a black community called The Bottom in the town of Medallion, Ohio, by focusing on the friendship from childhood between two very different women, Sula Peace and Nel Wright. Nel grows up to marry, have children, and otherwise conform to all that society and her community expects of her. Sula, on the other hand, embarks on what the narrator terms an experimental life. She becomes a pariah, defining by her rebellious violations the boundaries and social codes of the community: Their conviction of Sulas evil, the narrator tells us, make[s] the townspeople their best selves.

Morrison speaks of Nel and Sula as two halves of one person; the ideal, she told Bill Moyers on a segment of his PBS television show World of Ideas, would be a Sula with some responsibilities. Nevertheless, Morrison will not allow her readers to rest comfortably in any particular moral stance toward the events or characters in Sula: we wonder whether to admire Sulas grandmother Evas bravery in allowing her leg to be cut off by a train in order to collect insurance money to feed her children, or instead to be repulsed by such self-mutilation, just as we vacillate on whether to celebrate Sulas autonomy or to deplore her selfishness.

Sula garnered more attention than had The Bluest Eye and was nominated for the 1975 National Book Award in fiction. Sara Blackburns review in the New York Times Book Review caused a minor controversy because it suggested first that the novel lacked the stinging immediacy of Morrisons nonfiction and then that Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life. But Blackburn stood virtually alone in her impression that Morrisons novel was limited by its focus on a black community. Faith Daviss review in the Harvard Advocate was more nearly representative in its assessment that Sula has the capacity to touch all readers: Her citizens of the Bottom jump up from the pages vital and strong because she has made us care about the pain in their lives.

Recovered Black History

In February of 1974, Random House published The Black Book, a volume compiled by Middleton Harris and edited by Morrison. In Rediscovering Black History, Morrison explains that she hopes that The Black Book, a scrapbook of 300 years of black life in America, will enable blacks to recognize and rescue those qualities of resistance, excellence, and integrity that were so much a part of our past and so useful to us and to the generations of blacks now growing up. Amid the photographs, patents, newspaper clippings, advertisements, recipes, etc. that make up the book, Morrison found verification of the stories of black achievement-despite slavery, racism, and sexism-that her parents and grandparents had told her when she was growing up: [I] felt a renewal of pride I had not felt since 1941, when my parents told me stories of blacks who had invented airplanes, electricity, and shoes....And there it was among Spike Harriss collection of patents: the overshoe. The airplane was also there as an airship registered in 1900 by John Pickering. Once again, Morrison had discovered a sustaining connection between her family history and habit of storytelling, black history, and her own sense of identity.

Appropriately, Morrisons third novel, Song of Solomon, charts a similar discovery. Milkman Dead sets out on a trek down south from his home in Ohio in hopes of recovering lost family treasure. What he finds is not gold, however, but the spiritual wealth of his rich family history. For Milkman, the journey becomes not only one from ignorance to knowledge, but also from selfish materialism and immaturity to joy, love, and selfless commitment to community. Morrison casts the narrative in the familiar mythological pattern of the Odyssey and specifically invokes an African American folktale about a group of African-born slaves who rise up from the plantation and fly back home across the ocean. At the end of the novel, Milkman has clearly freed himself from the confinements of materialism and entered into the realm of possibility, but whether or not he will survive his leap into that unknown remains unresolved.

Song of Solomon secured Morrisons place as a major writer of American fiction. A critical and commercial success, it became a paperback bestseller and in 1978 won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Those critics who had reservations about the novel generally felt that Morrison failed to integrate believably the realistic with the mythic elements. Vivian Gamick wrote in the Village Voice: At a certain point one begins to feel a manipulativeness in the books structure, and then to sense that the characters are moving to fulfill the requirements of that structure. Other critics discerned, however, that in Song of Solomon Morrison extended her primary themes across a much broader spectrum of subject matter than she had previously dealt with.Song of Solomon sweeps out from one mans quest for self-discovery to encompass his entire family history-becoming, as Claudia Tate put it in Black Women Writers at Work,a kind of cultural epic by which black people can recall their often obscured slave heritage. Reynolds Price summed up this evolution in the New York Times Book Review: Here the depths of the younger work are still evident, but now they thrust outward, into wider fields, for longer intervals, encompassing many more lives.

Explored Cost of Assimilation

Morrison published her fourth novel, Tar Baby, in March of 1981. It, too, made the New York Times bestseller list, and Newsweek magazine devoted its March 30th cover that year to Morrison. Like Song of Solomon, Tar Baby is a novel saturated in black folklore. It is set primarily on a tiny French West Indian island named Isle des Chevaliers, after a group of mythical African horsemen. According to the legend, these blind horsemen were imported to work as slaves but were never actually enslaved and are said to still be riding the hills. Against this mythological backdrop, Morrison stages a modern adaptation of the African American folktale of Tar Baby and Brer Rabbit, in which a farmer devises tar baby as a lure to trap the rabbit, who has been raiding gardens. Once captured, Brer Rabbit outwits the farmer by begging not to be thrown into the briar patch, which is of course his only real haven.

In Morrisons novel, the character of Jadine parallels that of Tar Baby. Jadine, a jet-setting, Sorbonne-educated black model is the niece of Sydney and Ondine Childs, butler and cook to retired white millionaire Valerian Street. Street has financed Jadines education and treats her like a guest. When the handsome outlaw Son intrudes on the household during a visit by Jadine, hostile racial and sexual undercurrents bubbling beneath the surface of the familial relationships burst forth. Jadine and Son fall in love, but neither can adapt to the life ways of the other. Cut off from the ancient properties of her ancestors, Jadine cannot live with Son in the briar patch, which is the black community of Eloe, Florida; nor can Son adapt to the superficial materialism of Paris or New York society.

A number of critics objected to the convoluted plot structure of Tar Baby, which some felt deprived the characters of credibility. Webster Schott suggested in the Washington Post Book World that the characters actions seem at times determined by Morrisons convictions, not their histories, and in a Nation article, Brina Caplan attributed this heavy-handedness to Morrisons decision to displace the small black communities that nourish her mythology with settings dominated by white culture. Nevertheless, critics agreed in the main that the books flaws, due primarily to the ambitiousness of her project, are outweighed by the power of Morrisons voice and the richness of her language.

Morrisons characters typically yearn for freedom, which, like Jadine, they often narrowly associate with escape from the restrictions placed upon them by their membership in a visible and exploited minority. Morrison suggests that while achieving that freedom may require individual rebellion against an unjust order, it certainly demands a communal effort to confront history and to assume collective responsibility for it and for one another. In her fifth novel, Beloved, published in 1987, Morrison sharpens her focus on the question of personal freedom and the lengths to which one might justifiably go in order to secure it.

More than a decade earlier, while working on The Black Book, Morrison had come across a Nineteenth-century magazine clipping which became the inspiration for Beloved. According to the article, a young runaway slave woman named Margaret Gamer was tracked by her owner to Cincinnati, where she had sought refuge with her freed mother-in-law. Facing imminent capture, Garner attempted to kill her four children, and in one case succeeded. All of the accounts of the tragedy remarked on the womans tranquility, Morrison explained in various interviews, but Garner was simply insisting that her children must not be forced to live as she had lived-as a slave.

Beloved has been called Morrisons most technically sophisticated novel to date. Using flashbacks, fragmented narration, and shifting points of view, the author explores in the story the events that have led to protagonist Sethes crime. Sethe lives with her surviving daughter, Denver, on the outskirts of Cincinnati in a farmhouse haunted by the tyrannical ghost of her murdered baby daughter. Paul D., a fellow slave from the Kentucky plantation to which Sethe refused to return, comes to live with them. He violently casts out the baby spirit, or so they believe, until one day a beautiful, young, memoryless stranger arrives, calling herself Beloved. This stranger, the embodiment of Sethes murdered daughter and of the collective anguish and rage of the 60 million and more who have suffered the tortures of slavery, eventually takes control of the household. Feeding on Sethes memories and explanations, Beloved nearly destroys her mother, until the community of former slave women who have ostracized Sethe and Denver since the murder join together to exorcise Beloved at last.

Won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes

Beloved sparked controversy soon after its publication. Although widely regarded as Morrisons masterpiece, it failed to win either the annual National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award. 48 prominent black writers and critics-outraged over the lack of recognition afforded Morrison for her novel-signed a tribute to her achievements that was published in the New York Times Book Review on January 24, 1988. Later that year, Morrison was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved.

Morrison experienced many personal trials during the next few years, including the death of her mother. Morrison stayed busy, however; in 1992 alone, she published another novel, Jazz, as well as two nonfiction works, including a collection essays she edited. Her reward came in 1993, when it was announced that the Swedish Academy had voted her the 1993 Nobel Laureate, a distinction which included an $817,771 monetary award. In winning, the woman who gives voice to the voiceless, according to The Atlanta Constitution, accepted the prize as a redemption of the female writer and black writer categories.

Morrison related her feelings of triumph during an interview with The New York Times Magazine, stating, I felt a lot of Nwe excitement....I felt I represented a whole world of women who either were silenced or who had never received the imprimatur of the established literary world. She added, It was very important for young black people to see a black person [succeed]....Seeing me up there might encourage them to write one of those books Im desperate to read. And that made me happy.

Morrison also hoped the prize was a signal of her luck changing. She told The New York Times Magazine,In the two years around the Nobel, I had a lot of bad luck, a lot of serious devastations. My mother died, other things. The only thing that...was truly wonderful was the Nobel Prize. So I regard the fact that my house burned down after I won the Nobel Prize to be better than having my house burn down without having won the Nobel Prize. Despite the loss of her personal and sentimental effects, Morrison took small comfort in the fact that her works-in-progress and other papers were saved. Rather than rebuilding her Grand View-on-Hudson, New York home, she relocated to Princeton, New Jersey, where she had been teaching since 1989. Once settled, Morrison got back to the business of writing once again.

Among other published projects, Morrison edited a book by former Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton and revealed her thoughts and observations of regarding The Trial of the Century, that of former football star O. J. Simpson, who was accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend. In March of 1995, Morrison delivered that years Charter Day address to the graduating class of her alma mater, Howard University and was bestowed an honorary doctorate by the institution. Morrisons creative energies were sought by Atlantas Cultural Olympiad in April of 1995. The three-day Olympic Gathering featured seven other Nobel Laureates in Literature, all of whom participated in discussion panels, read from their works, and signed autographs. Later that summer she collaborated with dancer Bill T. Jones and jazz drummer Max Roach to present Degga, one of three dance performances commissioned for the American Visionaries series at New York Citys Lincoln Center.

The following year, Morrison received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and was selected as the 1996 Jefferson Lecturer-one of the highest U.S. honors given for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities-by the National Endowment for the Humanities. While all of Morrisons novels had been made available as a boxed set by Alfred A. Knopf Inc. in 1994, Song of Solomon was propelled onto the bestseller lists in 1996, after talk show host Oprah Winfrey recommended the book to her viewers. Early the following year, Winfrey invited Morrison and four regular women who love to read to her Chicago home for dinner. Taped for television and aired in February of 1997, the group of women enjoyed one anothers company, discussed Song of Solomon, and dined on a sumptuous meal of roasted cornish hens, autumn vegetables, and pistachio pear tarts.

The program provided further evidence that Morrison is firmly entrenched in the literary psyche of readers all over the globe. Extremely popular, the writer and educator is greatfun-a woman of subversive jokes, gossip, and surprising bits of self revelation who unwinds to Court TV and soap operas, according to The New York Times Magazine. As Morrison informed the magazine, I would like my work to do two things: be as demanding and sophisticated as I want it to be, and at the same time be accessible in a sort of emotional way to lots of people, just like jazz. Successful on both counts, perhaps thats why she is so beloved.

Selected writings

The Bluest Eye, Holt, 1970.

Sula, Knopf, 1973.

(Editor)The Black Book (anthology), Random House,1974.

Song of Solomon, Knopf, 1977.

Tar Baby, Knopf, 1981.

Dreaming Emmett (play), first produced in Albany, New York, January 4, 1986.

Beloved, Knopf, 1987.

Jazz, Knopf, 1992.

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness & the Literary Imagination (lectures), Random House, 1992.

(Editor)Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, & the Construction of Social Reality, Pantheon, 1992.

Nobel Prize Speech, Knopf, 1994.

(Editor) Newtown, Huey P.,To Die for the People, Writers & Readers Publishing, 1995.

Dancing Mind, Random House, 1996.

Birth of a Nationhood: Gaze, Script & Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Trial (nonfiction), Pantheon, 1997.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 22, 1982, Volume 55, 1988.

Cooper-Clark, Diana, Interviews With Contemporary Novelists, St. Martins, 1986.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 6:American Writers Since World War II, 1980, Volume 33:Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955, 1984.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1981, Gale, 1982.

Evans, James H., Jr.,Spiritual Empowerment in Afro-American Literature: Frederick Douglass, Rebecca Jackson, Booker T.Washington, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Mellen, 1987.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday, 1984.

Holloway, Karla F., and Stephanie Demetrakopoulos, New Dimensions of Spirituality: A Biracial and Bicultural Reading of the Novels of Toni Morrison, Greenwood, 1987.

Jones, Bessie, W., and Audrey L. Vinson, The World of Toni Morrison: Explorations in Literary Criticism, Kendall-Hunt, 1985.

McKay, Nellie Y.,Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, G.K. Hall, 1988.

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

Ruas, Charles, Conversations With American Writers, Knopf, 1985.

Tate, Claudia, Black Women Writers at Work, Continuum, 1986.

Periodicals

The Atlanta Constitution, April 23, 1995, arts section, p. M13.

Black American Literature Forum, Winter 1979.

Harvard Advocate, 1974.

Jet, February 12, 1996, p. 4.

Michigan Quarterly Review, Winter 1989.

Nation, May 2, 1981.

Newsweek, March 30, 1981, September 28, 1987.

New York Times Book Review, November 1, 1970, December 30, 1973, June 2, 1974, September 11, 1977, March 29, 1981, September 13, 1987, January 24, 1988.

New York Times Magazine, August 11, 1974, July 4, 1976, May 20,1979; September 11, 1994, pp. 73-75.

Publishers Weekly, November 11, 1996, pp. 17-18.

Southern Review, July 1985.

Village Voice, August 29, 1977.

Washington Post Book World, March 22, 1981.

Other

Additional information taken from a two-part telecast of World of Ideas, hosted by Bill Moyers, Public Broadcasting System, 1990.

Susan Marren

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Morrison, Toni 1931–

Toni Morrison 1931

Writer

At a Glance

Insistence on Cultural Specificity

Attempts to Recover Black History

Explores Cost of Assimilation

Sharpens Focus on the Meaning of Freedom

Awards Controversy Fails to Diminish Literary Stature

Selected writings

Sources

When Toni Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her fifth novel, Beloved, the award brought her the national recognition many critics and fellow artists believed long overdue. Ms. Morrisons versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds, wrote Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood in the New York Times Book Review, adding, If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, Beloved will put them to rest. Since the publication of her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, Morrison has earned increasing critical and popular acclaim. Her works are taught in courses on the novel as well as in African-American literature courses, and she is a sought after commentator not only on racial issues but on American arts and culture in general. At the same time, her books regularly reach bestseller lists, and she has even appeared on the cover of Newsweek.

Paradoxically, Morrison attributes the breadth of her vision to the precision of her focus. Each of her novels highlights the struggles of black people to rediscover and maintain connections to their cultural history and mythologyto their ancestors, as she put it in an essay entitled Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation. Morrison envisions her literature of suffering and survival functioning as did the oral storytelling of the past, reminding members of the community of their heritage and defining their roles. She has fostered these ends by teaching such courses as African-American literature and techniques of fiction at various colleges and universities, as well as by using her position as a senior editor at Random House to publish other black authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, Angela Davis, and Henry Dumas. Through her teaching and editing, therefore, as well as her own writing, she has exerted unparalleled influence in the African-American literary renaissance of the past several decades.

Morrisons early life was steeped in the black folklore, music, language, myth, and history that now richly texture her fiction. Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, she grew up during the Depression in the small steel-mill town of Lorain, Ohio, on Lake Erie. Her maternal grandparents, Ardelia and John Solomon Willis, had been sharecroppers in Alabama until they migrated north in 1912 to Kentucky, where John Solomon, a violinist, worked in a

At a Glance

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, February 18, 1931, in Lorain, OH; daughter of George and Ramah (Willis) Wofford; married Harold Morrison (an architect), 1958 (divorced); children: Harold Ford, Slade Kevin. Education: Howard University, B.A., 1953; Cornell University, M.A., 1955.

Writer. Texas Southern University, Houston, instructor in English, 1955-57; Howard University, Washington, DC, instructor in English, 1957-64; Random House, New York City, senior editor, beginning in the mid-1960s. State University of New York at Purchase, associate professor of English, 1971-72; State University of New York at Albany, Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, 1984-89; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities, 1989. Visiting lecturer at Yale University, 1976-77, and Bard College, 1986-88.

Awards: National Book Award nomination and Ohioana Book Award, both 1975, both for Sula; National Book Critics Circle Award and American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, both 1978, both for Song of Solomon; New York State Governors Art Award, 1986; National Book Award nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 1987, and Pulitzer Prize for fiction and Robert F. Kennedy Award, both 1988, all for Beloved; Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award from the National Organization for Women. Honorary degrees from fifteen universities.

Member: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, National Council on the Arts, Authors Guild (council member), Authors League of America.

Addresses: Office Random House, 201 East 50th St., New York, NY 10022. AgentLynn Nesbit, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

coal mine. Ardelia took in washing. When they discovered, however, that their daughters knew more mathematics than the one-room schoolhouse teacher, they determined that they must move again. Continuing north, they settled in Lorain.

Morrisons parents displayed the same resourcefulness, pride, and creativity that her grandparents had. Her father, George Wofford, was a shipyard welder who took such intense pride in his work that he would write his name in the side of a ship whenever he welded a perfect seam. A tireless worker, he held three jobs simultaneously for seventeen years. Morrisons mother, Ramah Wofford, dealt diplomatically with white bill collectors, and once when the meal the family received on relief was bugridden, she wrote a long letter of protest to then-U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. George and Ramah thrilled their four children with ghost stories and nourished their pride with stories of black ingenuity. In an essay in the bicentennial issue of the New York Times titled Rediscovering Black History, Morrison captured one such instance: Oh Mama, I cried, everybody in the world must have had sense enough to wrap his feet. I am telling you, she replied, a Negro invented shoes. Morrisons mother sang around the house and in the church choir, and her grandmother kept a dreambook by which she played the numbers. Not surprisingly, Morrison characteristically juxtaposes riveting realism in her novels with what she calls forms of knowledge discredited by the West: lore, gossip, magic, sentiment. Many critics agree that both the searing accuracy of her portrayals of black life in America and the fabulistic qualities for which her work has been praised clearly derive from Morrisons own life experiences in a family of storytellers.

Insistence on Cultural Specificity

Morrisons appetite for stories led her to read voraciously as a child and adolescent. When she entered the first grade she was the only black child in her class and the only child who could already read. Before she graduated with honors from Lorain High School, she had read widely among the great nineteenth-century Russian novels and such other European classics as Madame Bovary and the works of Jane Austen. She cites these novels as particular influences on her, justifying the cultural specificity of her own work with reference to them. These classics, Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Susan Blake quoted heras saying, were not written for a little black girl but they were so magnificently done that I got them anywaythey spoke directly to me. She expanded on this comment in an interview with Walter Clemons for Newsweek: When I write, I dont translate for white readers. Dostoevski wrote for a Russian audience, but were able to read him. If Im specific, and I dont overexplain, then anyone can overhear me.

Morrison attended Howard University as an undergraduate, majoring in English and minoring in the classics. At Howard she changed her name to Toni because people consistently mispronounced Chloe. Howard disappointed her in many ways; she found the social life there shallow: It was about getting married, buying clothes, and going to parties, she related, as quoted by Blake. In the summers, Morrison traveled with the Howard University Players, a student-faculty repertory troupe that took plays on tour in the South. These tours, Blake suggested, provided a geographical and historical focus for the sense of cultural identity her parents had instilled in her.

After graduating from Howard, Morrison spent two years at Cornell University earning a masters degree in English. She wrote a thesis on the theme of suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, and then went on to teach English for two years at Texas Southern University. Morrison began to write when she drifted into a writers group after returning to Howard in 1957 to teach English. The only rule governing this group was that everyone had to bring something to read. In a conversation with fellow African-American novelist Gloria Naylor published in Southern Review, Morrison explained that when she had run out of old junk from high school to bring along, she wrote a short story about a little black girl who wanted blue eyes. Out of this story she developed her first novel, The Bluest Eye, a noval that Naylor credits with having inspired her to begin writing seriously.

At Howard, Morrison met and married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architectural student. Though she speaks very little about this difficult period in her life, she has said that the marriage suffered because of cultural differences between them, and eventually it ended in divorce. In the early 1960s, Morrison returned with her two young sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin, to her parents home in Lorain. After about a year and a half, she found an editing job with a textbook subsidiary of Random House in Syracuse. It was there, each night after her children were asleep, that she returned to her short story and developed it into a novel. Though it was rejected many times, Morrison eventually found an editor who read an unfinished version of The Bluest Eye and encouraged her to complete it. In 1970, Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the novel.

The plot of The Bluest Eye is as simple as its implications are staggering. Morrison illuminates the multiple levels of victimization at work in brutally racist and sexist American society by placing at the storys center the quietly tragic figure of Pecola Breedlove, a little black girl on the verge of adolescence, who desperately wants to be loved. Barraged on all sidesfrom the movies, from teachers at school, from her own familywith the message that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned appearance of Shirley Temple is beautiful, she concludes that the reason she is ridiculed and hated is that she is black and therefore ugly. Violated over and over by other characters reacting to their own victimizations, Pecola finally retreats into insanity, believing that she is the most beloved little girl of all because she has the bluest eyes of all.

The Bluest Eye received a moderate amount of attention, for the most part appreciative. The very features of Morrisons writing that some critics selected for praise prompted negative criticism from other reviewers, and such divergence has been a hallmark of Morrison criticism ever since. For instance, though Frankell Haskell in the New York Times Book Review objected to a fuzziness born of flights of poetic imagery and a lack of focus in the novel, Phyllis R. Klotman praised its lyrical yet precise language in Black American Literature Forum.

Later in the 1960s, Morrison moved to a senior editorial position at Random House in New York City. She began to contribute articles and reviews to various journals, most notably the New York Times. At the same time she was writing her second novel, Sula, which was published in December of 1973. I always thought of Sula, Morrison said in an article in the Michigan Quarterly Review, as new world black and new world woman. Daring, disruptive, imaginative, modern, out-of-the-house, outlawed, unpolicing, uncontained and uncontainable. Sula explores the life and death of a black community called The Bottom in the town of Medallion, Ohio, by focusing on the friendship from childhood between two very different women, Sula Peace and Nel Wright. Nel grows up to marry, have children, and otherwise conform to all that society and her community expects of her. Sula, on the other hand, embarks on what the narrator terms an experimental life. She becomes a pariah, defining by her rebellious violations the boundaries and social codes of the community: Their conviction of Sulas evil, the narrator tells us, make[s] the townspeople their best selves. Morrison speaks of Nel and Sula as two halves of one person; the ideal, she told Bill Moyers on a segment of his PBS television show World of Ideas, would be a Sula with some responsibilities. Nevertheless, Morrison will not allow her readers to rest comfortably in any particular moral stance toward the events or characters in Sula: we wonder whether to admire Sulas grandmother Evas bravery in allowing her leg to be cut off by a train in order to collect insurance money to feed her children, or instead to be repulsed by such self-mutilation, just as we vacillate on whether to celebrate Sulas autonomy or to deplore her selfishness.

Sula garnered more attention than had The Bluest Eye and was nominated for the 1975 National Book Award in fiction. Sara Blackburns review in the New York Times Book Review caused a minor controversy because it suggested first that the novel lacked the stinging immediacy of Morrisons nonfiction and then that Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life. But Blackburn stood virtually alone in her impression that Morrisons novel was limited by its focus on a black community. Faith Daviss review in the Harvard Advocate was more nearly representative in its assessment that Sula has the capacity to touch all readers: Her citizens of the Bottom jump up from the pages vital and strong because she has made us care about the pain in their lives.

Attempts to Recover Black History

In February of 1974, Random House published The Black Book, a volume complied by Middleton Harris and edited by Morrison. In Rediscovering Black History, Morrison explained that she hopes The Black Book, a scrapbook of three hundred years of black life in America, will enable blacks to recognize and rescue those qualities of resistance, excellence, and integrity that were so much a part of our past and so useful to us and to the generations of blacks now growing up. Amid the photographs, patents, newspaper clippings, advertisements, recipes, etc. that make up the book, Morrison found verification of the stories of black achievementdespite slavery, racism, and sexismthat her parents and grandparents had told her when she was growing up: [I] felt a renewal of pride I had not felt since 1941, when my parents told me stories of blacks who had invented airplanes, electricity, and shoes. And there it was among Spike Harriss collection of patents: the overshoe. The airplane was also there as an airship registered in 1900 by John Pickering. Once again, Morrison had discovered a sustaining connection between her family history and habit of storytelling, black history, and her own sense of identity.

Appropriately, Morrisons third novel, Song of Solomon, charts a similar discovery. Milkman Dead sets out on a trek down south from his home in Ohio in hopes of recovering lost family treasure. What he finds is not gold, however, but the spiritual wealth of his rich family history. For Milkman, the journey becomes not only one from ignorance to knowledge, but also from selfish materialism and immaturity to joy, love, and selfless commitment to community. Morrison casts the narrative in the familiar mythological pattern of the odyssey and specifically invokes an African-American folktale about a group of African-born slaves who rise up from the plantation and fly back home across the ocean. At the end of the novel, Milkman has clearly freed himself from the confinement of materialism and entered into the realm of possibility, but whether or not he will survive his leap into that unknown remains unresolved.

Song of Solomon secured Morrisons place as a major writer of American fiction. A critical and commercial success, it became a paperback bestseller and in 1978 won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Those critics who had reservations about the novel generally felt that Morrison failed to integrate believably the realistic with the mythic elements. Vivian Gamick wrote in the Village Voice: At a certain point one begins to feel a manipulativeness in the books structure, and then to sense that the characters are moving to fulfill the requirements of that structure. Other critics discerned, however, that in Song of Solomon Morrison extended her primary themes across a much broader spectrum of subject matter than she had previously. Song of Solomon sweeps out from one mans quest for self-discovery to encompass his entire family historybecoming, as Claudia Tate put it in Black Women Writers at Work, a kind of cultural epic by which black people can recall their often obscured slave heritage. Reynolds Price summed up this evolution in the New York Times Book Review: Here the depths of the younger work are still evident, but now they thrust outward, into wider fields, for longer intervals, encompassing many more lives.

Explores Cost of Assimilation

Morrison published her fourth novel, Tar Baby, in March of 1981. It, too, made the New York Times bestseller list, and Newsweek magazine devoted its March 30th cover that year to Morrison. Like Song of Solomon, Tar Baby is a novel saturated in black folklore. It is set primarily on a tiny French West Indian island named Isle des Chevaliers, after a group of mythical African horsemen. According to the legend, these blind horsemen were imported to work as slaves but were never actually enslaved and are said to still be riding the hills. Against this mythological backdrop, Morrison stages a modern adaptation of the African-American folktale of Tar Baby and Brer Rabbit, in which a farmer devises tar baby as a lure to trap the rabbit, who has been raiding gardens. Once captured, Brer Rabbit outwits the farmer by begging not to be thrown into the briar patch, which is of course his only real haven. In Morrisons novel, the character of Jadine parallels that of Tar Baby. Jadine, a jet-setting, Sorbonne-educated black model is the niece of Sydney and Ondine Childs, butler and cook to retired white millionaire Valerian Street. Street has financed Jadines education and treats her like a guest. When the handsome outlaw, Son, intrudes on the household during a visit by Jadine, hostile racial and sexual undercurrents bubbling beneath the surface of the familial relationships burst forth. Jadine and Son fall in love, but neither can adapt to the life ways of the other. Cut off from the ancient properties of her ancestors, Jadine cannot live with Son in the briar patch, which is the black community of Eloe, Florida; nor can Son adapt to the superficial materialism of Paris or New York society.

A number of critics objected to the convoluted plot structure of Tar Baby, which some felt deprived the characters of credibility. Webster Schott suggested in the Washington Post Book World that the characters actions seem at times determined by Morrisons convictions, not their histories, and in a Nation article, Brina Caplan attributed this heavy-handedness to Morrisons decision to displace the small black communities that nourish her mythology with settings dominated by white culture. Nevertheless, critics agreed in the main that the books flaws, due primarily to the ambitiousness of her project, are outweighed by the power of Morrisons voice and the richness of her language.

Sharpens Focus on the Meaning of Freedom

Morrisons characters typically yearn for freedom, which, like Jadine, they often narrowly associate with escape from the restrictions placed upon them by their membership in a visible and exploited minority. Morrison suggests that while achieving that freedom may require individual rebellion against an unjust order, it certainly demands a communal effort to confront history and to assume collective responsibility for it and for one another. In her fifth novel, Beloved, published in 1987, Morrison sharpened her focus on the question of personal freedom and the lengths to which one might justifiably go in order to secure it. More than a decade earlier, while working on The Black Book, Morrison had come across a nineteenth-century magazine clipping that became the inspiration for Beloved. According to the article, a young runaway slave woman named Margaret Garner was tracked by her owner to Cincinnati, where she had sought refuge with her freed mother-in-law. Facing imminent capture, Garner attempted to kill her four children, and in one case succeeded. All of the accounts of the tragedy remarked on the womans tranquility, Morrison explained in various interviews, but Garner was simply insisting that her children must not be forced to live as she had livedas a slave.

Beloved has been called Morrisons most technically sophisticated novel to date. Using flashbacks, fragmented narration, and shifting points of view, the author explores in the story the events that have led to protagonist Sethes crime. Sethe lives with her surviving daughter, Denver, on the outskirts of Cincinnati in a farmhouse haunted by the tyrannical ghost of her murdered baby daughter. Paul D., a fellow slave from the Kentucky plantation to which Sethe refused to return, comes to live with them. He violently casts out the baby spirit, or so they believe, until one day a beautiful, young, memoryless stranger arrives, calling herself Beloved. This stranger, the embodiment of Sethes murdered daughter and of the collective anguish and rage of the sixty million and more who have suffered the tortures of slavery, eventually takes control of the household. Feeding on Sethes memories and explanations, Beloved nearly destroys her mother, until the community of former slave women who have ostracized Sethe and Denver since the murder join together to exorcise Beloved at last.

Awards Controversy Fails to Diminish Literary Stature

Beloved sparked controversy soon after its publication. Although widely regarded as Morrisons masterpiece, it failed to win either the annual National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award. Forty-eight prominent black writers and criticsoutraged over the lack of recognition afforded Morrison for her novelsigned a tribute to her achievements that was published in the New York Times Book Review on January 24, 1988. Later that year, Morrison was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved.

Selected writings

The Bluest Eye, Holt, 1970.

Sula, Knopf, 1973.

(Editor) The Black Book (authology), Random House, 1974.

Song of Solomon, Knopf, 1977.

Tar Baby, Knopf, 1981.

Dreaming Emmett (play), first produced in Albany, New York, January 4, 1986.

Beloved, Knopf, 1987.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 22, 1982, Volume 55, 1988.

Cooper-Clark, Diana, Interviews With Contemporary Novelists, St. Martins, 1986.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 6: American Writers Since World War II, 1980, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955, 1984.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Yearbook: 1981, Gale, 1982.

Evans, James H., Jr., Spiritual Empowerment in Afro-American Literature: Frederick Douglass, Rebecca Jackson, Booker T. Washington, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Mellen, 1987.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday, 1984.

Holloway, Karla F., and Stephanie Demetrakopoulos, New Dimensions of Spirituality: A Biracial and Bicultural Reading of the Novels of Toni Morrison, Greenwood, 1987.

Jones, Bessie, W., and Audrey L. Vinson, The World of Toni Morrison: Explorations in Literary Criticism, Kendall-Hunt, 1985.

McKay, Nellie Y., Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, G.K. Hall, 1988.

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

Ruas, Charles, Conversations With American Writers, Knopf, 1985.

Tate, Claudia, Black Women Writers at Work, Continum, 1986.

Periodicals

Black American Literature Forum, Winter 1979.

Harvard Advocate, 1974.

Michigan Quarterly Review, Winter 1989.

Nation, May 2, 1981.

Newsweek, March 30, 1981, September 28, 1987.

New York Times Book Review, November 1, 1970, December 30, 1973, June 2, 1974, September 11, 1977, March 29, 1981, September 13, 1987, January 24, 1988.

New York Times Magazine, August 11, 1974, July 4, 1976, May 20, 1979.

Southern Review, July 1985.

Village Voice, August 29, 1977.

Washington Post Book World, March 22, 1981.

Additional information taken from a two-part telecast of World of Ideas, hosted by Bill Moyers, Public Broadcasting System, 1990.

Susan Marren

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Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison (born 1931) was best known for her intricately woven novels, which focused on intimate relationships, especially between men and women, set against the backdrop of African American culture. She won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for her fifth novel Beloved and the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature.

Chloe Anthony Wofford, better known in the literary world as Toni Morrison, was born in Lorain, Ohio, in 1931 to Ramah and George Wofford. Her maternal grandparents, Ardelia and John Solomon Willis, had left Greenville, Alabama, around 1910 after they lost their farm. Morrison's paternal family left Georgia and headed north to escape sharecropping and racial violence. Both families settled in the steel-mill town of Lorain on Lake Erie.

Morrison's childhood was filled with the African American folklore, music, rituals, and myths which were later to characterize her prose. Her mother sang constantly, much like the character "Sing" in Song of Solomon, while her Grandmother Willis (reminiscent of Eva Peace in Sula and Pilate Dead in Song of Solomon) kept a "dream book," in which she tried to decode dream symbols into winning numbers. Her family was, as Morrison says, "intimate with the supernatural" and frequently used visions and signs to predict the future. Her real life world, therefore, was often reflected later in her novels. Morrison attributes the breadth of her vision to the precision of her focus. She sees her literature as functioning much as did the oral storytelling tradition of the past that reminded members of the community of their heritage and defining their roles.

Choosing a Literary Career

Morrison cited the difficulty people at Howard University had in pronouncing "Chloe" as the reason for changing her name to Toni. While at Howard she was a member of the Howard University Players, a repertory company that presented plays about the lives of African American people in the South during the 1940s and 1950s. This experience brought into focus her own family's history of lost land and racial violence. Years later this theme would appear time and time again in her fiction.

After receiving the B.A. in English from Howard and the M.A. from Cornell, also in English, Morrison returned to Howard to teach. In 1958 she married Harold Morrison, a young architect from Jamaica who also taught at Howard. The marriage, which ended in divorce in 1964, produced two sons, Harold (also known as Ford) and Slade. A year and half later she was in Syracuse, New York, working as a textbook editor for a subsidiary of Random House, with two small children, and with lots of free time in the evenings. This environment helped her turn to writing novels.

For several years Morrison continued as a senior editor at Random House, where she became a force in getting other African-American writers published, including Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, and June Jordan. She not only held down this job, but taught part-time and lectured across the country, while at the same time writing novels: The Bluest Eye (1970); Sula (1974), which was nominated for a National Book Award; Song of Solomon (1977), which won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award and was chosen as the second novel by an African American to be a Book-of the-Month selection (the first was Richard Wright's Native Son in 1940); Tar Baby (1981); and Beloved (1987) a novel of recovering power out of the devastation of slavery. Meanwhile she served as writer-in-residence at New York State University, first at Stony Brook and later at Albany, before moving to Princeton.

Morrison's novels were characterized by carefully crafted prose, in which ordinary words were placed in relief so as to produce lyrical phrases and to elicit sharp emotional responses from her readers. Her extraordinary, mythic characters were driven by their own moral visions to struggle in order to understand truths which are larger than those held by the individual self. Her subjects were large: good and evil, love and hate, friendship, beauty and ugliness, and death.

Making Her Point Through Fiction

The Bluest Eye depicted the tragic life of a young black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who wanted nothing more than to have her family love her and to be liked by school friends. These rather ordinary ambitions, however, were beyond Pecola's reach. She surmised that the reason she was abused at home and ridiculed at school was her black skin, which was equated with ugliness. She imagined that everything would be all right if she had blue eyes and blond hair; in short, if she were cute like Shirley Temple. Unable to withstand the assaults on her frail self-image, Pecola goes quietly insane and withdraws into a fantasy world in which she was a beloved little girl because she has the bluest eye of all.

Against the backdrop of Pecola's story was that of Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, who managed to grow up whole despite the social forces which pressured African-Americans and females. For them, childhood was much like it was for Morrison herself in Lorain; their egos were comforted and nurtured by family members, whose love did not fail them.

Sula was about a marvelously unconventional woman, Sula Pease, who becomes a pariah in her hometown of Medallion, Ohio, which was much like Lorain. With the discovery at the age of 12 that she and her friend Nel Wright "were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they set about creating something else to be." Nel married and her life follows convention, while Sula's life evolved into an unlimited experiment. Not bound by any social codes, Sula was first thought to be unusual, then outrageous, and eventually evil. In becoming a pariah in her community, she was the measure for evil and, ironically, inspired goodness in those around her. At her death both the community and Nel learned that Sula was their life force; she was the other half of the equation. Without Sula, Nel felt incomplete.

The female vantage point shifted to an African-American male perspective in Song of Solomon, which traced the process of self-discovery for Macon Dead III. Macon, or "Milkman" as he was called by his friends, set out on a series of journeys to recover a lost treasure in his family's past, but instead of discovering economic wealth, he uncovered something more valuable. He gathered together the details of his ancestry, which he thought had been lost to him forever. In a larger context Milkman's odyssey became a kind of cultural epic for all African-American people; it mapped in symbolic fashion the heritage of a people, from a mythic African past, through a heritage obscured by slavery, to a present built upon questioned values.

Tar Baby, Morrison's fourth novel, moved beyond the small Midwestern town setting to an island in the Caribbean. As the title suggested, the story employed a folktale about how a farmer used a tar baby to catch a troublesome rabbit. When the tar baby doesn't return the rabbit's greeting, he hits the tar baby and gets stuck. He begs the farmer to skin him alive, to do anything but throw him into the briar patch. The farmer throws him in the briar patch, where the rabbit escapes.

As the story opens, Jadine (also called Jade) has left Paris, where she was a fashion model, to visit Valerian and Margaret Street in the Caribbean. Jade, who was orphaned at an early age, has been cut off from her black heritage. She was raised and educated by Valerian Street, a rich, white, retired candy magnate and employer for her aunt and uncle, Sydney and Ondine. Valerian has paid for Jade's French education, and she has substituted Valerian's cultural heritage of wealth and status for her black heritage of struggle and survival. Therefore, Jade was an orphan in the literal sense of the word, with no personal attachments.

On Christmas Eve a young black vagrant, Son, jumped ship and intruded on their lives. His presence brings to the surface years of their locked up secrets and forced them to give expression to their violent racial, sexual, and familial conflicts. Jade and Son became passionately entangled with one another. Because she had no racial past, no tribe, to cling to—no briar patch, as it were—she cannot share his life with him, but he does not want to live without her. She flees from him, and he searches for her.

Beloved, Morrison's fifth novel, has been called her most technically sophisticated work to date. Using flashbacks, fragmented narration and shifting viewpoints, Morrison explored the story of the events that have led to the protagonist Sethe's crime. Sethe lived with her surviving daughter, Denver, on the outskirts of Cincinnati in a farmhouse haunted by the tyrannical ghost of her murdered baby daughter. Paul D., fellow slave from Kentucky comes to live with them. He violently casts out the baby spirit or so they think, until one day a beautiful young stranger with no memory arrived, calling herself 'Beloved'. The stranger was the embodiment of Sethe's murdered daughter and the collective anguish and rage of sixty million and more who have suffered the tortures of slavery. She eventually takes over the household, feeding on Sethe's memories and explanations to gain strength. Beloved nearly destroyed her mother until the community of former slave women who have ostracized Sethe and Denver since the murder join together to exorcise Beloved at last.

Although the work was considered Morrison's masterpiece, she failed to win either the National Book Award or the National Book Critic's Award. Forty-eight prominent African-American writers and critics who were outraged and appalled at the lack of recognition for the novel, signed a tribute to her achievement that was published in the New York Times in January 1988. Later that year Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved. She won the Nobel Prize for literature based upon the quality of her work in 1993. In 1996, the National Book Awards presented her with its NBF Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. During her acceptance speech Morrison said "writing is a craft that seems solitary but needs another for its completion, that requires a whole industry for its dissemination. At its best, it offers the fruits of one person imaginative intelligence to another without restraints."

Further Reading

For biographical information see the following periodical pieces: Colette Dowling, "The Song of Toni Morrison," The New York Times Magazine (May 20, 1979); Charles Ruas, "Toni Morrison's Triumph," The Soho News (March 11, 1981); and Jeane Strouse, "Black Magic," Newsweek (March 30, 1981). For critical information see the following books: Barbara Christian, Black Women Novelists (1981); Barbara Christian, Black Feminist Criticism (1985); Mari Evans, "Toni Morrison" in Black Women Writers, 1950-1980 (1983); and Claudia Tate, Black Women Writers at Work. The Bluest Eye, Sula, The Black Book, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Dreaming Emmett, Beloved, Jazz, and Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination are a few of Morrison's works. □

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Morrison, Toni

Toni Morrison

Born: February 18, 1931
Lorain, Ohio

African American writer

Toni Morrison is the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is best known for her novels focusing on intimate relationships, especially between men and women. These stories are set against the backdrop of African American culture.

Birth and family history

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, on February 18, 1931. She was the second of four children born to Ramah and George Wofford. Her mother's parents, Ardelia and John Solomon Willis, had left Greenville, Alabama, around 1910 after they lost their farm because of debts that they could not repay. Morrison's father's family left Georgia and moved north to escape sharecropping (a system of farming in which a farmer works on someone else's land and pays the owner a share of the crop) and violence against African Americans in the South. Both families settled in the steel-mill town of Lorain on Lake Erie. Morrison grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s, a time of severe economic hardship. Her father supported the family by working three jobs for seventeen years.

Folklore, music, and history

Morrison's childhood was filled with African American folklore, music, rituals, and myths. Her family was, as Morrison says, "intimate with the supernatural" and frequently used visions and signs to predict the future. Storytelling was an important part of life in the Wofford family and both the children and the adults would share stories with one another. Morrison sees her writing functioning much like storytelling did in the past. It reminds people about their heritage and shows them their place in the community. She has said that she uses her childhood memories to help her start writing. Her real-life world, therefore, is often included in her novels.

Once Morrison learned how to read, it became one of the things in life that she loved spending time doing. When she was in high school, she began to read the works of great authors such as Jane Austen (17751817), Leo Tolstoy (18281910), and the nineteenth-century French writer Gustave Flaubert (18211880). Morrison was impressed by the specific way these writers portrayed the things that they were familiar with. Their talents motivated her to write in such a way about the things she was most familiar with, particularly her African American culture.

Attends university and becomes a teacher

In 1949 Morrison went to Howard University in Washington, D.C., to study English. She changed her name to Toni because people at Howard had trouble pronouncing the name Chloe. While at Howard she was a member of the Howard University Players, a theater company that presented plays about the lives of African American people. Morrison received her bachelor of arts degree in English from Howard in 1953. After she received her master's degree in English from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 1955, she taught for two years at Texas Southern University in Houston. Then she returned to Howard University to teach.

Marriage, family, and a career as an editor

While at Howard, Toni met Harold Morrison, a young architect from Jamaica who also taught at the university. The couple married in 1958 and had two sons, Harold (also known as Ford) and Slade, before divorcing in 1964. Then Morrison went to Syracuse, New York, and began working as an editor for a Random House company. She had two small children and free time in the evenings. This environment helped her turn her attention to writing novels.

In 1968 Morrison moved to New York City, where she continued working as an editor for Random House. She eventually became a senior editor and was the only African American woman to have that job in the company. While there she helped to publish books by African American writers, including Toni Cade Bambara (19391995), Gayl Jones (1949), and June Jordan (1936). She also taught part-time, lectured across the country, and wrote many novels.

Morrison's novels

Morrison began writing her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), while she was in a writers' group at Howard University. The story is about an African American girl who wishes that her eyes were blue and fit a different image of beauty. Thirty years later the book still speaks to a universal audience and was chosen to be an Oprah Winfrey Book Club selection. Sula (1974), Morrison's second novel, was nominated for a National Book Award. Her third book, Song of Solomon (1977), won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. It was also chosen as the second novel by an African American to be a Book-of-the-Month selection. Tar Baby was published in 1981. Beloved (1987) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Jazz was published in 1992 and Paradise followed in 1997. Meanwhile, Morrison worked as writer-in-residence at the State University of New York, first at Stony Brook and later at Albany, before moving on to Princeton University in New Jersey.

Morrison's novels are carefully written to produce poetic phrases and strong emotional responses from her readers. Her characters try to understand the truth about the world they live in. The subjects she writes about include good and evil, love and hate, beauty and ugliness, friendship, and death.

Morrison's masterpiece

Beloved, a story about life after slavery, is considered Morrison's masterpiece. In 1993, when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature for the body of her work, the Nobel Commit tee cited Beloved as Morrison's outstanding work. In 1996 she received a Medal for Dis tinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation.

In 1999 Morrison's first children's book, The Big Box, was published. She worked on the book together with her son Slade. The story is a dark look at childhood in America that pushes children and parents to take a new look at the rules and values that make up their lives. The book shows the ways in which well-meaning adults sometimes block children's independence and creativity.

Honored by the president

In 2001 Toni Morrison was given a National Arts and Humanities Award by Pres ident Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C. The president gave a speech during the award ceremony and said that Morrison had "entered America's heart."

For More Information

Blashfield, Jean F. Toni Morrison. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.

Jones, Amy Robin. Toni Morrison. Chanhas sen, MN: Child's World, 2002.

Kramer, Barbara. Toni Morrison, Nobel PrizeWinning Author. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1996.

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Morrison, Toni

Toni Morrison, 1931–, American writer, b. Lorain, Ohio, as Chloe Ardelia (later Anthony) Wofford; grad. Howard Univ. (B.A., 1953), Cornell (M.F.A., 1955). Her fiction is noted for its poetic language, lush detail, emotional intensity, and sensitive observation of American life as viewed from a variety of African-American perspectives. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is the story of a girl ruined by a racist society and its violence. Song of Solomon (1977; National Book Award) established her as one of America's leading novelists. It concerns a middle-class man who achieves self-knowledge through the discovery of his rural black heritage. Her later fiction includes Beloved (1987; Pulitzer Prize), a powerful account of mother love, murder, and the legacy of slavery; and Jazz (1992), a tale of love and murder set in Harlem in the 1920s. Her other novels are Sula (1973), Tar Baby (1981), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015).

Among Morrison's other works are the essay collections Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power (1992) and Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992); several children's books, including The Big Box (2000), written with her son, Slade; a play, Dreaming Emmett (1986); a song cycle, Honey and Me (1992), written with André Previn; an opera libretto, Margaret Garner (2003); and, in collaboration with Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, Desdemona (2011), a dramatic and musical reinterpretation of Shakespeare's Othello. Awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, she was the first African American to win the coveted prize. Morrison, who was an influential editor at Random House for nearly two decades, has been a professor at Princeton since 1989 and was the founder (1994) of the Princeton Atelier, a writers' and performers' workshop.

See D. Taylor-Guthrie, ed., Conversations with Toni Morrison (1994) and C. Y. Denard, ed., Toni Morrison: Conversations (2008); studies by B. W. Jones (1985), A. I. Vinson (1985), N. Y. McKay, ed. (1988), H. Bloom (1990, repr. 2005), H. L. Gates, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, ed. (1993), P. Page (1995), N. J. Peterson, ed. (1997), L. Peach (1995 and, as ed., 1998), D. L. Middleton, ed. (2000), S. A. Stave, ed. (2006), J. L. Carlacio (2007), S. N. Mayberry (2007), J. L. J. Heinert (2008), L. V. D. Jennings (2008), R. Lister (2009), and K. Zauditu-Selassie (2009).

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Morrison, Toni

MORRISON, Toni

Nationality: American. Born: Chloe Anthony Wofford, Lorain, Ohio, 18 February 1931. Education: Howard University, Washington, D.C., B.A. 1953; Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, M.A. 1955. Family: Married Harold Morrison in 1958 (divorced 1964); two sons. Career: Instructor in English, Texas Southern University, Houston, 1955-57, and Howard University, 1957-64; senior editor, Random House, publishers, New York, 1965-84; associate professor, State University of New York, Purchase, 1971-72; visiting lecturer, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1976-77, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1983-84, and Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1986-88; Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, State University of New York, Albany, 1984-89; Regents' Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley, 1987; Santagata Lecturer, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, 1987. Since 1989 Golheen Professor of the Humanities, Princeton University, New Jersey. Awards: American Academy award, 1977; National Book Critics Circle award, 1977; New York State Governor's award, 1985; Book of the Month Club award, 1986; Before Columbus Foundation award, 1988; Robert F. Kennedy award, 1988; Melcher award, 1988; Pulitzer prize, 1988; MLA Commonwealth award in literature, 1989; Nobel prize, 1993, for literature; Pearl Buck award, 1994; Condorcet medal (Paris), 1994; Rhegium Julii prize, 1994, for literature; National Book Foundation Medal, 1996. Honorary degree: College of Saint Rose, Albany, 1987. Agent: International Creative Management, 40 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019. Address: Department of Creative Writing, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

The Bluest Eye. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1970; London, Chatto andWindus, 1980.

Sula. New York, Knopf, and London, Allen Lane, 1974.

Song of Solomon. New York, Knopf, 1977; London, Chatto andWindus, 1978.

Tar Baby. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1981.

Beloved. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1987.

Jazz. New York, Knopf, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1992.

Paradise. New York, Knopf, 1998.

Play

Dreaming Emmett (produced Albany, New York, 1986).

Other

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, Harvard University Press, 1992.

Conversations with Toni Morrison, edited by Danille Taylor-Guthrie. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1994.

Lecture and Speech of Acceptance upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature. London, Chatto and Windus, 1994.

Four Songs for Soprano, Cello, and Piano (poems), by Andre Previn. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England, Music Sales, 1995.

The Dancing Mind: Speech upon Acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on the Sixth of November, Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Xix. New York, Knopf, 1996.

The Big Box (for children), illustrated by Giselle Potter. New York, Hyperion Books for Children/Jump at the Sun, 1999.

Editor, Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality. New York, Pantheon, 1992; London, Chatto and Windus, 1993.

Editor, To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton. New York, Writers and Readers Publishing, 1995.

*

Film Adaptations:

Beloved, 1998.

Bibliography:

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

Critical Studies:

New Dimensions of Spirituality: A Biracial and Bicultural Reading of the Novels of Toni Morrison by Karla F.C. Holloway, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1987; The Crime of Innocence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison by Terry Otten, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1989; Toni Morrison by Wilfred D. Samuels and Clenora Hudson-Weems, Boston, Twayne, 1990; Toni Morrison edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1990; Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison by Trudier Harris, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1991; Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne Jewett and Toni Morrison: The Cultural Function of Narrative by Marilyn Sanders Mobley, Baton Rouge and London, Louisiana State University Press, 1991; Toni Morrison's Developing Class Consciousness by Doreatha Drummond Mbalia, Selinsgrove, Susquehanna University Press, and London, Associated University Presses, 1991; The Voices of Toni Morrison by Barbara Hill Rigney, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1991; The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place Within the Community by Patrick Bryce Bjork, New York, Lang, 1992; The Dilemma of "Double-Consciousness": Toni Morrison's Novels by Denise Heinze, Athens and London, University of Georgia Press, 1993; Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and K.A. Appiah, New York, Amistad, 1993; Toni Morrison by Douglas Century, New York, Chelsea House, 1994; Bridging the Americas: The Literature of Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Gayl Jones by Stelamaris Coser, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1994; A World of Difference: An Inter-Cultural Study of Toni Morrison's Novels by Wendy Harding and Jacky Martin, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1994; The Discourse of Slavery: Aphra Behn to Toni Morrison, edited by Carl Plasa and Betty J. Ring, London and New York, Routledge, 1994; Toni Morrison by Linden Peach, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1995; Toni Morrison and the American Tradition: A Rhetorical Reading by Herbert William Rice, New York, P. Lang, 1996; Toni Morrison's Fiction by Jan Furman, Columbia, South Carolina, University of South Carolina Press, 1996; Toni Morrison: An Intricate Spectrum, edited with an introduction by Alladi Uma, New Delhi, Arnold Associates, 1996; Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches, edited by Nancy J. Peterson, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1997; Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison, edited by Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle, New York, Modern Language Association of America, 1997; The Female Bildungsroman by Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston: A Postmodern Reading by Pin-chia Feng, New York, P. Lang, 1998; Circles of Sorrow, Lines of Struggle: The Novels of Toni Morrison by Gurleen Grewal, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1998; Toni Morrison: A Critical Companion by Missy Dehn Kubitschek, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1998; The Novels of Toni Morrison: A Study in Race, Gender, and Class by K. Sumana, New Delhi, Prestige Books, 1998; Toni Morrison and Womanist Discourse by Aoi Mori, New York, P. Lang, 1999; The Broom Closet: Secret Meanings of Domesticity in Postfeminist Novels by Louise Erdrich, Mary Gordon, Toni Morrison, Marge Piercy, Jane Smiley, and Amy Tan by Jeannette Batz Cooperman, New York, Peter Lang, 1999; Prophets of Recognition: Ideology and the Individual in Novels by Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, and Eudora Welty by Julia Eichelberger, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1999; Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison by J. Brooks Bouson, Albany, State University of New York Press, 2000; Toni Morrison, edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom, Broomall, PA, Chelsea House, 2000; The Artist As Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf by Lisa Williams, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 2000; Toni Morrison Explained: A Reader's Road Map to the Novels by Ron David, New York, Random House, 2000; Toni Morrison: Historical Perspectives and Literary Contexts by Linden Peach, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2000.

* * *

A comparison of Toni Morrison with Joyce and Faulkner is irresistible. One dominant aspect of her work is an exhaustive, mythical exploration of place. Another is the search for the nexus of past and present. She is to the black milieu of Lorain what Joyce and Faulkner are to Dublin and Oxford, and her Medallion is as curiously fascinating as Anderson's Winesburg. Her stories translate a multiplicity of places, often superficially tawdry, into a rich cultural matrix. Likewise, the times of her forebears and herself in Ohio are a duration, not a chronology. She thus makes the legendary altogether new, and discovers in colloquial habit and naming the altogether legendary. Legend includes not only the tales of her black folk, but the myths of world literature. She has excluded Caucasians from her fiction more than Joyce and Faulkner have excluded ethnic "others" from theirs. But her focus on personality and character (in the moral sense) is indisputably universal. Her pervasive irony and paradox are not merely adroit but ethically motivated. At times they accentuate an erosion of the dignified, reliable courtlines of ancestral blacks, the more profound because it was maintained through the grossest depredations in American history. She is able to say of her contemporaries: "We raised our children and reared our crops; we let infants grow, and property develop." It is a deep regard for craftfor verbal nuance, metaphor image, point of viewthat enables Morrison not merely to discourse upon but to animate social process and existential crisis.

The Bluest Eye tells of the incestuous rape of 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove by her father. The girl's need to be loved (pushed to the extreme when she observes her mother, a "domestic," heaping upon a little white girl affections Pecola has only dreamed of) takes the doomed form of a yearning for blue eyes. The insanity of this flight from reality comes to fruition after the death of the baby, when she actually believes herself to have acquired them. With her ubiquitous metaphor of flight, Morrison sums up this personal fate and the novel's powerful theme:

The damage was total. She spent her days walking up and down, up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating the air, a winged but grounded bird, intent on the blue void it could not reachcould not even seebut which filled the valleys of the mind.

We are led to conclude that the narrator, Claudia Macteer, and her sister Frieda probably dodged this perversion by directing an ordinate malice at their Shirley Temple dolls and by being born to a family that, though rough and austere, did know how to breed love.

Sula explores equally an extraordinary consciousness and the gap between generations. Sula Mae Peace and her grandmother, Eva, share a great deal in common. Both left the same home in Medallion's "Bottom" only to return and inhabit it in willful isolation. Both shun tender expressions of love. Both have authored another's death. But in her indifference to family bonds, Sula is her grandmother's opposite. Where Eva left to save her family, Sula left to indulge her fancy. Where Eva returned for her children (though only content alone on the second floor), Sula returned from boredom and put her grandmother in a home. Where Eva, with tragic awareness, ignited her son's drug-addicted body, Sula dropped the little boy "Chicken" to his death with a weird inadvertence. And where Eva maimed herself trying to save her flaming daughter Hannah, Sula watched her mother's immolation with distant curiosity.

Yet this portrait is not simply a paean to the old ways. There is sympathy for Sula because as a child she had misconceived Hannah's remark about her, "I love her, I just don't like her," and because of her vain effort to save "Chicken." Of that the narrator remarks that it has exorcised "her one major feeling of responsibility." Moreover, her temperament blends "Eva's arrogance and Hannah's self indulgence" in an "experimental life" which itself seems a precondition for seeing and acting upon hard social truths. And finally, she seems like Pecola Breedlove, whose "guilt" mysteriously sanctified those around her. Sula performs the original Eve's purpose; as a community "witch," she provides others with a scapegoat, a model of such evil conduct that their own is actually elevated thereby.

Song of Solomon is a work of enormous breadth. Macon and Ruth Dead complete an often devastating characterization of genteel blacks begun with Geraldine and Helene in the earlier novels. Self-serving and cool, their son "Milkman" has given full life to the family name. Burdened by his parents' merciless marriage and prompted by his saintly aunt, Pilate, he sets out for Virginia and the skeletons in his family closet. But lore steadily leads and yields to more interesting truth, in the form of persons who correct his myopic view. He discovers his dead grandmother, Sing, so called because she was half Indian, Singing Bird, but also the daughter of a white Virginian named Byrd. And he discovers his great-grandfather, Solomon, who once proudly flew the coop of slavery and about whom the country black kids still sing: "O Solomon don't leave me." Song and flight make life endurable and beautiful in Morrison's world. Having discovered these true ancestors, Milkman forgets the mundane, taking his best friend Guitar's advice to heart: "[If you] wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down." The murderous conflict that had developed between the two (Guitar is a consummate study of an extremist racial approach toward which the novel displays both sympathy and disgust) is ended: "For now [Milkman] knew what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it."

The design of Tar Baby, so allegorical and symbolic, probably overextends the mythic note of Song of Solomon. Folk legend is provided by the title, but elsewhere little is quite so down to earth and the supporting realism is undercut by both the fabulous Haitian settings and Morrison's anthropomorphizing of them. The key figures are Jadine and Son. Their union and divorce embody a black man's search for an authentic, natural past and a black woman's estrangement from it. Committed to materialistic white values, she ends by fondling her sealskin coat. He ends, more unbelievably than the airborne Milkman, by entering a jungle so humanoid that it "make[s] the way easier for a certain kind of man," Morrison's archetype.

Beloved, properly, earned Morrison the Pulitzer prize. The plot entails the struggle of Sethe (Suggs), from the summer of 1873 to the spring of 1874, to bear the resurgent impact of her past, particularly the moment 18 years earlier when she had drawn a handsaw across the throat of her baby girl, named Beloved. She had done so rather than hand the child and her siblings to a vicious plantation manager who had come to Cincinnati, in the name of the "Fugitive Bill," for the family of escaped Kentucky slaves. Once again using magic realism, Morrison simply allows the child's ghost to cross back into her mother's world, in the form of a living and troubled young woman. Readers will struggle to see it otherwise, but this seems the only viable interpretation of the latter-day Beloved. The plot moves constantly between the present in a spuriously free North and an exactingly drawn past in the South before the Civil War. The detail Morrison provides here about plantation existence for slaves, chain gang existence for black convicts, and the terrors of the runaway's passage to freedom is potently authentic. But all is cast in highly lyrical terms.

In 1992, Morrison offered her readers Jazz, a continuation of her look at excessive love, which began with maternal love in particular in Beloved. Set in America's Jazz Age, Jazz presents Joe and Violet Trace, a door-to-door salesman and hairdresser, respectively. Displaced after they are evicted from their home in Virginia and enchanted by their perception of Harlem, they migrate to New York in 1906 but quickly become "people enthralled, then deceived by the music the world makes." Joe takes a teenage lover, Dorcas, who makes him "so sad and happy he [shoots] her just to keep the feeling going" after she jilts him. Violet tries to cut Dorcas's face at the funeral home and, after being forced to leave, runs home to free her primary companions, the birds she keeps in their home. Avoiding a strict chronology is typical for Morrison's work, but here, reading the narrative is often like listening to jazz music as it moves with seamless improvisations, unveiling not only the complexities of romantic love but also the disappointments many blacks faced upon migrating North in the early twentieth century.

In 1993, Morrison was honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature, making her the first African-American woman to receive the award. Her next novel, Paradise, again focuses on love, this time the love of God and of humans for one another, in the all-black community of Ruby, Oklahoma. This novel returns to fundamental themes of Morrison's work: a sense of place and the interconnectedness of past and present. The citizens of Ruby feel that their "paradise," established by a group of freed slaves who found strength in their religious faith, is being corrupted by the "outside." As the novel covers events between 1890 and 1976, Ruby faces an increasing amount of "sin"violence, disease, infidelity. As in The Bluest Eye and Sula, a society blind to its own inadequacies seeks a scapegoat; here, it finds the Convent, the refuge for five downtrodden and outcast women. In the conflict between traditional religion, symbolized by the Oven, and the unconventional "magic" which takes place at the Convent, the values of past and present do battle.

Structurally reminiscent of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Paradise is divided into sections according to narrative point of view, not chronology, leaving the reader to assemble the narrative as one would a puzzle. The novel begins with the culmination of Ruby's frustrations: an act of violence against the women of the Convent. The opening sentence of the novel reads, "They shoot the white girl first." Using a tactic she uses in her obscure short story "Recitatif," Morrison never explicitly reveals the race of the Convent's women but leaves the reader to decide: which woman is white? More importantly, however, the struggle to solve this riddle leads one to ponder other questions: in this particular act by the citizens of Ruby, is race relevant? Does the victim's race somehow justify her murderers or vilify them even more? Although Morrison often searches the issues particular to the black race, she is at her best in conundrums like this one. From The Bluest Eye to Paradise, her work compels readers to consider issues that involve race but also transcend it, as they often see their own world, and perhaps even themselves, reflected in the pages of each novel.

David M. Heaton,

updated by Melissa Simpson

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Morrison, Toni

Morrison, Toni (1931– ) US writer, b. Chloe Anthony Wofford. Morrison's debut novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), established her as a major voice in American literature. Her chronicles of African-American experience in the rural South include Song of Solomon (1977) and Tar Baby (1981). Beloved (1987), a powerful indictment of slavery, won a Pulitzer Prize. Other works include Jazz (1992). She was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature. She is a professor in the council of humanities at Princeton University(1987– ).

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Morrison, Toni

Morrison, Toni

February 18, 1931


By the 1980s Toni Morrison was considered by the literary world to be a major American novelist. In 1992five years after she received the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved and the year of publication both for her sixth novel, Jazz, and for a series of lectures on American literature, Playing in the Dark Morrison was being referred to internationally as one of the greatest American writers of all time. In 1993 she became the first black woman in history to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The road to prominence began with Morrison's birth into a family she describes as a group of storytellers. Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, she was the second of four children of George Wofford (a steel-mill welder, car washer, and construction and shipyard worker) and Ramah Willis Wofford (who worked at home and sang in church).

Her grandparents came to the North from Alabama to escape poverty and racism. Her father's and mother's experiences with and responses to racial violence and economic inequality, as well as what Morrison learned about living in an economically cooperative neighborhood, influenced the political edge of her art. Her early understanding of the "recognized and verifiable principles of Black art," principles she heard demonstrated in her family's stories and saw demonstrated in the art and play of black people around her, also had its effect. Morrison's ability to manipulate the linguistic qualities of both black art and conventional literary form manifests itself in a prose that some critics have described as lyrical and vernacular at the same time.

After earning a B.A. from Howard University in 1953, Morrison moved to Cornell University for graduate work in English and received an M.A. in 1955. She taught at Texas Southern University from 1955 to 1957 and then at Howard University until 1964, where she met and married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, and gave birth to two sons. Those were years that Morrison described as a period of almost complete powerlessness, when she wrote quietly and participated in a writers' workshop, creating the story that would become The Bluest Eye.

In 1964 Morrison divorced her husband and moved to Syracuse, New York, where she began work for Random House. She later moved to a senior editor's position at the Random House headquarters in New York Citycontinuing to teach, along the way, at various universities. Since 1988 she has been Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University.

Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is a text that combines formal "play" between literary aesthetics and pastoral imagery with criticism of the effects of racialized personal aesthetics. Sula (1973) takes the pattern of the heroic quest and the artist-outsider theme and disrupts both in a novel that juxtaposes those figurations with societal gender restrictions amid the historical constraint of racism. Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), and Beloved (1987) are engagements with the relation to history of culturally specific political dynamics, aesthetics, and ritualized cultural practices.

Song of Solomon sets group history within the parameters of a family romance; Tar Baby interweaves the effects of colonialism and multiple family interrelationships that are stand-ins for history with surreal descriptions of landscape; and Beloved negotiates narrative battles over story and history produced as a result of the imagination's inability to make sense of slavery. In Jazz, Morrison continued her engagement with the problems and productiveness of individual storytelling's relation to larger, public history.

The lectures published as Playing in the Dark continue Morrison's interest in history and narrative. The collection abstracts her ongoing dialogue with literary criticism and history around manifestations of race and racism as narrative forms themselves produced by (and producers of) the social effects of racism in the larger public imagination.

Morrison's work sets its own unique imprimatur on that public imagination as much as it does on the literary world. A consensus has emerged that articulates the importance of Morrison to the world of letters and demonstrates the permeability of the boundary between specific cultural productionthe cultural production that comes out of living as part of the African-American groupand the realm of cultural production that critics perceive as having crossed boundaries between groups and nationstates.

Morrison's ability to cross the boundaries as cultural commentator is reflected in Race-ing Justice and Engendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality, a collection of essays about the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the accusations of sexual harassment brought against him by law professor Anita Hill. The essays in the collection were written by scholars from various fields, then edited and introduced by Morrison. At the same time, she wrote poetry and lyrics for the song cycles "Dare Degga" and "Honey and Rue."

Morrison's reputation was confirmed in 1998 by the critical success of her novel Paradise. That year, with aid from entertainer Oprah Winfrey, her work also reached a new, wider public. After an endorsement from Winfrey's "Oprah's Book Club," sales of Paradise climbed into bestseller range. The same year, Winfrey produced and starred in a film adaptation of Morrison's novel Beloved.

Morrison's eighth novel, Love, was published in 2003 to high praise from critics. The following year, she also released a book for young people telling the story of school integration.

See also Literary Criticism, U.S.; Literature

Bibliography

Campbell, W. John. Toni Morrison: Her Life and Works. New York: SparkNotes, 2003.

Lubiano, Wahneema. "Toni Morrison." In African American Writers, edited by Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz. New York: Scribner's, 1991.

Middleton, David L. Toni Morrison: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1987.

Morrison, Toni. "Memory, Creation, and Writing." Thought 59 (December 1984): 385390.

wahneema lubiano (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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Morrison, Toni

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is one of America's most prominent writers. She has won the Nobel Prize in literature, and her novel Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931. She grew up in the industrial town of Lorain, Ohio . Her father worked three jobs simultaneously for nearly seventeen years to feed and clothe his four children. Born in Georgia , Morrison's father had firsthand experience with racial violence. This experience made him suspicious of all white people, and he avoided them whenever possible. Morrison herself grew up in an integrated community but understood her father's sense of distrust.

Her father often entertained his children by telling stories, especially African American folklore, which usually included superstition and ghosts. Encouraged by this oral form of storytelling, Morrison became an eager reader. She graduated from high school with honors and attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there, she changed her name to Toni after finding that many people had difficulty pronouncing the name Chloe.

Becomes a writer

Morrison graduated from Howard in 1953 and enrolled in the graduate program at Cornell University. She received her master's degree in English in 1955 and took a job teaching in Texas for two years. From there, she returned to Howard, this time as a teacher. There she joined an informal group of African American writers who gathered together monthly to read and critique each other's writing. During this time, she met and married a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison. The couple had two sons and divorced in 1964.

The divorce left her with a need to earn money, so she and her sons moved to New York , where she worked as a textbook editor for Random House. During this time, she began writing with a sense of dedication, mostly as a way to deal with her loneliness. She completed and polished a story she began writing while involved in the writers group at Howard University. By the time she was done, the story had become a novel. It was published in 1969 under the title The Bluest Eye and received mixed reviews.

Her next novel, Sula, was published in 1973. This study of good and evil was nominated for a National Book Award, and critics praised Morrison's prose and characterizations. With her next novel, Song of Solomon (1977), Morrison became a prominent author whose fictional characters grappled with spiritual death and rebirth and the search for ethnic identity. This novel earned her a national Book Critics Circle Award and won her an appointment to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Council of Arts.

After reducing her editorial duties at Random House to focus more time on writing, Morrison published Tar Baby in 1981. In her previous books, all the major characters had been African American. This was her first novel to feature a relationship not only between African American men and women, but also between African Americans and whites. Tar Baby remained on the best-seller lists for four months and received high praise from critics.

Beloved

Morrison's most critically acclaimed novel to date was published in 1988 and won a Pulitzer Prize. She based the novel on a true story she came across while researching a book for Random House. Beloved tells the story of a runaway slave who kills her two-year-old daughter just moments before recapture. The slave mother cannot bear to immerse her baby girl in a life of bondage and considers death more merciful. Critics were nearly unanimous in their praise of the book.

Morrison published several more books in the twentieth century and became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993. The Swedish Academy that awards the honor called Morrison a “literary artist of the first rank.”

Morrison wrote and published two more adult novels by 2008, Love (2003) and A Mercy (2008), and one children's book, Remember: The Journey to School Integration (2004). All of her works revolve around African American characters and their experiences in a racist society as they search for a sense of self-identity and awareness. The vast appeal of her novels, however, lies in the fact that the dilemmas illustrated in her works are ones that confront people of all races.

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Morrison, Toni

MORRISON, Toni

Born 18 February 1931, Loraine, Ohio

Daughter of George and Ramah Willis Wofford; married (divorced); children: two sons

The daughter of working-class parents, Toni Morrison reflects her Midwestern background in her novels. Educated at Howard and Cornell Universities, Morrison has taught at several universities including Harvard and Princeton, while pursuing both writing and editing. Morrison has been married and divorced and is the mother of two sons. In the 1980s, Morrison had been identified by some as the only contemporary black feminist American novelist.

Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), depicts the failed maturation of Pecola Breedlove, a black child of the 1940s who believes herself ugly as measured against white American standards of beauty. Pecola's symbol of beauty and acceptance is her intense desire for blue eyes; her search for them leads her into the hands of a charlatan sorcerer. The novel is set into two frames—the school primer, which provides misleading standards of family life, and the perceptions of Claudia MacTeer, Pecola's friend, who narrates the story. Morrison contrasts the two girls' families, providing detailed and powerful flashbacks into the histories of both Breedlove parents. The reader clearly understands that unloved, unvalued human beings cannot love wisely, for Pecola is raped by her father and hence driven into madness and total social isolation. Another important theme is the difficulty of life for Southern blacks who move north. Generally well received by critics, the novel was taken as indication of Morrison's power and potential as a writer.

In Sula (1973), Morrison explores the maturation and long friendship of Sula Peace and Nel Wright Greene, as well as the history and values of the Bottom, the black settlement in imaginary Medallion, Ohio. Sula and Nel are revealed as the products of their family backgrounds, and the book stresses the various mother-daughter relationships. Highly episodic and violent, Sula depicts a wide range of the girls' experiences—sexual awakening, black and female social roles, shared responsibility for a play-mate's death, an affair between Sub and Nel's husband—and reveals that, could their separate damaged personalities be merged, the result would be a balanced, effective woman. Thus, the real tragedy is identified when Nel realizes her greatest loss is the failure of her friendship with Sula.

Morrison's early novels are spare; two of her greatest stylistic successes are her use of foreshadowing (often connected with extensive nature symbolism) and her realistic dialogue. With Song of Solomon (1977), however, Morrison has made a conscious effort to "write it all out," and the result is a longer, more flowing novel. Song of Solomon retains some themes of Morrison's earlier works. The development and destruction of a friendship is again depicted, and again, the friends would be more nearly whole were they to share one another's traits. This is another maturation novel, and the central character—Macon "Milkman" Dead, Jr.—slowly learns to see himself not only as an individual but also as the product of his family history. The central image is Milkman's desire to fly, cleverly associated with both the maturation and family motifs. Flashbacks are used very successfully, allowing the reader to share the mystery and excitement of Macon's search for identity. The novel is panoramic, telling the stories of four generations through stunning characterization and the vivid portraits of two black communities.

In Song, as in all her work, Morrison's key theme is the effect of the presence or the absence of love, an examination of love as a liberating and nurturing (or destructive) force. In exploring various kinds of love, Morrison makes clear that the capacity for genuine love must be achieved through personal growth that includes evaluation, acceptance, or even rejection of learned patterns for loving.

As an editor, Morrison stresses high-quality writing and urges women to value their experiences enough to write effectively about them. In conceiving and editing The Black Book (by Middleton Harris, et al., 1974), Morrison has helped provide a journalistic, pictorial, personal "scrapbook" of black American life from its beginnings. Her dedication to this project is in keeping with her desire to produce—and help others produce—true, valid portraits of black Americans and their lives.

Widely considered the leading American novelist of the late 20th century, Morrison received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, the first African-American woman to be thus honored. Her later novels extend Morrison's conscious effort, begun in Song of Solomon (1977), and expanded into a more discursive style. The resulting lyricism of Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), and Jazz (1992) has been widely praised. Though each of her novels has accumulated some mixed reviews, by far the majority have been very positive. Appearances of her recent titles on bestseller lists demonstrate public as well as critical admiration for her work.

Song of Solomon received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1978 and Beloved received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Beloved failed to win the National Book Award for that year although it was on the short list, prompting concern that Morrison was not receiving adequate recognition. In the 24 January 1988 issue of the New York Times Book Review, a group of black writers and critics published a "testament of thanks" to Morrison, believing her works have "advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as people." An accompanying piece by June Jordan and Houston A. Baker, Jr. suggested a parallel between Morrison's situation and that of James Baldwin, who was never nominated for the "keystones to the canon of American literature: the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize." Subsequently, when Beloved did win the Pulitzer Prize, the prize committee stressed that merit was the only standard upon which the award was granted. The controversy raised questions about the effect of racism on American life similar to the questions Morrison consistently addresses in her work.

Morrison's more recent novels extend the exploration of a key theme of her first works—the effect on the individual of the presence or the absence of love—just as they continue to examine relationships between parents and their children. From these perspectives, Morrison considers the impact of others' responses upon her characters' attitudes, emotions, and behavior. The sources of those responses are themselves crucially powerful subjects in her work, for almost all the problems that her protagonists confront stem from the racism so pervasive in American history and culture.

As Morrison brilliantly and painfully depicts it, racial injustice has not only poisoned relationships within the community but has also damaged individuals to the point that they may contribute to their own destruction. Only by confronting personal and social history and by considering—sometimes embracing—the magic, folklore, and myths that illuminate it can an individual empower themselves to face the future with more confidence than fear. Understanding eases the crippling pressure of self-blame, though sadly, not all of her characters have strength enough to achieve it.

Tar Baby, which reinvents the old tale of the fox and the rabbit, depicts intraracial as well as interracial conflict, here dramatized in the story of Jadine and Son—she beautiful, educated, nearly assimilated into the white culture, he angry, violent, at odds with her world. Passionate lovers, each is also a threat to and trap for the other. Morrison contrasts these lovers with a white couple, wealthy, "cultured" Valerian and Margaret Street, and with the Streets' butler, Sydney, and his wife.

Beloved, like Song of Solomon, is an especially powerful rendering of the control the past can exert over the present until an emotional exile achieves community with his or her own people. Based on a true story, Beloved depicts the life of Sethe, a slave who escaped to Cincinnati to find freedom for her children. When slave catchers close in, she succeeds in murdering one daughter, though three other children survive. Much later, in the guise of a grown woman, the dead daughter's ghost takes over Sethe's household, symbolizing the guilt and grief that have crippled her spirit. To survive, Sethe must come to believe what Paul D. tells her, that she is "her own best thing," as she finds her way through her surviving daughter, Denver, into the life of the community.

In Jazz, an unidentified first-person narrator recounts the story of Joe Trace, a middle-aged cosmetics peddler who murders his teenaged mistress, and of his wife, Violet, who attempts to deface the corpse in its coffin. The narrative style echoes a jazz performance, and the scene riffs fluidly from one time period to another. Though the community knows all about the murder and the attack upon the corpse, no one informs the authorities, and the Traces are left to confront one another, to acknowledge their deeds and misdeeds, and to attempt to repair their lives. More successful than Tar Baby, not so powerful as Beloved, Jazz is most effective in its bluesy evocation of New York in 1926.

By her vivid, telling depictions of African-American experience in various periods and settings, Morrison has cast new perspectives on the nation's past and even suggests—though she makes no promise—that people of strength and courage may be able to achieve a somewhat less destructive future. In a theoretical work, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) she examines the impact of race, racism, and the Africanist presence on several works by prominent American writers. The book is a stimulating companion to Morrison's fiction.

Like all of Morrison's previous work, Paradise, her first post-Nobel novel, is an inquiry, and its title should be read with a question mark behind it. The familiar Morrison theme of human history—the relationship between past and present, the way history haunts—is revisited here as well, and ghosts are a given. Ruby, Oklahoma (established 1947, population 360), is based in history, literally and emotionally. The town is a transplanted rendition of another all-black community, Haven, established after the Civil War by Ruby's ancestors, former slaves. Morrison illustrates how history is both Ruby's source of strength and its fatal flaw. The history is permeated with anger and resentment springing from injustices, large and small, suffered by the ancestors at the hands of whites and light-skinned blacks. The towns-people are full of stories about these ancestors, "Testimonies to endurance, wit, skill and strength. Tales of luck and outrage," but there are no stories of themselves. In failing to move past the town's history, its leaders are paralyzed and unable to adapt to the turbulent societal changes of the 1960s and 1970s.

Critics strongly disagree on whether the novel's symbolism and sharply delineated dichotomies strengthen or weaken the book. Chief among the dichotomies is that of the town vs. the neighboring Convent. Built to be a crook's mansion and converted to a convent and boarding school for Arapaho girls, in its decrepitude it is a home for outcasts, injured women who stumble upon it, just as the Convent stumbles along the path of its own chaotic history; conversely, a history of instability requires that Ruby (that paradise) be orderly. Where there is discipline in Ruby, the Convent has strange new rituals. Ruby is engaged in denial; the Convent is a place of acceptance and healing. Where there is spiritual, carnal, and mystical love at the Convent, in Ruby the relationships between human beings and God, men and women, the elders and the youth, are curiously, tragically absent of love. And it is this lack of love—another career-long concern of Morrison's—that tears the town apart.

The town fathers don't recognize the source, but they see evidence everywhere of disintegration, and when a paradise based on isolation decays, blame must be cast outside the community. The women of the Convent are enemies because they are viewed as anarchists, the source of hellish disorder. The awful violence the men enact on these women ultimately indicts the idea of paradise, of the sort pictured here at least, a paradise whose inhabitants are the chosen people, a paranoid paradise of exclusion. Instead, Morrison suggests that the other half of the dichotomy, the inclusive, loving, history-healed Convent, has the potential to be a true earthly paradise.

In addition to her teaching duties at Princeton University, Morrison has continued to be active as an editor. She edited two volumes of James Baldwin's work as well as a collection of works by Toni Cade Bambara. In 1999 she published a children's book, Big Box, written with her son, Slade Morrison, and illustrated by Giselle Potter.

Bibliography:

Lee, D. H., "'The Quest for Self': Triumph and Failure in the Works of Toni Morrison" in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation (1984). Witherspoon-Walthall, M. L., The Evolution of the Black Heroine in the Novels of Jessie Fauset, Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker (1988).

Reference works:

Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia (1991). Black Writers (1989). CANR (1989). CLC (1982, 1989). DLB (1984). FC (1990). Handbook of American Women's History (1990). MTCW (1991). NBAW (1992). Negro Almanac (1989). SATA (1989). Who's Who of Writers, Editors and Poets (1989).

Other references:

American Literature (1981). Black American Literature Forum (1988). Christian Science Monitor (2 Jan. 1998). Critique (1977). Essence (Dec. 1976). MELUS (1991-92).

Modern Fiction Studies (1988). Nation (6 July 1974, 16 Jan. 1998). NY (23 Jan. 1971). NYT (11 Sept. 1994, 6 Jan. 1998). NYTBR (11 Jan. 1998). Salon (2 Feb. 1998). Southern Review (Winter 1999). Village Voice (27 Jan. 1998). WRB (Apr. 1998). WBPW (3 Feb. 1974). Marcus, J., "This Side of Paradise," www.amazon.com interview.

—JANE S. BAKERMAN,

UPDATED BY VALERIE VOGRIN

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Morrison, Toni

Toni Morrison

Personal

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, February 18, 1931, in Lorain, OH; daughter of George and Ramah (Willis) Wofford; married Harold Morrison, 1958 (divorced, 1964); children: Harold Ford, Slade Kevin. Education: Howard University, B.A., 1953; Cornell University, M.A., 1955.




Addresses

Office—Department of Creative Writing, Princeton University, 185 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08544-0001. Agent—ICM, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.




Career

Texas Southern University, Houston, instructor in English, 1955-57; Howard University, Washington, DC, instructor in English, 1957-64; Random House, New York, NY, senior editor, 1965-85; State University of New York—Purchase, associate professor of English, 1971-72; State University of New York

Albany, Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, 1984-89; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities, 1989—. Visiting lecturer, Yale University, 1976-77, and Bard College, 1986-88; Clark Lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Massey Lecturer at Harvard University, both 1990.




Member

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, National Council on the Arts, Authors Guild (member of council), Authors League of America.




Awards, Honors

National Book Award nomination and Ohioana Book Award, both 1975, both for Sula; National Book Critics Circle Award, and American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, both 1977, both for Song of Solomon; New York State Governor's Art Award, 1986; National Book Award nomination, and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 1987, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Robert F. Kennedy Award, and American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, both 1988, all for Beloved; Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award, National Organization for Women; Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993; Pearl Buck Award, Rhegium Julii prize, and Condorcet Medal (Paris, France), all 1994; named commander, Ordre d'Arts et des Lettres (France), 1994; Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Foundation, 1996; National Humanities Medal, 2001; Morrison Society Book Prize was named for the author.




Writings

FICTION

The Bluest Eye, Holt (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Plume (New York, NY), 1994.

Sula, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.

Song of Solomon, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

Tar Baby, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

Beloved, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.

Jazz, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.

Paradise, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.



FOR CHILDREN

(With son, Slade Morrison) The Big Box, illustrated by Giselle Potter, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Slade Morrison) The Book of Mean People, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Slade Morrison) The Book of Mean People Journal, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Slade Morrison) The Lion or the Mouse? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.

(With Slade Morrison) The Ant or the Grasshopper? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.

(With Slade Morrison) The Poppy or the Snake? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.

Remember: The Journey to School Integration, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.



EDITOR

The Black Book (anthology), Random House (New York, NY), 1974.

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

To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton, Writers and Readers (New York, NY), 1995.

Toni Cade Bambara, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Claudia Brodsky Lacour) Birth of a Nation'Hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1997.


LYRICIST

André Previn, Four Songs for Soprano, Cello, and Piano, Chester Music (London, England), 1995.

Richard Danielpour, Spirits in the Well: For Voice and Piano, Associated Music Publishers (New York, NY), 1998.

Richard Danielpour, Margaret Garner (opera), produced at the Michigan Opera Theatre, May, 2005.

Also author of lyrics for André Previn's Honey and Rue, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, 1992, and Richard Danielpour's Sweet Talk: Four Songs, 1996.


OTHER

Dreaming Emmett (play), first produced in Albany, NY, 1986.

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
The Dancing Mind (text of Nobel Prize acceptance speech), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

Contributor of essays and reviews to numerous periodicals, including New York Times Magazine. Contributor to Arguing Immigration: The Debate over the Changing Face of America, edited by Nicolaus Mills, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.



Adaptations

Beloved was adapted to a 1998 film of the same title, starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, and Kimberly Elise, and was directed by Jonathan Demme. Morrison's books, including Jazz, Beloved, Tar Baby, Paradise, Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye, have been adapted to audiocassette.



Work in Progress

Three more books in the "Who's Got Game" series; a miniseries based on Paradise; a novel set in the eighteenth century.

Sidelights

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison has a central role in the twentieth-century American literary canon, according to many critics, award committees, and readers. Her award-winning novels chronicle small-town African-American life, employing "an artistic vision that encompasses both a private and a national heritage," to quote Time magazine contributor Angela Wigan. Through works such as The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, she has proved herself to be a gifted teller of stories in which troubled characters seek to find themselves and their cultural heritage in a society that warps or impedes such essential growth. According to Jean Strouse, writing in Newsweek, Morrison "comes from a long line of people who did what they had to do to survive. It is their stories she tells in her novels—tales of the suffering and richness, the eloquence and tragedies of the black American experience."


Morrison's artistry has attracted critical acclaim as well as commercial success; Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Susan L. Blake called the author "an anomaly in two respects" because "she is a black writer who has achieved national prominence and popularity, and she is a popular writer who is taken seriously." Indeed, Morrison has won several of literature's most prestigious citations, including the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, and the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African American to be named a laureate. Atlantic Monthly correspondent Wilfrid Sheed noted: "Most black writers are privy, like the rest of us, to bits and pieces of the secret, the dark side of their group experience, but Toni Morrison uniquely seems to have all the keys on her chain, like a house detective. . . . She [uses] the run of the whole place, from ghetto to small town to ramshackle farmhouse, to bring back a panorama of black myth and reality that [dazzles] the senses."


Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a small industrial town near the shores of Lake Erie. New York Review of Books correspondent Darryl Pinckney described her particular community as "close enough to the Ohio River for the people who lived [there] to feel the torpor of the South, the nostalgia for its folkways, to sense the old Underground Railroad underfoot like a hidden stream."


Two important aspects of Morrison's childhood—community spirit and the supernatural—inform her mature writing. In a Publishers Weekly interview, the author suggested ways in which her community influenced her. "There is this town which is both a

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support system and a hammer at the same time," she noted. "Approval was not the acquisition of things; approval was given for the maturity and the dignity with which one handled oneself. Most black people in particular were, and still are, very fastidious about manners, very careful about behavior and the rules that operate within the community. The sense of organized activity, what I thought at that time was burdensome, turns out now to have within it a gift—which is, I never had to be taught how to hold a job, how to make it work, how to handle my time."

On several levels the pariah—a unique and sometimes eccentric individual—figures in Morrison's fictional reconstruction of black community life. "There is always an elder there," she noted of her work in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. "And these ancestors are not just parents, they are sort of timeless people whose relationships to the characters are benevolent, instructive, and protective, and they provide a certain kind of wisdom." Sometimes this figure imparts his or her wisdom from beyond the grave; from an early age Morrison absorbed the folklore and beliefs of a culture for which the supernatural holds power and portent. Strouse stated that Morrison's world, both within and outside her fiction, is "filled with signs, visitations, ways of knowing that [reach] beyond the five senses."

As a student, Morrison earned money by cleaning houses; "the normal teenage jobs were not available," she recalled in a New York Times Magazine profile by Claudia Dreifus. "Housework always was." Some of her clients were nice; some were "terrible," Morrison added. The work gave her a perspective on black-white relations that would imbue her subsequent writing. As she told Dreifus, in The Bluest Eye protagonist "Pauline lived in this dump and hated everything in it. And then she worked for the Fishers, who had this beautiful house, and she loved it. She got a lot of respect as their maid that she didn't get anywhere else." While never explicitly autobiographical, Morrison's fictions draw upon her youthful experiences in Ohio. In an essay for Black Women Writers at Work she claimed: "I am from the Midwest so I have a special affection for it. My beginnings are always there. . . . No matter what I write, I begin there. . . . It's the matrix for me. . . . Ohio also offers an escape from stereotyped black settings. It is neither plantation nor ghetto."

After graduating with honors from high school, Morrison attended Howard University, where she earned a degree in English. During this time, she also decided to change her first name to Toni. Morrison then earned a master's degree in English literature from Cornell. During this period, Morrison met and married her husband, an architect with whom she had two sons. In 1955, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University. Two years later, she returned to Howard University,
teaching English until 1964. It was during her stint at Howard that Morrison first began to write. When her marriage ended in 1964, Morrison moved to New York, where she supported herself and her sons by working as a book editor at Random House. Morrison held this position until 1985, during which time she influenced several prominent black writers.



Complex, Mature Themes

Morrison's own writing career took off in the late 1960s, and several themes and influences were in early evidence. "It seems somehow both constricting and inadequate to describe Toni Morrison as the country's preeminent black novelist, since in both gifts and accomplishments she transcends categorization," wrote Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World, "yet the characterization is inescapable not merely because it is true but because the very nature of Morrison's work dictates it. Not merely has black American life been the central preoccupation of her . . . novels . . . but as she has matured she has concentrated on distilling all of black experience into her books; quite purposefully, it seems, she is striving not for the particular but for the universal." In her work, critics claim, Morrison strives to lay bare the injustice inherent in the black condition and blacks' efforts, individually and collectively, to transcend society's unjust boundaries. Blake noted that Morrison's novels explore "the difference between black humanity and white cultural values. This opposition produces the negative theme of the seduction and betrayal of black people by white culture . . . and the positive theme of the quest for cultural identity." Newsweek contributor Strouse observed that, "Like all the best stories, [Morrison's] are driven by an abiding moral vision. Implicit in all her characters' grapplings with who they are is a large sense of human nature and love—and a reach for understanding of something larger than the moment."


Quest for self is a motivating and organizing device in Morrison's fiction, as is the role of family and community in nurturing or challenging the individual. In the Times Literary Supplement, Jennifer Uglow suggested that Morrison's novels "explore in particular the process of growing up black, female and poor. Avoiding generalities, Toni Morrison concentrates on the relation between the pressures of the community, patterns established within families, . . . and the developing sense of self." According to Dorothy H. Lee in Black Women Writers (1950-1980), Morrison is preoccupied "with the effect of the community on the individual's achievement and retention of an integrated, acceptable self. In treating this subject, she draws recurrently on myth and legend for story pattern and characters, returning repeatedly to the theory of quest. . . . The goals her characters seek to achieve are similar in their deepest implications, and yet the degree to which they attain them varies radically because each novel is cast in unique human terms." In Morrison's books, blacks must confront the notion that all understanding is accompanied by pain, just as all comprehension of national history must include the humiliations of slavery. She tempers this hard lesson by preserving "the richness of communal life against an outer world that denies its value" and by turning to "a heritage of folklore, not only to disclose patterns of living but also to close wounds," in the words of Nation contributor Brina Caplan.

Although Morrison explained to a Chicago Tribune writer that there is "epiphany and triumph" in every book she writes, some critics have found her work nihilistic and her vision bleak. "The picture given by . . . Morrison of the plight of the decent, aspiring individual in the black family and community is more painful than the gloomiest impressions encouraged by either stereotype or sociology," observed Diane Johnson in the New York Review of Books. Johnson continued, "Undoubtedly white society is the ultimate oppressor, and not just of blacks, but, as Morrison [shows], . . . the black person must first deal with the oppressor in the next room, or in the same bed, or no farther away than across the street."

Morrison is a pioneer in the depiction of the hurt inflicted by blacks on blacks; for instance, her characters rarely achieve harmonious relationships but are instead divided by futurelessness and the anguish of stifled existence. Uglow wrote: "We have become attuned to novels . . . which locate oppression in the conflicts of blacks (usually men) trying to make it in a white world. By concentrating on the sense of violation experienced within black neighborhoods, even within families, Toni Morrison deprives us of stock responses and creates a more demanding and uncomfortable literature." Village Voice correspondent Vivian Gornick contended that the world Morrison creates "is thick with an atmosphere through which her characters move slowly, in pain, ignorance, and hunger. And to a very large degree Morrison has the compelling ability to make one believe that all of us (Morrison, the characters, the reader) are penetrating that dark and hurtful terrain—the feel of a human life—simultaneously." Uglow concluded that even the laughter of Morrison's characters "disguises pain, deprivation and violation. It is laughter at a series of bad, cruel jokes. . . . Nothing is what it seems; no appearance, no relationship can be trusted to endure."

Other critics detect a deeper undercurrent to Morrison's work that contains just the sort of
epiphany for which she strives. "From book to book, Morrison's larger project grows clear," remarked Ann Snitow in the Voice Literary Supplement. "First, she insists that every character bear the weight of responsibility for his or her own life. After she's measured out each one's private pain, she adds on to that the shared burden of what the whites did. Then, at last, she tries to find the place where her stories can lighten her readers' load, lift them up from their own and others' guilt, carry them to glory. . . . Her characters suffer—from their own limitations and the world's—but their inner life miraculously expands beyond the narrow law of cause and effect." Harvard Advocate essayist Faith Davis wrote that despite the mundane boundaries of Morrison's characters' lives, the author "illuminates the complexity of their attitudes toward life. Having reached a quiet and extensive understanding of their situation, they can endure life's calamities. . . . Morrison never allows us to become indifferent to these people. . . . Her citizens . . . jump up from the pages vital and strong because she has made us care about the pain in their lives." In Ms., Margo Jefferson concluded that Morrison's books "are filled with loss—lost friendship, lost love, lost customs, lost possibilities. And yet there is so much life in the smallest acts and gestures . . . that they are as much celebrations as elegies."

Morrison sees language as an expression of black experience, and her novels are characterized by vivid narration and dialogue. Village Voice essayist Susan Lydon observed that the author "works her magic charm above all with a love of language. Her soaring . . . style carries you like a river, sweeping doubt and disbelief away, and it is only gradually that one realizes her deadly serious intent." In the Spectator, Caroline Moorehead likewise noted that Morrison "writes energetically and richly, using words in a way very much her own. The effect is one of exoticism, an exciting curiousness in the language, a balanced sense of the possible that stops, always, short of the absurd."


Although Morrison does not like to be called a poetic writer, critics often comment on the lyrical quality of her prose. "Morrison's style has always moved fluidly between tough-minded realism and lyric descriptiveness," said Newsweek contributor Margo Jefferson. "Vivid dialogue, capturing the drama and extravagance of black speech, gives way to an impressionistic evocation of physical pain or an ironic, essay-like analysis of the varieties of religious hypocrisy." Uglow wrote: "The word 'elegant' is often applied to Toni Morrison's writing; it employs sophisticated narrative devices, shifting perspectives and resonant images and displays an obvious delight in the potential of language." Nation contributor Earl Frederick concluded that Morrison, "with an ear as sharp as glass . . . has listened to the music of black talk and deftly uses it as the palette knife to create black lives and to provide some of the best fictional dialogue around today."



Begins Career as a Novelist

In the mid-1960s, Morrison completed her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Although she had trouble getting the book into print—the manuscript was rejected several times—it was finally published in 1969. At age thirty-eight, Morrison was a published author, and her fiction debut, set in Morrison's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, portrays "in poignant terms the tragic condition of blacks in a racist America," to quote Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi in Critique. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison depicts the onset of black self-hatred as occasioned by white-American ideals such as "Dick and Jane" primers and Shirley Temple movies. The principal character, Pecola Breedlove, is literally maddened by the disparity between her existence and the pictures of beauty and gentility disseminated by the dominant white culture. As Phyllis R. Klotman noted in the Black American Literature Forum, Morrison "uses the contrast between Shirley Temple and Pecola . . . to underscore the irony of black experience. Whether one learns acceptability from the formal educational experience or from cultural symbols, the effect is the same: self-hatred." Darwin T. Turner elaborated on the novel's intentions in Black Women Writers (1950-1980). Morrison's fictional milieu, wrote Turner, is "a world of grotesques—individuals whose psyches have been deformed by their efforts to assume false identities, their failures to achieve meaningful identities, or simply their inability to retain and communicate love." Blake characterized The Bluest Eye as a novel of initiation, exploring that common theme in American literature from a minority viewpoint. Ogunyemi contended that, in essence, Morrison presents "old problems in a fresh language and with a fresh perspective. A central force of the work derives from her power to draw vignettes and her ability to portray emotions, seeing the world through the eyes of adolescent girls." Klotman, who called the book "a novel of growing up, of growing up young and black and female in America," concluded her review with the comment that the "rite of passage, initiating the young into womanhood at first tenuous and uncertain, is sensitively depicted. . . . The Bluest Eye is an extraordinarily passionate yet gentle work, the language lyrical yet precise—it is a novel for all seasons."

In an African American Review review of The Bluest Eye, Allen Alexander found that religious references—from both Western and African sources—"abound." "And of the many fascinating religious references," Alexander continued, "the most complex . . . are her representations of and allusions to God. In Morrison's fictional world, God's characteristics are not limited to those represented by the traditional Western notion of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Instead, Morrison presents God as having "a fourth face, one that is an explanation for all those things—the existence of evil, the suffering of the innocent and just—that seem so inexplicable in the face of a religious tradition that preaches the omnipotence of a benevolent God." In African American Review, Cat Moses outlined the blues aesthetic in The Bluest Eye. The novel, Moses wrote, "follows a pattern common to traditional blues lyrics: a movement from an initial emphasis on loss to a concluding suggestion of resolution of grief through motion." In depicting the transition from loss to "movin' on," said the essayist, The Bluest Eye "contains an abundance of cultural wisdom."

In 1973's Sula, Morrison once again presents a pair of black women who must come to terms with their lives. Set in a Midwestern black community called The Bottom, the story follows two friends, Sula and Nel, from childhood to old age and death. Snitow claimed that through Sula, Morrison discovered "a way to offer her people an insight and sense of recovered self so dignified and glowing that no worldly pain could dull the final light." Indeed, Sula is a tale of rebel and conformist in which the conformity is dictated by the solid inhabitants of The Bottom and even the rebellion gains strength from the community's disapproval. New York Times Book Review contributor Sara Blackburn contended, however, that the book is "too vital and rich" to be consigned to the category of allegory. Morrison's "extravagantly beautiful, doomed characters are locked in a world where hope for the future is a foreign commodity, yet they are enormously, achingly alive," wrote Blackburn. "And this book about them—and about how their beauty is drained back and frozen—is a howl of love and rage, playful and funny as well as hard and bitter." In the words of American Literature essayist Jane S. Bakerman, Morrison "uses the maturation story of Sula and Nel as the core of a host of other stories, but it is the chief unification device for the novel and achieves its own unity, again, through the clever manipulation of the themes of sex, race, and love. Morrison has undertaken a . . . difficult task in Sula. Unquestionably, she has succeeded."


Other critics have echoed Bakerman's sentiments about Sula. Yardley stated: "What gives this terse, imaginative novel its genuine distinction is the quality of Toni Morrison's prose. Sula is admirable enough as a study of its title character, . . . but its real strength lies in Morrison's writing, which at times has the resonance of poetry and is precise, vivid and controlled throughout." Turner also claimed that in Sula "Morrison evokes her verbal magic occasionally by lyric descriptions that carry the reader deep into the soul of the character. . . . Equally effective, however, is her art of narrating action in a lean prose that uses adjectives cautiously while creating memorable vivid images." In her review, Davis concluded that a "beautiful and haunting atmosphere emerges out of the wreck of these folks' lives, a quality that is absolutely convincing and absolutely precise." Sula was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974.



Exhibits Wide-ranging Talents

From the insular lives she depicted in her first two novels, Morrison moved in Song of Solomon to a national and historical perspective on black American life. "Here the depths of the younger work are still evident," said Reynolds Price in the New York Times Book Review, "but now they thrust outward, into wider fields, for longer intervals, encompassing many more lives. The result is a long prose tale that surveys nearly a century of American history as it impinges upon a single family." With an intermixture of the fantastic and the realistic, Song of Solomon relates the journey of a character named Milkman Dead into an understanding of his family heritage and hence, himself. Lee wrote: "Figuratively, [Milkman] travels from innocence to awareness, i.e., from ignorance of origins, heritage, identity, and communal responsibility to knowledge and acceptance. He moves from selfish and materialistic dilettantism to an understanding of brotherhood. With his release of personal ego, he is able to find a place in the whole. There is, then, a universal—indeed mythic—pattern here. He journeys from spiritual death to rebirth, a direction symbolized by his discovery of the secret power of flight. Mythically, liberation and transcendence follow the discovery of self." Blake suggested that the connection Milkman discovers with his family's past helps him to connect meaningfully with his contemporaries; Song of Solomon, Blake noted, "dramatizes dialectical approaches to the challenges of black life." According to Anne Z. Mickelson in Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women, history itself "becomes a choral symphony to Milkman, in which each individual voice has a chance to speak and contribute to his growing sense of well-being."

Mickelson also observed that Song of Solomon represents for blacks "a break out of the confining life into the realm of possibility." Charles Larson commented on this theme in a Washington Post Book World review. The novel's subject matter, Larson explained, is "the origins of black consciousness in America, and the individual's relationship to that heritage." However, Larson added, "skilled writer that she is, Morrison has transcended this theme so that the reader rarely feels that this is simply another novel about ethnic identity. So marvelously orchestrated is Morrison's narrative that it not only excels on all of its respective levels, not only works for all of its interlocking components, but also—in the end—says something about life (and death) for all of us. Milkman's epic journey . . . is a profound examination of the individual's understanding of, and, perhaps, even transcendence of the inevitable fate of his life." Gornick concluded: "There are so many individual moments of power and beauty in Song of Solomon that, ultimately, one closes the book warmed through by the richness of its sympathy, and by its breathtaking feel for the nature of sexual sorrow."


Song of Solomon, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, was also the first novel by a black writer to become a Book-of-the-Month Club selection since Richard Wright's Native Son was published in 1940. World Literature Today reviewer Richard K. Barksdale called the work "a book that will not only withstand the test of time but endure a second and third reading by those conscientious readers who love a well-wrought piece of fiction." Describing the novel as "a stunningly beautiful book" in her Washington Post Book World piece, Anne Tyler added: "I would call the book poetry, but that would seem to be denying its considerable power as a story. Whatever name you give it, it's full of magnificent people, each of them complex and multilayered, even the narrowest of them narrow in extravagant ways." Price deemed Song of Solomon "a long story, . . . and better than good. Toni Morrison has earned attention and praise. Few Americans
know, and can say, more than she has in this wise and spacious novel."


Morrison clearly attained the respect of the literary community, but even in the face of three well-received novels, she did not call herself a writer. "I think, at bottom, I simply was not prepared to do the adult thing, which in those days would be associated with the male thing, which was to say, 'I'm a writer,'" she told Dreifus. "I said, 'I am a mother who writes,' or 'I am an editor who writes.' The word 'writer' was hard for me to say because that's what you put on your income-tax form. I do now say, 'I'm a writer.' But it's the difference between identifying one's work and being the person who does the work. I've always been the latter."


Still, critics and readers had no doubt that Morrison was a writer. Her 1981 book, Tar Baby, remained on bestseller lists for four months. A novel of ideas, the work dramatizes the fact that complexion is a far more subtle issue than the simple polarization of black and white. Set on a lush Caribbean Island, Tar Baby explores the passionate love affair between Jadine, a Sorbonne-educated black model, and Son, a handsome knockabout with a strong aversion to white culture. According to Caplan, Morrison's concerns "are race, class, culture and the effects of late capitalism—heavy freight for any narrative. . . . She is attempting to stabilize complex visions of society—that is, to examine competitive ideas. . . . Because the primary function of Morrison's characters is to voice representative opinions, they arrive on stage vocal and highly conscious, their histories symbolically indicated or merely sketched. Her brief sketches, however, are clearly the work of an artist who can, when she chooses, model the mind in depth and detail." In a Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook essay, Elizabeth B. House outlined Tar Baby's major themes: "the difficulty of settling conflicting claims between one's past and present and the destruction which abuse of power can bring. As Morrison examines these problems in Tar Baby, she suggests no easy way to understand what one's link to a heritage should be, nor does she offer infallible methods for dealing with power. Rather, with an astonishing insight and grace, she demonstrates the pervasiveness of such dilemmas and the degree to which they affect human beings, both black and white."

Tar Baby uncovers racial and sexual conflicts without offering solutions. Still, most critics found that Morrison indicts all of her characters—black and white—for their thoughtless devaluations of others. New York Times Book Review correspondent John Irving claimed: "What's so powerful, and subtle, about Miss Morrison's presentation of the tension between blacks and whites is that she conveys it almost entirely through the suspicions and prejudices of her black characters. . . . Morrison uncovers all the stereotypical racial fears felt by whites and blacks alike. Like any ambitious writer, she's unafraid to employ these stereotypes—she embraces the representative qualities of her characters without embarrassment, then proceeds to make them individuals too." New Yorker essayist Susan Lardner praised Morrison for her "power to be absolutely persuasive against her own preferences, suspicions, and convictions, implied or plainly expressed," and Strouse likewise contended that the author "has produced that rare commodity, a truly public novel about the condition of society, examining the relations between blacks and whites, men and women, civilization and nature. . . . It wraps its messages in a highly potent love story." Irving suggested that Morrison's greatest accomplishment "is that she has raised her novel above the social realism that too many black novels and women's novels are trapped in. She has succeeded in writing about race and women symbolically."

Reviewers praised Tar Baby for its provocative themes and for its evocative narration. Los AngelesTimes contributor Elaine Kendall called the book "an intricate and sophisticated novel, moving from a realistic and orderly beginning to a mystical and ambiguous end. Morrison has taken classically simple story elements and realigned them so artfully that we perceive the old pattern in a startlingly different way. Although this territory has been explored by dozens of novelists, Morrison depicts it with such vitality that it seems newly discovered." In the Washington Post Book World, Webster Schott claimed: "There is so much that is good, sometimes dazzling, about Tar Baby—poetic language, . . . arresting images, fierce intelligence—that . . . one becomes entranced by Toni Morrison's story. The settings are so vivid the characters must be alive. The emotions they feel are so intense they must be real people." Maureen Howard stated in a New Republic review that the work "is as carefully patterned as a well-written poem. . . . Tar Baby is a good American novel in which we can discern a new lightness and brilliance in Toni Morrison's enchantment with language and in her curiously polyphonic stories that echo life." Schott concluded: "One of fiction's pleasures is to have your mind scratched and your intellectual habits challenged. While Tar Baby has shortcomings, lack of provocation isn't one of them. Morrison owns a powerful intelligence. It's run by courage. She calls to account conventional wisdom and accepted attitude at nearly every turn."


In addition to her own writing, during this period Morrison, as a New York City editor, helped to publish the work of other noted black Americans, including Toni Cade Bambara, Gayle Jones, Angela Davis, and Muhammad Ali. Discussing her aims as an editor in a quotation printed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Morrison noted: "I look very hard for black fiction because I want to participate in developing a canon of black work. We've had the first rush of black entertainment, where blacks were writing for whites, and whites were encouraging this kind of self-flagellation. Now we can get down to the craft of writing, where black people are talking to black people." One of Morrison's important projects for Random House was The Black Book, an anthology of items that illustrate the history of black Americans. Ms. magazine correspondent Dorothy Eugenia Robinson described reading the work as experiencing "the pain and pride of rediscovering the collective black experience. It is finding the essence of ourselves and holding on. The Black Book is a kind of scrapbook of patiently assembled samplings of black history and culture. What has evolved is a pictorial folk journey of black people, places, events, handcrafts, inventions, songs, and folklore. . . . The Black Book informs, disturbs, maybe even shocks. It unsettles complacency and demands confrontation with raw reality. It is by no means an easy book to experience, but it's a necessary one."

Examines the Pain of Slavery

While preparing The Black Book for publication, Morrison uncovered the true and shocking story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, murdered her infant child so it would not be doomed to a lifetime of servitude. For Morrison, the story encapsulated the fierce psychic cruelty of an institutionalized system that sought to destroy the basic emotional bonds between men and women, and worse, between parent and child. "I certainly thought I knew as much about slavery as anybody," she recalled to an interview for the Los Angeles Times. "But it was the interior life I needed to find out about." It is this "interior life" in the throes of slavery that constitutes the theme of Morrison's novel Beloved. Set in Reconstruction-era Cincinnati, the book centers on characters who struggle fruitlessly to keep their painful recollections of the past at bay. They are haunted, both physically and spiritually, by the legacies slavery has bequeathed to them. According to Snitow, Beloved "staggers under the terror of its material—as so much holocaust writing does and must."


While the book was not unanimously praised—New Republic writer Stanley Crouch cited the author for frequently losing "control" and succumbing to "the temptation of the trite or the sentimental"—many critics considered Beloved to be Morrison's masterpiece. In People, V. R. Peterson described the novel as "a brutally powerful, mesmerizing story about the inescapable, excruciating legacy of slavery. Behind each new event and each new character lies another event and another story until finally the reader meets a community of proud, daring people, inextricably bound by culture and experience." Through the lives of ex-slaves Sethe and her would-be lover, Paul D, readers "experience American slavery as it was lived by those who were its objects of exchange, both at its best—which wasn't very good—and at its worst, which was as bad as can be imagined," wrote Margaret Atwood in the New York Times Book Review. "Above all, it is seen as one of the most viciously antifamily institutions human beings have ever devised. The slaves are motherless, fatherless, deprived of their mates, their children, their kin. It is a world in which people suddenly vanish and are never seen again, not through accident or covert operation or terrorism, but as a matter of everyday legal policy." New York Times contributor Michiko Kakutani contended thatBeloved "possesses the heightened power and resonance of myth—its characters, like those in opera or Greek drama, seem larger than life and their actions, too, tend to strike us as enactments of ancient rituals and passions. To describe Beloved only in these terms, however, is to diminish its immediacy, for the novel also remains precisely grounded in American reality—the reality of Black history as experienced in the wake of the Civil War."


Beloved may be an American novel, but its images and influences come from the British Romantic tradition, theorized Martin Bidney in Papers on Language and Literature. "Simply to list a few of [the book's] major episodes—ice skating, boat stealing, gigantic shadow, carnival 'freak' show, water-voices sounding the depths—is almost to create a rapidly scrolled plot synopsis of Wordsworth's Prelude," Bidney wrote. "When Baby Suggs declares that the only grace we will receive is the grace we can 'imagine,' or when Sethe tells how Paul D's visionary capacity makes 'windows' suddenly have 'view,' we hear the voice of William Blake." The critic also saw traces of Keats in the scenes of Paul D's musings "on the superiority of imagined love to mere physical sex." But the achievement of the novel ultimately belongs to Morrison, Bidney added: "These few examples are by no means a complete listing of all the Romantic allusive motifs that combined to help make Beloved the visionary masterwork it is."


Acclaim for Beloved came from both sides of the Atlantic. In his Chicago Tribune piece, Larson claimed that the work "is the context out of which all of Morrison's earlier novels were written. In her darkest and most probing novel, Toni Morrison has demonstrated once again the stunning powers that place her in the first ranks of our living novelists." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor John Leonard likewise expressed the opinion that the novel "belongs on the highest shelf of American literature, even if half a dozen canonized white boys have to be elbowed off. . . . Without Beloved our imagination of the nation's self has a hole in it big enough to die from." As Atwood stated: "Morrison's versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds. If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, Beloved will put them to rest." London Times reviewer Nicholas Shakespeare concluded that Beloved "is a novel propelled by the cadences of . . . songs—the first singing of a people hardened by their suffering, people who have been hanged and whipped and mortgaged at the hands of white people—the men without skin. From Toni Morrison's pen it is a sound that breaks the back of words, making Beloved a great novel."

For all its acclaim, Beloved became the object of controversy when the novel failed to win either the 1987 National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award. In response, forty-eight prominent African-American authors—including Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and John Wideman—signed a letter to the editor that appeared in the January 24, 1988, edition of the New York Times. The letter expressed the signers' dismay at the "oversight and harmful whimsy" that resulted in the lack of recognition for Beloved. The "legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied," declared Morrison's peers. The authors concluded their letter with a tribute to Morrison: "For all of America, for all of American letters, you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people." The letter sparked fierce debate within the New York literary community. Beloved ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.


Morrison's subsequent novel, Jazz, is "a fictive recreation of two parallel narratives set during major historical events in African-American history—Reconstruction and the Jazz Age," noted Dictionary of Literary Biography writer Denise Heinze. Set primarily in New York City during the 1920s, the novel's main narrative involves a love triangle between Violet, a middle-aged woman; Joe, her husband; and Dorcas, Joe's teenage mistress. When Dorcas snubs Joe for a younger lover, Joe shoots and kills Dorcas. Violet seeks to understand the dead girl by befriending Dorcas's aunt, Alice Manfred. Simultaneously, Morrison relates the story of Joe and Violet's parents and grandparents. In telling these stories, Morrison touches on a number of themes: "male/female passion," as Heinze commented; the movement of blacks into large urban areas after Reconstruction; and, as is usually the case with her novels, the effects of racism and history on the African-American community. Morrison also makes use of an unusual storytelling device: an unnamed, intrusive, and unreliable narrator.

"The standard set by the brilliance and intensity of Morrison's previous novel Beloved is so high that Jazz does not pretend to come close to attaining it," stated Kenyon Review contributor Peter Erickson. Nevertheless, many reviewers responded enthusiastically to the provocative themes Morrison presents in Jazz. "The unrelenting, destructive influence of racism and oppression on the black family is manifested in Jazz by the almost-total absence of the black family," stated Heinze. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Michael Wood remarked that "black women in Jazz are arming themselves, physically and mentally, and in this they have caught a current of the times, a not always visible indignation that says enough is enough." Several reviewers felt that Morrison's use of an unreliable narrator impeded the story's effectiveness. Erickson, for instance, averred that the narrator "is not inventive enough. Because the narrator displays a lack of imagination at crucial moments, she seems to get in the way, to block rather than to enable access to deeper levels." But Heinze found that Morrison's unreliable narrator allows the author to engage the reader in a way that she has not done in her previous novels: "in Jazz Morrison questions her ability to answer the very issues she raises, extending the responsibility of her own novel writing to her readers." Heinze concluded: "Morrison thereby sends an invitation to her readers to become a part of that struggle to comprehend totality that will continue to spur her genius."



Receives Nobel Prize

Morrison's "genius" was recognized a year after the publication of Jazz with a momentous award: the Nobel Prize for Literature. The first black and only the eighth woman to win the award, Morrison told Dreifus that "it was as if the whole category of 'female writer' and 'black writer' had been redeemed. I felt I represented a whole world of women who either were silenced or who had never received the imprimatur of the established literary world." In describing the author after its selection, the Nobel Committee noted, as quoted by Heinze: "She delves into the language itself, a language she wants to liberate from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the luster of poetry." In 1996, Morrison received another prestigious award, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters; this was followed by the National Humanities Medal in 2001.


In Paradise, Morrison's first novel after winning the Nobel Prize, noted America contributor Hermine Pinson, "the writer appears to be reinterpreting some of her most familiar themes: the significance of the 'ancestor' in our lives, the importance of community, the concept of 'home,' and the continuing conundrum of race in the United States. The title and intended subject of the text—Paradise—accommodates all of the foregoing themes." Like Beloved, Paradise "centers on a catastrophic act of violence that begs to be understood," National Catholic Reporter contributor Judith Bromberg explained. "Morrison meticulously peels away layer upon layer of truth so that what we think we know, we don't until she finally confronts us with raw truth." The conflict, and the violence that results from it, comes out of the dedicated self-righteousness of the leading families of the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma. "The story begins in Oklahoma in 1976," Pinson said, "when nine men from the still all-black town of Ruby invade the local convent on a mission to keep the town safe from the outright evil and depravity that they believe is embodied in the disparate assembly of religious women who live there." "In a show of force a posse of nine descend on the crumbling mansion in the predawn of a summer morning, killing all four of the troubled, flawed women who have sought refuge there," Bromberg stated.

Many reviewers recognized Morrison's accomplishment in Paradise. John Kennedy of Antioch Review called Morrison's opening chapter "Faulknerian"; with its "rich, evocative and descriptive passages, it is a haunting introduction to the repressed individuality that stalks 'so clean and blessed a mission.'" The novel "is full of challenges and surprises," wrote Christian Century reviewer Reggie Young. "Though it does not quite come up to the standard of Morrison's masterwork, Beloved, this is one of the most important novels of the decade." "This is Morrison's first novel since her 1993 Jazz," summed up Emily J. Jones in Library Journal, "and it is well worth the wait."


Morrison's 2003 novel, Love, is "a vividly narrated exploration of the pleasures, burdens, and distortions of obsessive devotion," wrote Library Journal critic Starr E. Smith. Love concerns the late Bill Cosey, the proprietor of a magnificent seaside resort that catered to wealthy African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s, and the women who loved him and now vie for power in his absence. "In lyrical flashbacks, Morrison slowly, teasingly reveals the glories and horrors of the past—Cosey's suspicious death, the provenance of his money, the vicious fight over his coffin, his disputed will," observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The greatest conflicts occur between Cosey's second wife, Heed, and his granddaughter, Christine, who was Heed's childhood friend. "While the entire cast of female characters seems obsessed with Cosey—May, his daughter-in-law; Vida, the former receptionist at his resort; L, its former cook and the narrator, and Junior, the randy secretary—the novel revolves around Heed and Christine, these two friends turned mortal enemies, who have squandered their lives (and their friendship) nursing and rehearsing grudges and resentments decades old," observed Deborah E. McDowell in the Women's Review of Books.


Love received favorable critical attention. In Book, Beth Kephart remarked that the novel "casts a spell and deserves great respect for line after line of fabulous prose," and Booklist contributor Brad Hooper remarked, "as a vivid painter of human emotions, Morrison is without peer, her impressions rendered in an exquisitely metaphoric but comfortably open style." "Taut and uncompromising," noted Book contributor Adam Langer, "Love is a compact meditation on the aftermath of the civil rights movement, a chilling ghost story about a friendship destroyed by the whims of a wealthy and respected patriarch, an epic saga about the generation gap, a concise reflection on the African-American experience in the twentieth century."


In addition to her novels, Morrison has also published in other genres. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a collection of three lectures that Morrison gave at Harvard University in 1990. Focusing on racism as it has manifested itself in American literature, these essays of literary criticism explore the works of authors such as Willa Cather, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway. In 1992, Morrison edited Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality, eighteen essays about Thomas's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Morrison has also proved herself to be an able creator of children's books, working in collaboration with her son Slade Morrison. Together the two writers have produced the rhyming parable The Big Box and The Book of Mean People, a child's-eye view of the world—as seen by a rabbit. They have also collaborated on a series of retellings of the tales from Aesop, titled "Who's Got Game?"

As interesting as such writing projects are, however, it is Morrison's adult fiction that has secured her place among the literary elite. Morrison is an author who labors contentedly under the labels bestowed by pigeonholing critics. She has no objection to being called a black woman writer, because, as she told an interviewer for the New York Times, "I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and a female person are greater than those of people who are neither. . . . My world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger." Nor does she strive for that much-vaunted universality that purports to be a hallmark of fine fiction. "I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio," she told an interviewer for the New Republic. "I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. [William] Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean."

Ironically, critics often praise Morrison for the universal nature of her work. "Unquestionably," House wrote, "Toni Morrison is an important novelist who continues to develop her talent. Part of her appeal, of course, lies in her extraordinary ability to create beautiful language and striking characters. However, Morrison's most important gift, the one which gives her a major author's universality, is the insight with which she writes of problems all humans face. . . . At the core of all her novels is a penetrating view of the unyielding, heartbreaking dilemmas which torment people of all races." Snitow noted that the author "wants to tend the imagination, search for an expansion of the possible, nurture a spiritual richness in the black tradition even after 300 years in the white desert." Lee concluded of Morrison's accomplishments: "Though there are unifying aspects in her novels, there is not a dully repetitive sameness. Each casts the problems in specific, imaginative terms, and the exquisite, poetic language awakens our senses as she communicates an often ironic vision with moving imagery. Each novel reveals the acuity of her perception of psychological motivation of the female especially, of the Black particularly, and of the human generally."


Black woman writer or simply American novelist, Morrison is a prominent and respected figure in modern letters. As testament to her influence, something of a cottage industry has arisen of Morrison assessments. According to a Time article, the author "has inspired a generation of black artists, . . . produced seismic effects on publishing . . . [and] affected the course of black-studies programs across the U.S." Several books and dozens of critical essays are devoted to the examination of her fiction. Though popular acceptance of her work has seldom flagged, Morrison found her Song of Solomon shooting to the bestseller lists again after being selected by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey as a book-club pick in 1996; in 2002, Sula was the novel chosen to close out Winfrey's popular discussion group. The author's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, is the setting for the biennial Toni Morrison Society Conference; a 2000 gathering attracted 130 scholars from around the globe.


"The problem I face as a writer is to make my stories mean something," Morrison stated in an interview in Black Women Writers at Work. "You can have wonderful, interesting people, a fascinating story, but it's not about anything. It has no real substance. I want my books to always be about something that is important to me, and the subjects that are important in the world are the same ones that have always been important." In Black Women Writers (1950-1980), she elaborated on this idea. Fiction, she wrote, "should be beautiful, and powerful, but it should also work. It should have something in it that enlightens; something in it that opens the door and points the way. Something in it that suggests what the conflicts are, what the problems are. But it need not solve those problems because it is not a case study, it is not a recipe." The author who said that writing to her "is discovery; it's talking deep within myself" told the New York Times Book Review that the essential theme in her growing body of fiction is "how and why we learn to live this life intensely and well."

If you enjoy the works of Toni Morrison

If you enjoy the works of Toni Morrison, you may also want to check out the following books:


Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters, 1980. Alice Walker, The Color Purple, 1982.

Ernest J. Gaines, A Gathering of Old Men, 1983.


Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Awkward, Michael, Inspiriting Influences: Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American Women's Novels, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Beaulieu, Elizabeth Ann, editor, The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2003.

Bell, Roseann P., editor, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.

Bjork, Patrick Bryce, The Novels of Toni Morrison: The

Search for Self and Place within the Community, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1992.

Black Literature Criticism, Volume 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Bloom, Harold, editor, Toni Morrison, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1990.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., editor, Toni Morrison's Fiction, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1996.

Century, Douglas, Toni Morrison, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1994.

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

Conner, Marc C., editor, The Aesthetics of Toni Morrison: Speaking the Unspeakable, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2000.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4, 1975; Volume 10, 1979; Volume 22, 1982; Volume 55, 1989; Volume 81, 1994; Volume 87, 1995.

Cooey, Paula M., Religious Imagination and the Body: A Feminist Analysis, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Cooper-Clark, Diana, Interviews with Contemporary Novelists, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Coser, Stelamaris, Bridging the Americas: The Literature of Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Gayle Jones, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1995.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, 1980; Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, 1984; Volume 143: American Novelists since World War II, Third Series, 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981, 1982; 1993, 1994.

Durrant, Sam, Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning: J. M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris, and Toni Morrison, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2003.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.

Furman, Jan, Toni Morrison's Fiction, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1996.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, editors, Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad (New York, NY), 1993.

Harding, Wendy, and Jacky Martin, A World of Difference: An Inter-Cultural Study of Toni Morrison's Novels, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1994.

Harris, Trudier, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1991.

Heinze, Denise, The Dilemma of "Double-Consciousness": Toni Morrison's Novels, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1993.

Holloway, Karla, and Dematrakopoulos, Stephanie, New Dimensions of Spirituality: A Biracial and Bicultural Reading of the Novels of Toni Morrison, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1987.

Jones, Bessie W., and Audrey L. Vinson, editors, The World of Toni Morrison: Explorations in Literary Criticism, Kendall/Hunt (Dubuque, IA), 1985.

Ledbetter, Mark, Victims and the Postmodern Narrative; or, Doing Violence to the Body: An Ethic of Reading and Writing, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Mbalia, Doreatha Drummond, Toni Morrison's Developing Class Consciousness, 2nd edition, Susquehanna University Press (Selinsgrove, PA), 2004.

McKay, Nellie, editor, Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1988.

Mekkawi, Mod, Toni Morrison: A Bibliography, Howard University Library (Washington, DC), 1986.

Mickelson, Anne Z., Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NY), 1979.

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

Modern American Literature, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Morrison, Toni, and Slade Morrison, The Big Box, illustrated by Giselle Potter, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1999.

Newsmakers: 1998 Cumulation, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Notable Black American Women, Book 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

O'Reilly, Andrea, Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2004.

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

Page, Philip, Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison's Novels, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1996.

Peach, Linden, Toni Morrison, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Rainwater, Catherine, and William J. Scheick, editors, Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1985, pp. 205-207.

Rice, Herbert William, Toni Morrison and the American Tradition: A Rhetorical Reading, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1995.

Rigney, Barbara Hill, The Voices of Toni Morrison, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1991.

Ruas, Charles, Conversations with American Writers, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Samuels, Wilfred D., and Clenora Hudson-Weems, Toni Morrison, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1990.

Smith, Valerie, editor, New Essays on Song of Solomon, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Tate, Claudia, editor, Black Women Writers at Work, Continuum (New York, NY), 1986, pp. 117-131.

Taylor-Guthrie, Danille, editor, Conversations with Toni Morrison, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1994.

Weinstein, Philip M., What Else but Love?: The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Williams, Lisa, The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2000.

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



PERIODICALS

African American Review, fall, 1993, Jane Kuenz, "The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity," p. 421; summer, 1994, pp. 189, 223; fall, 1994, p. 423; winter, 1994, pp. 571, 659; spring, 1995, p. 55; winter, 1995, pp. 567, 605; spring, 1996, p. 89; summer, 1998, Allen Alexander, "The Fourth Face: The Image of God in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 293; fall, 1998, review of Beloved, p. 415; winter, 1998, review of Beloved, p. 563; spring, 1999, review of Beloved, p. 105; summer, 1999, review of Beloved, p. 325; winter, 1999, Cat Moses, "The Blues Aesthetic in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 623; spring, 2000, Martha Cutter, "The Story Must Go On and On," p. 61, and Cynthia Dobbs, "Circles of Sorrow, Lines of Struggle," p. 362; summer, 2000, E. Shelley Reid, "Beyond Morrison and Walker: Looking Good and Looking Forward in Contemporary Black Women's Stories," p. 313; fall, 2000, Katy Ryan, "Revolutionary Suicide in Toni Morrison's Fiction," p. 389; June 22, 2001, "The One All-Black Town Worth the Pain," "Toni Morrison and the Burden of the Passing Narrative," "Toni Morrison's Jazz and the City," and "Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, and Postmodern Popular Audiences"; December 22, 2001, "Furrowing All the Brows: Interpretation and the Transcendent in Toni Morrison's Paradise"; March 22, 2002, "Inscriptions in the Dust," and "Reading and Insight in Toni Morrison's Paradise"; fall, 2002, Jeanna Fuston-White, "'From the Seen to the Told,'" pp. 461-473; winter, 2002, Caroline Brown, "Golden Gray and the Talking Book," pp. 629-642, Magii Cornier Michael, "Re-imagining Agency," pp. 643-661, and Chikwenye Okonjo, "An Abiku-ogbanje Atlas," pp. 663-678; spring, 2003, Peter J. Capuano, "Truth in Timbre," pp. 95-103, and A. Yemisi Jimoh, "Black Orpheus," pp. 168-170; winter, 2003, Michael Rothberg, "Dead Letter Office," pp. 501-516, and Susan Neal Mayberry, "Something Other than a Family Quarrel," pp. 517-533.

America, August 15, 1998, Hermine Pinson, review of Paradise, p. 19.

American Historical Review, February, 1994, p. 327.

American Imago, winter, 1994, p. 421.

American Literature, March, 1980, pp. 87-100; January, 1981; May, 1984; May, 1986; March, 1999, review of Jazz, p. 151.

Antioch Review, summer, 2000, John Kennedy, review of Paradise, p. 377.

Atlantic, April, 1981.

Black American Literature Forum, summer, 1978; winter, 1979; winter, 1987.

Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2002, Evette Porter, "The Morrison's Meanies," p. 39; May-June, 2003, Suzanne Rust, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper?, p. 57.

Black Issues in Higher Education, October 26, 2000, Hilary Hurd, "At Home with Toni Morrison," p. 26.

Black Scholar, March, 1978.

Black World, June, 1974.

Bloomsbury Review, September, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 22.

Book, January-February, 2003, Valerie Boyd, "Black and Blue," pp. 27-29; September-October, 2003, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper? and The Lion or the Mouse?, p. 41; November-December, 2003, Adam Langer, "Star Power," pp. 40-45, and Beth Kephart, review of Love, pp. 76-77.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, review of Jazz and Paradise, p. 979; June 1, 1999, review of Paradise,
p. 1797; August, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of The Big Box, p. 2067; May 15, 2003, Francisca Goldsmith, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper?, p. 1660; August, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of Love, p. 1926; November 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of The Lion or the Mouse?, p. 598; April 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Remember: The Journey to School Integration, p. 1436.

Books and Culture, May, 1998, review of Paradise,
p. 38.

Callaloo, October-February, 1981; winter, 1999, review of Song of Solomon, p. 121; fall, 2000, review of Sula, p. 1449.

Centennial Review, winter, 1988, pp. 50-64.

Chicago Tribune, October 27, 1987.

Chicago Tribune Book World, March 8, 1981.

Children's Bookwatch, November, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 6.

Christian Century, March 18, 1998, Reggie Young, review of Paradise, p. 322.

Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 1987, Merle Rubin, review of Beloved.

CLA Journal, June, 1979, pp. 402-414; June, 1981, pp. 419-440; September, 1989, pp. 81-93.

Classical and Modern Literature, spring, 1998, review of Jazz, p. 219.

Commentary, August, 1981.

Commonweal, October 9, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 24.

Contemporary Literature, winter, 1983, pp. 413-429; fall, 1987, pp. 364-377.

Critique, Volume 19, number 1, 1977, pp. 112-120; spring, 2000, Carl Malmgren, "Texts, Primers, and Voices in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 251.

Detroit News, March 29, 1981.

Economist, June 6, 1998, p. 83.

Entertainment Weekly, January 23, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 56.

Essence, July, 1981; June, 1983; October, 1987; May, 1995, p. 222.

Explicator, summer, 1993, John Bishop, review of The Bluest Eye, p. 252; fall, 1994, Edmund Napieralski, "Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 59.

First World, winter, 1977.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 12, 1999, review of Paradise and Song of Solomon, p. D4.

Harper's Bazaar, March, 1983; November, 2003, John Leonard, review of Love, pp. 77-78.

Harvard Advocate, Volume 107, number 4, 1974. Horn Book, September, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 598.

Hudson Review, spring, 1978; summer, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 433.

Hungry Mind Review, spring, 1998, review of Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, p. 55; fall, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 33.

Jet, February 12, 1996, p. 4.

Kenyon Review, summer, 1993, Peter Erickson, review of Jazz, p. 197.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 1136; September 1, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 1316; August 1, 2003, review of Love, pp. 984-985; April 15, 2004, review of Remember, p. 398.

Library Journal, February 15, 1998, Emily J. Jones, review of Paradise, p. 172; October 15, 2003, Starr E. Smith, review of Love, p. 99.

London Review of Books, May 7, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 25.

Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1981; October 14, 1987; November 1, 1998, "A Conversation between Michael Silverblatt and Toni Morrison," p. 2.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 30, 1987, John Leonard, review of Beloved; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 2.

Maclean's, March 30, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 65.

Massachusetts Review, autumn, 1977.

MELUS, fall, 1980, pp. 69-82.

Minority Voices, fall, 1980, pp. 51-63; spring-fall, 1981, pp. 59-68.

Modern Fiction Studies, spring, 1988.

Mosaic (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), June, 1996, Laurie Vickroy, "The Politics of Abuse: The Traumatized Child in Toni Morrison and Marguerite Duras," p. 91.

Ms., June, 1974; December, 1974; August, 1987; March, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 80.

Nation, July 6, 1974; November 19, 1977; May 2, 1981; January 17, 1994, p. 59; January 26, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 25.

National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998, Judith Bromberg, review of Paradise, p. 35.

New Republic, December 3, 1977; March 21, 1981; October 19, 1987, Stanley Crouch, review of Beloved; March 27, 1995, p. 9; March 2, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 29.

New Statesman, May 22, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 56; December 8, 2003, Hilary Mantel, "Ghost Writer," pp. 50-51.

Newsweek, November 30, 1970; January 7, 1974; September 12, 1977; March 30, 1981, "Black Magic;" September 28, 1987, Walter Clemons, review of Beloved; January 12, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 62.

New York, April 13, 1981.

New Yorker, November 7, 1977; June 15, 1981; January 12, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 78; October 27, 2003, Hilton Als, "Ghosts in the House," p. 64.

New York Post, January 26, 1974.

New York Review of Books, November 10, 1977; April 30, 1981; November 19, 1992, p. 7; February 2, 1995, p. 36; June 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 64. New York Times, November 13, 1970; September 6, 1977; March 21, 1981; August 26, 1987; September 2, 1987, Michiko Kakutani, review of Beloved; January 24, 1988; January 6, 1998, review of Paradise, p. E8.

New York Times Book Review, November 1, 1970; December 30, 1973; June 2, 1974; September 11, 1977; March 29, 1981; September 13, 1987, Margaret Atwood, "Haunted by Their Nightmares," p. 1; October 25, 1992, p. 1; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 6; May 31, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 23; May 2, 1999, review of Paradise, p. 32.

New York Times Magazine, August 22, 1971; August 11, 1974; July 4, 1976; May 20, 1979; September 11, 1994, Claudia Dreifus, "Chloe Wofford Talks about Toni Morrison," p. 1372.

Observer (London, England), March 29, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 15; March 14, 1999, review of Beloved, p. 14.

Obsidian, spring-summer, 1979; winter, 1986, pp. 151-161.

Papers on Language and Literature, summer, 2000, Martin Bidney, "Creating a Feminist-Communitarian Romanticism in Beloved," p. 271.

People, July 29, 1974; November 30, 1987; May 18, 1998, p. 45.

Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, 1982, pp. 10-17.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 1, 1988.

Publishers Weekly, July 17, 1987, review of Beloved; August 21, 1987; March 2, 1998, p. 29; July 12, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 95; May 1, 2000, Daisy Maryles, "Score: Winfrey 33, Morrison 3," p. 20; April 8, 2002, "Oprah: 46 and Out"; September 9, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 68; November 11, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People Journal, pp. 66-67; June 2, 2003, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper?, p. 50; September 1, 2003, review of Love, pp. 60-61; April 19, 2004, review of Remember, pp. 62-63.

Saturday Review, September 17, 1977.

School Library Journal, September, 1999, Ellen Fader, review of The Big Box, p. 227; November, 2002, Judith Constantinides, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 132.

Southern Review, autumn, 1987.

Spectator, December 9, 1978; February 2, 1980; December 19, 1981.

Studies in American Fiction, spring, 1987; autumn, 1989.

Studies in Black Literature, Volume 6, 1976.

Time, September 12, 1977; March 16, 1981; September 21, 1987; April 27, 1992; October 18, 1993; June 17, 1996, p. 73.

Times (London, England), October 15, 1987, Nicholas Shakespeare, review of Beloved.

Times Literary Supplement, October 4, 1974; November 24, 1978; February 8, 1980; December 19, 1980; October 30, 1981; October 16, 1987; March 5, 1993; March 27, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 22.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 30, 1988.

U.S. News and World Report, October 19, 1987.

Village Voice, August 29, 1977; July 1, 1981.

Vogue, April, 1981; January, 1986.

Voice Literary Supplement, September, 1987; December, 1992, p. 15.

Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1998, review of Paradise, p. A16.

Washington Post, February 3, 1974; March 6, 1974; September 30, 1977; April 8, 1981; February 9, 1983; October 5, 1987.

Washington Post Book World, February 3, 1974; September 4, 1977; December 4, 1977; March 22, 1981; September 6, 1987; November 8, 1992, p. 3; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 1.

Women's Journal, April, 1999, review of Paradise, p. 20.

Women's Review of Books, December, 1992, p. 1; April, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 1; December, 2003, Deborah E. McDowell, "Philosophy of the Heart," pp. 8-10.

World Literature Today, summer, 1978; spring, 1993, p. 394.

ONLINE

New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (January 11, 1998), Brooke Allen, "The Promised Land."

Nobel Prize,http://nobelprize.org/ (September 29, 2004), "Toni Morrison."

Salon.com,http://dir.salon.com/ (February 2, 1998), interview with Morrison.

Toni Morrison Society,http://www.gsu.edu/~wwwtms/ (September 29, 2004).

Voices from the Gaps,http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (February 12, 2003), "Toni Morrison."*

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Morrison, Toni

MORRISON, Toni

MORRISON, Toni. (Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison). American, b. 1931. Genres: Novels. Career: Texas Southern University, Houston, instructor in English, 1955-57; Howard University, Washington, DC, instructor in English, 1957-65; Random House, Publishers, NYC, sr. ed., 1965-84; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, 1975-77; Yale University, New Haven, CT, distinguished visiting professor, 1979-80; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, distinguished visiting professor, 1983-84; State University of New York at Albany, Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, 1984. University of California, Berkeley, regents lecturer, 1987; Bowdoin College, Santagata lecturer, 1987; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1993. Publications: The Bluest Eye, 1970; Sula, 1974; Song of Solomon, 1977; Tar Baby, 1981; Dreaming Emmett (play), 1986; Beloved, 1987 (Pulitzer Prize); Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literacy Imagination, 1992; Jazz, 1992; Conversations with Toni Morrison, 1994; Paradise, 1998; (with S. Morrison) Big Box, 1999; Book of Mean People, 2002; Love, 2003. EDITOR: The Black Book, 1974; Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the Construction of Social Reality, 1992; (with C.B. Lacour) Birth of a Nation'hood, 1997. Address: c/o Lynn Nesbit, ICM, 40 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.

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Morrison, Toni

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Morrison, Toni 1931–

Morrison, Toni 1931–

(Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison)

PERSONAL: Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, February 18, 1931, in Lorain, OH; daughter of George and Ramah (Willis) Wofford; married Harold Morrison, 1958 (divorced, 1964); children: Harold Ford, Slade Kevin. Ethnicity: "Black." Education: Howard University, B.A., 1953; Cornell University, M.A., 1955.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Creative Writing, Princeton University, 185 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08544-0001. Agent—International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: Texas Southern University, Houston, TX, instructor in English, 1955–57; Howard University, Washington, DC, instructor in English, 1957–64; Random House, New York, NY, senior editor, 1965–85; State University of New York—Purchase, associate professor of English, 1971–72; State University of New York—Albany, Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, 1984–89; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities, 1989–. Visiting lecturer, Yale University, 1976–77, and Bard College, 1986–88; Clark Lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Massey Lecturer at Harvard University, both 1990.

MEMBER: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, National Council on the Arts, Authors Guild (council), Authors League of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award nomination and Ohioana Book Award, both 1975, both for Sula; National Book Critics Circle Award and American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, both 1977, both for Song of Solomon; New York State Governor's Art Award, 1986; National Book Award nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 1987, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Robert F. Kennedy Award, and American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1988, all for Beloved; Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award, National Organization of Women; Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993; Pearl Buck Award, Rhegium Julii Prize, Condorcet Medal (Paris, France), and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (Paris, France), all 1994; Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Foundation, 1996; National Humanities Medal, 2001; subject of Biennial Toni Morrison Society conference in Lorain, Ohio; Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2005, for Remember: The Journey to School Integration.

WRITINGS:

FICTION

The Bluest Eye, Holt (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Plume (New York, NY), 1994.

Sula, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.

Song of Solomon, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

Tar Baby, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

Dreaming Emmett (play), first produced in Albany, NY, January 4, 1986.

Beloved, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.

Jazz, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.

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

The Dancing Mind (text of Nobel Prize acceptance speech), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

Paradise, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

FOR CHILDREN; WITH SON SLADE MORRISON

The Big Box, illustrated by Giselle Potter, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1999.

The Book of Mean People, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

The Book of Mean People Journal, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

The Lion or the Mouse? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (Mew York, NY), 2003.

The Ant or the Grasshopper? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.

The Poppy or the Snake? ("Who's Got Game?" series), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.

Who's Got Game? Three Fables (contains The Lion or the Mouse? The Ant or the Grasshopper? and The Poppy or the Snake.), illustrated by Pascal Lemaître, Scribner (Mew York, NY), 2005.

MUSIC

(Author of lyrics) André Previn, Four Songs for Soprano, Cello, and Piano, Chester Music (London, England), 1995.

(Author of lyrics) Richard Danielpour, Spirits in the Well: For Voice and Piano, Associated Music Publishers (New York, NY), 1998.

(Author of lyrics) Richard Danielpour, Margaret Garner: Opera in Two Acts, Associated Music Publishers (New York, NY), 2005.

Also author of lyrics for André Previn's Honey and Rue, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, 1992, and Richard Danielpour's Sweet Talk: Four Songs, 1996.

EDITOR

The Black Book (anthology), Random House (New York, NY), 1974.

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

To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton, Writers and Readers (New York, NY), 1995.

Toni Cade Bambara, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Claudia Brodsky Lacour) Birth of a Nation-'Hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1997.

OTHER

Remember: The Journey to School Integration (for children), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.

Contributor of essays and reviews to numerous periodicals, including New York Times Magazine. Contributor to Arguing Immigration: The Debate over the Changing Face of America, edited by Nicolaus Mills, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.

ADAPTATIONS: Beloved was adapted to a 1998 film of the same title, starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, and Kimberly Elise, and was directed by Jonathan Demme. Paradise was optioned by Harpo Productions for adaptation as a television miniseries. Morrison books, including Jazz, Beloved, Tar Baby, Paradise, Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye, have been adapted to audio cassette.

SIDELIGHTS: Nobel laureate Toni Morrison has a central role in the American literary canon, according to many critics, award committees, and readers. Her award-winning novels chronicle small-town African-American life, employing "an artistic vision that encompasses both a private and a national heritage," to quote Time magazine contributor Angela Wigan. Through works such as The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, Morrison proves herself to be a gifted storyteller of stories in which troubled characters seek to find themselves and their cultural riches in a society that warps or impedes such essential growth. According to Charles Larson, writing in the Chicago Tribune Book World, each of Morrison's novels "is as original as anything that has appeared in our literature in the last twenty years. The contemporaneity that unites them—the troubling persistence of racism in America—is infused with an urgency that only a black writer can have about our society."

Morrison has also proved herself to be an able creator of children's books, working in collaboration with her son Slade Morrison. Together the two writers have produced the rhyming parable The Big Box and The Book of Mean People, a child's eye view of the world—as seen by a rabbit. They have also collaborated on a series of retellings of the tales from Aesop, titled "Who's Got Game?"

Morrison's artistry has attracted critical acclaim as well as commercial success; Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Susan L. Blake called the author "an anomaly in two respects" because "she is a black writer who has achieved national prominence and popularity, and she is a popular writer who is taken seriously." Indeed, Morrison has won several of modern literature's most prestigious citations, including the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, and the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African American to be named a laureate. Atlantic correspondent Wilfrid Sheed noted: "Most black writers are privy, like the rest of us, to bits and pieces of the secret, the dark side of their group experience, but Toni Morrison uniquely seems to have all the keys on her chain, like a house detective…. She [uses] the run of the whole place, from ghetto to small town to ramshackle farmhouse, to bring back a panorama of black myth and reality that [dazzles] the senses."

According to Jean Strouse, writing in Newsweek, Morrison "comes from a long line of people who did what they had to do to survive. It is their stories she tells in her novels—tales of the suffering and richness, the eloquence and tragedies of the black American experience." Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a small industrial town near the shores of Lake Erie. New York Review of Books correspondent Darryl Pinckney described her particular community as "close enough to the Ohio River for the people who lived [there] to feel the torpor of the South, the nostalgia for its folkways, to sense the old Underground Railroad underfoot like a hidden stream."

Two important aspects of Chloe Wofford's childhood—community spirit and the supernatural—inform Toni Morrison's mature writing. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Morrison suggested ways in which her community influenced her. "There is this town which is both a support system and a hammer at the same time," she noted. "Approval was not the acquisition of things; approval was given for the maturity and the dignity with which one handled oneself. Most black people in particular were, and still are, very fastidious about manners, very careful about behavior and the rules that operate within the community. The sense of organized activity, what I thought at that time was burdensome, turns out now to have within it a gift—which is, I never had to be taught how to hold a job, how to make it work, how to handle my time."

On several levels the pariah—a unique and sometimes eccentric individual—figures in Morrison's fictional reconstruction of black community life. "There is always an elder there," she noted of her work in Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation. "And these ancestors are not just parents, they are sort of timeless people whose relationships to the characters are benevolent, instructive, and protective, and they provide a certain kind of wisdom." Sometimes this figure imparts his or her wisdom from beyond the grave; from an early age Morrison absorbed the folklore and beliefs of a culture for which the supernatural holds power and portent. Strouse stated that Morrison's world, both within and outside her fiction, is "filled with signs, visitations, ways of knowing that [reach] beyond the five senses."

As a student, Morrison earned money by cleaning houses; "the normal teenage jobs were not available," she recalled in a New York Times Magazine profile by Claudia Dreifus. "Housework always was." Some of her clients were nice; some were "terrible," Morrison added. The work gave her a perspective on black-white relations that touched Morrison's later writing. As she told Dreifus, "In [The Bluest Eye] Pauline lived in this dump and hated everything in it. And then she worked for the Fishers, who had this beautiful house, and she loved it. She got a lot of respect as their maid that she didn't get anywhere else." While never explicitly auto-biographical, Morrison's fictions draw upon her youthful experiences in Ohio. In an essay for Black Women Writers at Work she claimed: "I am from the Midwest so I have a special affection for it. My beginnings are always there…. No matter what I write, I begin there…. It's the matrix for me…. Ohio also offers an escape from stereotyped black settings. It is neither plantation nor ghetto."

After graduating with honors from high school, Morrison attended Howard University, where she earned a degree in English. During this time, she also decided to change her first name to Toni. Morrison then earned a master's degree in English literature from Cornell. During this period, Morrison met and married her husband, an architect with whom she had two sons. In 1955, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University. Two years later, she returned to Howard University, teaching English until 1964. It was during her stint at Howard that Morrison first began to write. When her marriage ended in 1964, Morrison moved to New York, where she supported herself and her sons by working as a book editor at Random House. Morrison held this position until 1985, during which time she influenced several prominent black writers.

Morrison's own writing career took off in the late 1960s, and several themes and influences were in early evidence. "It seems somehow both constricting and inadequate to describe Toni Morrison as the country's preeminent black novelist, since in both gifts and accomplishments she transcends categorization," wrote Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World, "yet the characterization is inescapable not merely because it is true but because the very nature of Morrison's work dictates it. Not merely has black American life been the central preoccupation of her … novels … but as she has matured she has concentrated on distilling all of black experience into her books; quite purposefully, it seems, she is striving not for the particular but for the universal." In her work, critics claim, Morrison strives to lay bare the injustice inherent in the black condition and blacks' efforts, individually and collectively, to transcend society's unjust boundaries. Blake noted that Morrison's novels explore "the difference between black humanity and white cultural values. This opposition produces the negative theme of the seduction and betrayal of black people by white culture … and the positive theme of the quest for cultural identity." Newsweek contributor Strouse observed: "Like all the best stories, [Morrison's] are driven by an abiding moral vision. Implicit in all her characters' grapplings with who they are is a large sense of human nature and love—and a reach for understanding of something larger than the moment."

Quest for self is a motivating and organizing device in Morrison's fiction, as is the role of family and community in nurturing or challenging the individual. In the Times Literary Supplement, Jennifer Uglow suggested that Morrison's novels "explore in particular the process of growing up black, female and poor. Avoiding generalities, Toni Morrison concentrates on the relation between the pressures of the community, patterns established within families,… and the developing sense of self." According to Dorothy H. Lee in Black Women Writers (1950–1980), Morrison is preoccupied "with the effect of the community on the individual's achievement and retention of an integrated, acceptable self. In treating this subject, she draws recurrently on myth and legend for story pattern and characters, returning repeatedly to the theory of quest…. The goals her characters seek to achieve are similar in their deepest implications, and yet the degree to which they attain them varies radically because each novel is cast in unique human terms." In Morrison's books, blacks must confront the notion that all understanding is accompanied by pain, just as all comprehension of national history must include the humiliations of slavery. She tempers this hard lesson by preserving "the richness of communal life against an outer world that denies its value" and by turning to "a heritage of folklore, not only to disclose patterns of living but also to close wounds," in the words of Nation contributor Brina Caplan.

Although Morrison herself told the Chicago Tribune that there is "epiphany and triumph" in every book she writes, some critics find her work nihilistic and her vision bleak. "The picture given by … Morrison of the plight of the decent, aspiring individual in the black family and community is more painful than the gloomiest impressions encouraged by either stereotype or sociology," observed Diane Johnson in the New York Review of Books. Johnson continued, "Undoubtedly white society is the ultimate oppressor, and not just of blacks, but, as Morrison [shows],… the black person must first deal with the oppressor in the next room, or in the same bed, or no farther away than across the street."

Morrison is a pioneer in the depiction of the hurt inflicted by blacks on blacks; for instance, her characters rarely achieve harmonious relationships but are instead divided by futurelessness and the anguish of stifled existence. Uglow wrote: "We have become attuned to novels … which locate oppression in the conflicts of blacks (usually men) trying to make it in a white world. By concentrating on the sense of violation experienced within black neighborhoods, even within families, Toni Morrison deprives us of stock responses and creates a more demanding and uncomfortable literature." Village Voice correspondent Vivian Gornick contended that the world Morrison creates "is thick with an atmosphere through which her characters move slowly, in pain, ignorance, and hunger. And to a very large degree Morrison has the compelling ability to make one believe that all of us (Morrison, the characters, the reader) are penetrating that dark and hurtful terrain—the feel of a human life—simultaneously." Uglow concluded that even the laughter of Morrison's characters "disguises pain, deprivation and violation. It is laughter at a series of bad, cruel jokes…. Nothing is what it seems; no appearance, no relationship can be trusted to endure."

Other critics detect a deeper undercurrent to Morrison's work that contains just the sort of epiphany for which she strives. "From book to book, Morrison's larger project grows clear," remarked Ann Snitow in the Voice Literary Supplement. "First, she insists that every character bear the weight of responsibility for his or her own life. After she's measured out each one's private pain, she adds on to that the shared burden of what the whites did. Then, at last, she tries to find the place where her stories can lighten her readers' load, lift them up from their own and others' guilt, carry them to glory…. Her characters suffer—from their own limitations and the world's—but their inner life miraculously expands beyond the narrow law of cause and effect." Harvard Advocate essayist Faith Davis wrote that despite the mundane boundaries of Morrison's characters' lives, the author "illuminates the complexity of their attitudes toward life. Having reached a quiet and extensive understanding of their situation, they can endure life's calamities…. Morrison never allows us to become indifferent to these people…. Her citizens … jump up from the pages vital and strong because she has made us care about the pain in their lives." In Ms., Margo Jefferson concluded that Morrison's books "are filled with loss—lost friendship, lost love, lost customs, lost possibilities. And yet there is so much life in the smallest acts and gestures … that they are as much celebrations as elegies."

Morrison sees language as an expression of black experience, and her novels are characterized by vivid narration and dialogue. Village Voice essayist Susan Lydon observed that the author "works her magic charm above all with a love of language. Her soaring … style carries you like a river, sweeping doubt and disbelief away, and it is only gradually that one realizes her deadly serious intent." In the Spectator, Caroline Moorehead likewise noted that Morrison "writes energetically and richly, using words in a way very much her own. The effect is one of exoticism, an exciting curiousness in the language, a balanced sense of the possible that stops, always, short of the absurd."

Although Morrison does not like to be called a poetic writer, critics often comment on the lyrical quality of her prose. "Morrison's style has always moved fluidly between tough-minded realism and lyric descriptive-ness," said Newsweek contributor Margo Jefferson. "Vivid dialogue, capturing the drama and extravagance of black speech, gives way to an impressionistic evocation of physical pain or an ironic, essay-like analysis of the varieties of religious hypocrisy." Uglow wrote: "The word 'elegant' is often applied to Toni Morrison's writing; it employs sophisticated narrative devices, shifting perspectives and resonant images and displays an obvious delight in the potential of language." Nation contributor Earl Frederick concluded that Morrison, "with an ear as sharp as glass … has listened to the music of black talk and deftly uses it as the palette knife to create black lives and to provide some of the best fictional dialogue around today."

In the mid-1960s, Morrison completed her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Although she had trouble getting the book into print—the manuscript was rejected several times—it was finally published in 1969. At age thirty-eight, Morrison was a published author, and her debut, set in Morrison's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, portrays "in poignant terms the tragic condition of blacks in a racist America," to quote Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi in Critique. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison depicts the onset of black self-hatred as occasioned by white-American ideals such as "Dick and Jane" primers and Shirley Temple movies. The principal character, Pecola Breedlove, is literally maddened by the disparity between her existence and the pictures of beauty and gentility disseminated by the dominant white culture. As Phyllis R. Klotman noted in the Black American Literature Forum, Morrison "uses the contrast between Shirley Temple and Pecola … to underscore the irony of black experience. Whether one learns acceptability from the formal educational experience or from cultural symbols, the effect is the same: self-hatred." Darwin T. Turner elaborated on the novel's intentions in Black Women Writers (1950–1980). Morrison's fictional milieu, wrote Turner, is "a world of grotesques—individuals whose psyches have been deformed by their efforts to assume false identities, their failures to achieve meaningful identities, or simply their inability to retain and communicate love."

Blake characterized The Bluest Eye as a novel of initiation, exploring that common theme in American literature from a minority viewpoint. Ogunyemi contended that, in essence, Morrison presents "old problems in a fresh language and with a fresh perspective. A central force of the work derives from her power to draw vignettes and her ability to portray emotions, seeing the world through the eyes of adolescent girls." Klotman, who called the book "a novel of growing up, of growing up young and black and female in America," concluded her review with the comment that the "rite of passage, initiating the young into womanhood at first tenuous and uncertain, is sensitively depicted…. The Bluest Eye is an extraordinarily passionate yet gentle work, the language lyrical yet precise—it is a novel for all seasons."

The 1994 reissue of The Bluest Eye prompted a new set of appraisals. In an African American Review piece, Allen Alexander found that religious references—from both Western and African sources—"abound" in the novel's pages. "And of the many fascinating religious references," Alexander continued, "the most complex … are her representations of and allusions to God. In Morrison's fictional world, God's characteristics are not limited to those represented by the traditional Western notion of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Instead, Morrison presents God as having "a fourth face, one that is an explanation for all those things—the existence of evil, the suffering of the innocent and just—that seem so inexplicable in the face of a religious tradition that preaches the omnipotence of a benevolent God." Cat Moses used the forum of African American Review to contribute an essay outlining the blues aesthetic in The Bluest Eye. The narrative's structure, Moses wrote, "follows a pattern common to traditional blues lyrics: a movement from an initial emphasis on loss to a concluding suggestion of resolution of grief through motion." In depicting the transition from loss to "movin' on," said the essayist, The Bluest Eye "contains an abundance of cultural wisdom."

In 1973's Sula, Morrison once again presents a pair of black women who must come to terms with their lives. Set in a Midwestern black community called The Bottom, the story follows two friends, Sula and Nel, from childhood to old age and death. Snitow claimed that through Sula, Morrison discovered "a way to offer her people an insight and sense of recovered self so dignified and glowing that no worldly pain could dull the final light." Indeed, Sula is a tale of rebel and conformist in which the conformity is dictated by the solid inhabitants of The Bottom and even the rebellion gains strength from the community's disapproval. New York Times Book Review contributor Sara Blackburn contended, however, that the book is "too vital and rich" to be consigned to the category of allegory. Morrison's "extravagantly beautiful, doomed characters are locked in a world where hope for the future is a foreign commodity, yet they are enormously, achingly alive," wrote Blackburn. "And this book about them—and about how their beauty is drained back and frozen—is a howl of love and rage, playful and funny as well as hard and bitter." In the words of American Literature essayist Jane S. Bakerman, Morrison "uses the maturation story of Sula and Nel as the core of a host of other stories, but it is the chief unification device for the novel and achieves its own unity, again, through the clever manipulation of the themes of sex, race, and love. Morrison has undertaken a … difficult task in Sula. Unquestionably, she has succeeded."

Other critics have echoed Bakerman's sentiments about Sula. Yardley stated: "What gives this terse, imaginative novel its genuine distinction is the quality of Toni Morrison's prose. Sula is admirable enough as a study of its title character,… but its real strength lies in Morrison's writing, which at times has the resonance of poetry and is precise, vivid and controlled throughout." Turner also claimed that in Sula "Morrison evokes her verbal magic occasionally by lyric descriptions that carry the reader deep into the soul of the character…. Equally effective, however, is her art of narrating action in a lean prose that uses adjectives cautiously while creating memorable vivid images." In her review, Davis concluded that a "beautiful and haunting atmosphere emerges out of the wreck of these folks' lives, a quality that is absolutely convincing and absolutely precise." Sula was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974.

From the insular lives she depicted in her first two novels, Morrison moved in Song of Solomon to a national and historical perspective on black American life. "Here the depths of the younger work are still evident," said Reynolds Price in the New York Times Book Review, "but now they thrust outward, into wider fields, for longer intervals, encompassing many more lives. The result is a long prose tale that surveys nearly a century of American history as it impinges upon a single family." With an intermixture of the fantastic and the realistic, Song of Solomon relates the journey of a character named Milkman Dead into an understanding of his family heritage and hence, himself. Lee wrote: "Figuratively, [Milkman] travels from innocence to awareness, i.e., from ignorance of origins, heritage, identity, and communal responsibility to knowledge and acceptance. He moves from selfish and materialistic dilettantism to an understanding of brotherhood. With his release of personal ego, he is able to find a place in the whole. There is, then, a universal—indeed mythic—pattern here. He journeys from spiritual death to rebirth, a direction symbolized by his discovery of the secret power of flight. Mythically, liberation and transcendence follow the discovery of self." Blake suggested that the connection Milkman discovers with his family's past helps him to connect meaningfully with his contemporaries; Song of Solomon, Blake noted, "dramatizes dialectical approaches to the challenges of black life." According to Anne Z. Mickelson in Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women, history itself "becomes a choral symphony to Milkman, in which each individual voice has a chance to speak and contribute to his growing sense of well-being."

Mickelson also observed that Song of Solomon represents for blacks "a break out of the confining life into the realm of possibility." Charles Larson commented on this theme in a Washington Post Book World review. The novel's subject matter, Larson explained, is "the origins of black consciousness in America, and the individual's relationship to that heritage." However, Larson added, "skilled writer that she is, Morrison has transcended this theme so that the reader rarely feels that this is simply another novel about ethnic identity. So marvelously orchestrated is Morrison's narrative that it not only excels on all of its respective levels, not only works for all of its interlocking components, but also—in the end—says something about life (and death) for all of us. Milkman's epic journey … is a profound examination of the individual's understanding of, and, perhaps, even transcendence of the inevitable fate of his life." Gornick concluded: "There are so many individual moments of power and beauty in Song of Solomon that, ultimately, one closes the book warmed through by the richness of its sympathy, and by its breathtaking feel for the nature of sexual sorrow."

Song of Solomon, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, was also the first novel by a black writer to become a Book-of-the-Month Club selection since Richard Wright's Native Son was published in 1940. World Literature Today reviewer Richard K. Barksdale called the work "a book that will not only withstand the test of time but endure a second and third reading by those conscientious readers who love a well-wrought piece of fiction." Describing the novel as "a stunningly beautiful book" in her Washington Post Book World piece, Anne Tyler added: "I would call the book poetry, but that would seem to be denying its considerable power as a story. Whatever name you give it, it's full of magnificent people, each of them complex and multilayered, even the narrowest of them narrow in extravagant ways." Price deemed Song of Solomon "a long story,… and better than good. Toni Morrison has earned attention and praise. Few Americans know, and can say, more than she has in this wise and spacious novel."

Morrison clearly attained the respect of the literary community, but even in the face of three well-received novels, she did not call herself a writer. "I think, at bottom, I simply was not prepared to do the adult thing, which in those days would be associated with the male thing, which was to say, 'I'm a writer,'" she told Dreifus in 1994. "I said, 'I am a mother who writes,' or 'I am an editor who writes.' The word 'writer' was hard for me to say because that's what you put on your income-tax form. I do now say, 'I'm a writer.' But it's the difference between identifying one's work and being the person who does the work. I've always been the latter."

Still, critics and readers had no doubt that Morrison was a writer. Her 1981 book Tar Baby remained on bestseller lists for four months. A novel of ideas, the work dramatizes the fact that complexion is a far more subtle issue than the simple polarization of black and white. Set on a lush Caribbean Island, Tar Baby explores the passionate love affair of Jadine, a Sorbonne-educated black model, and Son, a handsome knockabout with a strong aversion to white culture. According to Caplan, Morrison's concerns "are race, class, culture and the effects of late capitalism—heavy freight for any narrative…. She is attempting to stabilize complex visions of society—that is, to examine competitive ideas…. Because the primary function of Morrison's characters is to voice representative opinions, they arrive on stage vocal and highly conscious, their histories symbolically indicated or merely sketched. Her brief sketches, however, are clearly the work of an artist who can, when she chooses, model the mind in depth and detail." In a Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook essay, Elizabeth B. House outlined Tar Baby's major themes: "the difficulty of settling conflicting claims between one's past and present and the destruction which abuse of power can bring. As Morrison examines these problems in Tar Baby, she suggests no easy way to understand what one's link to a heritage should be, nor does she offer infallible methods for dealing with power. Rather, with an astonishing insight and grace, she demonstrates the pervasiveness of such dilemmas and the degree to which they affect human beings, both black and white."

Tar Baby uncovers racial and sexual conflicts without offering solutions, but most critics found that Morrison indicts all of her characters—black and white—for their thoughtless devaluations of others. New York Times Book Review correspondent John Irving claimed: "What's so powerful, and subtle, about Miss Morrison's presentation of the tension between blacks and whites is that she conveys it almost entirely through the suspicions and prejudices of her black characters…. Miss Morrison uncovers all the stereotypical racial fears felt by whites and blacks alike. Like any ambitious writer, she's unafraid to employ these stereotypes—she embraces the representative qualities of her characters without embarrassment, then proceeds to make them individuals too." New Yorker essayist Susan Lardner praised Morrison for her "power to be absolutely persuasive against her own preferences, suspicions, and convictions, implied or plainly expressed," and Strouse likewise contended that the author "has produced that rare commodity, a truly public novel about the condition of society, examining the relations between blacks and whites, men and women, civilization and nature…. It wraps its messages in a highly potent love story." Irving suggested that Morrison's greatest accomplishment "is that she has raised her novel above the social realism that too many black novels and women's novels are trapped in. She has succeeded in writing about race and women symbolically."

Reviewers praised Tar Baby for its provocative themes and for its evocative narration. Los Angeles Times contributor Elaine Kendall called the book "an intricate and sophisticated novel, moving from a realistic and orderly beginning to a mystical and ambiguous end. Morrison has taken classically simple story elements and realigned them so artfully that we perceive the old pattern in a startlingly different way. Although this territory has been explored by dozens of novelists, Morrison depicts it with such vitality that it seems newly discovered." In the Washington Post Book World, Webster Schott claimed: "There is so much that is good, sometimes dazzling, about Tar Baby—poetic language,… arresting images, fierce intelligence—that … one becomes entranced by Toni Morrison's story. The settings are so vivid the characters must be alive. The emotions they feel are so intense they must be real people." Maureen Howard stated in New Republic that the work "is as carefully patterned as a well-written poem…. Tar Baby is a good American novel in which we can discern a new lightness and brilliance in Toni Morrison's enchantment with language and in her curiously polyphonic stories that echo life." Schott concluded: "One of fiction's pleasures is to have your mind scratched and your intellectual habits challenged. While Tar Baby has shortcomings, lack of provocation isn't one of them. Morrison owns a powerful intelligence. It's run by courage. She calls to account conventional wisdom and accepted attitude at nearly every turn."

In addition to her own writing, Morrison during this period helped to publish the work of other noted black Americans, including Toni Cade Bambara, Gayle Jones, Angela Davis, and Muhammad Ali. Discussing her aims as an editor in a quotation printed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Morrison said, "I look very hard for black fiction because I want to participate in developing a canon of black work. We've had the first rush of black entertainment, where blacks were writing for whites, and whites were encouraging this kind of self-flagellation. Now we can get down to the craft of writing, where black people are talking to black people." One of Morrison's important projects for Random House was The Black Book, an anthology of items that illustrate the history of black Americans. Ms. magazine correspondent Dorothy Eugenia Robinson described the work: "The Black Book is the pain and pride of rediscovering the collective black experience. It is finding the essence of ourselves and holding on. The Black Book is a kind of scrapbook of patiently assembled samplings of black history and culture. What has evolved is a pictorial folk journey of black people, places, events, handcrafts, inventions, songs, and folklore…. The Black Book informs, disturbs, maybe even shocks. It unsettles complacency and demands confrontation with raw reality. It is by no means an easy book to experience, but it's a necessary one."

While preparing The Black Book for publication, Morrison uncovered the true and shocking story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, murdered her infant child so it would not be doomed to a lifetime of servitude. For Morrison, the story encapsulated the fierce psychic cruelty of an institutionalized system that sought to destroy the basic emotional bonds between men and women, and worse, between parent and child. "I certainly thought I knew as much about slavery as anybody," Morrison told an interview for the Los Angeles Times. "But it was the interior life I needed to find out about." It is this "interior life" in the throes of slavery that constitutes the theme of Morrison's novel Beloved. Set in Reconstruction-era Cincinnati, the book centers on characters who struggle fruitlessly to keep their painful recollections of the past at bay. They are haunted, both physically and spiritually, by the legacies slavery has bequeathed to them. According to Snitow, Beloved "staggers under the terror of its material—as so much holocaust writing does and must."

While the book was not unanimously praised—New Republic writer Stanley Crouch cited the author for "almost always [losing] control" and of not resisting "the temptation of the trite or the sentimental"—many critics considered Beloved to be Morrison's masterpiece. In People, V. R. Peterson described the novel as "a brutally powerful, mesmerizing story about the inescapable, excruciating legacy of slavery. Behind each new event and each new character lies another event and another story until finally the reader meets a community of proud, daring people, inextricably bound by culture and experience." Through the lives of exslaves Sethe and her would-be lover Paul D, readers "experience American slavery as it was lived by those who were its objects of exchange, both at its best—which wasn't very good—and at its worst, which was as bad as can be imagined," wrote Margaret Atwood in the New York Times Book Review. "Above all, it is seen as one of the most viciously antifamily institutions human beings have ever devised. The slaves are motherless, fatherless, deprived of their mates, their children, their kin. It is a world in which people suddenly vanish and are never seen again, not through accident or covert operation or terrorism, but as a matter of everyday legal policy." New York Times columnist Michiko Kakutani contended that Beloved "possesses the heightened power and resonance of myth—its characters, like those in opera or Greek drama, seem larger than life and their actions, too, tend to strike us as enactments of ancient rituals and passions. To describe Beloved only in these terms, however, is to diminish its immediacy, for the novel also remains precisely grounded in American reality—the reality of Black history as experienced in the wake of the Civil War."

Beloved may be an American novel, but its images and influences come from the British Romantic tradition, theorized Martin Bidney in Papers on Language and Literature. "Simply to list a few of [the book's] major episodes—ice skating, boat stealing, gigantic shadow, carnival 'freak' show, water-voices sounding the depths—is almost to create a rapidly scrolled plot synopsis of Wordsworth's Prelude," Bidney wrote. "When Baby Suggs declares that the only grace we will receive is the grace we can 'imagine,' or when Sethe tells how Paul D's visionary capacity makes 'windows' suddenly have 'view,' we hear the voice of William Blake." The critic also saw traces of Keats in the scenes of Paul D's musings "on the superiority of imagined love to mere physical sex." But the achievement of the novel ultimately belongs to Morrison, Bidney added: "These few examples are by no means a complete listing of all the Romantic allusive motifs that combined to help make Beloved the visionary masterwork it is."

Acclaim for Beloved came from both sides of the Atlantic. In his Chicago Tribune piece, Larson claimed that the work "is the context out of which all of Morrison's earlier novels were written. In her darkest and most probing novel, Toni Morrison has demonstrated once again the stunning powers that place her in the first ranks of our living novelists." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor John Leonard likewise expressed the opinion that the novel "belongs on the highest shelf of American literature, even if half a dozen canonized white boys have to be elbowed off…. Without Beloved our imagination of the nation's self has a hole in it big enough to die from." Atwood stated: "Ms. Morrison's versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds. If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, Beloved will put them to rest." London Times reviewer Nicholas Shakespeare concluded that Beloved "is a novel propelled by the cadences of … songs—the first singing of a people hardened by their suffering, people who have been hanged and whipped and mortgaged at the hands of white people—the men without skin. From Toni Morrison's pen it is a sound that breaks the back of words, making Beloved a great novel."

But for all its acclaim, Beloved became the object of controversy when the novel failed to win either the 1987 National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award. In response, forty-eight prominent African-American authors—including Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and John Wideman—signed a letter to the editor that appeared in the January 24, 1988, edition of the New York Times. The letter expressed the signers' dismay at the "oversight and harmful whimsy" that resulted in the lack of recognition for Beloved. The "legitimate need for our own critical voice in relation to our own literature can no longer be denied," declared Morrison's peers. The authors concluded their letter with a tribute to Morrison: "For all of America, for all of American letters, you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people." The letter sparked fierce debate within the New York literary community, "with some critics accusing the authors of the letter of racist manipulation," according to an entry in Newsmakers 1988. Beloved ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize for 1988.

Morrison's subsequent novel, Jazz, is "a fictive recreation of two parallel narratives set during major historical events in African-American history—Reconstruction and the Jazz Age," noted Dictionary of Literary Biography writer Denise Heinze. Set primarily in New York City during the 1920s, the novel's main narrative involves a love triangle between Violet, a middle-aged woman; Joe, her husband; and Dorcas, Joe's teenage mistress. When Dorcas snubs Joe for a younger lover, Joe shoots and kills Dorcas. Violet seeks to understand the dead girl by befriending Dorcas's aunt, Alice Manfred. Simultaneously, Morrison relates the story of Joe and Violet's parents and grandparents. In telling these stories, Morrison touches on a number of themes: "male/female passion," as Heinze com-mented; the movement of blacks into large urban areas after Reconstruction; and, as is usually the case with her novels, the effects of racism and history on the African-American community. Morrison also makes use of an unusual storytelling device: an unnamed, intrusive, and unreliable narrator.

"The standard set by the brilliance and intensity of Morrison's previous novel Beloved is so high that Jazz does not pretend to come close to attaining it," stated Kenyon Review contributor Peter Erickson. Nevertheless, many reviewers responded enthusiastically to the provocative themes Morrison presents in Jazz. "The unrelenting, destructive influence of racism and oppression on the black family is manifested in Jazz by the almost-total absence of the black family," stated Heinze. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Michael Wood remarked that "black women in Jazz are arming themselves, physically and mentally, and in this they have caught a current of the times, a not always visible indignation that says enough is enough." Several reviewers felt that Morrison's use of an unreliable narrator impeded the story's effectiveness. Erickson, for instance, averred that the narrator "is not inventive enough. Because the narrator displays a lack of imagination at crucial moments, she seems to get in the way, to block rather than to enable access to deeper levels." But Heinze found that Morrison's unreliable narrator allows the author to engage the reader in a way that she has not done in her previous novels: "in Jazz Morrison questions her ability to answer the very issues she raises, extending the responsibility of her own novel writing to her readers." Heinze concluded: "Morrison thereby sends an invitation to her readers to become a part of that struggle to comprehend totality that will continue to spur her genius."

Morrison's "genius" was recognized a year after the publication of Jazz with a momentous award: the Nobel Prize for Literature. The first black and only the eighth woman to win the award, Morrison told Dreifus that "it was as if the whole category of 'female writer' and 'black writer' had been redeemed. I felt I represented a whole world of women who either were silenced or who had never received the imprimatur of the established literary world." In describing the author after its selection, the Nobel Committee noted, as quoted by Heinze: "She delves into the language itself, a language she wants to liberate from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the luster of poetry." In 1996, Morrison received another prestigious award, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters; this was followed by the National Humanities Medal in 2001.

In Paradise, Morrison's first novel after winning the Nobel Prize, noted America contributor Hermine Pinson, "the writer appears to be reinterpreting some of her most familiar themes: the significance of the 'ancestor' in our lives, the importance of community, the concept of 'home,' and the continuing conundrum of race in the United States. The title and intended subject of the text—Paradise—accommodates all of the foregoing themes." Like Beloved, Paradise "centers on a catastrophic act of violence that begs to be understood," National Catholic Reporter contributor Judith Bromberg explained. "Morrison meticulously peels away layer upon layer of truth so that what we think we know, we don't until she finally confronts us with raw truth." The conflict, and the violence that results from it, comes out of the dedicated self-righteousness of the leading families of the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma. "The story begins in Oklahoma in 1976," Pinson said, "when nine men from the still all-black town of Ruby invade the local convent on a mission to keep the town safe from the outright evil and depravity that they believe is embodied in the disparate assembly of religious women who live there." "In a show of force a posse of nine descend on the crumbling mansion in the predawn of a summer morning, killing all four of the troubled, flawed women who have sought refuge there," Bromberg stated.

Many reviewers recognized Morrison's accomplishment in Paradise. John Kennedy of Antioch Review called Morrison's opening chapter "Faulknerian"; with its "rich, evocative and descriptive passages, it is a haunting introduction to the repressed individuality that stalks 'so clean and blessed a mission.'" The novel "is full of challenges and surprises," wrote Christian Century reviewer Reggie Young. "Though it does not quite come up to the standard of Morrison's masterwork, Beloved, this is one of the most important novels of the decade." "This is Morrison's first novel since her 1993 Jazz," summed up Emily J. Jones in Library Journal, "and it is well worth the wait."

Morrison's 2003 offering, Love, is the story of a well-off African American man who runs a hotel for patrons similar to himself. It incorporates elements of bias based on financial status and the strife that money can cause between loved ones. World Literature Today contributor Daniel Garrett commented that the book, "which is richer and wilder than most books, reminds me of other entertainments, both within and outside Morrison's oeuvre—and that makes it a surprising disappointment." Nola Theiss disagreed, in a Kliattreview, stating that the "language requires careful reading as each sentence is a poem in itself." Theiss concluded that "Raw and ethereal at the same time, Love will be read for generations."

In addition to her novels, Morrison has also published in other genres. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a collection of three lectures that Morrison gave at Harvard University in 1990. Focusing on racism as it has manifested itself in American literature, these essays of literary criticism explore the works of authors such as Willa Cather, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway. In 1992, Morrison edited Raceing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality, eighteen essays about Thomas's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Turning her attention to younger readers, Morrison collaborated with her son Slade on a 1999 picture book called The Big Box, based on a story Slade made up when he was nine. Morrison provided the verse for a tale of three children living in "a big brown box [with] three big locks"; the children have been sent there by their parents, who feel the high-spirited and imaginative youngsters "can't handle their freedom." These children have all done something to upset the parents: Patty is too talkative in the library; Liza Sue allows the chickens to keep their eggs; and Mickey plays when he should not. The adults do not like rebellious children and so put them away, not even bothering to listen to their repeated protest: "I know that you think / You're doing what is best for me. / But if freedom is handled just your way / Then it's not my freedom or free."

While the tale ends happily, the generally downbeat tone of the story made some critics wary of the children's book. A contributor for Publishers Weekly faulted the picture book for having "little of the childlike perspective that so masterfully informs The Bluest Eye." A Horn Book contributor likewise complained of the "heavy-handed irony" that informs much of the book. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, decided that The Big Box "will appeal most to adults who cherish images of childhood innocence in a fallen world." Ellen Fader, writing in School Library Journal, felt the book "will have a hard time finding its audience," as it appears to be for children, but the message "requires more sophistication." A critic for Kirkus Reviews, however, noted that the message of the book is "valid" and "strongly made," calling the work "a promising children's book debut." And a reviewer for Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy also had praise for the title, remarking favorably upon the "haunting message about children who don't fit the accepted definitions of … 'normal.'"

Teaming up again with her son Slade, Morrison published another juvenile title in 2002, The Book of Mean People, a "bittersweet volume [that] takes meanness in stride and advocates kindness as the antidote," observed a contributor for Publishers Weekly. The narrative is a catalog of the things adults do to kids that kids often interpret as being mean. Grownups shout when something is wrong, make children eat things they do not like, and even dictate the time youngsters are to be in bed. These thoughts seemingly come from a bunny featured in the illustrations by Pascal Lemaître. Overall, this second children's title enjoyed a more positive critical reception than the first. A Kirkus Reviews critic thought that young readers "who know just what the young narrator is talking about may take to heart the closing advice to smile in the face of frowns." School Library Journal contributor Judy Constantinides felt that "the book could be used as a springboard to discuss anger and shouting." Evette Porter, writing in Black Issues Book Review, found The Book of Mean People "a witty yet candid look at anger from the perspective of a child." The book was published in tandem with an interactive journal so that children can record their responses to situations that make them feel angry and helpless. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly thought that the questions supplied as writing prompts in the journal "encourage reflection," while Porter commented that the journal could "serve as a preschool primer in anger-management therapy."

As interesting as such writing projects are, however, it is Morrison's adult fiction that has secured her place among the literary elite. Morrison is an author who labors contentedly under the labels bestowed by pigeonholing critics. She has no objection to being called a black woman writer, because, as she told an interviewer for the New York Times, "I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and a female person are greater than those of people who are neither…. My world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger." Nor does she strive for that much-vaunted universality that purports to be a hallmark of fine fiction. "I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio," she told an interviewer for the New Republic. "I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. [William] Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean."

Black woman writer or simply American novelist, Morrison is a prominent and respected figure in modern letters. As testament to her influence, something of a cottage industry has arisen of Morrison assessments. According to a Time article, the author "has inspired a generation of black artists,… produced seismic effects on publishing … [and] affected the course of black-studies programs across the U.S." Several books and dozens of critical essays are devoted to the examination of her fiction. Though popular acceptance of her work has seldom flagged, Morrison found her Song of Solomon shooting to the bestseller lists again after being selected by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey as a book-club pick in 1996; in 2002, Sula was the novel chosen to close out Winfrey's popular discussion group. The author's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, is the setting for the biennial Toni Morrison Society Conference; a 2000 gathering attracted 130 scholars from around the globe.

In the Detroit News, Larson suggested that Morrison's has been "among the most exciting literary careers of the last decade" and that each of her books "has made a quantum jump forward." Ironically, House commended Morrison for the universal nature of her work. "Unquestionably," House wrote, "Toni Morrison is an important novelist who continues to develop her talent. Part of her appeal, of course, lies in her extraordinary ability to create beautiful language and striking characters. However, Morrison's most important gift, the one which gives her a major author's universality, is the insight with which she writes of problems all humans face…. At the core of all her novels is a penetrating view of the unyielding, heartbreaking dilemmas which torment people of all races." Snitow noted that the author "wants to tend the imagination, search for an expansion of the possible, nurture a spiritual richness in the black tradition even after 300 years in the white desert." Lee concluded of Morrison's accomplishments: "Though there are unifying aspects in her novels, there is not a dully repetitive sameness. Each casts the problems in specific, imaginative terms, and the exquisite, poetic language awakens our senses as she communicates an often ironic vision with moving imagery. Each novel reveals the acuity of her perception of psychological motivation of the female especially, of the Black particularly, and of the human generally."

"The problem I face as a writer is to make my stories mean something," Morrison stated in an interview in Black Women Writers at Work. "You can have wonderful, interesting people, a fascinating story, but it's not about anything. It has no real substance. I want my books to always be about something that is important to me, and the subjects that are important in the world are the same ones that have always been important." In Black Women Writers (1950–1980), she elaborated on this idea. Fiction, she wrote, "should be beautiful, and powerful, but it should also work. It should have something in it that enlightens; something in it that opens the door and points the way. Something in it that suggests what the conflicts are, what the problems are. But it need not solve those problems because it is not a case study, it is not a recipe." The author who said that writing to her "is discovery; it's talking deep within myself" told the New York Times Book Review that the essential theme in her growing body of fiction is "how and why we learn to live this life intensely and well."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

American Decades, 1970–1979, edited by Victor Bondi, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.

Awkward, Michael, Inspiriting Influences: Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American Women's Novels, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Bell, Roseann P., editor, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.

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

Black Literature Criticism, Volume 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Bloom, Harold, editor, Toni Morrison, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1990.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., editor, Toni Morrison's Fiction, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1996.

Century, Douglas, Toni Morrison, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1994.

Christian, Barbara, Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892–1976, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1980.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4, 1975, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 22, 1982, Volume 55, 1989, Volume 81, 1994, Volume 87, 1995.

Cooey, Paula M., Religious Imagination and the Body: A Feminist Analysis, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Cooper-Clark, Diana, Interviews with Contemporary Novelists, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Coser, Stelamaris, Bridging the Americas: The Literature of Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Gayl Jones, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1995.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, 1980, Volume 33:Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, 1984, Volume 143: American Novelists since World War II, Third Series, 1994.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1981, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1993, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Culture, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1: American Culture after World War II, 1994, Volume 5: African American Culture, (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.

Furman, Jan, Toni Morrison's Fiction, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1996.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. and K. A. Appiah, editors, Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad (New York, NY), 1993.

Harding, Wendy, and Jacky Martin, A World of Difference: An Inter-Cultural Study of Toni Morrison's Novels, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1994.

Harris, Trudier, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1991.

Heinze, Denise, The Dilemma of "Double-Consciousness": Toni Morrison's Novels, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1993.

Holloway, Karla, and Dematrakopoulos, Stephanie, New Dimensions of Spirituality: A Biracial and Bicultural Reading of the Novels of Toni Morrison, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1987.

Jones, Bessie W. and Audrey L. Vinson, editors, The World of Toni Morrison: Explorations in Literary Criticism, Kendall/Hunt (Dubuque, IA), 1985.

Kramer, Barbara, Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-Winning Author, Enslow (Springfield, NJ), 1996.

Ledbetter, Mark, Victims and the Postmodern Narrative; or, Doing Violence to the Body: An Ethic of Reading and Writing, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

McKay, Nellie, editor, Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1988.

Mekkawi, Mod, Toni Morrison: A Bibliography, Howard University Library (Washington, DC), 1986.

Mickelson, Anne Z., Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NY), 1979.

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

Modern American Literature, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Morrison, Toni, and Slade Morrison, The Big Box, illustrated by Giselle Potter, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1999.

Newsmakers: 1998 Cumulation, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Notable Black American Women, Book 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

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

Page, Philip, Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison's Novels, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1996.

Peach, Linden, Toni Morrison, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Rainwater, Catherine and William J. Scheick, editors, Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1985, pp. 205-207.

Rice, Herbert William, Toni Morrison and the American Tradition: A Rhetorical Reading, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1995.

Rigney, Barbara Hill, The Voices of Toni Morrison, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1991.

Ruas, Charles, Conversations with American Writers, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Samuels, Wilfred D. and Clenora Hudson-Weems, Toni Morrison, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1990.

Smith, Valerie, editor, New Essays on Song of Solomon, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Tate, Claudia, editor, Black Women Writers at Work, Continuum (New York, NY), 1986, pp. 117-31.

Taylor-Guthrie, Danille, editor, Conversations with Toni Morrison, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1994.

Weinstein, Philip M., What Else but Love?: The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

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

PERIODICALS

African American Review, fall, 1993, Jane Kuenz, "'The Bluest Eye': Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity," p. 421; summer, 1994, pp. 189, 223; fall, 1994, p. 423; winter, 1994, pp. 571, 659; spring, 1995, p. 55; winter, 1995, pp. 567, 605; spring, 1996, p. 89; summer, 1998, Allen Alexander, "The Fourth Face: The Image of God in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 293; fall, 1998, review of Beloved, p. 415; winter, 1998, review of Beloved, p. 563; spring, 1999, review of Beloved, p. 105; summer, 1999, review of Beloved, p. 325; winter, 1999, Cat Moses, "The Blues Aesthetic in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 623; spring, 2000, Martha Cutter, "The Story Must Go On and On," p. 61, and Cynthia Dobbs, "Circles of Sorrow, Lines of Struggle," p. 362; summer, 2000, E. Shelley Reid, "Beyond Morrison and Walker: Looking Good and Looking Forward in Contemporary Black Women's Stories," p. 313; fall, 2000, Katy Ryan, "Revolutionary Suicide in Toni Morrison's Fiction," p. 389; June 22, 2001, "The One All-Black Town Worth the Pain," "Toni Morrison and the Burden of the Passing Narrative," "Toni Morrison's Jazz and the City," and "Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, and Postmodern Popular Audiences"; December 22, 2001, "Furrowing All the Brows: Interpretation and the Transcendent in Toni Morrison's Paradise"; March 22, 2002, "Inscriptions in the Dust," and "Reading and Insight in Toni Morrison's Paradise."

America, August 15, 1998, Hermine Pinson, review of Paradise, p. 19.

American Historical Review, February, 1994, p. 327.

American Imago, winter, 1994, p. 421.

American Literature, March, 1980, pp. 87-100; January, 1981; May, 1984; May, 1986; March, 1999, review of Jazz, p. 151.

Antioch Review, summer, 2000, John Kennedy, review of Paradise, p. 377.

Atlantic, April, 1981.

Black American Literature Forum, summer, 1978; winter, 1979; winter, 1987.

Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2002, Evette Porter, "The Morrison's Meanies," p. 39; May-June, 2003, Suzanne Rust, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper, p. 57.

Black Issues in Higher Education, October 26, 2000, Hilary Hurd, "At Home with Toni Morrison," p. 26.

Black Scholar, March, 1978.

Black World, June, 1974.

Bloomsbury Review, September, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 22.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, review of Jazz and Paradise, p. 979; June 1, 1999, review of Paradise, p. 1797; August, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of The Big Box, p. 2067; May 15, 2003, Francisca Goldsmith, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper, p. 1660.

Books and Culture, May, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 38.

Callaloo, October-February, 1981; winter, 1999, review of Song of Solomon, p. 121; fall, 2000, review of Sula, p. 1449.

Centennial Review, winter, 1988, pp. 50-64.

Chicago Tribune, October 27, 1987.

Chicago Tribune Books, August 30, 1988.

Chicago Tribune Book World, March 8, 1981.

Children's Bookwatch, November, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 6.

Christian Century, March 18, 1998, Reggie Young, review of Paradise, p. 322.

Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 1987, Merle Rubin, review of Beloved.

CLA Journal, June, 1979, pp. 402-414; June, 1981, pp. 419-440; September, 1989, pp. 81-93.

Classical and Modern Literature, spring, 1998, review of Jazz, p. 219.

Commentary, August, 1981.

Commonweal, October 9, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 24.

Contemporary Literature, winter, 1983, pp. 413-429; fall, 1987, pp. 364-377.

Critique, Volume 19, number 1, 1977, Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi, pp. 112-120; spring, 2000, Carl Malmgren, "Texts, Primers, and Voices in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 251.

Detroit News, March 29, 1981.

Economist, June 6, 1998, p. 83.

Entertainment Weekly, January 23, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 56.

Essence, July, 1981; June, 1983; October, 1987; May, 1995, p. 222.

Explicator, summer, 1993, John Bishop, review of The Bluest Eye, p. 252; fall, 1994, Edmund Napieralski, "Morrison's The Bluest Eye," p. 59.

First World, winter, 1977.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 12, 1999, review of Paradise and Song of Solomon, p. D4.

Harper's Bazaar, March, 1983.

Harvard Advocate, Volume 107, number 4, 1974.

Horn Book, September, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 598.

Hudson Review, spring, 1978; summer, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 433.

Hungry Mind Review, spring, 1998, review of Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, p. 55; fall, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 33.

Jet, February 12, 1996, p. 4.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, review of The Big Box, p. 795.

Kenyon Review, summer, 1993, Peter Erickson, review of Jazz, p. 197.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 1136; September 1, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 1316.

Kliatt, March, 2005, Nola Theiss, review of Love, p. 21.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 19, 2000, Sandy Bauers, "Unabridged Version of Toni Morrison's 'Bluest Eye' Now Available."

Library Journal, February 15, 1998, Emily J. Jones, review of Paradise, p. 172; October 15, 1999, review of Paradise (audio version), p. 123.

London Review of Books, May 7, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 25.

Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1981; October 14, 1987; November 1, 1998, "A Conversation between Michael Silverblatt and Toni Morrison," p. 2.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 30, 1987, John Leonard, review of Beloved; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 2.

Maclean's, March 30, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 65.

Massachusetts Review, autumn, 1977.

MELUS, fall, 1980, pp. 69-82.

Minority Voices, fall, 1980, pp. 51-63; spring-fall, 1981, pp. 59-68.

Modern Fiction Studies, spring, 1988.

Mosaic (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), June, 1996, Laurie Vickroy, "The Politics of Abuse: The Traumatized Child in Toni Morrison and Marguerite Duras," p. 91.

Ms., June, 1974; December, 1974; August, 1987; March, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 80.

Nation, July 6, 1974; November 19, 1977; May 2, 1981; January 17, 1994, p. 59; January 26, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 25.

National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998, Judith Bromberg, review of Paradise, p. 35.

New Republic, December 3, 1977; March 21, 1981; October 19, 1987, Stanley Crouch, review of Beloved; March 27, 1995, p. 9; March 2, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 29.

New Statesman, May 22, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 56.

Newsweek, November 30, 1970; January 7, 1974; September 12, 1977; March 30, 1981, "Black Magic" (cover story); September 28, 1987, Walter Clemons, review of Beloved; January 12, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 62.

New York, April 13, 1981.

New Yorker, November 7, 1977; June 15, 1981; January 12, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 78.

New York Post, January 26, 1974.

New York Review of Books, November 10, 1977; April 30, 1981; November 19, 1992, p. 7; February 2, 1995, p. 36; June 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 64.

New York Times, November 13, 1970; September 6, 1977; March 21, 1981; August 26, 1987; September 2, 1987, Michiko Kakutani, review of Beloved; January 24, 1988; January 6, 1998, review of Paradise, p. E8.

New York Times Book Review, November 1, 1970; December 30, 1973; June 2, 1974; September 11, 1977; March 29, 1981; September 13, 1987, Margaret Atwood, "Haunted by Their Nightmares," p. 1; October 25, 1992, p. 1; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 6; May 31, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 23; May 2, 1999, review of Paradise, p. 32.

New York Times Magazine, August 22, 1971; August 11, 1974; July 4, 1976; May 20, 1979; September 11, 1994, Claudia Dreifus, "Chloe Wofford Talks about Toni Morrison," p. 1372.

Observer (London, England), March 29, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 15; March 14, 1999, review of Beloved, p. 14.

Obsidian, spring/summer, 1979; winter, 1986, pp. 151-161.

Papers on Language and Literature, summer, 2000, Martin Bidney, "Creating a Feminist-Communitarian Romanticism in Beloved," p. 271.

People, July 29, 1974; November 30, 1987; May 18, 1998, p. 45.

Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, 1982, pp. 10-17.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 1, 1988.

PR Newswire, February 20, 2003, "Michigan Opera Theatre, Cincinnati Opera, and Opera Company of Philadelphia Announce the Co-commission of Margaret Gardner by Composer Richard Danielpour and Librettist Toni Morrison."

Publishers Weekly, July 17, 1987, review of Beloved; August 21, 1987; March 2, 1998, p. 29; July 12, 1999, review of The Big Box, p. 95; May 1, 2000, Daisy Maryles, "Score: Winfrey 33, Morrison 3," p. 20; April 8, 2002, "Oprah: 46 and Out"; September 9, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 68; November 11, 2002, review of The Book of Mean People Journal, pp. 66-67; June 2, 2003, review of The Ant or the Grasshopper, p. 50.

Quill and Quire, January, 1998, review of Paradise (audio version), p. 33.

Saturday Review, September 17, 1977.

School Library Journal, September, 1999, Ellen Fader, review of The Big Box, p. 227; November, 2002, Judith Constantinides, review of The Book of Mean People, p. 132.

Southern Review, autumn, 1987.

Spectator, December 9, 1978; February 2, 1980; December 19, 1981.

Studies in American Fiction, spring, 1987; autumn, 1989.

Studies in Black Literature, Volume 6, 1976.

Time, September 12, 1977; March 16, 1981; September 21, 1987; April 27, 1992; October 18, 1993; June 17, 1996, p. 73.

Times (London, England), October 15, 1987, Nicholas Shakespeare, review of Beloved.

Times Literary Supplement, October 4, 1974; November 24, 1978; February 8, 1980; December 19, 1980; October 30, 1981; October 16-22, 1987; March 5, 1993; March 27, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 22.

U.S. News and World Report, October 19, 1987.

Village Voice, August 29, 1977; July 1-7, 1981.

Vogue, April, 1981; January, 1986.

Voice Literary Supplement, September, 1987; December, 1992, p. 15.

Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1998, review of Paradise, p. A16.

Washington Post, February 3, 1974; March 6, 1974; September 30, 1977; April 8, 1981; February 9, 1983; October 5, 1987.

Washington Post Book World, February 3, 1974; September 4, 1977; December 4, 1977; March 22, 1981; September 6, 1987; November 8, 1992, p. 3; January 11, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 1.

Women's Journal, April, 1999, review of Paradise, p. 20.

Women's Review of Books, December, 1992, p. 1; April, 1998, review of Paradise, p. 1.

World Literature Today, summer, 1978; spring, 1993, p. 394; January-April, 2005, Daniel Garrett, review of Love, p. 90.

ONLINE

Biography.com, http://www.biography.com/ (February 12, 2003), "Morrison, Tony."

New York Times Online, http://www.nytimes.com/ (January 11, 1998) Brooke Allen, "The Promised Land."

Voices from the Gaps, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (February 12, 2003), "Toni Morrison."

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Morrison, Toni 1931–

Toni Morrison 1931-

(Born Chloe Anthony Wofford) American novelist, editor, playwright, librettist, and children's book writer.

For additional information on Morrison's career, see Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 1.

INTRODUCTION

Morrison was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, making her the first African American to win this honor. Her novels explore issues of African American female identity in stories that integrate elements of oral tradition, postmodern literary techniques, and magical realism to give voice to the experiences of women living on the margins of white American society. Given her status as a best-selling African American female author, Morrison's work is viewed as having achieved a breakthrough for other black women novelists trying to succeed in the mainstream publishing industry. Her work has won several of modern literature's most prestigious honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Song of Solomon (1977); the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and the American Book Award for Beloved (1987); the 1996 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters; the National Humanities Medal in 2001; and the Coretta Scott King Book Award for Remember (2004).

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Morrison was born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, where her father worked as a ship welder. She is very close in age to her sister, with whom she formed a strong bond that has continued throughout her life. Morrison was encouraged by her family to read and spent much of her childhood at the local library. She graduated with a B.A. from Howard University in 1953 and went on to complete an M.A. in English literature at Cornell University in 1955. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she worked as an instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston and at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She worked as an editor for Random House publishers from 1965 to 1983. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), was expanded from a short story she had written while still in college. Although The Bluest Eye received scant critical attention when it was first published, Morrison's career as a nationally recognized author was launched with the success of Sula (1973), her second novel, following which The Bluest Eye was retrospectively given renewed consideration as an important work of fiction. While continuing to write novels and children's books, as well as editing several essay collections on issues of race in America, Morrison has taught as a guest professor in English and humanities at a number of colleges and universities, including the State University of New York at Albany and at Purchase, Yale University, Bard College, Harvard University, and Trinity College at Cambridge University in England. Since 1989, she has held a post as professor of humanities at Princeton University.

MAJOR WORKS

Morrison's overarching thematic concern throughout her oeuvre revolves around issues of African American female identity in the contemporary world. Her novels offer complex examinations of problems within the African American community, power dynamics between men and women, and issues of racism in relations between black and white America. Her fictions are self-consciously concerned with myth, legend, storytelling, and the oral tradition, as well as with memory, history, and historiography, and have thus been recognized as postmodern metanarratives. They are also conscious of the African cultural heritage as well as African American history, thus demonstrating the importance of the past to the struggles of contemporary African Americans. Her novels often employ elements of magic, fantasy, and the supernatural, such as the character in Song of Solomon who can fly, or the ghost of a dead child who appears in Beloved. The Bluest Eye, her first novel, is set in the 1940s and addresses issues of race and beauty standards through the figure of Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old African American girl who dreams of having blue eyes and long, blond hair. After Pecola is raped and becomes pregnant, she descends into insanity and insists that she has "the bluest eyes in the whole world."

Morrison's next three novels, Sula, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby (1981), are generally regarded as a trilogy. Sula centers on the powerful bonds of friendship between Sula and Nel, who meet as girls and maintain their friendship into adulthood. This bond is ruptured, however, when Nel finds her husband in bed with Sula. Reviewers note that in the novel Morrison explores the importance of female friendship in the formation of individual identity, which in reality is often superseded by women's relationships with men. Song of Solomon turns on the character of Milkman Dead, who is born in the North but journeys to the South, where he discovers that he is a descendant of Solomon, a member of a mythical West African tribe whose members can fly. According to legend, these Africans, captured and enslaved in America, escaped their bondage by flying back to Africa. Tar Baby is set on the Isle de Chevaliers in the Caribbean, in contemporary times. Through the character of Jadine Childs, a successful fashion model and student of art history, Tar Baby examines the dilemmas of assimilation and cultural identity among middle-class African Americans.

Morrison's subsequent three novels, Beloved, Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998), are often loosely grouped as another trilogy, each set in a different period of African American history: Beloved takes place during the post-Civil Rights era, with flashbacks to the years of slavery in the South; Jazz is set during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s; and Paradise is set during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and 1970s. Beloved combines elements of magical realism with the tradition of the African American slave narrative in the story of Sethe, a former slave struggling to raise her children in post-Civil War America. Sethe once killed her own infant in order to save it from a life of slavery, and the ghost of this dead child comes back to haunt her home as an adolescent girl called Baby Suggs. Jazz concerns a romantic triangle between a woman named Violet, her husband Joe, and an eighteen-year-old girl named Dorcas, with whom Joe falls in love. Joe's passion for Dorcas ultimately results in his shooting and killing her. Paradise explores the tensions between the all-black town of Ruby and an all-female convent located on the outskirts of the town. Threatened by the empowerment of women within the convent community, the men of Ruby invade it and massacre the women living there.

In Morrison's 2003 novel, Love, she once again touches on the bonds of female friendship and the damage inflicted by a patriarchal society that exploits young girls. Narrated by L., the former cook at a once-luxurious resort catering to African American visitors, the novel concerns the internecine struggles between two childhood friends, Heed and Christine, over the affections of Bill Cosey, the now-deceased owner of the resort. Heed and Christine's friendship is torn apart when Cosey, Christine's fifty-two-year-old grandfather, purchases the eleven-year-old Heed from her parents in order to take her as his child bride. Heed and Christine, now old women, both live in the mansion of the closed-down resort, fiercely battling one another over the ambiguous will Cosey had scribbled on a restaurant menu. In addition to her novels, Morrison has written several children's books with her son, Slade Morrison, and a libretto for the opera Margaret Garner (2005), with music composed by Richard Danielpour. The opera is based on the story of escaped African American slave Margaret Garner, which also was the basis for Morrison's novel Beloved.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Morrison holds a unique and central role in the American literary canon, having achieved commercial success along with critical acclaim for her work. Her novels have been almost universally praised by reviewers, and have been the subject of numerous academic books and essays in the fields of gender studies, ethnic studies, postmodern theory, literary theory, and cultural studies. Several scholarly discussions revolve around the lyrical quality of her prose, which has been described as precise, rich, vivid, and powerful. Other analyses focus on her use of Black English as well as her incorporation of multiple narrative voices, which critics identify as key elements of her work. Her style of storytelling has often been described as "gifted," and her writing is admired for embodying many of the rituals and rhythms of the African oral tradition. Morrison is also singled out for her realistic and powerful portrayals of marginalized black women, and is lauded for her ability to depict the entire range of African American experience, from the brutalities and oppression of slavery to the richness and communal spirit of African American culture. Another area of critical study is Morrison's narrative tendency to mix the fantastic with the realistic. Critics have noted the importance of the elder or ancestral figure in her fiction, linking this character to the folklore and beliefs of traditional African culture, in which the supernatural holds power and portent. Still other scholars have commended Morrison's treatment of issues of African American identity, finding that the quest for the self is a motivating and organizing device in her fiction.

PRINCIPAL WORKS

The Bluest Eye (novel) 1970

Sula (novel) 1973

The Black Book [editor] (nonfiction) 1974

Song of Solomon (novel) 1977

Tar Baby (novel) 1981

Dreaming Emmett (play) 1986

Beloved (novel) 1987

Jazz (novel) 1992

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (essays) 1992

Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the Construction of Social Reality [editor and author of introduction] (essays) 1992

Paradise (novel) 1998

The Big Box [with Slade Morrison; illustrations by Giselle Potter] (juvenilia) 1999

I See You, I See Myself: The Young Life of Jacob Lawrence [with Deba Foxley Leach, Suzanne Wright, and Deborah J. Leach] (juvenilia) 2001

Book of Mean People [with Slade Morrison; illustrations by Pascal Lemaître] (juvenilia) 2002

Love (novel) 2003

Who's Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? [with Slade Morrison; illustrations by Pascal Lemaître] (juvenilia) 2003

Who's Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse? [with Slade Morrison; illustrations by Pascal Lemaître] (juvenilia) 2003

Remember: The Journey to School Integration (juvenilia) 2004

Who's Got Game? The Poppy or the Snake? [with Slade Morrison; illustrations by Pascal Lemaître] (juvenilia) 2004

Margaret Garner: An Opera [music by Richard Danielpour] (libretto) 2005

Toni Morrison: Conversations (nonfiction) 2008

What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (nonfiction) 2008

CRITICISM

Yeonman Kim (essay date spring 2001)

SOURCE: Kim, Yeonman. "Involuntary Vulnerability and the Felix Culpa in Toni Morrison's Jazz." Southern Literary Journal 33, no. 2 (spring 2001): 124-33.

[In the following essay, Kim contends that even though the characters in Jazz are depicted as helpless victims in the face of harsh external forces involving economics, race, gender, and politics, each one undergoes a "restorative transformation" as the novel progresses.]

Given that jazz is "an interplay of voices improvising on the basic themes or motifs" (Jones 200) and Toni Morrison's Jazz is often considered a textualized piece of jazz, the characters' involuntary vulnerability to harsh outside circumstances is fundamentally reiterated and varied throughout the novel. The recurrent tunes of the motif are intricately intertwined with a variety of other thematic elements—such as "the mystery of love" that involves jealousy and forgiveness (Jazz 5), the history of southern blacks' migration to northern cities, and their quest for identity by seeking their parents. The narrative of Jazz thus weaves the motif of the turn-of-the-century African American characters' involuntary vulnerability and its improvised variations, synchronizing distinct levels of structure and textuality with jazz-like flexibility and fluidity. On the superficial level, the narrator interweaves both negative and positive natures of the characters. The reader may easily find the characters' disordered aspects—carnal desire, jealousy, lack of morality, injury, murder, and the like; yet, with a bit more care, their affirmative aspects also become clear.

Instead of giving a moral assessment of their binary behaviors, however, Jazz turns its attention toward a deeper level, starting to seriously examine the question of "who shot whom" (6). The narrator now traces the concealed forces that govern and victimize the characters' psyches stealthily but dominantly. She indicates the existence of manipulating external circumstances, which make them "crack" involuntarily in terms of morality, as Richard Hardack observes:

The implicit connection between transcendental/Modernist fragmentation, violence, and the site of the involuntary has been recently reinforced and rendered explicit in Morrison's Jazz. Morrison asserts that the violent fragmentation of the American character—in Melville's Pierre, who loses control of his body, and in Billy Budd, who kills without intention, in Norris' McTeague or De Lillo's Axton in The Names, or in any of a plethora of American characters who are defined by what is in some context an act of involuntary or unconscious violence—is foremost a projected attribute of American blackness.

          (452)

The deviant conduct of the characters in Jazz is involuntary and, perhaps, inevitable. They are inevitably fragmented by outer forces such as the seducing City and its music, the unreliable narrator, as well as social, political, and economic conditions. Morrison, therefore, does not assert that these involuntarily victimized, pathetic characters are to blame for their extraordinary behaviors; rather, she gives them a chance to redeem themselves, exhorting them to forgive and love each other and to be careful in order not to be trapped by the manipulating circumstances. "Sth" (3), the novel's opening word, serves to elicit attention from the listener/reader and may well launch this exploration of the text with an emphasis on the main characters—Joe Trace, Violet, Dorcas Manfred, and Golden Gray.

Throughout the novel, the characters exhibit the duplicity of the human mind: while they display aberrant behaviors such as murder, injury, and misunderstanding, they are also neighborly and kind. The narrative begins with their extraordinary transgressions, which might make the reader consider the characters as morally/mentally corrupt. Above all, Joe is a dreamer desirous to take a bite of the forbidden apple—that is, Dorcas. Although "he knew wrong wasn't right," his vain impulse to taste the apple keeps growing intense (74). And he appears to have fulfilled this desire in the sense that he could date the young Dorcas, but the affair ends up with his shooting Dorcas because of the unsatisfied desire to possess her as his own. Even after her death, Joe's aspiration for Dorcas is still operating: dreaming of Dorcas, he quits his job and pays little attention to his wife. He has lost all sense of reality. His wife Violet is almost a lunatic when she tries to take revenge by attacking Dorcas in the coffin. She is also one who seems to hardly realize what goes on. Rather than blaming Dorcas, she continually looks at her photograph on the fireplace and is jealous of her youth and amiability, wishing to be "white, light, young again" (208).

Dorcas is an indiscreet girl to whom "everything was like a picture show" (202). What does love mean to her? It is simply a secret and thrilling game, or a fight to win someone. In her relationship with Acton, her new lover after leaving Joe, she is very impudent and insincere about love: enjoying other girls' jealousy, she says, "I won him. I won!" (216). In other words, what she might have regarded as love for Acton is far from the notion of love, but is instead vanity for satisfying her own desire to lord a popular man over other girls.

And Golden Gray is described as an egoistic racist when his story is first told. Possibly because of his white color, Wild abruptly turns to run away and knocks herself against the tree. Then, the narrator, in a contemptuous tone, emphasizes the order of Golden Gray's interest: after the collision, the horse, trunk, and other belongings come to his eyes first, and, at last, the wounded woman Wild. To Gray, his horse and trunk are more important than the pregnant woman who is knocked down and bleeding from the head because of him.

Nevertheless, the characters in Jazz are not always negatively depicted as examined above. Morrison's novel would not simply draw on a pack of stereotypical stock characters, but rather depicts a complex working of the characters' psychological and behavioral patterns. In relation to Morrison's characterization, Jan Furman points out:

If they are not psychopaths (and they never are in Morrison's work), then they are merely interesting people and extraordinary specimens of the human condition: they are good people who do bad things. "The combination of virtue and flaw, of good intentions gone awry, of wickedness cleansed and people made whole again," interests Morrison. She does not judge characters by "the worst that they have done" or by the best, but the "combinations … are the best part of writing novels."

          (86)1

As such, instead of condemning the characters' disorderly conducts and transgressions, Morrison sophisticatedly lays out their positive aspects in the text from time to time. As for Joe, for example, the narrator says, "A nice neighborly, everybody-knows-him man. The kind you let in your house because he was not dangerous, because you … never heard a scrap of gossip about him doing wrong" (73). Violet also "had been a snappy, determined girl and a hardworking young woman, with the snatch-gossip tongue of a beautician" (23).

In this discourse of the human mind, the simple dichotomy of good and evil does not concern Morrison. She does not assert that it is natural that human beings have both good and bad aspects, but posits other relevant questions—why and how the characters are "good people who do bad things" (Furman 86). Do the neighborly and hardworking characters deliberately commit transgressions? Or, are there more crucial factors that paralyze their moral consciousness? The narrative makes it evident that the characters are induced to do wrong by seducing, misleading, and oppressive external forces to which they are involuntarily vulnerable.

The City is one of the misleading forces, involving the historical situation surrounding it. The temporal setting of Jazz is the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, when southern blacks moved to the North in the hope of greater freedom and wealth. When Violet and Joe came to the City, "they both knew right away that perfect was not the word. It was better than that" (107). And their dreams appeared to come true, since the City might give them better opportunity:

The money to be earned for doing light work—standing in front of a door, carrying food on a tray, even cleaning strangers' shoes—got you in a day more money than any of them had earned in one whole har- vest. White people literally threw money at you—just being neighborly: opening a taxi door, picking up a package…. Steel cars sped down the streets and if you saved up, they said, you could get you one and drive as long as there was road.

          (106)

In actuality, however, to make an easy fortune and own a fancy car would turn out to be a hard to achieve dream. The apparently affirmative aspects of the City are not much pertinent to understanding the City life depicted in Jazz. Furman explains, "In Jazz there is the seductive New York" (96). Clearly, the City in the text has a bewitching and controlling power on its inhabitants. Its manipulative dominance over the characters is so strong that the narrator emphatically says in relation to Joe's attitude of being "free to do something wild": "Take my word for it, he is bound to the track. It pulls him like a needle through the groove of a Bluebird record. Round and round about the town. That's the way the City spins you. Makes you do what it wants, go where the laid-out roads say to…. You can't get off the track a City lays for you" (120). Its music operates as a similar seducing mechanism. Dorcas, for example, has lived in "a City seeping music that begged and challenged each and every day. ‘Come,’ it said. ‘Come and do wrong’" (67). The City people are directly exposed to the overwhelming temptation of crime and the carnal "appetite" of its seductive music.

Furthermore, the City forces its people to lose their way of life and receive its own way of living, manipulative and unproductive. It is merely the place that, with "fascination, permanent and out of control" (35), makes Joe forget:

little pebbly creeks and apple trees so old they lay their branches along the ground and you have to reach down or stoop to pick the fruit. He forgets a sun that used to slide up like the yolk of a good country egg, thick and red-orange at the bottom of the sky, and he doesn't miss it, doesn't look up to see what happened to it or to stars made irrelevant by the light of thrilling, wasteful street lamps.

          (34)

Life in the City is not only economically consumptive to the inhabitants, but also mentally destructive. It is the process of forgetting from where they come. They are seduced to put their place of origin into cognitive oblivion, away from the generative power of nature and under the sway of the consumptive state of the City.

The characters are also vulnerable to the unreliability of the unnamed narrator in Jazz. The narrator is a first-person voice that is omnipresent, but not omniscient. She can travel from place to place and from time to time, but does not know or anticipate all the relevant information for the narration of her characters. In reference to herself, she says, "I watch everything and everyone and try to figure out their plans, their reasonings, long before they do," but she too is "exposed to all sorts of ignorance and criminality" (8).

By saying this, the narrator is now "taking precaution" (8) for both readers and writers. On the one hand, it is a warning for the reader who might not attend to the fallibility of the narrator and/or writers in general, and who, therefore, tends to believe in the absolute credibility of printed matter such as a history book. However, what if it turns out that the history book is written with a mind biased against a particular group, like black women, as has often happened? So, Morrison, in a recent interview, strongly urges:

You had to stay alert to political changes, because you never knew what people were going to do at any moment. So you had to be always on guard and be able to adjust quickly. That ability was a double entendre: at the same time accommodating the grid we felt and the determination not to let life beat us up completely—you know, that instinct for survival plus "joie de vivre" was very important.

          ("Toni Morrison" 41)

An individual marginalized under the pressure of politics and power relations ought not to be a negligent onlooker of human history but an active agent ready to pinpoint and fight back socio-political injustice inflicted, much as the reader should be critically alert to the probable unreliability of the narrator/author.

On the other hand, the narrator's indication of her possible "ignorance and criminality" is a mindful warning for herself and, perhaps, writers in general. What if the narrator of Jazz does not realize her faults in describing Golden Gray? What if Morrison has merely overlooked the occasional absurdity of the narrator? She herself "believes in the artist's measure of responsibility for engendering cultural coherence and cohesion by retrieving and interpreting the past—what she calls ‘bear[ing] witness’" (Furman 4).2 It implies that writers must be careful in transmitting their views of the world, and feel responsible for them for the sake of society.

The characters under consideration all hunger in common for father/mother figures who are crucial to retrieving their identity.3 Joe has eagerly looked for his mother Wild, who hid herself in the forest. Violet remembers her mother Rose Dear, who jumped to death down a well shaft. Dorcas is missing her Mama, who was killed in a fire. Golden Gray is seeking his father Hunter's Hunter. It is intriguing to ask what has separated and kept the parents and children so far apart. Jazz demonstrates that the separations were made by the unfairness of race, gender, and class, not by their will.

Why did Wild get wild and come to live in the woods with "blue-black birds"? Wild's wildness was "all caused by class exploitation and race and/or gender oppression" (Mbalia 625). Raped, impregnated, and left alone without any caring hand, she could not avoid becoming "wild" and isolating herself in the wilderness only with wild birds. Why did Violet lose Rose Dear in early childhood? She had no choice but to commit suicide, because, despite her struggle for life, the suffering was too overwhelming and severe to endure: her husband left the family, and the unjust sheriff took everything, even the chair she was sitting on. And Dorcas' Mama burned to death while the fire engine was kept "polished and poised in another part of town" (38), just as the ambulance did not come for Dorcas "really because it was colored people calling" (210). As for Golden Gray, he was compelled to live "one-armed" without his father's affectionate love for the reason that his mother, Vera Louise Gray, was a daughter of a rich white landlord, while his father was "a black-skinned nigger" (145). Such a complex working of race, gender, and class, along with brutal economic circumstances, has forcefully pushed the characters toward extreme wretchedness.

As examined so far, the turn-of-the century African American characters in Jazz are inevitably exposed and vulnerable to those harsh conditions of the City and its seductive music, the unreliable narrator, and the oppression of class, race, and gender. They are "brought to the edge of endurance and then asked to endure more; sometimes they crack" (Furman 5). In this sense, Morrison no longer leaves the pathetic characters victimized under the control of such hard to endure circumstances, as Hardack points out that she "has often returned to essentially humanistic verities at the close of the polemical novels" (466). Her characters now need to be healed and restored to a joyous stage.4

The process of deliverance from their vulnerable state is diversified and dramatized. In Golden Gray's case, the restoration takes place naturally through the narrator's recognition of her fallibility: "What was I thinking of? How could I have imagined him so poorly? … I have been careless and stupid and it infuriates me to discover (again) how unreliable I am" (160). Then she starts to reconsider Gray:

Now I have to think this through, carefully, even though I may be doomed to another misunderstanding. I have to do it and not break down. Not hating him is not enough; liking, loving him is not useful. I have to alter things. I have to be a shadow who wishes him well, like the smiles of the dead left over from their lives. I want to dream a nice dream for him, and another of him. Lie down next to him, a wrinkle in the sheet, and contemplate his pain and by doing so ease it, diminish it. I want to be the language that wishes him well, speaks his name, wakes him when his eyes need to be open.

          (161)

The person of Gray that the narrator describes highly differs from that of the former egoistic Gray. The narrator at this moment sees him as a humane person who shows warm affection to Wild. So, the modified description of the character of Golden Gray is possibly meant to reshape the reader's conception of him.

As for Violet, her restorative transformation begins earlier than Joe's. She brings Dorcas' picture back to her aunt Alice Manfred and, to keep Dorcas from precipitating her jealousy, affirms that "she was ugly. Outside and in" (205). After that resolution, she is now hesitant about whether to take or leave Joe, saying indecisively, "Do I stay with him? I want to, I think. I want … well, I didn't always … now I want. I want some fat in this life" (110). This hesitation is soon stopped by Alice Manfred, who, with a keen insight and sense of reality, advises Violet, "Wake up. Fat or lean, you got just one. This is it" (110). Violet's anxiety about life is gradually relieved through a series of conversations with the motherly woman Alice. Reconciliation and sisterhood thus come to sprout between Violet and Alice, who otherwise might have had a lifelong feud due to Dorcas' death.

In Joe's case, it takes a long time to resume a sense of reality on account of his persistent attachment to Dorcas. Ironically enough, however, Dorcas plays the restorative role through her friend Felice. In other words, not until Felice delivers her friend's last words does Joe show a positive change in his relationship with his wife. Dorcas says right before her death, "There's only one apple…. Just one. Tell Joe" (213), just as her aunt addresses to Violet, "you got just one" (110). He consequently realizes that his only apple should be his wife Violet.

Dorcas' dying words, nevertheless, do not imply that she does not love Joe. The opposite case can be inferred from Felice's comment given to Joe. "See? You were the last thing on her mind…. She let herself die" (213). Despite her usual self-serving egotism, Dorcas, at the last moment of life, realizes the true meaning of love and, thereby, chooses to sacrifice herself for the sake of Joe. Eusebio L. Rodrigues comments on this point: "Her love is so generous and self-sacrificial that she allows herself to bleed to death rather than reveal his name for the police to find him" (747). This sacrificial love is an important clue to understanding "the mystery of love" (5). Happiness and delightful moments have now returned to the house of Joe and Violet, which was gloomy, enough to enjoy music: "Mr. Trace moved his head to the rhythm and his wife snapped her fingers in time. She did a little step in front of him and he smiled. By and by they were dancing" (214).

By presenting the revitalizing moments with Felice, Joe, and Violet together at the dinner table toward the end of the novel, Jazz takes on a mystic and dramatic method by appropriating the Miltonic, Christian concept of the felix culpa (happy fault).5 In brief, the term signifies that even though Adam and Eve, by taking of the "apple of good and evil," are cast out of Eden, the fault in turn brings out the great happiness that "a fairer Paradise is found now" (Milton, Paradise Regained 44.613) through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. Felice, as her name implies "happiness," assumes a similar, restorative role in Jazz.

Concerning the naming of the characters, Morrison says, "I'm trying to reflect the milieu. At least I use the names that black people are willing to accept for themselves" ("Interview" 460). If the name Felice is used for a certain ramification and Joe's remark—"Felice. They named you right. Remember that" (215)—takes credit, Felice obviously serves as the mediator figure, an agent who restores Joe and Violet's love and merriment that have been broken on account of their past culpability. Also, the narrator of Jazz mysteriously suggests that Felice is "another true-as-life Dorcas" (197), and similarly says, "I saw the three of them, Felice, Joe and Violet, and they looked to me like a mirror image of Dorcas, Joe and Violet" (221). Felice is depicted as an incarnate Dorcas in the narrative of Jazz. 6 It might imply that Felice could be regarded as a transformed Dorcas, who, after a redemptive death, helps Joe and Violet to find their lost love and happiness.

Jazz contains Morrison's diagnosis of the extraordinary behaviors of the ordinary people Joe, Violet, Dorcas, and Golden Gray, and, at the same time, avails her restorative treatment of them with an emphasis on sacrificial love. In spite of their intrinsic goodness, they commit bizarre acts such as injury and murder, for they have been involuntarily exposed to the misleading circumstances of the City and its music, the unreliability of the narrator, and the oppressive conditions of class, race, and gender. So, "What turned out different was who shot whom" (6). Nobody shot anybody. Rather, they were shot by harsh circumstances and conditions. The treatment for curing the victimized and wounded characters is prescribed to be forgiveness and love between each other. In addition, Morrison admonishes her people to be wide awake and careful not to be induced or seduced by those harmful circumstances. As the griot cautions—"When Violet isn't paying attention she stumbles onto these cracks" (23)—her people ought to be attentive and, if needed, rebellious to manipulative narrator/authors and seductive cities as well as to the oppressive exploitation and based on class, race, and gender prejudices. "Wake up" (110).

Notes

1. See Nellie Y. McKay, "Interview with Toni Morrison," Contemporary Literature 24 (1983): 413-429. Rpt in Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and K. A. Appiah (New York: Amistad, 1993), 405.

2. See Thomas LcClair, " ‘The Language Must Not Sweat’: A Conversation with Toni Morrison," New Republic 184 (21 March 1981): 26.

3. Michelle C. Loris points out, from the perspective of child psychology, that the characters' loss of their mother and/or father in childhood plays a seminal role in Jazz. She indicates that their early loss of parental love, as a result of gender and race-related adversity, is closely related to Joe's search for Dorcas as his oedipal mother figure and Dorcas' positive reaction to Joe as her fantasized father replacement (56).

4. Similarly, Loris sees Jazz as a process in which the characters (Joe, Violet, and Dorcas, in this case) regain their True Selves from the past False Selves (62).

5. On the concept of the felix culpa and its literary application to John Milton's Paradise Lost, see Arthur O. Lovejoy, "Milton and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall" in Essays in the History of Ideas (New York: George Braziller, 1995), 277-295.

6. Tabitha, whose Greek name was Dorcas, was a woman who spent her life making robes and other clothing for the poor. Later, she experienced a revival of life. When she became sick and died, her family called for Peter, since he stayed near her town of Joppa. Then a miraculous event happened: "Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up" (Acts 9:32).

Works Cited

Furman, Jan. Toni Morrison's Fiction. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1996.

Hardack, Richard. "‘A Music Seeking Its Words’: Double-Timing and Double-Consciousness in Toni Morrison's Jazz." Callaloo 18 (1995): 451-471.

Jones, Gayl. Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991.

Loris, Michelle C. "Self and Mutuality: Romantic Love, Desire, Race, and Gender in Toni Morrison's Jazz." Sacred Heart University Review 14.1-2 (1993-1994): 53-62.

Mbalia, Doreatha Drummond. "Women Who Run with Wild: The Need for Sisterhoods in Jazz." Modern Fiction Studies 39 (1993): 623-646.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Ed. Christopher Ricks. New York: Signet, 1968.

Morrison, Toni. "Interview with Toni Morrison." The Massachusetts Review 36 (1995): 455-473.

———. Jazz. New York: Plume, 1993.

———. "Toni Morrison." Interview. Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women 10.2 (1995): 40-43.

Rodrigues, Eusebio L. "Experiencing Jazz." Modern Fiction Studies 39 (1993): 733-754.

James Mayo (essay date summer 2002)

SOURCE: Mayo, James. "Morrison's The Bluest Eye." Explicator 60, no. 4 (summer 2002): 231-34.

[In the essay that follows, Mayo suggests that Claudia, the narrator of The Bluest Eye, may have been a victim of sexual assault.]

Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye presents readers with a variety of thematic concerns, including dealing with or repressing guilt, shame, and violence; coming to terms with society's image of ideal beauty (both feminine and masculine); racial self-loathing; and, in a narrative sense, dealing with memories of the past that correspond to those themes. Claudia, the novel's narrator, reflects on one summer of her childhood, relating to readers her sense of shame and guilt over the incestuous rape of 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Although most criticism of the novel focuses on Pecola's life, as filtered through Claudia's memory-narrative, Morrison gives readers a subtle clue that Claudia herself is a victim of rape and has repressed the memory. Readers should thus consider Claudia's sense of guilt over the death of Pecola's child in a different light.

After her rape, Pecola eventually makes her way to Soaphead Church, a West Indian mystic/prophet. Angry at God for ignoring the wishes of this small, "pitifully unattractive" child (173), anger that he directly expresses in a letter to God. Soaphead Church grants Pecola's wish, giving her the blue eyes she longs for, even though "[n]o one else will see her blue eyes" (182). Soaphead Church is a self-admitted child molester, a man abandoned by his wife years before his arrival in Lorain and his encounter with Pecola. Morrison describes Church as a man who "[a]ll his life had a fondness for things" (165). At some point, perhaps after his wife deserts him, Church's "attentions […] gradually settled on those humans whose bodies were least offensive—children" (166), specifically the bodies of "little girls," whom he finds "usually manageable and frequently seductive" (166).

The hints that Morrison gives readers that Claudia may in fact be one of the "little girls" that Church finds attractive appear in Church's letter to God and in the beginning of the following chapter (the first chapter of the "Summer" section). Church writes in his letter to God. "I couldn't […] keep my hands, my mouth, off them. Salt-sweet. Like not quite ripe strawberries covered with the light salt sweat of running days and hopping, skipping, jumping hours" (179). In the following chapter, as the narrative voice again becomes Claudia's, the sexual symbol of the strawberries is revisited. The chapter begins with Claudia's reminiscing about summer, and she relates that she only has "to break into the tightness of a strawberry" (187) to see summer. Morrison then mixes the symbol to further suggest that Claudia, like many other young girls in Lorain, was a victim of Soaphead Church's pedophilia, as Claudia links strawberries and summer to "dust and lowering skies" (187). Claudia explains that, for her, summer is "a season of storms. The parched days and sticky nights are undistinguished in my mind, but the storms, the violent sudden storms, both frightened and quenched me" (187). The language here is clear: "strawberry," "tightness," and "quenched" offer sexual imagery, whereas "violent," "sudden," "storms," and "frightened" suggest the violence and trauma that a victim of pedophilia would experience.

Morrison also gives readers a subtle clue as to how Claudia may have fallen victim to Soaphead Church. Church, in his confessional, yet blasphemous, letter to God, describes his method of luring the girls into his lair: "I gave them mints, money, and they'd eat ice cream with their legs open while I played with them. It was like a party" (181). Throughout the novel Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola, as would any child growing up poor, long for candy and ice cream. Mr. Henry, who boards with Claudia's family, uses the promise of candy and ice cream as an enticement to keep the girls from telling their parents that he has brought the "whores" into the home while the family is away, thus establishing the relationship between material gifts and sex. Claudia also relates to readers that she and her sister sold seeds throughout the summer of Pecola's pregnancy, ignoring their mother's advice to go only to the homes of people they knew and going, instead, from door to door (188). Again, the sexual reference in the language ("seeds") is clear, and Claudia and Frieda could have, like Pecola, found their way to the door of Soaphead Church.

All of this may lead readers to question why, if she or her sister had indeed been raped by Soaphead Church, Claudia does not reveal that fact in the course of her narration. Two explanations are possible. Claudia, after describing the relationship between strawberries and summer, goes on to say in the same paragraph that her "memory is uncertain" (187). Claudia remembers a story her mother told her of a tornado that struck Lorain in 1929. Over the years. Claudia's and her mother's separate stories have blended, and she states, "I mix up her summer with my own" (187). Naturally, this could be offered as an explanation for Claudia's failure to mention her own rape. Perhaps Claudia has chosen not to remember or accept her ordeal, as Pecola does after she "receives" blue eyes. As Pecola descends into insanity, she has completely repressed the memory of her own rape, and Claudia could have done the same.

Another possibility concerning the omission points to a theme of the novel that many critics have noted, the keeping of secrets. Pecola keeps the secret of her rape: Pecola's mother does not make public the fact that her daughter was raped by her own father; Pecola's mother also chooses not to make public the fact that her husband beats her. J. Brooks Bouson argues that Morrison protects readers from the "traumatic, shame-laden subject matter of her novel" by making them part of the conspiracy, by "invoking the ‘back fence’ world of ‘illicit gossip’" (Bouson 26). "Conspiracy" implies that the characters, indeed the victims, are committed to keeping the traumatic events of their lives secret, only revealing them in an intimate, trusting manner with the reader. The fact that they would want to keep such traumatic events secret only makes sense. The self-loathing they feel could be made worse if their secrets were revealed.

Claudia expresses the feelings of guilt that she and her sister experience over the death of Pecola's child and Pecola's insanity. Claudia feels that the fact that the seeds they planted do not grow somehow implicates her in the death of the child. She and her sister, like the other members of the community, do not do enough to save Pecola, but perhaps Claudia's feelings should be viewed in a different light. It is possible that, as a victim of rape herself, Claudia shares in Pecola's trauma and shame in a more direct manner.

Works Cited

Bouson, J. Brooks, Quiet as It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1994.

Monika M. Elbert (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Elbert, Monika M. "Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987): Maternal Possibilities, Sisterly Bonding." In Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender, edited by Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S. Silber, pp. 38-40. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.

[In the essay below, Elbert underscores the central role of strong women in Beloved.]

Although published in 1987, Toni Morrison's most widely acclaimed and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved may just as well have been written in the nineteenth century. A modern-day rendition of the nineteenth-century genre of the slave narrative, it is a fictional account based on the true story of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave. Escaped slaves were never safe in the United States, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, a law which permitted slave masters to pursue runaway slaves across state lines. It would be foolhardy to discuss gender roles in this novel without taking into account the "peculiar institution" (as slavery was called in the nineteenth century) of slavery as the framework. It is helpful to juxtapose Morrison's novel with Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (1845) and Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), although Morrison's account shows a more gender-balanced attitude toward the suffering of both male and female slaves. Morrison is concerned with the suffering inflicted upon both sexes; the oppression or suffering under slavery has no gender preference. The injury to slave men and fathers, like Paul D. or Sethe's husband Halle, is just as egregious as the sacrilege to slave mothers and daughters, like Beloved, the one daughter Sethe manages to murder when Schoolteacher comes to retrieve the escaped mother and children.

Morrison's Beloved falls in the tradition of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852): They both explore maternal possibilities that will effect radical social change. Stowe's readers were the sympathetic Northern mothers, who would react emotionally to the violence done to family life under slavery and then use their influence over their husbands to change the system. Morrison points to the influence of the mothers and grandmothers, the guardians of the community, to exorcise "124" of its ghost. Both authors know that the past needs to be exorcised or healed for there to be a future or for there to be a reconciliation of the sexes (in the case of Beloved through a happy marriage between Sethe and Paul D.). The haunted "124" Bluestone Road needs to be put in order—on both a familial and a national level—for Sethe to be reborn and have another chance at finding peace. Tellingly, Beloved opens with the ghosts of the past still haunting "124" even though it is 1873, well into Reconstruction and 18 years after Sethe's murder of Beloved.

The quintessentially strong Morrison female protagonist, Sethe withstands the atrocities to herself and to her children and still survives. Spurred on by Schoolteacher's Nephews' desecration of her maternal milk, Sethe is resolved to see that her children find safety and freedom. At the end of the narrative, all the injured mothers, alive and dead, exorcise the ghost of Beloved, representative of all lost children, and come to terms with any sense of guilt for their aborted motherhood by uniting in spiritual communion and song, the words of which resist any white patriarchal framework, represented by the "Word." Sethe and the community are cured by the singing women: "the voices of women searched for the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words…. It broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash" (261).

Sethe's personal odyssey involves a rediscovery of the community and of her own power. Initially, she can only identify herself in her maternal role; she proclaims that her children are her "own best thing." Paul D. ("a singing male"), the healing male energy, teaches her about her value as an individual and guides her toward autonomy, as he asserts, "You your best thing, Sethe." But Sethe, too, is able to heal Paul D. through her love, "Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that. He wants to put his story next to hers" (273). Sethe recovers from the victim role of wounded mother and daughter through Paul D.'s love. In fact, Sethe has learned that, as Paul D. claims, her maternal love is "too thick" and that she needs to replace that with self-love and self-respect. The middle of the text, comprising a dialogue between Sethe, Beloved, and Denver, shows the real danger of merging identities, as it ends with a cacophonous and frenzied pitch (so different from the final cleansing tone of the community), "Beloved / You are my sister / You are my daughter / You are my face; you are me" (216). This attitude shows both Sethe's narcissism and her vulnerability; after all, the devouring demon child returned from the dead also tries to possess Sethe.

Morrison's canon favors women who find emotional equilibrium, and even before Sethe reaches this point, there are two positive female role models: Baby Suggs and Sethe's last child, Denver. Baby Suggs, Sethe's mother-in-law, as a wise woman preacher, provides the community with food for the soul, until the terrible day upon which Beloved is killed. She understands the value of self-love and communal nurturance, and her legacy is passed down to Denver. The granddaughter Denver knows about the dangerous boundaries formed by overidentification as well as the limitations of sisterhood. When Beloved threatens to destroy both her mother and herself, Denver reaches out to the community and works outside "124" to find self-sustenance and to provide for her family. Fully integrated in the neighborhood, Denver begins to bring the healing process home to her mother. The key to happiness for the Morrison protagonist, regardless of one's gender, is a spiritual celebration of oneself, which then makes possible acts of kindness and love to one's family and one's larger community. The beloved is finally oneself.

Students might want to discuss what makes the quintessential Morrison female protagonist so strong. Self-sustaining women with great fortitude, wisdom, and self-respect are revered in the Morrison canon, and she draws much of her inspiration from strong women she has known in her own life. Celebrating generations of strong, capable women in her family, Morrison proclaims, "they believed in their dignity. They believed they were people of value, and they had to pass that on" (Moyers 59). Even though the novel's ending ironically belies the fact, Beloved, too, is a story to pass on—as a triumph of the human spirit, students should try to answer the riddle of why the story is so important to pass on, what that means in terms of the American awareness of the past, or in terms of a characteristic historical amnesia among Americans.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Plume, 1987.

———. Interview. "Toni Morrison, Novelist." With Bill Moyers. Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas, II, Public Opinions from Private Citizens. Ed. Andie Tucher. New York: Doubleday, 1990, 54-63.

FURTHER READING

Criticism

Aguiar, Sarah Appleton. "‘Passing On’ Death: Stealing Life in Toni Morrison's Paradise." African American Review 38, no. 3 (fall 2004): 513-19.

Discusses the cycle of life theme found in Morrison's trilogy—Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise—arguing that the final novel centers dramatically on the journeys into death experienced by its female characters and "demonstrates unequivocally that death is a necessary condition of and for life."

Eckstein, Lars. "A Love Supreme: Jazzthetic Strategies in Toni Morrison's Beloved." African American Review 40, no. 2 (summer 2006): 271-83.

Examines how the improvisational style, rhythms, and sounds of jazz music inform the narrative of Beloved.

Werrlein, Debra T. "Not So Fast, Dick and Jane: Reimagining Childhood and Nation in The Bluest Eye." MELUS 30, no. 4 (winter 2005): 53-72.

Explores the connection between childhood innocence and the ideology of American innocence, and claims that in The Bluest Eye Morrison exposed this concept of patriotic innocence as not only false, but also oppressive and degrading, especially to African American youth.

Additional coverage of Morrison's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: African American Writers, Eds. 1, 2; American Writers: The Classics, Vol. 1; American Writers Supplement, Vol. 3; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 1, 22, 61; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 1:3; Black Writers, Eds. 2, 3; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 99; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1968-1988; Concise Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 29-32R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 27, 42, 67, 113, 124; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 4, 10, 22, 55, 81, 87, 173, 194; Contemporary Novelists, Eds. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; Contemporary Popular Writers; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 6, 33, 143, 331; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, 1981; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-Studied Authors, Multicultural Authors, Novelists, and Popular and Genre Writers; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century; Exploring Novels; Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion, Ed. 1:6; Feminist Writers; Gothic Literature: A Gale Critical Companion, Ed. 3; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 2; Literature and Its Times, Vols. 2, 4; Literature and Its Times Supplement, Ed. 1:2; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers (eBook), 2005; Modern American Literature, Ed. 5; Modern American Women Writers; Novels for Students, Vols. 1, 6, 8, 14; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 5; Something about the Author, Vols. 57, 144; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Twayne Companion to Contemporary Literature in English, Ed. 1:2; Twayne's United States Authors; 20th Century Romance and Historical Writers; and World Literature Criticism, Vol. 4.

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