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Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu 




Edited by 
Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu 


West port, Connecticut ■ London 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

The Toni Morrison encyclopedia / edited by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu. 
p. cm. 
Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN 0-313-31699-6 (alk. paper) 
1. Morrison, Toni — Encyclopedias. 2. Women and literature — United 
States — Encyclopedias. 3. African Americans in literature — Encyclopedias. 
I. Beaulieu, Elizabeth Ann. 

PS3563.08749 Z913 2003 
813'.54— dc21 2002021617 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available. 

Copyright © 2003 by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu 

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be 
reproduced, by any process or technique, without the 
express written consent of the publisher. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2002021617 
ISBN: 0-313-31699-6 

First published in 2003 

Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881 
An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. 

Printed in the United States of America 


The paper used in this book complies with the 
Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National 
Information Standards Organization (Z39. 48-1984). 

10 987654321 


Introduction vii 

Acknowledgments xi 

The Encyclopedia 1 

Selected Bibliography 385 

Index 401 

About the Editor and Contributors 421 


If all of Toni Morrison's work could be summed up with just one quotation from 
one of her characters, it would have to be Pilate's observation, in Song of 
Solomon, "Life is life. Precious." Indeed, Morrison's work overflows with the 
stuff of life — the examined and the unexamined life, the triumphant and the 
tragic life, the small, undervalued life and the flamboyant, celebrated life. In re- 
viewing Morrison's work to prepare this volume, it occurred to me that the very 
imperative which compels Toni Morrison to write is life itself. And what grander 
subject matter is there? 

Around the time I first began reading Morrison seriously, I ran across an in- 
terview in which she was defending herself against the allegation that the tales 
she tells are larger than life. "Life IS large," she retorted, and her work supports 
that claim vociferously. The irony comes in the stories she chooses to tell; after 
all, what is the value in hearing the story of a young Black incest victim who 
wishes for nothing but the blue eyes she believes will grant her society's accep- 
tance and the love she craves? Or the adventures of a materialistic young man 
with the appropriate surname "Dead," who stoops to rob even his own aunt? Or 
the harrowing journey of a runaway slave woman whose brief taste of freedom 
convinces her that killing her children is more just than allowing them to be re- 
turned to slavery? Through her novels Morrison forces us to acknowledge that 
the lives we often overlook and rarely celebrate are perhaps the lives we can 
learn most from. 

As a writer, Toni Morrison personifies courage. She tells stories that we often 
do not wish to hear. She speaks as a Black woman in a world that still under- 
values the voice of the Black woman. She blends the personal and the political — 
for she feels very strongly that art should have meaning — to depict African 
American cultural and social history, and she does so in a way that resonates for 


readers of all ages, races, ethnicities, and genders. Morrison embodies a rare 
writer's gift: the ability to tell the powerful stories she imagines, employing an 
equally powerful, yet simultaneously poetic language. One might argue that 
Morrison herself has become one of the ancestor figures she privileges in her 
work, guiding her readers to a much-needed understanding of the past in order 
that they might recognize the urgent promise of the future, and doing so with 
a wisdom and eloquence unparalleled in American letters. 

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, the 
daughter of Georgia-born George Wofford, a shipyard welder, and Alabama- 
born Ramah Willis Wofford. She was the second of four children and spent her 
childhood in Lorain, Ohio, an ethnically diverse steel town just west of Cleve- 
land where her parents had relocated to avoid the racism of the deep South. Mor- 
rison attended an integrated school in Lorain and excelled early on, especially 
in reading. Even before her formal school years, though, Morrison had absorbed 
at home a love of stories from her parents, both of whom were storytellers and 
musicians and who instilled in their children a deep respect for their heritage 
through the stories they told. 

Morrison graduated from Lorain High School with honors in 1949 and 
enrolled in Howard University, where she majored in English and minored in 
classics. During her college years she joined a university-affiliated touring reper- 
tory company, and also changed her name to Toni, allegedly because so many 
people had difficulty pronouncing Chloe. Following graduation from Howard in 
1953, Morrison attended Cornell University, earning a master's degree in En- 
glish after writing a thesis on William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. 

In 1955-57 Morrison taught at Texas Southern University, then returned to 
Howard University to join the faculty in 1957. There she met her husband, Harold 
Morrison, a Jamaican architect. They married in 1958 and had two children, Harold 
Ford and Slade Kevin, before they divorced in 1964, the same year Morrison left 
Howard University. It was during this period that Morrison began writing in 
earnest, as an antidote to the loneliness she often felt. One of her first projects was 
a short story about a young Black girl who dreamed of having blue eyes. 

In 1964 Morrison began work as an editor for the textbook subsidiary of Ran- 
dom House in Syracuse, New York, and was promoted to senior editor at the 
company's headquarters in New York City in 1967, where she had the oppor- 
tunity to work with a number of prominent Black authors. While at Random 
House, Morrison continued to teach, holding positions at SUNY-Purchase 
(1971-72) and Yale University (1976-77). She left Random House in 1983 and 
was named the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at SUNY- Albany in 
1984. Presently Morrison is Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of Hu- 
manities at Princeton University, the first Black woman to hold an endowed chair 
at an Ivy League university. 

The workshop story that Morrison began in the mid-1960s was published as 
her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. She maintains that in working on the 
manuscript she was striving to write the type of literature that she liked to read 


and that was too often unavailable. This novel, which served as Morrison's in- 
troduction to the American literary scene, was followed in 1973 by Sula, for 
which she received the National Book Award nomination in 1975. She published 
Song of Solomon next, in 1977; it garnered a Book-of-the-Month Club selec- 
tion, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the American Academy and 
Institute of Arts and Letters Award. The novel was also a paperback best-seller. 
Tar Baby, released in 1981, landed Morrison on the cover of Time magazine, and 
in 1988 Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for what many con- 
sider to be her greatest novel, Beloved, published in 1987. jazz, Morrison's sixth 
novel, appeared in 1992. 

In 1993, Toni Morrison received the Nobel Prize in Literature, only the eighth 
woman ever to do so, and the first Black woman. Upon awarding Morrison the 
prize, the Swedish Academy described her as a writer "who, in novels charac- 
terized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of 
American reality." Already a writer with an international reputation in 1993, 
Morrison's recognition by the Swedish Academy "was the official inscripting of 
a worldwide recognition and appreciation of the intellectual stimulation and awe- 
some power of her writing," according to Trudier Harris in an essay that ap- 
peared shortly after the honor was conferred. 

Since becoming a Nobel laureate, Morrison has published Paradise (1998), the 
novel she had in progress at the time of the award. In addition to her seven nov- 
els, Morrison has written a significant work of literary criticism, Playing In the 
Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) and has also edited two 
collections of essays, Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita 
Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (1992) and Birth 
of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.]. Simpson Case (1997). 

This introduction, presenting as it does the basic facts of Morrison's life and 
the salient details of her career, is necessarily brief. Fine interviews and biog- 
raphies have been published, and studies of her novels abound. Each time a 
new novel is published, her readers thrill to discover what reading challenge 
Morrison has designed for them, what new and delicious uses of the English 
language she has invented, what memorable characters will join the ranks of 
the Breedloves, the Deads, the Peaces, and the Suggses. And each time her read- 
ers are not disappointed. Toni Morrison's contributions to literature are vast — 
the characters and places she has created, the situations she has imagined, the 
moral ambiguities, public pronouncements, private agonies and celebrations 
she has dramatized — all these make up an oeuvre that is unrivaled in Ameri- 
can literature. 

The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia seeks not to document Morrison's work ex- 
haustively, but instead to catalog and interpret for readers some of her most im- 
portant themes, characters, and places. There are essays on each of her literary 
works, as well as an "approaches" section designed to offer readers various paths 
of entry into her work. For the convenience of the reader, entries are arranged 
alphabetically. They vary in length, with the novels and major themes receiving 


more in-depth treatment than characters, places, and minor themes. The volume 
is by no means complete; like Morrison's novels, which offer "gaps" through 
which the reader can enter and co-create, there is ample room here for individ- 
ual interpretation and elaboration. 

More than fifty scholars from across the country pooled their expertise to 
produce the entries that make up The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia; without 
them, this volume would not have been possible. When the project was first an- 
nounced, inquiries from around the world poured in. All of the entries are signed 
by the critics who contributed them, and many conclude with a list of sources 
that readers may wish to consult for further reading and research. Finally, the 
Encyclopedia concludes with a selected bibliography that is just that — selected. 
In 2002 the MLA Bibliography listed well over one thousand books and articles 
on Toni Morrison and her work; Morrison scholarship has become a virtual in- 
dustry. What this volume hopes to contribute to that industry is an overview of 
Morrison's primary concerns and achievements, and a reference point for read- 
ers who wish to go beyond Morrison's texts themselves. Like the talking book 
that "speaks" at the end of Jazz, urging readers to consider the manifestation of 
creativity and love they have, by reading, participated in, I like to think that this 
volume "speaks," too — testifying to Toni Morrison's gifts and accomplishments, 
encouraging the creativity of her readers, and reminding us of the many ways 
that Morrison insists on life. 


I wish to thank the following programs and individuals for making this work 

• The Frances Holland Black Endowment in Women's Studies at Appalachian State Uni- 
versity, for funding a graduate student to assist in the technical preparation of this 

• Gena Pittman, who had never read Toni Morrison, for spending an entire summer 
turning hundreds of entries into a book manuscript, and for remaining cheerful and 
pleasant while she sorted through characters, places, and story lines she surely found, 
at the very least, bewildering. 

• Friends, colleagues, and Morrison aficionados who contributed entries, advice, general 
support, and much-needed encouragement for a project they insisted was long 

• And finally, my husband, James M. Ivory, for what can only be called his many ex- 
pertises, and my son, Sebastian Luke Ivory, for all the ways he tried to exercise pa- 
tience during the many stages of this project. 


Acton (Jazz) 

In/azz, Dorcas Manfred's* boyfriend with whom she cheats on the mar- 
ried Joe Trace*. The type of man Joe would call a "rooster," Acton is nar- 
cissistic, critical, and unable to empathize with Dorcas, which makes him 
all the more appealing to her. She tries in vain to please him, losing her- 
self to his self-serving demands. As she lies dying of a bullet wound, he 
is angry that her blood has soiled his clothing. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

African Myth, Use of 

Critics such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., argue that an understanding of 
African mythology is an important backdrop against which to read 
African American writing. While elements from biblical and classical 
Roman and Greek mythology* also exist in Morrison's work, African 
myths do, indeed, play an especially important role. These mythic el- 
ements root the novels in the African tradition and provide a spiritual 
and cultural bridge between the history of her characters' ancestors 
and the lives of the characters at the times the novels are set in the 
United States. The myths also provide a context for understanding the 
magical realism* that is often such an important aspect of the stories. 
In Song of Solomon*, for example, the novel opens with the flight of 
a Black insurance agent, Robert Smith*, who jumps off the roof of No 


Mercy Hospital* and ends with Milkman Dead*, who, after tracing the 
roots of his flying African* ancestors, gains the incentive he has needed 
all along to join them. Many readers have noted elements of the Greek 
myth of Icarus in this novel. This trait of flying, however, also goes back 
to the myths of flying Africans that slaves carried with them to the 
shores and fields of the United States. For example, slaves frequently 
told stories of the Africans who flew back to Africa rather than be en- 
slaved. The act of flying is believed to result from a realization, often, of 
one's identity*. While most readers readily suspend their disbelief in 
this work of fiction, the flying myth grounds the magical realism of the 
story firmly in African heritage. 

Beloved* is a novel steeped in African spirituality* and myth. One 
belief is in a collective consciousness of the ancestors that is carried 
among the living, which often results in ancestor worship. Another fea- 
ture is that the female often holds a leadership role in this ancestor 
community, even taking on a goddess-like quality. Burial practices are 
very important, and improperly or incompletely buried corpses are 
thought to generate angry ghosts that linger among the living or re- 
turn to raise havoc among them. The living are believed to be able to 
communicate quite readily with their dead ancestors. 

All of these elements play an important role in Beloved, from the 
abilities as mediums of Baby Suggs*, Sethe Suggs*, and Denver 
Suggs*, to the poltergeist character, Beloved*. Beloved was murdered, 
and this violent end causes her soul unrest in Western tradition. How- 
ever, she was named and received her gravestone in an act of sexual 
submission by her mother, and this wrongful burial has made her spirit 
angry and restless in the African mythological tradition. Naming is also 
important in African mythology, and so are tricksters*. Beloved, as a 
character whose naming history is clouded, becomes a trickster able to 
change forms and cause trouble and misfortune among the living. This 
trickster characteristic is reminiscent of the Signifying Monkey of 
Yoruba mythology. In this myth, Monkey tells insults to Lion that were 
supposedly told to him by Elephant, in order to set Lion and Elephant 
against one another. Beloved's manipulative presence in the household 
similarly causes conflicts in many of the domestic relationships. 
Beloved's deeds turn deadly because of the collective weight of the an- 
cestors' experiences of slavery* that she brings upon the living from 
the dark side. 

In the twentieth century, Morrison and other writers began using 
African myths as a means of bringing Africa closer to those who were 
stolen away from that continent to America and also closer to their de- 
scendants. Through her work, Morrison engages her characters in call- 
ing on the wisdom of their African ancestors to help them meditate and 
rise above the circumstances in which they find themselves, even if this 


calling is subconscious or complicated with problems. The richness of 
African mythology and how it is applied in Morrison's work enhances 
the reading experience for her readers. It also adds to the credibility and 
authenticity of Morrison's voice. See also Ancestor; Flying Africans, 
Myth of; Oral Tradition. 

References: Paula Barnes, Tradition and Innovation: Toni Morrison and 
the Flight Motif in Afro-American Literature (2000); Samuel Burbanks 
IV, "African Spiritual Culture in Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved,"; Henry Louis Gates, 
Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Crit- 
icism (1988); Samuel B. Olorounto, "Studying African-American Litera- 
ture in Its Global Context," VCAAA Journal 7: 1 (Summer 1992); Gay 
Wilentz, "Civilizations Underneath: African Heritage as Cultural Discourse 
in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon," in Toni Morrison's Fiction: Con- 
temporary Criticism, ed. David L. Middleton (1997). 

Connie Ann Kirk 

Ajax (Sula) 

Alias for Albert Jacks or A. Jacks, the handsome, dark-complexioned 
young man who loves airplanes and refers to Sula Peace* and Nel 
Wright* as "pig meat." Years later Ajax becomes Sula's lover, but termi- 
nates their relationship when she starts to become possessive. See also 

Douglas Taylor 

Albright, Mavis {Paradise) 

The twenty-seven-year-old Mavis, who arrives in 1968, is the first and 
most conservative of the Convent* women and title character of one of 
Paradise's* nine sections. After accidentally suffocating her newborn 
twins by leaving them in the car, Mavis believes that her abusive hus- 
band and three surviving children are trying to kill her. Planning to es- 
cape to California, she steals her husband's Cadillac and drives west 
until she runs out of gas and takes shelter in the Convent. Almost im- 
mediately, Mavis begins to hear the laughter of Merle and Pearl, her 
dead twins, and finds herself staying at the Convent without ever de- 
ciding to. With the aging Consolata Sosa* (Connie) to look after, the 
ghostly presence of the ever-growing twins, and the aggressive, night- 
time sexual dream-visits of a strange man, Mavis lives an unhealthy 


but safe fantasy-family life. It is her guilt over the death of the twins 
and the fear of abusive men that she must excise through the "loud- 
dreaming" sessions that Connie begins to lead. Although Mavis leaves 
the Convent several times throughout the years (to get a look at, but 
never to talk to, her surviving children), she is there the morning of 
the assault in 1976 and is one of the three women shot down outside 
while attempting to escape. After the attack, Mavis appears once more 
in the novel; she shares a brief meal with her now-grown daughter, 
Sally, in a country inn restaurant before disappearing into the crowd. 
See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 


For the Yoruba of Nigeria, in West Africa, ancestors are everywhere: in 
the earth, in the air, and within one's children. Their presence links souls 
of the present with souls of the past. Their lessons transcend both time 
and space — enriching their descendants with a perspective full of other- 
world wisdom applicable to this world. They are deities or family mem- 
bers who have passed on, yet remain accessible to the living. They are 
the ancestors. 

To understand the definition of the ancestor and, by extension, grasp 
its function in Toni Morrison's novels, one must first become familiar 
with the function of the ancestor in West African cosmology. Typically, 
in Western notions of the spirit, death marks the soul's movement to 
heaven or some other static afterlife. In contrast, for West Africans, spir- 
its of the deceased remain on earth, dwelling among the living in rivers 
and trees, and also through their descendants. For the West African, there 
is no separation between the spiritual and material worlds. The ancestors 
live on a spiritual continuum between worlds and generations. There- 
fore, even though an individual's physical body may be gone, s/he re- 
mains present as spirit, as ancestor. While anyone has the power to tap 
into the energies of the ancestors, community elders are the primary link 
between the people and their ancestors. As repositories of tribal history, 
the elders ensure that subsequent generations understand the impor- 
tance of the ancestors as well as modes of access to them. As literary elder, 
Morrison modifies this use of the ancestor and transforms it into a lay- 
ered literary device that explores the manifold ways in which characters 
relate to their ancestors and, by extension, their communities. 

Morrison provides some insight into her use of the ancestor in "Root- 
edness: the Ancestor as Foundation," an essay that, among other things, 
explains how, within the text, a character's connection with the ancestor 
determines his or her success in life. Using her own writing as an exam- 


pie, Morrison seeks to debunk the rhetoric of self-reliance as the key to 
prosperity and instead uses her characters to promote ancestral connec- 
tions as the linchpin of success. Morrison believes that the relationship 
between character and ancestor, antagonistic or amicable, directly corre- 
lates with that character's success in navigating life. 

Morrison is not only concerned with the relationship between charac- 
ter and ancestor; she is also interested in the connection between char- 
acter and community*, particularly a Black community. For Morrison, 
Black communities are ancestral legacies that represent a wellspring of 
culturally inflected information, tropes, and values. The ancestral lega- 
cies encountered by Morrison's characters go beyond the return of de- 
ceased family members. Her characters may interact with the ancestor 
as collective history or through ancestral stories. Morrison's writing also 
invokes a familial ancestral legacy — one fostered by the stories she heard 
as a young girl. When she was growing up, her grandfather related the 
story of the family's ascent from the South to the North during the Great 
Migration, while her father captivated the family with ghost stories*. 
These legends represent a familial ancestral legacy — a legacy that 
emerges in Morrison's writing through texts that read with a rhythm 
and flow reminiscent of the oral narratives she once heard. By using the 
novel to keep oral history alive, Morrison, in turn, allows the memory 
of her familial ancestors and others like them to endure. In her novels, 
Morrison adapts West African views of the ancestor as deceased family 
member or deity and expand them to include ancestor as familial history, 
ancestor as collective history, and ancestor as ancestral stories. 

Four of Morrison's seven novels — Song of Solomon*, Tar Baby*, 
Beloved*, and ]azz* — explore, more explicitly than the others, the dif- 
ferent ways individual characters relate to this expanded notion of the 
ancestor and how this relationship relates to personal, interpersonal, and 
communal well-being. In Song of Solomon, Morrison traces the quest of 
Milkman Dead* as he searches to reconcile his perception of and experi- 
ence with both his immediate family* and his ancestors. What begins as 
a search for gold becomes Milkman's journey into the depths of his an- 
cestry, where he comes to understand his place in the world. Through 
Milkman, Morrison reveals that disordered existence is part and parcel 
of fragmented ancestral relationships. In contrast, Pilate Dead*, Milk- 
man's aunt and hearer of voices from beyond the grave, demonstrates 
the inner strength that exists when one lives a life fully connected to the 
wisdom and stories of the ancestors. 

Morrison continues this interest in ancestral foundations in Tar Baby, 
where, through the impassioned affair between Jadine (Jade) Childs* 
and Son*, she demonstrates how strained relationships with the ances- 
tors arrest the development of intimate interpersonal relationships. 
Initially, Jade and Son resist their intense attraction to one another; 


eventually, they yield to their desires and form a relationship. Soon 
after, however, the couple realizes that they have serious ideological con- 
flicts. As they struggle, to no avail, to resolve their opposing ideas on 
women's roles and what constitutes "success," each is thrust into a con- 
frontation with an ancestral force that had hitherto been denied. For 
Son, the horsemen of Isle des Chevaliers* symbolize an ancestral force 
he must connect with to define himself. Similarly, Jade must confront 
her orphaned distance from her ancestors, the swamp women, to grow. 
Where Song of Solomon explores how a character's conflict with the an- 
cestors affects one personally, Tar Baby exposes how strained relation- 
ships with the ancestors hinder healthy interpersonal relationships. 

With Beloved, Morrison invokes the ancestral legacy of her father's 
ghost stories to present a hauntingly complex story of slavery*, posses- 
sion, and love. Based on the true story of Margaret Garner*, a runaway 
slave who, upon being found, attempted to murder her children to keep 
them from being returned to slavery, Morrison tells the story of 
Beloved*: the ghost of Sethe Suggs's* murdered child who has returned 
from the other side. What begins as a haunting of surviving family 
members within the home transforms into a haunting of the entire com- 
munity. Beloved's return thrusts her family and the surrounding com- 
munity into a process of rememory. This act of rememory forces the 
characters to confront historical ancestral legacies — from the Middle Pas- 
sage to slavery — even though they do not want to. In addition, during a 
crucial moment in the novel when Beloved tries to kill Sethe, Baby 
Suggs* comes to Denver Suggs* as spirit, as ancestor, and encourages her 
to move past the boundaries of the yard that have held her captive and 
save her mother. In Beloved, the ancestor prompts characters to confront 
an otherwise unsettling past and provides the emotional grounding 
needed to do so. 

In Jazz, Morrison explores the role of the ancestor by analyzing char- 
acters' relationships with their forefathers, with whom they must rec- 
oncile to grow, jazz examines the characters involved in a bizarre love 
affair between Joe Trace*, a married man in his fifties, and an eighteen- 
year-old girl named Dorcas Manfred*. After three months, their affair 
sours and Joe shoots Dorcas. Then, at Dorcas's funeral, Joe's wife, Vio- 
let*, bursts in to seek revenge on her husband's lover by slashing her 
face. Morrison introduces the presence of the ancestors by tracing the 
lives of the major characters — Dorcas and Alice Manfred*, Violet and 
Joe — to reveal the source of their current distress. Each is haunted by 
memories of the past, a past often riddled with incidents of racist vio- 
lence*. Several characters set out on a search for their true ancestors and, 
in doing so, are able to create surrogate families and to mature emo- 
tionally. By showing how characters turn on themselves and each other 
when disconnected from their ancestral stories, jazz demonstrates the 


need for a healthy connection between ancestor and individual to ensure 
the psychological health and well-being of the community at large. Taken 
together, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, and Jazz demonstrate 
Morrison's interest in uncovering the function of and possibilities within 
using the ancestor as foundation. See also Ghost Story, Use of; Oral Tra- 

References: Missy Dehn Kubitschek, Toni Morrison: A Critical Com- 
panion (1998); Toni Morrison, "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Founda- 
tion," in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, ed. 
Mari Evans (1984); Nellie Y. McKay, "An Interview with Toni Morrison," 
in Conversations with Toni Morrison, ed. Danielle Taylor-Guthrie (1994); 
Marilyn Sanders Mobley, Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne 
Jewett and Toni Morrison: The Cultural Function of Narrative (1991). 

Shanna Greene Benjamin 

Approaches to Morrison's Work: Ecocritical 

Ecocriticism, a literary movement that began in the 1970s, does not 
pretend to solve the world's ecological problems through the study of lit- 
erature. Rather, it allows both readers and authors to foreground envi- 
ronmental issues in texts so that these themes may be recognized and 
perhaps even studied scientifically. First coined by William Rueckert in 
his 1978 article "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism," 
the term "ecocriticism" is based on what Rueckert calls ecology's first 
law: the belief that all things are interconnected (73). Like ecology itself, 
ecocriticism is interdisciplinary in nature and borrows not only from lit- 
erary criticism but also from science, the social sciences, and the hu- 
manities in its approach to the study of literature. Cheryll Glotfelty, in 
the preface to The Ecocriticism Reader (1996), further explains that the 
focus of ecocriticism is the interrelation of nature and culture (xix). This 
method is particularly useful to the study of Toni Morrison's novels pre- 
cisely because of its varied character. An ecocritical approach demands 
not just a scientific envisioning of the environment but also a psycho- 
logical, sociological, religious, and historical analysis of nature and its 
manifestations in the work at hand. Morrison weaves all of these strands 
together to produce a narrative history* of African Americans, a history 
largely ignored by white society. 

For Morrison, nature is inextricably linked with religion, and all of her 
texts grapple in some way with the interplay between these two seem- 
ingly contradictory forces. All of her writings show the connection be- 
tween the biblical Garden of Eden, the plagues and natural catastrophe 


of the apocalypse, and the human psyche. From PecolaBreedlove* oiThe 
Bluest Eye* , whose misfortune causes marigolds to die, from Tar Baby's* 
Jadine Childs*, whose lover is born to her as Adam is, out of the pri- 
mordial ooze, from Beloved's* Sethe Suggs*, who "falls" from innocence 
when a tree is carved on her back, to the covey of strange women living 
at the Convent* in Paradise*, who finally find their City of God when 
their home is brutally destroyed, Morrison's characters are both imbued 
with religious sensibilities and closely linked to nature. For, according to 
Evan Eisenberg in The Ecology of Eden (1998), behind every Western 
understanding about nature lies a notion of Eden. Since God created the 
world and proclaimed it good, Morrison asserts through her characters, 
all is not lost even if the apocalypse seems to some to presage the end of 
the world. She invokes these biblical images not to proclaim her texts ex- 
plicitly or even implicitly religious, but rather to make clear the connec- 
tion between the nature that surrounds us and the inner nature that 
makes up our psychological world. A scrutiny of the relationship between 
nature and religion in the novels therefore will help illuminate Morri- 
son's proposals for societal healing from historical wounds. 

In addition to the epic religious struggles, Morrison's novels also grap- 
ple with American history. The novels foreground nature in their de- 
scriptions of the various movements that comprise African American 
and, indeed, American history. The tree named Brother* in Beloved that 
benignly watches as Black men swing by their necks from its branches, 
the forlorn parrots that squawk "I love you" in their tiny cages in Jazz* 
during the Harlem Renaissance, the wind that cries out a woman's name 
during the Great Depression in Song of Solomon* ', and the trees whose 
intertwined silhouette resembles a couple making love during the Civil 
Rights movement in Paradise all tell both of the degradation faced by 
African Americans during the last two centuries of American history and 
of their strength. For in the end, though trees do unwittingly shelter 
nooses, they also bloom and lead Paul D Garner* north in Beloved; al- 
though trapped by their cages, much like their owner Violet Trace*, who 
is ensnared by her circumstances, the parrots do eventually fly free. Even 
though the sound Milkman Dead* hears in the woods leaves him melan- 
choly and mournful, it also alerts him to the murderous presence of 
Guitar Baines*, who has been driven mad by penury and racial victim- 
ization. And despite their isolation from the relative civilization of Ruby, 
Oklahoma*, the enjoined trees serve to remind Paradise's Deacon (Deek) 
Morgan* of the hubris in thinking that his town could remain apart from 
the larger world forever. For it is in connections, Deek learns, that human 
beings grow and flourish. Without this communion, they wither and die 
much like the marigolds in The Bluest Eye. 

It is in The Bluest Eye that the connection between nature and racial 
hatred can perhaps be seen most clearly. Split into four sections named 


after the seasons, and set in the year before America's entry into World 
War II, the novel tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young girl who 
has been impregnated by her drunken father and whose greatest desire 
is to be white. Pecola so longs for blue eyes — which she believes to be the 
standard by which all beauty is judged — that she eventually comes to 
conclude that her eyes are indeed blue and that she is therefore worthy 
of love. She so accepts the white standard of beauty and denigration of 
her race that everything around her in the natural world seems to die. It 
is not only Pecola who affirms this standard of beauty, however. Pecola 
is uniformly despised by other Black children for her too-dark skin, her 
poverty, and her awkwardness. When Claudia* and Frieda MacTeer's* 
marigolds refuse to grow, they understand that it is not really the fault 
of the barren soil, but the fault of the community* to accept Pecola for 
who she really is and, by extension, to accept themselves. 

Sula* adds to this image of nature as an expression of racial self-hatred 
a sense of survival. Sula Peace*, one of Medallion, Ohio's* renegade young 
women, returns to town during a plague of robins. Typically harbingers 
of spring, these birds presage only gloom and despair for the community. 
For Sula, despite her status as the granddaughter of the beloved Eva 
Peace*, harbors no love for its citizens. The town's residents, who view 
evil as something to be survived much like floods or other natural disas- 
ters, project all their troubles onto Sula, the woman they judge to be evil. 
If the milk curdles, they imagine that Sula must be nearby. If their hus- 
bands lose interest in them, they reason that Sula must be involved. For 
the Black residents of Medallion, Sula comes to represent the rose they 
see when they look at the rose-shaped birthmark above her eye: she at- 
tracts with her beauty and stings with her thorns. And like the rose, she 
dies young. 

Despite their joy at Sula's death, the townspeople soon come to mourn 
her loss, for the evil they had once projected onto her now comes to 
wound them. They have lost their focus, and begin to turn their thoughts 
more and more to the bridge being built over the river that separates 
them from the white community. When they realize that the jobs prom- 
ised to them will never materialize, they storm the river and unwittingly 
destroy the bridge, killing many of their numbers in the process. The pol- 
luted river continues to flow between the two halves of town, which have 
no bridge to connect them. Although this bridge has been the focus of 
their energies for many years, and its destruction represents a tremen- 
dous loss, it also keeps them separate from a people who despise them. 
The river may not nourish them, but neither does its bridge poison them 
by allowing self-hatred to invade their community. 

Milkman Dead, the protagonist of Song of Solomon, knows well the 
divisions in the Black community. The son of a wealthy landowner, he is 
unpopular and scorned. What he comes to understand when he returns 


to the rural Virginia town of his forebears, is that his indolence and 
haughtiness have caused much of the judgment against him, and not his 
skin tone or his social standing. Having gone to Virginia to look for a sack 
of gold he thinks his aunt Pilate Dead* had abandoned there, he soon re- 
alizes that the real treasure lies in discovering his ancestry. His plans are 
nearly foiled, however; as he leans against an old tree, he discovers his 
friend Guitar Baines* has come to kill him. Part of a messianic group 
formed to bring about racial justice, Guitar is overcome by greed and at- 
tempts to kill his oldest friend to get the gold. When Milkman later runs 
into Guitar again, the latter is leaning against a persimmon tree, much 
like the proverbial snake in Eden. The knowledge that Guitar gives him — 
that love and respect mean nothing compared to vengeance — so dis- 
heartens Milkman that he succumbs to Guitar's quest and kills himself 
rather than be killed. What saves Song of Solomon from being a novel 
primarily about the impossibility of triumph in the unrelenting face of 
nature and prejudice is that Milkman flies as he jumps off the cliff. Milk- 
man may not be able to sustain his flight, but he is proof that even when 
befriending figurative serpents, human beings can redeem themselves. 

Though Tar Baby contains no serpent, the Caribbean island on which 
much of the novel is set certainly resembles Paradise. Only a few fami- 
lies live amid lush vegetation and beautiful beaches. Those living on the 
island do not recognize the wonder of the place, however, until Son* rises 
out of the swamp to rescue them from their torpor and help them con- 
nect to their roots. Created, like Adam, out of the mud, Son seems to 
spring out of nowhere to show the island's inhabitants their true selves. 
Gradually, as he strips away the veneer covering Valerian* and Margaret 
Street*, Sydney and Ondine Childs*, and Jadine Childs*, Son himself 
begins to change. As he demonstrates to the sealskin-clad Jadine how far 
she is from her roots as a Black woman, he begins to remember the im- 
portance of his own roots. As he prods Ondine into revealing Margaret's 
secret maiming of her child, Son realizes the damage done to his rela- 
tionship with his own father and vows to repair it. Though it is unclear 
at the end of the novel whether or not Jadine will return to the world of 
high fashion that Son exposed as being so false, it is clear that she will 
remember him and the lessons he taught her. Son breathed life into her, 
and even though she is afraid of that life, its presence is undeniable. 

It is in Beloved that Morrison's invocation of edenic and apocalyptic 
imagery becomes most clear. As in her other novels, this invocation oc- 
curs through nature and is closely linked to racial identity*. From the 
corrupted Eden that is Sweet Home* to the four horsemen of the apoc- 
alypse who are schoolteacher* and his posse come to return Sethe and 
her children to slavery*, the novel is infused with religious imagery. 
Sethe, whose name resembles Seth, the child Adam and Eve bore to re- 
place Abel after Cain killed him, learns, only after she hears schoolteacher 


comparing her to an animal, exactly how inherently evil Sweet Home is. 
Before this moment, she believes that the male slaves really are men, as 
Mr. Garner* says, and that the Garners really are protecting the slaves 
from harm. What she discovers is that in the eyes of whites, her husband 
and friends will never be men, and that no matter how benign on the 
surface, slavery is always evil. Sweet Home becomes not the Eden of tran- 
quillity and unity, but the place where the serpent not only stripped her 
of her innocence but also bit her. 

Although it is not clear at the end of the novel that Sethe will regain 
her sanity, it is clear that in uniting to banish the ghost of Sethe's daugh- 
ter from 124 Bluestone Road*, the community has made strides toward 
healing the divisions that were threatening to destroy it. Sethe may not 
have found the City of God, but she has at least survived her own per- 
sonal apocalypse. Furthermore, Denver Suggs's* success gives hope that 
with time, the deep wounds created by slavery can begin to heal. 

Healing is also central to jazz* . When Joe Trace*, the son of a shadowy 
wild woman who is perhaps Sethe's daughter Beloved*, murders his 
young lover in a jealous rage, and when Joe's wife Violet slashes the 
young girl's face as she lies in her coffin, it seems as though their lives, 
and their love, will be destroyed forever. Violet lets free the birds she has 
kept for years, thinking that the music* in her life has soured, changing 
from an upbeat jazz* tune to a mournful blues ballad. The Joe she first 
met in Virginia, when he fell out of a tree like an apple next to her, seems 
to have vanished. 

When Joe Trace first meets Dorcas Manfred* (Dorcas means gazelle), 
he becomes, like the lover in the Bible's Song of Songs, sprightly and 
young again. He tells Dorcas that she is the reason Adam ate the apple, 
and that she gives him such pleasure, it is as if he is learning everything 
for the first time. Dorcas, however, quickly becomes bored with Joe and 
rejects him in favor of a young neighborhood playboy. It is Dorcas's 
friend Felice* who helps to mend the rift the affair opened in the Trace 
family's life. By telling Joe that Dorcas's final words were to tell Joe that 
he was right, that only one apple exists, Felice reminds Joe that the 
knowledge he acquired by having a relationship with Dorcas did not end 
with her death. He and Violet can rediscover joy together. 

In Paradise, Morrison unites the joy found in jazz's Garden of Eden 
imagery with the racial self-hatred seen in The Bluest Eye. In her de- 
scription of a small band of freed slaves who form their own community 
to isolate themselves from the dominant white culture of the United 
States, Morrison writes a scathing critique of the notion of racial purity. 
Ruby, Oklahoma — the town founded by the Morgan brothers when their 
original town, Haven, Oklahoma*, becomes too corrupt — is a commu- 
nity* ruled by tradition. For those who live there, it is a place apart, 
a paradise isolating them from the corrupt outside world they have 


rejected. Underneath the tranquil surface, however, lies a world every bit 
as corrupt and disordered as the world beyond the town's borders. 

When strange young women begin to flock to the Convent, an old man- 
sion located seventeen miles outside of Ruby, the town's unrest is given a 
focus. Much as Sula directs her neighbors' wrath, so does the Convent be- 
come the recipient of Ruby's anger. When nine members of the town's 
founding families gather to rid the Convent of its evil influence, Ruby's 
barrenness is finally showcased. The intertwined fig trees that grow out of 
the banks of a dry riverbed will never bear fruit as long as the town clings 
to one notion of what it means to be Black in America. Accepting change, 
the kind of change that comes with surviving great difficulty, is the only 
avenue to peace. Finally freed from their own resistance to change, the 
Convent's women strive to heal the people they wounded after their fig- 
urative deaths in the massacre. Gigi/Grace Gibson* visits her convict fa- 
ther, Seneca* finds her mother, Mavis Albright* comforts her daughter, 
Sally, over coffee, and Pallas Truelove* returns to her mother for one last 
visit. While the women may not have discovered Paradise, they have found 
the new life of the apocalypse. 

An ecocritical reading of Morrison's work demonstrates her belief in 
the interconnectedness of nature, religion, and African American iden- 
tity. Without such an understanding, Morrison's works seem to tell a dis- 
jointed story of disappointment and destruction; when read ecocritically, 
they offer hope for creating a better future. See also Approaches to Mor- 
rison's Work: Historical. 

References: Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden (1998); Cheryll Glot- 
felty and Harold Fromm, eds., The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in 
Literary Ecology (1996); Deborah Guth, '"Wonder What God Has in 
Mind': Beloved's Dialogue with Christianity," Journal of Narrative Tech- 
nique 24: 2 (1994); Lauren Lepow, "Paradise Lost and Found: Dualism 
and Edenic Myth in Toni Morrison's Tar Baby," Contemporary Litera- 
ture 28: 3 (1987); William Rueckert, "Literature and Ecology: An Exper- 
iment in Ecocriticism," Iowa Review 9: 1 (1978). 

Elizabeth Ely Tolman 

Approaches to Morrison's Work: 
Feminist/Black Feminist 

Toni Morrison's novels especially lend themselves to feminist readings 
because of the ways in which they challenge the cultural "norms" of gen- 
der, race*, and class. Many feminist scholars subscribe to the idea that 
language as we commonly think of it is male-centered, and that language 


privileges masculinity* because it privileges traits traditionally associ- 
ated with men. In other words, language, as it has been viewed, is ex- 
pected to be powerful, decisive, and logical. Women, on the other hand, 
have been characterized as being incapable of clear verbal expression, and 
more reliant on emotional, illogical, and incomplete utterances. While 
agreeing that society has "gendered" traditional language so that it re- 
inforces the dominant position of men, feminist scholars also note that 
women's ways of communicating only appear to be chaotic because men, 
from their expectation of what language is and does, fail to comprehend 
the fluidity, creativity, challenge, and unifying characteristics of women's 
communication. A woman's approach to language is not meant to over- 
power or to conquer, but strives to build bridges of understanding and 
inclusion in a society where her voice, in order to be heard, must res- 
onate with difference. 

There is a special woman's way of approaching language and commu- 
nication. This is not to suggest the existence of a biological essentialism. 
The uniqueness does not exist because a woman is female. Rather, it ex- 
ists because she is a woman, a product of a specific cultural environ- 
ment — a male-dominated society — in which she has created a way of 
communicating that is characterized by various combinations of words, 
nonverbal sounds, silences, and secrets, among others. In a feminist ap- 
proach to reading texts, awareness of these sometimes subversive com- 
municative techniques is helpful since they not only influence many 
women writers but also help to shape the characters and actions within 
the texts that these women writers create. 

I must take this concept one step further, however, as it applies to Black 
feminism. Black feminists propose that the Black woman and the Black 
woman writer negotiate multiple social locations in securing a place in 
American culture and literature — not only those of gender and class found 
in all feminist approaches, but that of race as well. As a result, Black 
women writers have always, out of necessity, had to maneuver outside of 
the dominant white (including the white woman's) literary system. Their 
exclusion from the mainstream literary traditions led them to develop and 
employ alternative means of communicating, drawing upon their own ex- 
periences of oppression and resistance to shape their texts and to repre- 
sent the characters and situations within it. In addition to some of the 
communicative techniques I list above for the feminist approach, I would 
add the following that specifically address the Black feminist approach: 
humor (ironic and otherwise), misdirection, and song. All of these femi- 
nist techniques, and more, come into play in Morrison's novels, but my 
emphasis here is on the polyvocal oppressions resisted through a Black 
feminist reading of the narratives. Such resistance manifests itself in Mor- 
rison's emphasis on the discovery and rediscovery of Black life, especially 
that of the Black woman, as it has been lived in America. 


Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye*, concerns itself with the painful 
acts engaged in by and perpetrated against its Black characters, who are 
forced to measure themselves in terms of Western standards of beauty. 
This is particularly true of the Black girls and women in the novel. The 
now-adult Claudia MacTeer* tells the story of Pecola Breedlove's* de- 
struction in a retrospective narration that recollects their childhoods. This 
woman, as storyteller and "rememberer," shares what she has seen from 
her Black woman's space along the periphery of society. Her language is 
distinctly "female," but also relies upon the performance aspects of the 
African American oral tradition*, the music* of gospels and the blues, 
and the blurring and interplay between poetry and prose. The textual 
structure of The Bluest Eye and Morrison's construction of characters 
support the woman's unique understanding and use of alternative com- 
municative devices. Just as the novel is an extended blues lyric itself, so 
it also tells of the life of the blues lived by its women characters. Clau- 
dia's mother, Mrs. MacTeer, periodically stops talking (that is, stops using 
traditional language) and effortlessly moves into singing the blues as she 
works in the kitchen, merging prose with poetry. The hard, desperate 
lives of the three prostitutes*, China, Poland, and Miss Marie, is also 
summed up in their singing of the blues as they blur the hard lines of 
"male" language. In addition to representing the racial struggles of these 
characters, woman's singing also addresses gender oppression and class 
oppression in The Bluest Eye. 

Mrs. MacTeer is a poor, struggling Black wife and mother trying to in- 
still a sense of pride in her daughters while still pursuing the "American 
Dream." She doesn't realize that by reinforcing Western ideals of beauty 
through the white baby dolls she gives her daughters Claudia and Frieda* 
at Christmas, she is compromising their ability to recognize their self- 
worth. Morrison demonstrates Claudia's recognition of the racially se- 
lective nature of the "American Dream" when she depicts Claudia de- 
capitating the white dolls and rejecting the image of Shirley Temple that 
everyone else, including her sister Frieda and Pecola, adores. 

The three prostitutes pretend to be victorious in their battle to defeat 
efforts to minimize them as Black women by acting hard, by focusing on 
their material gains, and by laughing at the men they purport to control 
with their sexuality*. But without uttering words in the traditional way, 
they demonstrate through sighs and song their failure and their regret 
at having to sacrifice their individual selves in order to find a place in this 
(white) man's world. 

The ultimate victim of the novel, Pecola Breedlove, is totally lacking 
in self-esteem. She cannot claim power from man's language because of 
her femaleness; she watches and admires the bravado of the prostitutes, 
but finds herself unable to emulate them because of her poverty, and she 
cannot inspire the love that the lemon-yellow Maureen Peal receives and 


that she so desperately wants because of her Blackness — she can never 
be the blonde, blue-eyed "Mary Jane" whose face stares at her from the 
label of the candy she devours. 

Morrison ridicules the ideal American family by showing, through the 
Dick and Jane chapter headings, that the Claudias, Friedas, and Pecolas of 
the world are being socialized into a society which excludes them because 
of race, gender, and class. Even Pecola's father, Cholly Breedlove*, is used 
to depict the minimization of women when he is figuratively raped by a 
flashlight in the hand of a white man. This emasculation, with its ac- 
companying destruction of Cholly's ability to love, is instrumental in his 
rape of Pecola. Innocent, passive, rejected by the white standards of so- 
ciety, and starving for love, Pecola is the perfect sacrifice. She cannot re- 
sist this victimization because every Western ideological concept tells her 
that she does not have the right to resist — tells her that she, as a Black 
and as a woman, is nobody. Her insanity brings her partial freedom be- 
cause through it, she acquires the "blue eyes" that make her acceptable 
to a society that places such importance and admiration on this endow- 

The story does not end with Pecola's destruction, however; Morrison 
salvages the Black woman by designating Claudia as the voice of sur- 
vival. It is the story coming from Claudia's mouth that redeems the Black 
woman in the end. 

Sula* addresses the special relationship that often develops between 
women, a relationship so close — as in the case of Sula Peace* and Nel 
Wright* — that the women are sometimes indistinguishable in the eyes 
of other characters. The novel is also driven by its depiction of women's 
nurturing, creative, and destructive powers, powers that at times reach 
almost godlike proportions. 

Eva Peace* is the woman-god of Sula. She is the matriarch of the 
Bottom* (itself a womblike image). In that capacity, she is the mother- 
creator; when she names people and things, that is what they become. 
Morrison has Eva naming all the stray boys she takes in "Dewey*" — 
from the jet black one to the nearly white one. Eventually, no one can 
tell them apart. Morrison not only deconstructs color here, she reduces 
the importance of maleness through her codification of these male fig- 
ures under the control of Eva Peace. But Morrison also shows that the 
combination of mother and god leads to disaster, "mother" being a fem- 
inine force that traditionally represents creation, birthing, and nurtur- 
ing, while "god," like language, embodies the masculine acts of 
violence* and destruction. The negative aspects of this combination 
emerge when Eva, the "mother," plays "god" and sacrifices her son, 
Plum*, to save him from himself. 

Sula and Nel, who are apparent opposites in everything except 
gender, are actually complements, the one completing the other. While 


light-skinned Nel is from a middle-class, "proper," nuclear family*, dark- 
skinned Sula emerges from a woman-dominated household that is as 
chaotic, as creative, and as lively as woman's way of communicating. The 
relationship between Sula and Nel, this Black-woman-to-Black-woman 
relationship, is built on shared secrets, emotional bonds, and trust. Being 
neither white nor male, they find strength in the sisterhood they form 
within an antagonistic society. What destroys the relationship is the in- 
trusion of Western ideology through the lives of both women — Nel's 
traditional marriage and Sula's travels among and relationships with 
white men. Nel loses her "self" when she becomes a wife and mother. 
With Sula's return to the Bottom, however, the Nel who had died begins 
to resurface. Sula's acquired attitudes about the impersonality of sex, 
along with her belief that everything between Nel and herself could be 
shared, leads to her ill-advised relationship with Nel's husband, Jude 
Greene*, and the subsequent destruction of the bond between the two 
women. Laughter, a primary avenue of communication for Black women, 
had been so deep between Nel and Sula before the "betrayal" that it had 
scraped their ribs; afterward, when laughter finally returns near the end 
of Sula's life, it is forced, lacking in genuine emotion. It is some time after 
Sula's death that Nel is able to reclaim the self that she had been, and she 
does this by recollecting what she had shared with Sula before marriage 
molded her into society's expectations of the Black wife and mother. At 
the end, Nel is able to redeem herself by acknowledging that she wasn't 
always the good one; what made her "good" was her and Sula together. 
Thus, their woman's bond reunites their spirits, transcending death. 

The male characters in Song of Solomon' 1 ', including Milkman Dead* 
until he learns to reject the Western ideological valuation of male dom- 
inance and material things, are egocentric and self-absorbed; the women 
emerge as nurturers, teachers, and storytellers. The most powerful of 
these women is Pilate Dead*, who serves as a link between the material 
world (represented by the articles associated with her: rocks, the geogra- 
phy book, and the bones) and the spiritual world as she re-creates his- 
tory* and herself based on the bits and pieces of memory* she carries 
with her. 

Pilate defies traditional "norms" in a number of ways: she literally 
gives birth to herself, emerging from the womb of her dead mother; she 
lacks a navel, which gives her an otherworldly characteristic; and she de- 
fies the construct of gender through her androgynous appearance — being 
a woman but dressing like a man, wearing her hair short like a man (or 
covering it), and displaying traditional masculine behavior. Everything 
about Pilate supports Morrison's rejection of traditional norms, especially 
those which limit one based on gender. 

Pilate, like Eva Peace in Sula, also functions as a "creator." Whereas 
Eva is not able to separate the creator from the destroyer in her godlike 


stance, however, Pilate (her name notwithstanding) does, re-creating not 
only herself but also others (for instance, making Robert Smith* a part 
of folklore* as the flying man), or setting them on the path to re-create 
themselves, as she does with her brother, Macon Dead*, and with Milk- 

Morrison establishes her challenge of cultural norms from the begin- 
ning of Song of Solomon. Pilate's presence at the unexpected birth of 
Milkman coincides with the unexpected death (at least in body) of Robert 
Smith. While his flight for freedom is immortalized he, as a member of 
the Seven Days*, represents male violence and destruction. Milkman, his 
name suggesting his close attachment to women, is born to replace vio- 
lence with love and eventually takes on the characteristics of a Christ fig- 
ure. And when Ruth*, Milkman's mother, goes into labor watching Robert 
Smith prepare to dive from the roof of the whites-only Mercy Hospital, 
she inadvertently knocks down the bars of segregation — Milkman arrives 
the next day, making him the first Black baby born in that facility. 

While Song of Solomon revolves around a Black man's search for self 
and ancestral identity*, the power in Morrison's novel rests with the 
multiple roles of the women who touch his life, making it the story of 
the Black woman's sacrifice to protect and ensure the community's* an- 
cestral memory. 

Son* in Morrison's Tar Baby* has Jesus characteristics similar to those 
in the character of Milkman in Song of Solomon. But, as in her earlier 
novel, Morrison again emphasizes the communal power of the femi- 
nine — the night women of Son's southern hometown of Eloe* ("Eloe" 
was allegedly spoken by Christ on the cross and is translated as "godly") 
and the feminine nature of the Caribbean island itself. Both are fertile, 
nurturing, sensual, and untamed, representing woman's refusal to be dis- 
missed by white and male dominance. 

Streets have no business in an island paradise, and Morrison's use of 
the name "Street" for the white plantation owner is a criticism of the 
white-male intrusion into and attempt to dominate this native location. 
Her inclusion of the alien greenhouse within which Valerian Street* at- 
tempts to nurture plants not indigenous to the island, and his failure to 
do so, speak to Morrison's rejection of the maleness and whiteness* that 
attempt to categorize, domesticate, tame, and dominate this womblike, 
Black female environment. 

Another juxtaposition is represented by the coldness and sterility of 
the white-male dominated Street house in comparison with the rich vi- 
tality of the earthy female space of the island. Those within the Street 
home, including the Black servants Sydney and Ondine Childs* and their 
niece Jadine*, are tainted (and blinded) because of their aspirations to- 
ward Western ideals. Their world is shaken and disrupted because of Son's 
arrival, an arrival that represents salvation and a reaffirmation of the 


maternal — of the island and of Black women. Spirituality*, history, and 
cultural recovery are introduced by the Christlike Son, but as provinces 
of the Black woman. Meanwhile, Jadine battles with the earthiness of the 
Black women whose powers assault her assumed Western ideologies — 
the woman in yellow and the women of Eloe. The tensions of race, gen- 
der, and class all come together in Jadine's struggle between the Western 
materialistic life she has led and the mystical, seemingly childlike life of 
the earth that continually confronts her after the arrival of Son. Son is 
the catalyst, but the focus of Tar Baby is untamed Black womanness. 

With Beloved*, Morrison again sets her narrative in the distant past 
with its focus on the horrors of slavery*, especially for the enslaved Black 
mother. The novel is a painful account of the lengths to which the pro- 
tagonist, Sethe Suggs*, goes in order to keep her children from the chains 
of slavery. As we saw with Eva Peace in Sula, Sethe seems to cross the 
line, and we are again faced with the problem of trying to reconcile our 
feelings about the mother (nurturer) who takes the life of her child (mur- 
derer) in order to protect it. 

As is true in most of Morrison's work, men play peripheral, although 
important, roles in Beloved; however, the focus of the novel is on the sur- 
vival of women. Various women's voices tell the story; the helping hands 
of women support and nurture Sethe; and a multitude of communities 
of women manage, ultimately, to bring Sethe to the point of becoming 
whole. Just as we are given no explanation of the origins of Son in Tar 
Baby, so we are challenged with the mystical in this novel as well, with 
the introduction of the character of Beloved*. Another theme that Mor- 
rison uses often emerges here: mother/daughter relationships. Sethe had 
been disconnected from her mother; Sethe gives birth to Denver* (with 
the helping hand of white Amy Denver*) on her run to freedom; and 
Beloved attaches herself to the mother she needs and who had killed her, 
in turn draining the life out of Sethe. 

In Beloved, it is the women who heal each other, beginning with Amy 
rubbing life back into Sethe's swollen, dying feet, moving to Baby Suggs's 
emotional/spiritual healing of Sethe, and ending with the community of 
thirty women who unite to drive Beloved from 124 Bluestone Road* so 
that Sethe will finally be free. 

Morrison's Jazz*, like jazz* music itself, is full of movement, twists, and 
turns. It also addresses the theme of fragmentation — how spirits get bro- 
ken into little pieces and one's attempt to become whole again. The three 
main female characters of Jazz (again, mother-daughter links) are True 
Belle*, her daughter Rose Dear*, and Rose Dear's daughter Violet Trace*. 
They represent memory and history as maintained by the Black woman 
and as passed on to future generations; as such, they are the nurturers of 
Black heritage. In Jazz, that history starts with the New Negro Jazz Age of 
Violet, moves back to the slave experiences of her grandmother True Belle, 


and then to the despair and degradation of her mother Rose Dear, not to 
mention the various syncopated movements in between and around them. 

The mysterious voice telling the story intersects with the voices of the 
other characters, creating a lyrical narrative that is characteristic of the 
open-endedness of woman's way of talking. Morrison's experimentation 
with language and voice in Jazz is an example of her rejection of the tra- 
ditionally masculine style of clarity, logic, and decisive action as the traits 
associated with the novel. Just as one's memory is disjointed — recalling 
pieces of life lived out of order and with various degrees of clarity — so is 
history as told by women in the context otjazz, and so is its text as struc- 
tured by the author of Jazz. 

The black women in Jazz attempt to reinvent and re-create themselves 
out of the discordant bits and pieces of their lives — the ragged edges left 
from slavery that defined them as mammies and/or harlots, the post- 
slavery disempowerment that forced them to continue in positions of 
domestic and menial labor, and the social and economic strife that lim- 
ited their advancement in the urban centers of the North after the Great 
Migration.* Morrison alternately shows them as victors and as victims 
throughout the novel, but their ultimate aura of strength is embedded 
in the fertile, earthy, untamed images of the South. Like Eloe and the Ca- 
ribbean island in Tar Baby, like Shalimar in Song of Solomon, and like 
the Bottom in Sula, the nurturing places in Jazz are feminine. 

The Oven* and the Convent* are the primary images in Morrison's 
Varadise* , and they represent the femaleness of the novel. Although the 
men built the Oven, which was the communal gathering place for the 
town, its importance is that it was the place where the women baked the 
bread that sustained the community. Convents have traditionally been 
situated away from the world of men and have represented havens for 
women saving themselves for God. In Paradise, the Convent represents 
the last refuge for women trying to find themselves and an escape from 
the sordid lives society has dealt them. Whereas the Oven early on em- 
bodies mystical qualities tied to the nurturing actions of women, it loses 
this influence as the town of Haven, Oklahoma* (renamed Ruby* after 
the woman who died on the move to this location), comes to represent the 
damaging power of the men who embody the physical and emotional de- 
struction of women. 

As the power of the Oven declines, the Convent assumes the mysti- 
cal, mysterious character it once represented as broken and fragmented 
women find their way to its doors. The raw, primal power of these women 
is represented in the garden that they maintain, in the potent pepper rel- 
ish and sauces that they prepare, and in the bread that they bake. Bread 
is no longer baked in the communal oven of Ruby, but is purchased by 
the townspeople from the women of the Convent, evidence of the grow- 
ing power of women who have removed themselves from men. 


Not surprisingly, the five women of the Convent come to represent a 
challenge to male authority, a challenge that the men of Ruby must elim- 
inate. In the end, the major story line within Paradise seems to fall along 
gender lines — the women are good and the men are evil. Morrison uses 
the brutality of the assault on the women of the Convent as an indication 
of the emotionless, cold, calculating nature of man in fear of losing his 
power over woman, and thereby his dominant position in society. The 
mystical survival of the Convent women, however, moves us from the 
material world of man to the spiritual world of woman. 

A final note: Morrison never specifically identifies the race of any of 
the women of the Convent. All we know for sure is that the first to be 
shot was the white girl. Perhaps Morrison's failure to note the race of 
each damaged woman is her own mysterious way of saying that all 
women in our patriarchal society risk being broken unless we maintain 
communities of women to help hold the fragments together. 

References: Catherine Belsey and Jane Moore, eds., The Feminist Reader: 
Essays in Gender and the Politics of Literary Criticism (1989); Martin 
Bidney, "Creating a Feminist-Communitarian Romanticism in Beloved: 
Toni Morrison's New Uses for Blake, Keats, and Wordsworth," Papers on 
Language and Literature 36: 3 (Summer 2000); Kyung Soon Lee, "Black 
Feminism: Sula and Meridian." Journal of English Language and Liter- 
ature 38: 3 (Fall 1992); Angelyn Mitchell, "'Sth, I Know That Woman': 
History, Gender and the South in Toni Morrison's ]azz," Studies in the 
Literary Imagination 31: 2 (Fall 1998); Barbara Smith, "Toward a Black 
Feminist Criticism," in All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are 
Men, But Some of us Are Brave, ed. Gloria T Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, 
and Barbara Smith (1982). 

Johnnie M. Stover 

Approaches to Morrison's Work: Historical 

In 1974, Toni Morrison edited The Black Book*, a collection of pho- 
tos, newspaper articles, patents, advertisements, and other texts about 
Black life in America. That same year, she published "Rediscovering 
Black History" in the New York Times Magazine, an article describ- 
ing her process in creating The Black Book. These two texts represent 
the public beginning of Morrison's profound concern with African 
American history* and its excision from national narratives of our 
past, a concern that extends into her fiction. Morrison's novels collec- 
tively can be seen as a project of historical remembrance and recov- 
ery * . They depict the intermingling of the past and the present in what 


Morrison terms "rememory," a nod to the African belief that present 
and past are united, not separate. Yet they also demand a rewriting of 
past historical narratives to include the ever-present traumas of slav- 
ery* and structural racism. Viewing her work from a historical per- 
spective, then, can yield fruitful insights. 

Morrison's career is marked by an increasing engagement with his- 
tory on a thematic and structural level. The Bluest Eye*, her earliest 
novel, is not directly concerned with historical practice, but it does reflect 
how the mass culture industry disallows African American history and 
culture in its drive toward sameness for all under the rule of consump- 
tion. Thus, even though it is not a historical novel, Morrison does con- 
front questions of African American history. Sula* , Morrison's next 
novel, takes the form of a chronicle, with chapters labeled by year. It tells 
the history of the Bottom*, focusing particularly on Sula Peace* and Nel 
Wright*. Yet the tale moves beyond them to capture the town as a 
whole — its rituals, its history. In the interplay between the personal and 
the communal we find truth. 

Song of Solomon* is the story of a search for family history, one made 
of myths and legends as well as facts and dates. Milkman Dead*, the cen- 
tral character of the novel, is on a quest to recover his past as well as his 
identity*. In fact, these two are inextricably linked for Morrison; one's 
past determines one's identity. Milkman demonstrates his understand- 
ing of his heritage by singing songs at Pilate Dead's* death. And his final 
leap at the end of the novel is a figurative leap into the past. His accep- 
tance of his ancestors' flying myths enables him to recover his identity 
while legitimating alternative histories. As a result, Song of Solomon is 
the most overtly historical of the earlier novels. Tar Baby"', on the other 
hand, would seem to be the least historical of Morrison's novels. The past 
is never brought into the present; instead, it is held separate, inaccessi- 
ble. Yet the continuity of past and present is clear, particularly in the eco- 
nomic dominance established across time. Tar Baby represents colonial 
inequality as a historically based system of racial prejudice. 

Morrison's more recent works, however, are historical fictions, more 
overt explorations of history and its forms. Morrison relates disturbing 
moments in our past, refusing to look away from the horrors and 
tragedies that form African American history. Yet she also engages his- 
tory on a structural level, using folklore*, myth*, oral narratives, and 
other nontraditional sources as a means for weaving an alternative his- 
tory that captures what traditional histories leave out. Morrison thus re- 
defines historical methodology as well as content in her later work. For 
example, her play Dreaming Emmett* was commissioned to celebrate 
the first federal holiday commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, 
Jr. For this occasion, Morrison chose to retell the story of Emmett Till, a 
Black teenager lynched in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white 


woman. Morrison's innovation was to bring Till alive on stage and let 
him tell the story of his murder from his perspective. This play inaugu- 
rates Morrison's turn toward historical narratives, yet her novels (and 
this play) blur the lines between history and fiction, truth and lies, real- 
ity and imagination. 

Perhaps Morrison's most famous novel, Beloved*, is the exemplum of 
African American historical fiction. Morrison based the novel on the 
story of Margaret Garner*, a Kentucky slave who killed her own child 
when recaptured after escaping to the North. Morrison discovered this 
story while editing The Black Book, but she purposely did not research 
further, choosing to let her imagination reconstruct the tale. Thus, the 
novel is far more than a simple retelling of the Margaret Garner story. 
Beloved reenacts slavery*, engaging the reader with the material conse- 
quences of this historical institution through a focus on the victims whose 
histories have been ignored in the dominant culture. Beloved relates slav- 
ery's trauma* through personal histories, stories, and tales. History is 
more than facts and dates; it is memories, stories, ghosts, and houses. 
Beloved reinvents historical recovery as an act of imagination. It legiti- 
mates alternative sources for history, such as oral stories and myths, be- 
cause for Morrison, telling history is a survival strategy for African 
Americans. Her goal is to refigure the past to include other voices, not to 
be possessed by it. 

jazz* also is based on an actual event, the case of a Harlem* woman 
who, shot by her lover, nevertheless refuses to incriminate him so he can 
escape. Yet once again Morrison goes beyond the specific event to cap- 
ture a larger panorama, jazz is also about a period (the Jazz Age) and the 
people who were living then, unconscious of the formative nature of that 
time. In writing the novel, she invents new ways to relate experience, 
going beyond traditional history to capture the essence of a community*. 
jazz alludes not only to the history of the 1920s but also to the most hor- 
rific acts of the postbellum period. It references the lynching of Blacks in 
the nineteenth century and the stealing of Black lands; the 1920s riots in 
East Saint Louis and Tulsa; the NAACP silent march; the all-Black 369th 
regiment that Joe Trace* marches with in their victory parade, remind- 
ing the reader of the Great War. 

In essence, Morrison captures the history of slavery, the Reconstruc- 
tion, and the Great Migration* leading into the Harlem Renaissance, but 
she does so from an oblique angle. In so doing, she reveals the larger 
struggle that exists between white culture's interpretation of Black 
history and the interpretations woven from the wealth of stories and ex- 
periences in the Black community. And just as in Beloved, jazz is an ar- 
gument for how we should tell history through multiple voices, jazz is 
a story reconstructed from fragments of memory*, gossip, and news — 
all are equally useful in telling the story, even if official historical meth- 


ods decry such subjective forms of communication. Morrison's point is 
that we must cobble together our story of the past from multiple ac- 
counts. This is not to say that all representations are equal; instead, Mor- 
rison highlights the active process of narrativizing history. Readers must 
piece together the story themselves, weighing evidence and constructing 
events. Jazz has as much to do with the structure as the content, a riff on 
the musical form reimagined in words. 

The last novel of Morrison's historical trilogy is Paradise*, a novel that 
tells the story of five murdered women through a collection of subjec- 
tive accounts. Morrison again questions the construction of a historical 
narrative while she exposes a violence directed through race* and gen- 
der toward women. As in the previous novels, history is a subjective act 
of experience and imagination, retold in multiple forms. Morrison wants 
to recognize that the stories embodied in history contain the life of a cul- 
ture. Her historical text, then, is one filled with gaps and misinformation, 
an example of life as it is lived, fragmented and incoherent at times, yet 
rich and vibrant, filled with love and hate, pleasure and pain. History is 
a creative process for Morrison, always subject to revision through imag- 
ination in a search for the truth that lies beyond facts. See also Flying 
Africans, Myth of; Ghost Story, Use of; Oral Tradition. 

References: Susan Comfort, "Counter-Memory, Mourning and History 
inToni Morrison's Beloved," Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory 6: 1-2 
(April 1995); Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and K.A. Appiah, Toni Morrison: 
Critical Perspectives Past and Present (1993); Jane Kuenz, "The Bluest 
Lye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity," 
African American Review 27: 3 (1993); Angelyn Mitchell, '"Sth, I Know 
That Woman': History, Gender, and the South in Toni Morrison's jazz," 
Studies in the Literary Imagination 31: 2 (Fall 1998). 

David E. Magill 

Approaches to Morrison's Work: Pedagogical 

The most productive critical approach to the novels of Toni Morrison 
may be debatable, but Morrison leaves no doubt about the most produc- 
tive pedagogical approach to her fiction. Repeatedly over the years, in es- 
says and interviews, she has explained that she writes for a participatory 
reader. Our job as teachers of Morrison is clear. We must facilitate the 
active, involved reading that her novels require. However, as Morrison 
herself has noted more than once, this is not an easy task today, when, 
reared on television's undemanding, formulaic plots, students expect nar- 
ratives to be linear and simple. Therefore, before we can model the 


participatory reading that Morrison requires, we must open our students 
to Morrison's aesthetic. 

How do we do that? I think the best plan is to go to the source: Morri- 
son herself. Students are greatly assisted by Morrison's also being a teacher, 
a theorist, a critic, and an editor. Unlike some writers, Morrison — whose 
sophisticated narrative style often links her to writers like William 
Faulkner* and Gabriel Garcia Marquez — eloquently discusses her own 
work. And she has been doing so for years, from her first interviews about 
The Bluest Eye* to those regarding her most recent novel, Paradise*. I urge 
teachers of Morrison to read Morrison on Morrison. Two excellent sources 
are Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle's Approaches to Teaching the Nov- 
els ofToni Morrison (1997) and Danielle Taylor-Guthrie's Conversations 
with Toni Morrison (1994). One thing readers will find when they read 
Morrison's critical commentary is that her central issues — thematic and 
stylistic — have not changed much over the thirty-plus years that she has 
been writing. Morrison is clear and consistent about her concerns. 

The simple act of considering Morrison's novels in light of her com- 
mentary is itself participatory. Students can interview the author vic- 
ariously, gaining insight into the aesthetic motivating the text. 
Informed about and familiar with the author, they can return to the 
text productively. Also, for students who have trouble appreciating the 
intentionality of the writing enterprise, this kind of textual comple- 
ment demonstrates more clearly than anything else the art of fiction. 
It moves them past dismissal of complexity and unresolvedness as 
flaws, and leads them to seek why the author has made the choices ev- 
idenced in the text. And when they find an explanation, even though 
it may seem enigmatic, they often respond as if a secret has been en- 
trusted to them, bonding with the author and the novel. 

Teachers of Morrison would be well advised to develop a bibliography 
of Morrison on Morrison for this purpose. While she has written a num- 
ber of helpful essays, one that I find extremely rich is "Memory, Creation, 
and Writing," which Morrison published in Thought in 1984. By this 
time — after Tar Baby* and before Beloved* — her first four books had 
made her a respected narrative stylist. This essay reads much like the kind 
of preface or essay literary innovators have felt called to write at various 
times in history — Hawthorne, James, and Eliot come to mind — in order 
to create an informed audience for their work. In that, it can be very illu- 
minating. To illustrate, I will discuss a few passages from "Memory, Cre- 
ation, and Writing" and relate Morrison's assertions there to her fiction. 
I regret that publishing arrangements for this volume forbid my quoting 
from the essay, and I wish to assure readers that I have attempted to ac- 
curately reflect Morrison's full argument in my paraphrasing. I have also 
cited the location of each passage being discussed to assist readers who 
wish to consult Morrison's essay. 


In this essay, Morrison explains that she wishes her fiction to encour- 
age readers to participate actively in the nonliterary experience of the text. 
She wants the experience of reading her novels to be more than merely 
the detached, passive acceptance of data (387). Knowing that this kind of 
involvement is the author's goal leads students to better appreciate the 
epic intensity and complex histories of the Breedloves*, the Peaces*, the 
Deads*, the Streets*, the Suggses*, the Traces*, and the Morgans*. Fur- 
ther, instead of feeling alienated by Morrison's enigmatic beginnings — 
those first sentences which arrest and baffle the reader — students enter 
the narrative as informed participants, teased but not put off. 

In this essay, Morrison also declares that she wants to subvert the 
reader's comfort, leading the reader to a new, less conventional experi- 
ence (387). Again this information, besides opening the class discourse 
to consideration of what she means, exactly, and inviting students to 
provide illustrating instances from the text, allows students to be partic- 
ipatory readers because they know the "rules of the game." Instead of 
feeling manipulated and teased by information withheld, they enjoy re- 
alizing that they, the readers, have been a primary consideration in the 
creative process. Armed with this awareness, their participation gains a 
new dimension. They begin to consider their own responses to the lan- 
guage of the text. 

In a discussion of The Bluest Eye, Morrison makes the following point, 
which could apply to any of her novels. She explains that as she devel- 
oped the pieces of that story, she discovered that she preferred them un- 
connected. She feels that the resulting narrative, with events that relate, 
but do not flow coherently or directly, best communicates the story of 
the fractured perceptions resulting from a splintered life (388). These 
comments are key to linking issues of form and content in Morrison's 
novels. Fractured narratives result from and reveal the splintered per- 
ceptions caused by shattered lives — from the wounded Pecola Breedlove* 
(The Bluest Eye) to the scarred Sethe Suggs* (Beloved) to the damaged 
women of the Convent* (Paradise). Morrison's uniting of form and con- 
tent facilitates her objective of having readers fully experience the text. 
Like the characters, readers are caught in the confluence of past and pres- 
ent, of conflicting perceptions, of uninformed involvement. 

Here Morrison also discusses what she describes as her Black metier 
and third world cosmology: the presence of flying, ghosts, and magic in 
her stories. Although students may not have studied the realistic, rational 
origins of the novel, they have been reared in the Western literary tra- 
dition, and operate on its assumptions. Morrison's highlighting of what 
some have described as elements of magical realism* opens discussion of 
the literary tradition, canon, and genre. 

But Morrison's point is much more specific and illuminating; these 
magical, supernatural elements in her fiction are integral to their — and 


her — Blackness. She argues that since her writing confronts a reality un- 
like the rational worldview of Western culture, it must validate ways of 
seeing the world that are discredited by the West. This "other" view of 
reality is dismissed as "lore" or "gossip" or "magic" or "sentiment." Mor- 
rison maintains that this dismissal by Western culture is not because 
these views themselves are false or dangerous, but simply because they 
are maintained by discredited people (388). With this insight provided 
by the author, students can move far beyond merely not resisting the 
nonrealistic elements in her fiction, a big hurdle for many readers. They 
learn to appreciate it in terms of ideology. The teacher can open discus- 
sion of the politics of aesthetics and of the academy. 

Morrison has much to say on this subject. One clear lesson that comes 
from having Morrison help teach Morrison is that she is proudly an 
African American writer. While her artistry may transcend any limits, it 
is an artistry focused on telling Black stories in a Black way. This cannot 
be overstated. Any teacher who downplays Morrison's race* identifi- 
cation out of respect for the transcendent and universal in her fiction is 
doing both Morrison and the students a disservice. Issues of Blackness 
in white America must be embraced for productive study of Morrison's 
art. Anyone who does not believe that needs only to listen to Morrison 
on the subject. Here, as elsewhere, she clearly states that she wishes to 
write in a way that is identifiably Black, thematically and stylistically. 
She sees her creative task as the production of Black art, and she wants 
her fiction to be assessed in terms of a Black aesthetic, the principles of 
which she has helped articulate (389). 

Morrison as artist is not merely contextualizing her plots. She is shap- 
ing her aesthetic and sharing it with readers. She asserts here that if her 
work is to reflect the aesthetic tradition of African American culture, it 
must translate its other art forms into print. And she lists some of the 
qualities which mark that aesthetic — particularly antiphony, collabora- 
tion, and functionality. She also makes special note of the element of im- 
provisation and audience participation. And finally she identifies Black 
art as a critical voice, upholding traditional communal values but also 
providing moments of individual defiance and even transcendence of 
group restriction (389). Because these points are so specific, it is not dif- 
ficult for students to see their presence in the texts once they understand 
them. So class time is well spent making sure they understand what Mor- 
rison means by each one. 

That exercise often leads naturally to more learning. For instance, while 
the logical place to begin understanding antiphony is by defining the 
term, once students learn that the word describes call-and-response songs 
and chants, they will be ready for more connection. They will begin to 
appreciate the history* of this community* rhetoric that connects con- 
temporary African American church liturgy to spirituals rooted in slav- 


ery and even further back to African oral traditions*. Then they can con- 
sider antiphonal qualities in Morrison's style, which they can easily do — 
whether they consider the multivoiced narration of her novels or the call 
of her narratives for a response from the reader. 

Or, to provide another example, examination of the term "functional- 
ity" can be very productive. Morrison's point is that the literary creation 
serves the group as an expressive and critical voice. The storyteller, as 
griot, is powerful. Through understanding this point, students can move 
from an appreciation for Morrison's novels to an appreciation of the po- 
tential power that resides in art, one far greater than entertainment. But 
Morrison also clarifies what the limits of that power are, explaining that 
stories should not attempt to solve social problems; rather, they should 
try to clarify them (389). 

This assertion is extremely helpful in clarifying Morrison's narrative 
goal. Here, too, is a good illustration of why using Morrison's own words 
can be so helpful. This statement is more than a simple caution against 
narrative didacticism — to show rather than tell. The teacher can point to 
the fact that Morrison is not discussing what the storyteller should and 
should not do, but rather what the story itself should and should not do. 
Further, she is declaring a narrative ethic by exhorting against any plot 
that "solves" its problems. For many students, this concept impels a par- 
adigm shift, enabling them to find new pleasure in certain of Morrison's 
narrative qualities, such as the lack of clear resolution in her plots, which 
previously might have caused them readerly discomfort. 

The Black aesthetic also emphasizes art as a group collaboration. It 
must be essentially improvisational because it depends on its relation- 
ship to the audience. Students pondering these assertions realize that 
they must actively participate in the interpretive experience to fulfill the 
author's intent. They are given license by the author to respond to the 
text from their various social positions and histories. If the powerfully 
charged stories and their troubling characters ignite confrontation with 
silenced issues within and among individual readers, the novels are liv- 
ing their promise. 

A teacher can also move from Morrison's reference to the individual 
in relation to group restrictions to draw attention to the many ways her 
novels focus on the effects of socially and historically constructed iden- 
tity*. Highlighting this dynamic in the novels creates the need for con- 
textualizing. Each of Morrison's novels is enriched tremendously by 
knowledge of the social-political-economic conditions of the historic 
moment, regardless of whether that time and place is Cincinnati, Ohio, 
in the 1870s; Harlem, New York*, in the 1920s; or Ruby, Oklahoma*, in 
the 1970s. With this information, students can better understand both 
the factual circumstance of the novel and the forces on identity deter- 
mined by race, class, and gender. 


I have narrowed this discussion to one of Morrison's essays in order 
to illustrate how fruitful her own commentary can be. I wish to show 
how effectively her own discussion — on the human condition, American 
life, the literary tradition, aesthetics, the writing process, the medium of 
language — can be used to teach her novels. Teachers will find equally 
helpful commentary in almost any direct source. Interviews that focus 
on individual novels can be particularly helpful for studying that specific 
text. And since 1993, when Morrison was formally recognized as one of 
the world's great writers with the Nobel Prize for Literature, she has re- 
ceived substantial serious attention in respected journals, such as The 
Paris Review (vol. 35, 1993) and Modern Fiction Studies (vol. 39, 1993). 
Printed interviews with her are usually thoughtful and thorough, and 
perhaps because Morrison is also a teacher and a scholar, she is amaz- 
ingly forthright and articulate. Her interviews are not the wily games of 
catch-me-if-you-can delivered by some authors. Morrison, the author- 
cum-professor, seeks to communicate. 

In their effort to use Morrison to teach Morrison, teachers can also 
benefit from Morrison's academic lectures, some of which are in print. 
In Part Three of "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American 
Presence in American Literature," she focuses on her own novels (The 
Bluest Eye through Beloved) to demonstrate the existence of an identi- 
fiable Black aesthetic as evidenced in the use of language (Michigan 
Quarterly Review, 1989). As illustration, she explicates the opening lines 
of each novel, explaining how issues of Blackness (African and African 
American) — hers and her characters' — are naturally present in the lan- 
guage. Her commentary is both enlightening and provocative. And no 
teacher should overlook the insights on the American literary tradition 
that are found in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imag- 
ination. As Morrison has explained, this provocative book-length essay 
from a lecture series at Harvard resulted directly from her perspective as 
a Black literary scholar. Instructed and intrigued by Morrison's com- 
mentary, students can pursue productive close readings of the novels with 
a focus on the nuances of language. Morrison's explanation enables stu- 
dents to approach her texts as art, giving the thoughtful consideration to 
the chosen words that every teacher dreams of developing. 

In an often-referenced early interview with Janet Bakerman in Black 
American Literature Forum (1978) about her fiction and about the power 
of her sympathetic imagination to "become" some terribly flawed char- 
acters, Toni Morrison explains that all of her writing is about love. I would 
go further and assert that Morrison writes with love. Writing as an act 
of love is vitally connected to the Black aesthetic she espouses. Her nov- 
els have communal efficacy. But for this aesthetic to be fully realized, the 
reading community must participate. Students cannot read passively for 
entertainment. They must respond to the call of the text. 


Teachers serve a vital role in teaching students how to be the partici- 
patory readers necessary for Morrison's novels. When they do partici- 
pate actively, students discover that Morrison's are healing texts — for 
Black students who experience noble representation, and for white stu- 
dents who are provided the opportunity to expand their understanding. 
They also discover the truth of what Amy Denver* tells Sethe in Beloved: 
that nothing can heal without causing pain of the past, which they must 
confront in Morrison's novels. And certainly many white students wish 
to distance themselves from what they see as the guilt of their ancestors. 
And many from both groups wish the classroom to be a place of denial, 
apart from the racialized world outside. Traditional study of "classic" texts 
of the Western tradition, with its emphasis on transcendence and uni- 
versality, has fostered the desire for escape. Clearly, Morrison does not 
want that, and the teacher of Morrison should not encourage it. 

There is a great potential for healing and growth within reading com- 
munities of Toni Morrison's novels. This is a precious gift, one that 
teachers should not take lightly. Nor should they take lightly their role 
as bearers of the gift. It is up to teachers to extend the act of love begun 
by Morrison in the writing of her novels, and continued by her in her 
commentaries. They can develop classroom communities of informed, 
participating readers, confronting and interacting with Morrison's texts. 
See also Flying Africans, Myth of; Ghost Story, Use of. 

References: Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle, eds. Approaches to Teach- 
ing the Novels of Toni Morrison (1997); Modern Tiction Studies, special 
issue 39: 3-4 (1993); Toni Morrison, "Memory, Creation, and Writing," 
Thought 59 (1984); Toni Morrison, "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The 
Afro-American Presence in American Literature," Michigan Quarterly 
Review 28 (1989); Elissa Schappell and Claudia Brodsky Lacour, "Toni 
Morrison: The Art of Fiction CXXXIV," The Paris Review 35 (1993); 
Danielle Taylor-Guthrie, ed., Conversations with Toni Morrison (1994). 

Jane Atteridge Rose 

Approaches to Morrison's Work: Postcolonial 

A review of the scholarship reveals that little work has been done on Toni 
Morrison as a postcolonial writer; this is due in part to the developing 
history of America as Britain's predecessor as the new Empire. A quick 
glance at the body of research in American literature reveals similar re- 
sults; an unscientific look at a literature database indicated that less than 
10 percent of the works on postcolonialism are about American litera- 
ture, and that less than 1 percent are about African American literature. 


While the term "postcolonial writer" is often reserved for Anglophone 
or Francophone writers who are from postcolonial nations, often poorly 
termed "the Commonwealth" or the "Third World" (e.g., Nigeria, Kenya, 
and India), this term is an appropriate and important category for writ- 
ers who are often grouped as simply "African American writers" as if the 
African American experience were a monolith. Much like the settler 
colonies/nonsettler colonies quagmire in postcolonial studies, studies of 
American colonization have yet to adequately address the complex 
issues of human suffering and denigration resulting from the Middle 
Passage, slavery*, and the systemic removal of Native Americans. In ad- 
dressing some of the complexities of what America means to the 
descendants of the African Diaspora, Toni Morrison emerges as a promi- 
nent voice to critically examine the psychological weight of the darkest 
legacy of the African Diaspora, the Middle Passage. 

Postcolonial women writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Buchi Emecheta, 
Jean Rhys, Nadine Gordimer, and Bapsi Sidwa wrestle with the pains 
of cultural in-betweenness in their themes about motherhood*, sister- 
hood, and family* viewed through the disrupted and uprooted mean- 
ings of "home" within the cultural partition of Empire. Viewed within 
the context of postcolonial studies, Toni Morrison's novels engage his- 
tory* in terms where home* is unstable topography between protected 
private space and vulnerable public space threatened by the American 
colony's destructive desire to reduce Black bodies to chattel. This has 
led to Morrison's exploration of identity* and self-worth. For example, 
in the sexual politics in Sula* , the public and private space of what 
might be considered "home" is quite disturbing. And as Sula Peace* 
and Nel Wright* struggle for self-definition, this self-definition is sim- 
ilar to questions of origin or disrupted origin connected to the disrupted 
history of American slaves. The final moments of Sula emphasize water 
and fluidity. The song "Shall We Gather at the River" and the rain at 
Sula's funeral draw a connection between death* and water (the grave 
and water as Sula's final home). However, this is not T.S. Eliot's "Death 
by Water," but a historical reminder of the Middle Passage. Nel's final 
cry reinforces the image; her cry of "girl," which repeats once, then 
fuses three times to mimic a sound like gurgling or drowning, bonds 
Sula's memory or absent presence to Nel's desire to move on with the 
business of living. The novel's final image of circles as a description of 
sorrow enforces the fluid over the linear. 

Morrison's use of fluidity and identity points to her use of the "in-be- 
tween" found in the traditions of W.E.B. Du Bois's "double consciousness" 
and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Resulting from the Middle Passage 
and American slavery, this fluid or less stable identity remains paramount 
in African American literary tradition; Morrison also uses water in Tar 
Baby* and Beloved*. Moreover, this writing style that rejects the 'Tin- 


ear" for the "circular" reappears in Beloved. The question in Sula, 
whether to reject or embrace "home" within the context of one's sexual 
identity or otherwise, is a question that individuals face within the post- 
colonial cultural situation, whether that situation is in England or Amer- 
ica. While the circles of sorrow in Sula remain a burden for the living, 
in Beloved the circles move concentrically to embrace the living, the dead, 
the past, and the present. 

In Morrison's Song of Solomon' 1 ', the myth of the flying Africans* 
works to connect the past with the present. The myth of the flying 
Africans tells of Africans who escaped the slave trade by flying from slave 
ships during the Middle Passage or back to Africa after arriving in the 
Americas. The novel both begins and ends with the promise of or hope 
for flight. And while the theme of flight is obviously connected to issues 
of a struggle to be free, represented in Milkman Dead*, the theme of 
flight as connected to its mythic past in the flying Africans also suggests 
an effort to reconcile with an African past. As with "rememory" in 
Beloved, we see Milkman's struggle to understand family* history 
through the folk song Pilate Dead* sings at his birth or origin. The final 
act of the novel indicates reconciling with and reclaiming a lost past or 
lost African home. The idea of air works to reverse images of suffocation 
and water connected to the Middle Passage in other novels. 

Postcolonial approaches to Morrison's narratives move toward, 
through, and beyond her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved. Sethe 
Suggs's* story about the legacy of slavery mediated through a mother's 
infanticide* is not only a story about the tragedy based on the life of 
Margaret Garner*; it is the affirmation and reclamation of the millions 
of voices lost as a result of the Middle Passage. In its affirmation and 
reclamation of these voices, Beloved opens up spaces where a "national" 
literature about the tragedy of slavery may be more fully articulated, un- 
derstood, and appreciated. Questions about home are apparent early in 
Beloved. The narratives-within-narratives that describe the ironically 
named Sweet Home* address the complexities of the postcolonial figure 
within the context of home. The idea of home for the descendants of 
African slaves is one where home is and is not Africa, and home is and 
is not America: "home" is lost and gained, gained and lost. 

The stories in Beloved, often about family, marriage, relationships, 
and/or sexuality*, produce questions of where the postcolonial African 
American fits in. Paul D* wanders for eighteen years before arriving at 
Sethe's home; the first sentence of the novel reminds readers that the 
family is home at 124 Bluestone Road*, but no sooner is this welcome 
mat put out, than the spiteful relationship to home is introduced. And as 
Paul D struggles to find a home, Beloved*, too, struggles to find home; 
Beloved's status at the novel's opening is one of in-betweenness. She is 
not of the world of the living or the flesh; however, she will soon emerge 


from the world of the water to become flesh. Her journey from the water 
that is grave reverses the ending of Sula. And like Sula, Beloved's origin 
or home is intimately connected to sexuality: her womb/tomb through 
Sethe as well as her desire for Paul D as she demands that he touch her 
and call her name. The issue of ownership becomes a further entangle- 
ment in all their lives. 

The meaning of home as a site of origin extends beyond the borders of 
124 Bluestone Road. The site of the woman's body has been interestingly 
politicized within postcolonial studies. The history of England's Britannia 
and India's "Mother India," along with a number of female religious 
deities, suggests that the site of women's bodies, mythic or otherwise, is 
important to the study of culture and cultural conflict. In Morrison's 
Beloved the site for this struggle is Sethe's body — the womb and the 
tomb. And when Beloved returns to this site, we see an ensuing battle for 
this "home" between Denver Suggs* and Beloved, a battle in part echo- 
ing Sula's and Nel's battle for "home." However, the battle for this site 
does not end there. The events surrounding Sethe as the site of origin or 
womb move into what Homi Bhabha has called "reclamation." Through 
Beloved's death and return, Sethe wishes to reclaim the product of her 
womb, which she considers her most precious thing. Such ownership func- 
tions in much the same way that a formerly colonized nation must re- 
claim the "culturally dead State" and identify it as its property yet again. 
Reclaiming this property is also a reclaiming of some form of identity sep- 
arate from the colonizing nation or the institution of slavery. 

In this psychological context, "rememories" are another form of recla- 
mation. In a less gothic fashion than Beloved's desire for Paul D to call 
her name, Beloved, Sethe, and Denver, according to Bhabha, reclaim and 
name through their fuguelike monologues. While Sethe's body serves as 
a site of origin and the formally enslaved body, emblematic of a colonized 
nation, it is Beloved's body that transgresses the boundaries of life and 
death, past and present. It is her transgression that opens up questions 
of identity and historical experience (Who is Beloved?). Therefore, it is 
through Beloved's agency that Sethe and Denver are able to engage in 
the project of reclaiming the self. Satya P. Mohanty argues that the "fu- 
sion of perspectives" (including PaulD's) is where the act of reclamation 
must be accomplished. 

The issue of reclamation in Beloved offers unlimited possibilities 
within a postcolonial studies context. Within the demands and designs 
of American slavery, the connection between reclamation of the body 
and reclamation of land proves fascinating in regard to the promise of 
"forty acres and a mule" as reparation for the suffering of slavery. 
Reclamation of the body as "nationhood" is emphasized in Baby 
Suggs's* forest injunction for Blacks to love themselves. Along with 
Denver's name (reclaiming the memory or "rememory" of Amy Den- 


ver*), names like "Here Boy" (slavery's emasculation) and "Stamp 
Paid" (ownership of the self) indicate attempts to "reclaim" human dig- 
nity. Baby Suggs's sermon asking Blacks to turn self-loathing into self- 
loving raises another form of reclamation: reclamation of an African 
American culture. 

Colonial conquests often lead to the colonized culture's defamation. 
Whether in Africa, India, or Ireland, the native culture is defined as 
inferior or barbaric, and hence must be supplanted by the colonizer's 
"superior" culture and educational system. From the language to the 
government, systems are put in place by the colonizer to ensure that 
its culture will thrive while the culture of the other will wither. Mor- 
rison's work, along with that of many other African American writers, 
reclaims a tradition that had previously been relegated to second-class 
status. From The Bluest Eye* to Paradise' 1 ', Morrison celebrates the 
complexity of the African American experience. 

In postcolonial studies, the idea of "home" resides in a space that must 
be read through its historical loss and mystery. In works by Morrison, 
the instability or incommensurability of the concept of "home" is rep- 
resented by the historical gaps in the Middle Passage. While most obvi- 
ous in Beloved, the issues surrounding these historical gaps influence a 
great deal of Morrison's talents and interest. Within the context of an 
American literary tradition, Morrison explores issues and attitudes to- 
ward the unsettled and unsettling conditions of the legacy of descendants 
of American slaves. Just as "forty acres and a mule" proved to be an 
empty dream of home for freed American slaves, so Morrison's novels 
call into question the ideas of home for those who remain partly "in- 
between" Africa and the American plantation. Most of the bloody and 
vile history of the Middle Passage remains locked in the depths of the 
Atlantic, and home and history remain a space of uncertainty for many 
African Americans. It is in that tradition that Toni Morrison's work con- 
tinues to be of interest to postcolonial studies. See also Gothic Tradition; 
History; Sexuality. 

References: Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994); Lynda Kool- 
ish, "Fictive Strategies and Cinematic Representations in Toni Morri- 
son's Beloved: Postcolonial Theory/Postcolonial Text," African Ameri- 
can Review 29: 3 (1995); Satya P. Mohanty, "The Epistemic Status of 
Cultural Identity: On Beloved and the Postcolonial Condition," Cultural 
Critique 3: 1-2 (Spring 1993); Alan Rice, "Erupting Funk: The Political 
Style of Toni Morrison's Tar Baby and The Bluest Eye," in Post-Colonial 
Literatures: Expanding the Canon, ed. Deborah L. Madsen (1999). 

James M. Ivory 


Approaches to Morrison's Work: Psychoanalytic 

In Psychoanalysis and Black Novels, Claudia Tate explains why psy- 
choanalytic theory has largely been avoided by Black intellectuals. Fo- 
cusing on the dynamics of family* relations while ignoring the social 
forces that precondition the family environment, the psychoanalytic 
model "relegates the bleak material circumstances of real lives to the 
background." Carrying "irritating baggage" with it as it isolates the 
Black family from the social forces that condition it, psychoanalytic the- 
ory "has avoided examining the relationship of social oppression to fam- 
ily dysfunction and the blighted inner worlds of individuals" (16). Thus 
scholars who study African American literature "shun" psychoanalysis 
because it effectively "effaces racism and recasts its effects as a person- 
ality disorder caused by familial rather than social pathology" (16). Be- 
cause of the continuation of racial oppression and "the demand for black 
literature to identify and militate against it," remarks Tate, "black liter- 
ature evolves so as to prove that racism exists in the real world and is 
not a figment of the black imagination" (17). 

If Toni Morrison, who is acutely aware of the social pathology of 
racism, examines the social trauma* of racial oppression in her novels, 
she also focuses sustained attention on the private world of the indi- 
vidual and family as she depicts the African American experience. Thus, 
even though traditional psychoanalytic models have been viewed with 
suspicion by many scholars of African American literature, as the com- 
ments of Tate reveal, some critics nevertheless have turned to psycho- 
analytic theories in their investigations of the representation of family 
and personal relations in Morrison's novels — in particular, Sula* , Song 
of Solomon*, and Beloved*. Though discussions of Sula and Song of 
Solomon center attention on the psychology of the individual and fam- 
ily relations, interpretations of Beloved, while placing emphasis on fam- 
ily relations — in particular the mother/daughter relationship — also 
comment on the connection between the personal and the political in 
Morrison's novel. 

A central focus of critics who have applied psychoanalytic theory to 
Sula is the dynamics of the friendship between Nel Wright* and Sula 
Peace*. Attempting to explain the deep girlhood bonding between Nel 
and Sula, Elizabeth Abe,l for example, makes use of object relations 
theory, in particular Nancy Chodorow's analysis of mother-daughter 
relationships in The Reproduction of Mothering, in which Chodorow 
describes how the infant daughter's pre-Oedipal attachment to her 
mother leads, in the developing girl and the adult woman, to a rela- 
tional mode of identification characterized by a fluidity of self-other 
boundaries. In Abel's view, the female bonding of Nel and Sula, in 
which each girl seeks commonality, not complementarity, in friend- 


ship, exemplifies a relational mode of self-definition. Analyzing the 
developmental function of Nel's and Sula's interpersonal identification 
with an other who represents an essential aspect of the self, Abel 
argues that friendship, not parental or sexual relations, is "both the 
vehicle and product of self-knowledge" in Sula. Morrison, as she com- 
bines "the adolescent need for identification with the adult need for 
independence" in telling the story of her characters' friendship, "pres- 
ents an ideal of female friendship dependent not on love, obligation, 
or compassion, but on an almost impossible conjunction of sameness 
and autonomy, attainable only with another version of oneself" (429). 

Drawing on, but also disagreeing in part with Abel's analysis, Alisha 
Coleman acknowledges the commonality of Nel and Sula's friendship 
but also argues that Morrison's characters "complement or rather com- 
plete each other." In Coleman's view, the two friends combine to form a 
whole identity*, for Nel represents the superego or conscience, and Sula 
the unconscious pleasure and desire of the id (151). Marianne Hirsch, 
who has a less positive reading of the friendship between Nel and Sula, 
argues that Morrison's novel, even as it affirms the fusion of the two 
friends and their pre-separational female past, also insists on the sepa- 
ration of the roles and voices of mothers and daughters. While the plot 
of female friendship is offered as an alternative to the maternal plot, Mor- 
rison's characters are unable to transcend or repeat the plots of their 
mothers, and thus have "nowhere to go" (184-85). 

Whereas Sula focuses on the developmental importance of female re- 
lationships, Song of Solomon depicts Milkman Dead's* development of 
a masculine identity in the Black patriarchal family. Reading Song of 
Solomon within the framework of Freudian psychoanalysis but also ar- 
guing that "the Afrocentric and the psychoanalytic are everywhere in 
the text," Eleanor Branch states that Morrison "rewrites the traditional 
Oedipal narrative to highlight what she perceives to be critical issues in 
the development of Black male identity" (53, 56). Through an analysis 
of the Oedipal tensions written into the family histories of Milkman's 
parents, Ruth* and Macon Dead*, Branch illuminates Milkman's nego- 
tiations with the Oedipal issues that govern his life: his Oedipal attach- 
ment to his mother and his rivalrous and antagonistic relationship with 
his father. Morrison's refashioning of the resolution of the Oedipal strug- 
gle, according to Branch, includes Milkman's reclamation of his African 
heritage as well as his affirmation of not only the masculine but also the 

For Gary Storhoff, who argues that psychological criticism has tended 
to oversimplify Morrison's multigenerational novel by focusing too ex- 
clusively on Oedipal issues, Song of Solomon dramatizes the dangers of 
parental enmeshment in telling the story of Milkman Dead. Making use 
of family systems theory, which studies the family as an interpersonal 


system, Storhoff argues that Morrison's novel "contrasts Macon Dead's 
and Ruth Foster's families of origin to reveal why they overinvolve them- 
selves in Milkman's life, as they attempt to recapitulate childhood pat- 
terns in their own family" (291). Serving as the connective agent of his 
family, Milkman becomes triangulated into his parents' power struggle 
and preoccupied with their problems. Fighting to establish his own emo- 
tional boundaries, he ultimately is able to affirm family relations while 
freeing himself from the "anaconda love" of parental enmeshment. 

Because psychoanalysis "isolates psychic experience from the diversi- 
ties of ethnicity and class" and because, in its intense focus on the 
mother/infant relationship, it ignores the social conditioning forces that 
impact parenting, some critics have expressed "grave reservations" about 
the application of psychoanalytic theory to Beloved (FitzGerald 669). Yet 
as psychoanalytic critics have shown, even as Beloved emphasizes the 
private world of the individual and family, it also focuses attention on 
the social and political forces that impact the family as it points to the 
horrible psychic costs of slavery*. 

In an analysis that shows the connection between intrapsychic and 
social reality in Beloved, Barbara Schapiro draws on the work of object 
relations theorists like Melanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott, and also on 
Jessica Benjamin's related intersubjective theory, which argues that the 
autonomous self is an inherently relational, social self dependent on the 
mutual recognition between self and m/other as separate subjects. 
Beloved, as it depicts the emotional costs of enslavement, shows the psy- 
chic consequences of the slaveowner's denial of the slave's status as a 
human subject. Finding a "wounded, enraged" baby as the central figure 
in Beloved's psychic economy — "both literally, in the character of 
Beloved*, and symbolically, as it struggles beneath the surface of the 
other major characters" — Schapiro describes the infantile rage she lo- 
cates in the novel as a "form of frustrated, murderous love" (195, 197). 
"If from the earliest years on, one's fundamental need to be recognized 
and affirmed as a human subject is denied, that need can take on fantas- 
tic and destructive proportions in the inner world: the intense hunger, 
the fantasized fear of either being swallowed or exploding, can tyrannize 
one's life even when one is freed from the external bonds of oppression. 
. . . The free, autonomous self, Beloved teaches, is an inherently social self, 
rooted in relationship and dependent at its core on the vital bond of mu- 
tual recognition" (209). 

Also finding object relations theory useful in interpreting Beloved be- 
cause it offers "a model of how social, cultural and political forces become 
internalized," Jennifer FitzGerald draws on Kleinian object relations the- 
ory in her analysis of the various discourses circulating in the narrative 
(670). While the discourse of slavery inscribes the characters in Beloved 
as objects, "their unconscious . . . has an investment in Kleinian discourse, 


in which pre-Oedipal fantasies are inscribed" (672). Not only can 
Beloved's obsessive relationship with Sethe Suggs* be described as 
pre-Oedipal — or like the pre-Oedipal infant described in Kleinian the- 
ory, Beloved is symbiotically attached to Sethe and she both idealizes 
Sethe as the good, loving mother and feels aggression toward Sethe as 
the bad, abandoning mother — but Beloved also serves as a fantasy fig- 
ure onto whom others project their own wishes and fears. While Sethe, 
who is excessively invested in motherhood*, asserts "her position as sub- 
ject in the discourse of the good mother," she also treats her children* as 
part of herself, not as separate, and thus makes "life-and-death decisions 
for them" {677, 678). 

In Beloved Morrison depicts how slavery undermines the characters' 
sense of self, and she also, through the character of Baby Suggs*, insists 
on the importance of the nurturing power of the community* and com- 
munal self-love. "Beloved's exposition of communal mothering," 
FitzGerald argues, "offers an alternative to the individualism and au- 
tonomy privileged by classical psychoanalysis." In this revised version, 
"identity is constructed not within the narrow confines of the hegemonic 
nuclear family but in relation to the whole community" (683). Through 
a psychoanalytic reading of Beloved, investigators can examine not only 
the psychic costs of slavery but also its therapeutic alternative — "the co- 
operative self-healing of a community of survivors" (685). 

In yet another analysis of Beloved's representation of slavery and the 
slave mother, Jean Wyatt uses a Lacanian perspective to investigate what 
she calls the "maternal symbolic" in the novel. If in Lacanian theory the 
child's entry into the patriarchal symbolic order of language entails a 
move from "maternal bodily connection to a register of abstract signi- 
fies" (475), Morrison's Beloved challenges Lacan's account of the oppo- 
sition between bodily presence and abstract signifier. Arguing that Sethe 
"operates within her own 'maternal symbolic' of presence and connec- 
tion," Wyatt explains that just as Sethe "declined any mediation between 
her body and her nursing baby, insisting on presence," so she "refuses to 
replace that baby with a signifier, to accept the irrevocability of absence 
by putting the child's death into words" (475, 477). Simultaneously the 
preverbal baby killed by Sethe, the pre-Oedipal daughter who wants to 
merge with her mother, and the collective victim of slavery's "un- 
speakable" horrors, Beloved ultimately remains outside social discourse, 
and thus outside narrative memory as the "disremembered" whose story 
should not be retold. While Beloved remains outside the paternal sym- 
bolic of language, Denver Suggs* finds, in the end, "a more inclusive re- 
placement for Lacan's paternal symbolic: a social order that conflates oral 
and verbal pleasures, nurtures her with words, and teaches her that car- 
ing is 'what language was made for'" (475). Just as Morrison revises 
Lacan in describing Denver's entry into the social order of language, so 


she revises Lacan's assumptions about language by making Sethe's phys- 
ical contact with Paul D* at the novel's end the necessary grounds for 
Sethe's "full acceptance of the separate subjectivity required by language 
systems" (484). 

If, again and again, critics have used psychoanalytic theory to exam- 
ine the relationship between Sethe and Beloved, they also have used the 
psychoanalytic concept of the "return of the repressed" to explain the 
novel. Mae Henderson, for example, argues that "psychoanalysis ... is 
based on the theme which preoccupies Morrison's novel: the return of 
the repressed." Because the events of Sethe's enslaved past "have be- 
come sources of both repression and obsession," she must "'conjure up' 
her past — symbolized by Beloved — and confront it as an antagonist." 
Through her communication with Beloved, Sethe is given the opportu- 
nity to work through her past. "Thus, the psychoanalytic process be- 
comes, for Sethe, the means by which she must free herself from the 
burden of her past and from the burden of history" (74). In a similar 
way Linda Krumholtz views Beloved as "the physical manifestation of 
suppressed memories." At one and the same time "the pain and the 
cure," Beloved is, in a sense, "like an analyst, the object of transference 
and cathexis that draws out the past, while at the same time she is that 
past. Countering traumatic repression, she makes the characters accept 
their past, their squelched memories, and their own hearts, as beloved" 
(400). And for Naomi Morgenstern, Morrison's Beloved, while repeat- 
ing the story of slavery, also insists that "it is only through an account 
of traumatic repetition that the story of slavery ever gets told" (118). 

In their varied investigations of Morrison's novels, psychoanalytically 
oriented critics have found Freudian or object relations or Lacanian the- 
ory helpful in their analyses of the girlhood bonding of Nel and Sula in 
Sula, the Oedipal development of Milkman Dead in Song of Solomon, 
and the mother-daughter relationship of Beloved and Sethe in Beloved. 
Despite the reservations some scholars have expressed about using psy- 
choanalytic theory to discuss the works of an African American author 
like Morrison, psychoanalytic critics have successfully highlighted the 
central place of fantasy and the unconscious in Morrison's novelistic 
narratives as they have investigated Morrison's representation of the 
complex inner and social worlds of the individual and family. See also 

References: Elizabeth Abel, "(E)merging Identities: The Dynamics of Fe- 
male Friendship in Contemporary Fiction by Women," Signs: journal of 
Women in Culture and Society 6: 3 (Spring 1981); Eleanor Branch, 
"Through the Maze of the Oedipal: Milkman's Search for Self in Song 
of Solomon," Literature and Psychology 41: 1-2 (1995);Alisha Coleman, 


"One and One Make One: A Metacritical and Psychoanalytic Reading of 
Friendship in Toni Morrison's Sula," CLA Journal 37: 2 (December 1993); 
Jennifer FitzGerald, "Selfhood and Community: Psychoanalysis and Dis- 
course in Beloved," Modern Fiction Studies 39: 3-4 (Fall/Winter 1993); 
Mae Henderson, "Toni Morrison's Beloved: Re-Membering the Body as 
Historical Text," in Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Na- 
tionality in the Modern Text, ed. Hortense Spillers (1991); Marianne 
Hirsch, The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Femi- 
nism (1989); Linda Krumholtz, "The Ghosts of Slavery: Historical Re- 
covery in Toni Morrison's Beloved," African American Review 26: 3 (Fall 
1992); Naomi Morgenstern, "Mother's Milk and Sister's Blood: Trauma 
and the Neoslave Narrative," Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural 
Studies 8: 2 (1996); Barbara Schapiro, "The Bonds of Love and the Bound- 
aries of Self in Toni Morrison's Beloved," Contemporary Literature 32: 
2 (Summer 1991); Gary Storhoff, "'Anaconda Love': Parental Enmesh- 
ment in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon," Style 31: 2 (Summer 1997); 
Claudia Tate, Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols 
of Race (1998); Jean Wyatt, "Giving Body to the Word: The Maternal 
Symbolic in Toni Morrison's Beloved," PMLA 108: 3 (May 1993). 

J. Brooks Bouson 

Approaches to Morrison's Work: Womanist 

African American women authors like Toni Morrison have worked to 
clarify and illustrate the principal tenets of womanism, which finds its 
intellectual roots in Alice Walker's preface to In Search of Our Mothers' 
Gardens (1983). Walker's philosophy foregrounds how racist, classist, 
and sexist power structures disempower African American women. In 
womanist works, often structured as bildungsromans, the heroine em- 
barks on a literal or psychological journey during which she confronts 
physical or psychological enslavement so that she may achieve personal 
freedom. However, this female's new self-empowerment cannot come at 
the exclusion or to the detriment of others. Rather, womanism rejects 
separatism, thereby encouraging men and women to create communi- 
ties that foster a wholeness which transcends gender, class, and racial lines 
because, as Patricia Collins argues, "[b]lack women's struggles are part 
of a wider struggle for human dignity and empowerment" (37). Yet, while 
womanists seek to challenge oppressive power structures and to create 
spaces of nondominance, critics like bell hooks claim that womanism "is 
not sufficiently linked to a tradition of radical political commitment to 
struggle and change" (182). Furthermore, while Walker advocates anti- 
separatism, some critics claim that she fosters it. The Bluest Eye*, Sula*, 


and Beloved* function as representative texts that illustrate how Mor- 
rison simultaneously embraces and challenges womanist tenets and the 
criticism womanism elicits. Understanding how Morrison negotiates the 
most fundamental elements of womanism in these texts will permit fuller 
explorations of the paradigm in Song of Solomon*, Tar Baby*, jazz* , and 
Paradise* . 

Typically the womanist journey toward self-empowerment and whole- 
ness begins with images of Black heroines ensnared in oppressive and 
hostile environments that impede growth. Echoing late nineteenth-cen- 
tury Naturalist paradigms, Morrison creates settings in which characters 
must combat social forces (class, race*, and gender oppression) that un- 
dermine individual power and free will. In The Bluest Eye, Pecola 
Breedlove's* belief that life would improve if she had blue eyes dies in 
the abandoned store in Lorain, Ohio*. In marked opposition to the very 
happy family* that inhabits the very pretty green and white house (ref- 
erences to the Dick and Jane primer), Pecola's experience inside the walls 
of the ugly storefront represents a microcosm of the violence* and op- 
pression she witnesses and experiences in the larger world. Cholly* and 
Pauline Breedlove* routinely enact for the children not scenes of love 
but fierce physical and verbal battles stemming from their life frustra- 
tions. After Cholly sets fire to their storefront home, Pecola temporarily 
escapes the brutal epithets that her parents inflict upon each other and 
their children when she moves in with the MacTeer family. However, 
even Mrs. MacTeer, ostensibly more motherly than Pauline, does not fail 
to voice, quite loudly, her discontent with the "case" who burdens the 
family budget by drinking so much milk. Thus, even when Pecola resides 
with the supposedly more nurturing MacTeer family, she is in an envi- 
ronment that deprives her of milk, synonymous with maternal nour- 
ishment. Thus, Pecola's displacement (due to fire, and later rape) leaves 
her with no place to go or to grow. Just as the marigolds die because Clau- 
dia MacTeer* plants them too deep, so Pecola cannot blossom because 
she finds herself planted too deep in non-nurturing soil. 

In Sula, Morrison subdues the hostile environment's destructive po- 
tential by giving her protagonist the power to leave it. From her earliest 
moment of self-awareness, Sula Peace* wants to create an individual self; 
however, both the larger community* and her family environment 
threaten this goal. As a whole, the Bottom* risks stunting Sula's personal 
autonomy because "[n]o one in the village escapes the violence perpet- 
uated by 'capitalism's joke'" (Cadman 67). Although Morrison geo- 
graphically separates the Bottom from the white world, she inextricably 
links this African American community to the oppressive white patri- 
archy. The Bottom arose out of a design to oppress African Americans 
because the supposedly rich and fertile earth that the white landowner 
offered his ex-slave was hilly land on which seeds could not be sown. 


Like the seeds that cannot take root on the hillside, Sula's family and 
neighbors cannot thrive in the Bottom. Furthermore, the violence that 
permeates the larger community ultimately infiltrates each family en- 
vironment. Determined to create the identity* that she desires, Sula 
rebels against the oppressive environment through her escapes into Eva 
Peace's* quiet attic and Nel Wright's* orderly house, and ultimately in 
her decision to leave the Bottom. Thus, whereas Pecola can escape her 
hostile environment only through insanity, Morrison casts Sula as a girl- 
woman who willfully separates herself from the sterile chaos and frees 
herself from the Bottom's oppressive conformity. 

Morrison creates more complex womanist spaces in Beloved as char- 
acters, in their quests to find self-worth, struggle between controlling 
and falling prisoner to the spaces they inhabit. Under schoolteacher's* 
reign, Sethe Suggs* tries to make Sweet Home* her own by gathering 
flowers for the kitchen; however, she cannot create safety because school- 
teacher has the power to turn Sweet Home into a space that ruptures 
Sethe's body, mind, and family. Furthermore, Morrison initially suggests 
that 124 Bluestone Road*, under Baby Suggs's* dominion, would offer 
Sethe the healing and nurturing community (familial and otherwise) 
necessary to "remember" herself. However, even though Baby Suggs 
tries to eradicate slavery's* presence by remodeling 124, neither she nor 
Sethe can control this space after schoolteacher invades her yard. 124 
threatens to destroy its inhabitants with its eighteen years of spiteful 
baby venom, and again after Sethe recognizes Beloved*. For Sethe, do- 
mestic spaces (which in the nineteenth century were held as the safe 
havens women created) represent sites of crisis and self-destruction. Only 
nature — Sixo's* and Paul D's* trees, Denver Suggs's* boxwood, and Baby 
Suggs's clearing — offers characters the possibility for liberation. 

Pecola, Sula, Sethe, and Denver represent a range of Morrisonian fe- 
males whose experiences in such hostile environments inspire journeys 
(literal and/or psychological) of self-re-creation, a fundamental woman- 
ist tenet. Morrison follows in the footsteps of her foremothers (Harriet 
Jacobs, Frances E. W. Harper, Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ann 
Petry) who employ the bildungsroman to chart how their heroines un- 
dergo trials in the search of autonomy and self-realization. At each jour- 
ney's end, heroines such as Linda Brent, Iola Leroy, Janie Mae Crawford, 
and Celie attain greater autonomy and empowerment while others, such 
as Helga Crane and Lutie Johnson, find themselves victims of even 
greater oppression. Morrison's female protagonists reflect this spectrum 
and affirm that the journey toward empowerment and autonomy does 
not always proceed as smoothly or end as happily as Celie's journey in 
The Color Purple. 

The Bluest Eye epitomizes a failed womanist quest because even be- 
fore Cholly violates his daughter's budding sexuality, Pecola's quest to 


gain "Shirley Temple beauty" has its locus not in challenging the op- 
pressor but in fundamentally altering herself. Morrison casts Pecola as a 
counterpart to the sugar-brown Mobile girls who live to obliterate their 
true selves as they squelch what Morrison terms "funkiness." Similarly, 
Pecola strives to obliterate the ugliness she has internalized. Like Celie 
in The Color Purple, Pecola tries to efface herself and prays that God will 
help her disappear. Unable to make herself disappear, Pecola pursues var- 
ious avenues to attain the external beauty that would make her visible 
and lovable. Yet because of the nature of Pecola's quest, her efforts prove 
futile. Mrs. MacTeer thwarts Pecola's quest for blue eyes when she stops 
providing the milk that Pecola obsessively drinks so that she can resem- 
ble Shirley Temple. Mr. Yacobowski's refusal to validate Pecola and the 
sidewalk crack that causes Pecola's fall threatens to destroy the bliss she 
attains during her journey to purchase three Mary Jane candies which 
allow her to devour ideals of white beauty. Louis Junior's offer of friend- 
ship and a kitten lures Pecola into a white house, but there she becomes 
his prisoner and experiences both his violence and Geraldine's crude and 
inhumane denunciation. Ultimately her journey to Soaphead Church*, 
who advertises his ability to help the distressed, ends Pecola's quest as 
she spirals into insanity. This obliteration of the self, evident from her 
dialogue with the imaginary friend to whom she confides the story of 
her rape and her belief that she has attained the blue eyes, most force- 
fully challenges womanist principles which maintain that heroines tran- 
scend the physical and psychological matrix of domination. 

In Sula, Morrison tests the nature of the womanist quest by casting 
an air of ambiguity around whether or not Sula's journey empowers her. 
Whereas Morrison dooms Pecola's quest from the start, she seems to in- 
still in Sula a ray of hope. Sula's quest to make herself takes her out of 
the chaos of her home, into the order of Nel's home, into the mystery of 
Shadrack's* shack, to college, and to major U.S. cities. However, like 
Shadrack and Plum*, Sula returns "home" disillusioned with and alien- 
ated from the world and from herself. Whereas Celie in The Color Pur- 
ple returns home empowered economically, personally, and creatively 
(she makes pants), Sula returns to the Bottom when her attempt to cre- 
ate a nurturing heterosexual partnership ends. Without the ability to 
integrate herself into or positively influence the community, Morrison 
suggests that Sula's journey leaves her disempowered and purposeless. 
Sula's death (in the fetal position facing a boarded window) in Eva's bed- 
room suggests a woman who dies defeated and alone (i.e., sola). Yet, Mor- 
rison simultaneously gives Sula's journey an empowering, womanist 
echo because in her death, Sula helps to free Nel. Sula's deathbed words 
about self-creation ring in Nel's ears for over twenty-four years and, as 
Stein suggests, ultimately transform her: "Nel, who never left home, 
makes the terrifying journey into the depths of her soul admitting the 


guilt she had tried to deny, and recognizing her failure of sympathy for 
her friend. Nel comes to terms with herself and frees her emotional ca- 
pacity. Thus, Nel, a cautious, conventional woman, learns the meaning of 
Sula's life, and survives" (149). 

In Beloved, Morrison creates a complex web of "quest[s] for social 
freedom and psychological wholeness" (Bell 8) because, essentially, al- 
most every character goes on a quest. Sethe initiates her literal jour- 
ney from Kentucky to Ohio not because she desires to attain the white 
patriarchy's concept of beauty or to escape an African American com- 
munity's demand for conformity, but because what she earlier perceives 
as a nonthreatening environment suddenly jeopardizes her children. 
However, after schoolteacher ruptures the twenty-eight days of free- 
dom she and her children experience at 124 Bluestone Road, Sethe's 
freedom quest ends. She limits herself to 124's confines and never dares 
to travel within herself. However, when Paul D and Beloved end their 
own journeys at 124, they nurture Sethe's (and ironically their own) 
psychological journey of rememory. Sethe must open the protected 
space in her mind so that she may learn the truth about Halle Suggs*, 
understand and give voice to the mother love that led her to commit 
infanticide*, and recognize Beloved as the angry, crawlingalready? baby 
made flesh. Likewise, Paul D must look within the tin box that he so 
carefully allows to rust shut in his heart to reconstruct the manhood 
that schoolteacher, Mister* (the rooster), and his experience on the 
chain gang violated. Through each character's struggle to face the past 
and present, Morrison captures the complex and horrific emotional and 
psychological journey that these individuals endured to achieve whole- 
ness and empowerment. 

In Sethe's children, Morrison illustrates an equally difficult journey 
for the younger generation who may have escaped slavery's lash, but still 
suffer its scars. Howard and Buglar Suggs* flee 124 Bluestone Road when 
they can no longer live with slavery's ghost. Nor can Beloved find peace 
until she returns from the other side to simultaneously reunite with and 
destroy Sethe. But in Denver, Morrison invests both conflict and hope. 
Morrison ties Denver to slavery through her birth on the Kentucky side 
of the Ohio River, and by having her both drink her sister's blood and 
live with her ghost (i.e., the violence of slavery). Yet Morrison positions 
Denver on the path toward empowerment because Denver's birth occurs 
(with a white woman's help) during Sethe's flight to freedom and her 
bloody union with her sister occurs when her mother challenges the op- 
pressive slavocracy. Furthermore, seven-year-old Denver journeys daily 
to Lady Jones's home, where Morrison notes that Denver learns to write 
the capital w, the little i, and her name. While Lady Jones's lessons rein- 
scribe Denver in a racial environment in which Denver must remember 
her place as a "little i" and not a "capital w" (i.e., White), they also teach 


Denver about shaping her identity. However, Denver cannot create an 
identity separate from her family's history*. Therefore, Nelson Lord, a 
classmate, forces Denver to reconceptualize her "little i" when he asks if 
Sethe actually killed her daughter. 

During her two years of deaf silence and fear, before she finds a level 
of camaraderie in the baby ghost, Denver protects herself from Sethe in 
her daily ventures away from 124 to the boxwood, where "Denver nur- 
tures herself, embracing her body and mind within an embrace of trees" 
(Cadman 61). Baby Suggs also teaches Denver to love her body. These 
lessons in identity and self-love ultimately save Denver. Cadman cor- 
rectly argues that Denver remains a prisoner of 124 during her girlhood 
(63) — and, one would add, during the time she acts as a "slave" to meet 
Beloved's every need and desire. However, Denver reopens her journey 
toward empowerment and self-actualization when she realizes that 
Beloved, ironically, has come to resemble the schoolteacher-like force that 
originally invaded Baby Suggs's yard, to threaten not her but her mother, 
whom Denver loves and fears. But Denver can no longer live in fear. 
Beloved's threat to Sethe's life prompts Denver to seek help beyond 124. 
Denver's journey into the community not only saves her mother, but 
also enables her to resume her self-creation. Ironically, Denver encoun- 
ters Nelson Lord, who, in telling her to take care of herself, awakens Den- 
ver to another level of self-worth. Thus, in Denver's journey toward 
wholeness, Morrison best illustrates one tenet of womanism. 

While Morrison upholds, with some variation, the bildungsroman tra- 
dition, she simultaneously embraces and questions a central element of 
womanism: the creation of a female community or sisterhood to counter 
male dominance. Traditionally, the questing heroine encounters one or 
more females who assist her during the various trials and facilitate heal- 
ing; however, as Tuzyline Allan argues, women can oppress each other 
("Womanism" 98). In The Bluest Eye, Morrison implicates the female 
community in Pecola's inability to transcend the hostile environment, 
her negative self image, and the myriad experiences with male domina- 
tion and abuse. Unlike Shug Avery, who assists Celie on her journey 
toward self-worth, no one intercedes for Pecola. The most important fe- 
male for Pecola, Pauline Breedlove, cannot help her daughter overcome 
her oppression because she, too, lives with a sense of her own ugliness 
(her lame foot and missing tooth) and loneliness. 

Just as Hurston's Janie believes that Joe Starks will save her when he 
comes whistling down the road, so Pauline believes Cholly will love her, 
help her feel beautiful (he kisses her lame foot), and end her loneliness. 
But like Janie's, Pauline's romance ends quickly, especially since she finds 
no Tea Cake to teach her self-love. Rather than valuing herself, Pauline 
worships Hollywood's definitions of whiteness, and finds power and 
meaning in the overflowing cupboards and spic-and-spanness of the 


Fisher house, where she works. Furthermore, as a martyr who believes 
she has been wronged, Pauline abuses her husband and victimizes her 
children rather than changing her life because she has relinquished hope. 
Pauline falls victim to seeing white as beautiful and Black (i.e., herself 
and her own child) as ugly. Her coldness and violence toward her daugh- 
ter, in contrast to the love and affection she showers on the Fisher child, 
appears most forcefully when she beats Pecola for accidentally toppling 
the cobbler in the Fisher kitchen. As opposed to the hard mother love 
that allows Claudia and Frieda MacTeer* to grow and at least understand 
their circumstances, Morrison suggests that Mrs. Breedlove (as Pecola 
calls her mother) teaches Pecola to fear others and life itself. Rather than 
destroy the legacy of "ugliness" and oppression, Pauline teaches it to 
Pecola, and as a result practically ensures her child's "death." 

Furthermore, Pecola lacks a supportive nonfamilial female community 
to which she can turn for nurture. For example, Pecola lacks the nonbi- 
ological, female support network that Janie Crawford finds in Pheoby; 
that Selina finds in Beryl, Rachel, Suggie, and Mrs. Thompson; and that 
Celie finds in Nettie, Shug Avery, and Mary Agnes. Pecola's peers (Mau- 
reen, Claudia, and Frieda) try to help her, but they cannot. Similarly, 
while Claudia and Frieda feel true compassion for Pecola and help her on 
more than one occasion, they realize they failed her. Nor can the seem- 
ingly supportive adult community that Pecola finds in the prostitutes* 
save her. Having experienced the society that ostracizes them — even the 
children call China, Poland, and Miss Marie derogatory names — they in- 
clude the ostracized Pecola in their female community. Morrison sug- 
gests that they refer to Pecola fondly, tell her stories of their pasts, give 
her gifts, and treat her to the movies. She, in turn, loves them, knows 
their real names, and neither fears them nor labels them disparagingly. 
Yet, although these women possess a more positive sense of self than 
many of the other women in the novel, their hatred of men and women 
alike limits their influence and ability to save Pecola. As Jane Kuenz sug- 
gests, China, Poland, and Miss Marie's inability to see the differences be- 
tween men and women transfers to their inability to see the specifics of 
Pecola's dangerous life experiences. Thus, while these female characters 
(unlike Pecola's mother) appear to care, Harris argues that "[t]he pat- 
terns of caring and incorporation hinted at in some of the occurrences in 
the novel never reach [Pecola] strongly enough to reshape her opinion 
of herself" (73). 

In Sula, Morrison suggests what can happen when the heroine feels 
rejected by, and in turn rejects, the female community that theoretically 
should help her formulate an empowered self-image. The adult female 
community does not help Sula define a self separate from men — who, 
Morrison suggests, control the Peace household and the Bottom. Like 
Pecola, Sula learns that she cannot find an advocate in her mother, whom 


Sula overhears stating that while she loves Sula, she dislikes her. Nor 
does Sula find a nurturing female, as does Denver, in her grandmother. 
Victoria Middleton argues that Eva and Hannah's absent nurturing em- 
powers Sula by "liberating] Sula from lifelong dependency on others" 
(374). Yet Morrison suggests the negative consequences of the complete 
absence of a female community, because not only does Sula develop into 
a woman independent of men, but she also dismisses women, which ex- 
plains why she can watch her mother burn, can so easily commit Eva to 
Sunnydale Nursing Home, and can seduce other women's (including her 
best friend's) husbands. When Nel, Sula's soulmate, opts to marry Jude 
Greene*, Sula feels betrayed and concludes that Jude embodies men's 
tendency to subjugate women and obliterate their identities in order to 
affirm their own manhood. While Sula may seduce Jude as a way to re- 
unite with Nel, once she does so, Nel abandons Sula even though she re- 
alizes the substance of her marriage to Jude had eroded long ago. Nel, a 
former ally, joins the sisterhood that excludes Sula rather than attempt 
to understand (until she is ready to do so, twenty-four years later) Sula's 
autonomous, nonseparatist ideals that could have, in themselves, refor- 
mulated the corrosive sisterhood that exists in the Bottom. 

In Beloved, Morrison strikes a balance between the missing or hostile 
female community and a healing sisterhood. Like Pecola and Sula, Sethe 
lacks her mother's support and nurture because, in this case, slavery has 
violated that bond. Beloved helps Sethe recall the painful memory of her 
birth, her mother's hanging, and her own feelings of deprivation from 
her mother's inability to nurse her. Sethe also mourns the absence of a 
female community at Sweet Home* that could have answered her many 
child-rearing questions. Yet while this absence of sisterhood hinders 
Sethe's level of empowerment, Morrison also suggests the female com- 
munity's oppressive potential. Jealous that Baby Suggs can celebrate the 
arrival of her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, the community that 
previously found solace and healing at 124 Bluestone Road not only 
chooses not to warn of schoolteacher's arrival but also condemns Sethe 
for the infanticide*. In turn, Sethe isolates herself from the community 
and the community rejects her. Morrison suggests that this conscious 
refusal to maintain the sisterhood created at 124 and in the Clearing* 
perpetuates an air of silent but violent destruction both on the Suggs 
family and on the Black community. 

However, Beloved also offers several positive images of female com- 
munity in which women work together to empower women, much like 
the women in The Color Purple. Both Amy Denver*, Morrison's "bright- 
est ray of hope for black and white sisterhood" (Bell 11), and Baby Suggs 
help heal Sethe in body and spirit during and after Sethe's escape and 
journey to 124. Similarly, Beloved initially creates a nurturing female 
community in 124 by helping Sethe and Denver engage in the difficult 


process of reconstructing the past. Ironically, when Beloved assumes her 
quasi-demonic posture, she helps to reestablish a healing female com- 
munity; Denver turns to the female community for literal and emotional 
sustenance, and her request for assistance leads to a community's heal- 
ing. When the female chorus arrives at 124, they not only exorcise 
Beloved's ghost to save Sethe; they also exorcise their hatred and re- 
structure the community to include those whom they previously 
renounced. The restoration of a sisterhood devoted to inclusion and heal- 
ing in Beloved suggests Morrison's support of the womanist tenet ab- 
sent in The Bluest Eye and Sula. 

Finally, Walker's womanist paradigm suggests that true healing comes 
about not only by using sisterhood to conquer the oppressive patriarchy 
but also by creating nurturing, nonpower-driven relationships with 
men. The Bluest Eye offers Morrison's most pessimistic womanist stance 
because it offers no possibility for healthy relationships between men 
and women. Morrison depicts Cholly, Mr. Henry, and Shadrack as males 
who inflict on women and children the rage they hold against the racist 
and classist world that oppresses them. Similarly, in Sula, Morrison 
proffers no image of men and women engaging in mutual love. For ex- 
ample, Nel loses her identity to her husband, Jude, and Ajax* threatens 
Sula's self-reliance when she falls into a state of possessiveness. How- 
ever, in Beloved, Morrison's creation of Halle Suggs*, Sixo, and Paul D 
challenges the stereotype of the oppressive males evident in previous 
novels. Specifically, Morrison makes Paul D essential to Sethe's healing 
process. His arrival initiates Sethe's healing because he asks her ques- 
tions and gives her information that forces her to recall the past she has 
repressed. However, their early relationship is based on illusions. In his 
attempt to assert his own sense of manhood, slavery repeatedly under- 
mined, Paul D violently banishes the crawlingalready? ghost from the 
house, thereby making 124 Bluestone Road susceptible to a much more 
powerful force in Beloved; he asks Sethe to have his child when Beloved 
threatens his manhood; and he calls Sethe an animal, thereby replicat- 
ing the slavocracy that taught its members to view slaves as part human 
and part animal. 

Not until Paul D undergoes his own conversion by facing the contents 
encoded in the tin box that Beloved forces open can he fully understand 

his own and Sethe's experience. As in The Color Purple, Mr. becomes 

Albert and unofficially agrees to a "peace treaty" with Celie, whom he 
had oppressed, and in doing so, heals himself, so in Beloved, Morrison 
suggests that complete recovery comes from interdependence. Paul D 
needs Sethe because she affirms his manhood. Similarly, Sethe needs 
him. Upon Beloved's departure, Sethe relegates herself to the keeping 
room where Baby Suggs surrendered hope and died. Morrison suggests 
that Paul D's arrival at 124 saves Sethe. However, for this partnership to 


succeed, Sethe must know that Paul D will rub her feet rather than count 
them, and that he will help her recognize her self-worth. In this reunion, 
Morrison creates the healing partnership womanism endorses. 

Critics who find fault with womanism's "[nonradical political com- 
mitment" or the "unbridgeable gulf [it creates] between white and black 
feminist writers" may find fault with Morrison's womanist canon, from 
The Bluest Eye to Paradise. In doing so, however, they fail to recognize 
the political and uniting force inherent in merely telling one's story. The 
Color Purple's womanist message resides not only in the characters who 
undergo trials and create nonseparatist communities of healing, but also 
in Celie's ability to tell her story. Similarly, in The Bluest Eye, Morrison 
offers a ray of hope for overcoming oppression in Claudia MacTeer's abil- 
ity to speak the unspeakable. Having heard the Breedlove family secrets, 
Claudia's listeners will know to reject the image of white beauty and op- 
pressive relationships, and as such will not evaluate themselves accord- 
ing to oppressive dictates but, possibly, transcend them. Furthermore, 
having witnessed the compassion Claudia feels for Pecola may help read- 
ers create healthy relationships that will enable them to nurture men and 
women in ways more productive than Claudia could do as a child pray- 
ing over magic seeds. For Morrison, as for Walker, the magic occurs when 
womanism transcends the narrative's boundaries, and in this transcen- 
dence achieves its political and unifying force. See also Approaches to 
Morrison's Work: Feminist/Black Feminist. 

References: Tuzyline }. Allan, "Womanism Revisited: Women and the 
(Ab)use of Power in The Color Purple," in Teminist Nightmares, Women 
at Odds: Teminism and the Problem of Sisterhood, ed. Susan Weisser and 
Jennifer Fleischner (1994); Tuzyline J. Allan, Feminist and Womanist 
Aesthetics: A Comparative Review (1995); Bernard Bell, "Beloved: A 
Womanist Neo-Slave Narrative; or Multivocal Remembrances of Things 
Past," African American Review 26 (1992); Deborah Cadman, "When 
the Back Door Is Closed and the Front Yard Is Dangerous: The Space of 
Girlhood in Toni Morrison's Fiction," in The Girl: Constructions of the 
Girl in Contemporary Fiction, ed. Ruth Saxon (1998); Patricia H. Collins, 
"Defining Black Feminist Thought," in her Black Feminist Thought: 
Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (1990); 
Trudier Harris, "Reconnecting Fragments: Afro-American Folk Tradition 
in The Bluest Eye," in Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie McKay 
(1988); bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black 
(1989); Jane Kuenz, "The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and 
Black Female Subjectivity," African American Review 27: 3 (1993); Vic- 
toria Middleton, "Sw/a:An Experimental Life," CL A Journal 28: 4 (1985); 
Chikwenye Ogunyemi, "Womanism: The Dynamics of the Contempo- 


rary Black Female Novel in English," Signs: Journal of Women in Cul- 
ture and Society 11 (1985); Karen F. Stein, "Toni Morrison's Sula: A Black 
Woman's Epic," Black American Literature Forum 18: 4 (1984); Alice 
Walker, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983). 

Deborah De Rosa 


Baines, Guitar (Song of Solomon). 

Milkman Dead's* lifelong friend who witnesses Robert Smith's* suici- 
dal leap on the novel's opening pages. As a young boy, he joins Milkman 
in his interactions with Pilate Dead*, going so far as to assist him in the 
attempted robbery of Milkman's aunt's house. As he grows up, he and 
Milkman drift apart due to their disparate politics. Milkman remains 
complacent and politically ignorant while Guitar becomes more and more 
radical. He eventually joins the Seven Days*, a politically motivated 
group. Guitar also becomes obsessed with finding the missing gold 
supposedly hidden in Macon Dead's* Virginia homeland. His obsession 
eventually leads him on a manhunt of Milkman during which he inad- 
vertently kills Pilate. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Baltimore, Maryland (Jazz) 

City where True Belle* moves with Vera Louise Gray* and Golden Gray* 
after Vera is exiled by her family. Joe* and Violet Trace* originally plan 
to move to Baltimore but continue on to Harlem, New York*, instead. 
See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 


Beloved (Beloved) 

Beloved is the title character of Morrison's Pulitzer Prize- winning fifth 
novel, Beloved. She is the physical manifestation of the ghost of Sethe 
Suggs's* daughter, killed some twenty years before the present moment 
of the story. She calls herself B-e-1-o-v-e-d based on the letters on the 
headstone for her grave. She is filled with the desire of a young child 
whose mother terminates its life and, as the ghost of slavery*, she is com- 
prised of the kind of raw, unbridled desire that slavery — as a system of 
deprivation — nourishes. Because she has the mind of the baby she was 
when Sethe killed her, she cannot begin to understand that her mother's 
act was the ultimate act of sacrifice and love. Her all-consuming hunger* 
makes her grow larger and larger as she feeds on Sethe's guilt, while 
Sethe becomes smaller and smaller. As raw, unbridled desire, Beloved can 
be displaced only by love, and the love that exorcises her comes in com- 
munal form near the end of the novel. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Beloved, Film 

As soon as she read Toni Morrison's newly published novel Beloved, 
Oprah Winfrey knew she wanted to turn this book into a film. She im- 
mediately called Morrison (tracking down her home phone number 
through the local fire department) and asked her to think about what 
price she would ask for movie rights to the work. Although Morrison 
was skeptical that her novel could be translated into film, she finally 
agreed to come up with a figure. Winfrey then called her attorney and 
instructed him to complete the deal. She told him she wanted no dicker- 
ing — she would pay Morrison's price for the film option no matter how 
costly — because she would find it highly satisfying to make sure that a 
Black woman with such talent received top dollar for her work. 

Despite Winfrey's haste to procure film rights, it took over a decade to 
make and release the movie Beloved. The first obstacle was translating 
the novel into a workable movie script, a formidable task. Morrison's 
Beloved is written in a beautifully lyrical narrative voice*, and the story 
is told with many abrupt shifts in time and place (some occurring mid- 
sentence) that slowly, sometimes only suggestively, reveal the repressed 
memories of the main characters. Hauntingly evocative recurring images 
provide a backdrop of emotional reference points. All of these traits would 
prove difficult challenges to the scriptwriters. By the time it was com- 
pleted, the script had been worked on by at least three writers — ac- 
tress/author Akosua Busia (who had acted with Winfrey in The Color 
Purple), Richard LaGravenese, and Adam Brooks. 


In January 1997, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991; 
Philadelphia, 1993) read the script and agreed to direct the film. Winfrey 
was criticized by some for not choosing a Black director, but she had long 
known that she wanted Demme for the job. By mid-June the cast was as- 
sembled and work on the film began. Winfrey herself would play Sethe 
Suggs*, her first movie role since her portrayal of Sofia in The Color Pur- 
ple in 1985. Veteran performer Danny Glover, who had also been in The 
Color Purple, was cast as Paul D Garner*, Kimberly Elise as Denver Suggs*, 
and British actor Thandie Newton as Beloved*. Other cast members in- 
cluded Beah Richards as Baby Suggs*, Albert Hall as Stamp Paid, and Kessia 
Randall as Amy Denver*. Lisa Gay Hamilton played the young Sethe. 

Winfrey put a lot of effort into preparing herself for her role. She read 
slave narratives and social histories of slavery*, took lessons in nineteenth- 
century cooking, participated in an enactment of an Underground Rail- 
road escape, and went through an intensive, all-day meditation exercise 
(blindfolded and in a forest) to help her emotionally regress to the emo- 
tionally charged racial atmosphere of the film's 1800s setting. She later 
said these efforts gave her a comprehension of slavery much deeper than 
mere factual information about the institution; she claimed her exercises 
allowed her to gain an emotional understanding of how the lack of free 
will and of a sense of selfhood could drive a loving mother to kill her chil- 
dren rather than see them become enslaved. 

Reviewers by and large praised much of the acting in Beloved, espe- 
cially the performances of Danny Glover and Kimberly Elise. Winfrey 
was generally applauded for a credible portrayal of the film's protagonist 
and for making sure that her Sethe projected none of the glamour that 
television viewers associated with Oprah. Thandie Newton's interpreta- 
tion of Beloved proved quite controversial, however. Newton, faced with 
the task of portraying a two-year-old whose mother had sawed her throat 
open and who now has returned home in the body of an eighteen-year- 
old, used her voice timbre and her body language to convey a not-en- 
tirely-worldly being caught between two ages. She spoke throughout the 
film in a startlingly gruff, croupy voice and used uncoordinated body 
movements to suggest Beloved's arrested development. Her head wob- 
bling on her neck was a constant reminder (especially to viewers already 
familiar with the plot) of why her psyche is driven by such a conflicting 
blend of anger, insecurity, and insatiable hunger* for her mother's love 
and attention. Critical responses ranged from those who found Newton's 
depiction of Beloved riveting, even brilliant, to those who found it bizarre 
and revolting. New Yorker reviewer David Denby unflatteringly com- 
pared Newton's performance to Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. 

Despite a stamp of approval from Toni Morrison herself, the movie was 
not a critical success. It failed to garner the award nominations and crit- 
ical acclaim that before its release many had felt were inevitable. 


Reviewers complained that only those already familiar with the novel 
could comprehend the film. The novel's stream-of-consciousness intru- 
sions of the past into the present are handled through flashback scenes, 
but these are often confusing and left unexplained, and they sometimes 
occur too quickly to be absorbed. There are no voice-overs, so even 
though much of Morrison's dialogue is there word for word, the power 
of the novel's lyrical narrative voice is missing. A few of the side stories 
are cut to provide more focus, but all the book's major scenes involving 
Sethe are depicted. This accounts for the film's 172-minute viewing 
time — a length often criticized in reviews. Ironically, the fact that the 
movie in most respects remains incredibly faithful to the book became 
cited as one of its greatest weaknesses: many critics faulted what they 
saw as the film's homage to the book taking precedence over its attempt 
to be a movie with its own artistic integrity. 

The movie Beloved was also a failure at the box office. Its makers knew 
that noncomic films featuring Black casts usually fail to attract white 
viewers (even the work of such successful directors as Steven Spielberg 
have not been able to overcome this disturbing trend — Amistad, for in- 
stance, was not a commercial success). Still, hopes ran high that Beloved 
would begin a new era for Black films. This was not to be the case. De- 
spite Oprah Winfrey's power to affect public tastes and a $30 million 
publicity campaign mounted by the Disney Company, the movie was not 
financially successful. After coming in a disappointing fifth for atten- 
dance its opening week, the movie quickly dropped into obscurity. And 
disappointingly, Beloved lacked popularity not only with white movie- 
goers but with most Blacks as well; only Black women over thirty-five 
seemed drawn to the film. 

It remains to be seen how the failure of the movie Beloved will affect 
Black filmmaking in the future. Almost certainly backers and directors will 
pause before casting their lot with a big-budget, mass-market Black film 
project. And the social history* of race* relations in the United States still 
awaits a time when movies that seriously explore the experience of African 
Americans in films featuring all or nearly all Black casts can attract enough 
white viewers to ensure commercial success. See also Beloved. 

References:" Beloved It's Not," Economist (November 21, 1998); David 
Denby, "Haunted by the Past," The New Yorker (October 26 and No- 
vember 2, 1998); Janet Maslin, "'Beloved': No Peace from a Brutal 
Legacy," The New York Times (October 16, 1998); Laura B. Randolph, 
"Oprah and Danny," Ebony (November, 1998); John C.Tibbetts, "Oprah's 
Belabored Beloved," Literature Tilm Quarterly 27: 1 (1999); Oprah Win- 
frey, Journey to Beloved (1998). 

Grace McEntee 

BELOVED, NOVEL (1987) 55 

Beloved, Novel (1987) 

Beloved, Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning fifth novel, fits into the 
subgenre of African American literature known as the neo-slave narra- 
tive*. Beloved is the type of neo-slave narrative that is set in antebel- 
lum America and deals directly with slavery* in a fictionalized manner. 
Another type of neo-slave narrative, such as Richard Wright's Native 
Son (1940), deals with slavery indirectly, as the cause or impetus for 
later conditions. In Beloved, Morrison combines history*, folklore*, and 
a wonderfully creative imagination to tell a story about the challenge 
of loving under severe oppression, and the trauma* it causes. 

Set in the free state of Ohio and the slave state of Kentucky, the story 
is based on the real-life story of Margaret Garner*, an enslaved woman 
who killed her daughter rather than have her returned to slavery. Mor- 
rison came across the story while editing The Black Book*, a 300-year 
folk history of African American experience. Garner's story is featured 
in Steven Weisenburger's Modern Medea: A Family Story of Slavery 
and Child- Murder from the Old South (1998). Modeling her protago- 
nist, Sethe Suggs*, on the real-life Margaret Garner, Morrison tried to 
imagine and then create the scenario by which historical and personal 
forces could compel an otherwise loving mother to kill her child. Signif- 
icantly, Morrison has chosen to use Garner's name as the last name of 
the owners of the Kentucky plantation where much of the past action of 
the story takes place. As property, enslaved persons usually took on the 
last names of their enslavers. Paul D Garner*, his brothers (Paul A and 
Paul F), Sethe, Halle Suggs*, and Sixo* had at one time comprised the 
enslaved population at Garner's Kentucky plantation, known, ironically, 
as Sweet Home*. Sethe came to Sweet Home at the age of thirteen, both 
to serve as a replacement for Baby Suggs* (whose son, Halle, had pur- 
chased her freedom), and also to produce the children who would add to 
the Garners' property. 

Beloved's narrative is comprised of the fragmented recollections of 
Sweet Home's traumatized survivors. The story belongs first and fore- 
most to Sethe, but her narration and recollections must be considered 
along with information revealed through the third-person narrator and 
the voices of other characters. The story is related through several nar- 
rative voices* in flashbacks that take us from freedom to slavery and 
back again. The narrative is, therefore, neither chronological nor linear; 
set against the linearity of Western history and the prototypical slave 
narrative, Beloved's narrative meanders forward, slips backward, spirals 
upward or downward, and then goes forward again. Individual stories 
complement each other; readers must participate by collecting the par- 
tial stories into a whole. 

The present moment of the very intimate story at the center of the 
novel runs from 1873 to 1875; at the beginning, the Civil War has been 

56 BELOVED, NOVEL (1987) 

over for eight years and, thus, slavery has been outlawed. Sethe, her 
eighteen-year-old daughter Denver*, and the sad, spiteful spirit of Den- 
ver's dead sister live at 124 Bluestone Road*, near Cincinnati, Ohio. The 
ghost's presence in the house is evidenced by a glimmering red light. 
Sethe's sons Howard and Buglar Suggs*, having tired of living with the 
anxiety created by the ghost's presence, had left in 1864; Sethe's mother- 
in-law, Baby Suggs, died not long after. In 1873, no one in the sur- 
rounding community comes to visit at 124 Bluestone Road, and Sethe 
and Denver visit no one. Several events had precipitated a long- 
standing rift between the community* and the Suggs family. First, the 
community thought that the party celebrating Sethe's successful escape 
from Sweet Home back in 1855 — depicted as a kind of "loaves and 
fishes" event — had been overdone, and smacked of pride. Chagrined, 
they stood mute when they should have sounded the warning that 
harmful forces were approaching. Finally, they were appalled by Sethe's 
act of infanticide*, and equally appalled by her aloofness and general air 
of independence once she was released from imprisonment. Emotion- 
ally traumatized, Sethe has managed to physically survive slavery and 
the havoc it wreaked on her family, but her continued physical survival 
has been based on her ability to suppress the memory* of past events, 
including the events that led to the central act of infanticide. Occasion- 
ally, however, aspects of her past manage to seep through cracks in her 
memory, regardless of her efforts to suppress them. In 1873 the past — 
in the form of Paul D, an old friend from Sweet Home — comes to visit 
Sethe. Sethe begins to "rememory" certain experiences and events that 
have long lain dormant. 

Paul D and Sethe revisit some very painful memories of slavery and 
its aftermath. Morrison sifts through their rich memories to reconstruct 
for us Sweet Home and the people — both free and enslaved — who had 
resided there. We learn that Sweet Home was anything but sweet for 
those forced to serve first under Mr. and Mrs. Garner*, and then under 
the cruel slavemaster known as schoolteacher*, so named by Sethe and 
the others because he was always asking questions and writing things 
down. The personification of scientific racism, schoolteacher spent much 
of his time observing their behavior and listing their attributes under 
"animal" and "human" subcategories. 

Schoolteacher's scientific racism differed only in degree from Garner's 
patented benevolent form of slavery. While he was alive, Garner had 
bragged that his slaves were men, that he had perfected the art of creat- 
ing the perfect environment for producing pacified slaves. Evidence of 
Garner's success exists in the brothers known as Paul A, Paul D, and Paul 
F. The names suggest a series of the same model. The Pauls* are all broth- 
ers bred (or perhaps manufactured is a better word — since no mention 
is made of their having parents) at Sweet Home. They had come to adult- 

BELOVED, NOVEL (1987) 57 

hood within the confines of Sweet Home. The suggestion is that there 
must have been Pauls B, C, and E at some point. The Pauls' collective per- 
ceptions of themselves vis-a-vis the world were created, conditioned, and 
honed under Garner's special philosophy of slavery. They had been reared 
to serve perfectly and contentedly; prior to schoolteacher's arrival, they 
were not beaten, they had plenty to eat, and Garner had even allowed 
them to use guns for hunting. He told them that they were men, and 
they believed him. Garner's death and schoolteacher's new rules turned 
their "safe" little manufactured world upside down. Paul F is sold for the 
money needed to keep Sweet Home afloat, and Paul A is hanged during 
the aborted escape attempt. Paul D is later sold, spends time on a chain 
gang after trying to kill his new owner, and eventually comes to develop 
an identifiably separate consciousness. He realizes much later that it had, 
after all, been Garner who controlled the definition of the term "man" 
which he chose to bestow on the Pauls and that he could have removed 
the term whenever he wanted to remove it. We are left to ponder, along 
with Paul D, whether he and his remaining brother would ever have tried 
to seek freedom if schoolteacher had not taken over and installed his 
harsh regime. 

We learn also that others did not fit the Sweet Home mold so easily. 
Sixo, whom we can assume had recently been taken from Africa when 
he arrived at Sweet Home, is described in the past tense as very dark- 
skinned and "wild." At Sweet Home, he was the quintessential rebel; he 
routinely broke the rules by sleeping when he was required to work, by 
leaving the premises to visit his lover, Patsy* (rather than having sex 
with farm animals), and by helping himself to forbidden foods. Sensitive 
and generous-natured, Halle Suggs demonstrated his discontent by 
working on his free Sundays so that he could earn his mother's freedom. 
Without ever having experienced freedom, Halle sensed that it was some- 
thing wonderful; in his most generous gesture, he bestows the gift of 
freedom on his mother, Baby Suggs. A year after Sethe comes to Sweet 
Home as Baby Suggs's replacement, she chooses the extraordinary Halle 
as her future husband. Thus, the plan of escape from Sweet Home is left 
to Sixo and Halle, the two men not created, developed, and refined at 
Sweet Home; they were the only two men among the enslaved popu- 
lation who had the routine contact with the outside world necessary to 
gain information about how to access the Underground Railroad. 

During the mass exodus from Sweet Home, Paul A was captured and 
hanged, Sixo was burned and shot to death, Halle witnessed an atrocious 
abuse of Sethe and slipped into insanity, and Paul D was captured and 
sold. Sethe and her children were the only ones to reach freedom. After 
Sethe lived free for twenty-eight days, daring for the first time to love 
her children fully and completely, schoolteacher tracked them down at 
Baby Suggs's 124 Bluestone Road residence. In a moment of desperation, 

58 BELOVED, NOVEL (1987) 

Sethe decided that she and her children would be better off dead. She suc- 
ceeded in killing only the older daughter before she was stopped. After 
serving time in jail for the child's murder (her real-life counterpart had 
been charged with theft of her master's property), she returned to the 
house on Bluestone Road to live with her three surviving children and 
Baby Suggs, and to try to keep the past from consuming her. By the time 
Paul D arrives in 1873, only Sethe, Denver, and the spiteful ghost remain. 

Shortly after his arrival at Bluestone Road, Paul D confronts and 
drives away the ghost of Sethe's dead daughter — whom Sethe and Den- 
ver had accepted as part of their strange existence. Paul D and Sethe 
work toward establishing a "normal" family life for the first time for 
either of them. Before long, however, the ghost returns, this time in the 
flesh of the twenty-year-old young woman Sethe's daughter would 
have been had she lived. She simply emerges from the water, fully 
grown and fully dressed. Based on the only word that Sethe could af- 
ford to have carved on the child's tombstone, she believes her name to 
be B-e-1-o-v-e-d. 

The human inhabitants of 124 Bluestone Road take Beloved* in, be- 
cause it is the appropriate thing to do; she is a young woman alone and 
in need of shelter. Denver is the first to recognize the woman as her sis- 
ter. She had missed the baby ghost, her only playmate since her broth- 
ers fled the strange house almost a decade before. Denver also missed 
Baby Suggs, and she has spent most of her eighteen years yearning for 
her absent father, Halle, who is probably also dead. Driven from the 
school yard and from childhood friends years before by cruel taunts 
about her unusual family* history, Denver had turned into a genuine re- 
cluse; the ghost kept her company. Though Denver welcomes the young 
woman, Paul D is suspicious from the beginning, and rightly so. 

As Trudier Harris and others have noted, Beloved can be seen as a suc- 
cubus; she is a consuming machine, comprised of all the desire created 
by the systematic deprivation inherent in the institution of slavery. She 
is not only Sethe's rebuked child come to claim her due; she also repre- 
sents — in a larger sense — the unbridled desire that hundreds of years of 
slavery created. She is not only prepared to suck the life out of Sethe, she 
is also ready to destroy any opportunity her mother has for real love, 
since real love displaces desire. 

As a first order of business, therefore, she drives Paul D from the house, 
seducing him in the process. (Harris has treated at length the folkloric 
implications of Paul D's fear and anxiety about Beloved.) Once Paul D is 
driven from the house, the well-meaning Stamp Paid administers the 
final straw when he shares with Paul D a newspaper clipping about 
Sethe's act of infanticide and subsequent incarceration. Paul D goes to 
Sethe to hear the story from her own lips. For the first time in the nar- 
rative, the details surrounding the child's death are revealed. Paul D 

BELOVED, NOVEL (1987) 59 

makes the mistake of sounding like schoolteacher when he suggests to 
Sethe that she acted more like an animal than a human being. 

Sethe soon recognizes Beloved as her daughter and submits totally to 
the increasingly demanding ghost. Beloved grows larger as Sethe di- 
minishes in size. Realizing that her mother is being drained of life, Den- 
ver — with a little coaxing from the ancestral presence and spirit of Baby 
Suggs — summons up the courage to go out of the yard in search of as- 
sistance. She shares information with members of the community, and 
that information, once consumed, digested, and passed along, sets them 
into action. 

The community's return to 124 Bluestone Road, after having turned its 
collective back on the house some twenty years before, is depicted as a 
parallel to the earlier scenario during which schoolteacher had arrived to 
return Sethe and her children to slavery. This time it is Mr. Bodwin* who 
arrives to carry Denver off to her new job, but for Sethe it is that earlier 
moment all over again. Amid the chanting and praying of the commu- 
nity women, the emotionally and physically emaciated Sethe emerges 
from the house along with the now enlarged and hideous figure of 
Beloved. With ice pick in hand, Sethe rushes forth to attack the slave 
catcher she believes Bodwin to be; the ever-practical Ella* fells her with a 
strong blow. Sethe is bedridden for a time, but Paul D eventually returns 
to the house on Bluestone Road and Sethe. The novel's ending suggests 
that they will have a chance to resume their quest for a love relationship. 

Beloved thus explores, among other things, the difficulty of loving 
under the traumatic conditions of slavery and its aftershocks. Paul D's 
romantic relationship with Sethe (and Denver's personal development) 
had, in essence, been disrupted by the insistent presence and full weight 
of the ghost of slavery. In providing the stories about the individual and 
collective lives of the people who were enslaved at Sweet Home, Morri- 
son takes special pains to focus on the most intimate details of their lives; 
in doing so, she highlights their humanity under a system that thrived 
by subjugating that humanity. She imagines many of the details that 
were routinely left out of slave narratives. For example, that narrator tells 
us that Sixo felt comfortable near the trees, and that he danced near them 
at night. Sixo helped Sethe with child care, and it was in knowing Sixo 
that Paul D understood that Garner did not own the definition of "man- 
hood." Sixo is transcendent in a way that disrupts the system of slavery 
and that invokes the myth of the flying Africans*. 

Of Sethe, we learn that she pilfered bits of cloth to make a special dress 
for her wedding day. She brought salsify into Mrs. Garner's kitchen in an 
effort to make it seem more like her own. She took great pride in caring 
for her children and in providing them with the nourishing milk from her 
breasts; motherhood* is an important aspect of her self-identity, and she 
is deeply wounded (both emotionally and physically) when schoolteacher 

60 BELOVED, NOVEL (1987) 

supervises his nephews* in her forced milking — as he would livestock. 
The violation is, for Sethe, an act of rape and severe deprivation, so severe 
that it sets in motion a stream of desire that culminates in the appearance 
of the all-consuming, desire-filled ghost of slavery. 

Indeed, the significance of motherhood to self-identity is a central 
theme in the novel and one of the keys to understanding Sethe's 
dilemma. Black feminist scholars, in particular, have identified the figure 
of the outraged mother as a recurring one in Black women's literature, 
and Sethe is, above all else, an outraged mother. Related issues and 
themes include the sexual and reproductive exploitation that figured 
prominently as a part of the system of chattel slavery. We learn, for ex- 
ample, that Halle was the only one of Baby Suggs's eight or nine chil- 
dren that she was allowed to keep. Another character, Ella, had been 
forced as an adolescent to serve the perversions of a father-and-son team; 
so horrific was her treatment that she uses the experience as a yardstick 
by which to measure other atrocities. Sethe's own mother had been forced 
to mate with a variety of men for the purpose of enriching the slave- 
owner's supply of free labor. Paul D witnesses the lynching of a Black 
woman accused of theft for trying to gather ducks she believes to be her 
lost children. Enslaved women, when they were allowed to keep their 
children in close proximity, faced the problem of providing proper child 
care and forming maternal bonds with them because the system made 
no suitable provision for either. In Beloved, Sethe had almost no contact 
with her own mother beyond the probable two or three weeks of nurs- 
ing, after which she was turned over to a wet nurse. The myriad issues 
surrounding motherhood that Morrison addresses in Beloved are also 
addressed in some of the best-known slave narratives, including those by 
Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. 

Other themes in the novel that mirror those of slave narratives include 
the quest for identity* (or search for self-knowledge) and the passage from 
innocence to experience. Such passages are noted early in Douglass's 1845 
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and Ja- 
cobs's 1861 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Like these two prototyp- 
ical slave narratives, Beloved explores in some depth the question of man- 
hood, especially through the characters Paul D and Sixo. The neo-slave 
narrative mirrors another primary objective from the earlier tradition by 
demonstrating how race-based discrimination deforms the human spirit 
of both the oppressor and the oppressed. One is left with the question, 
after all, of whether Sethe was any crazier than those who benefited most 
from the inhumane system. Ultimately, Beloved, like its slave narrative 
predecessors, must be considered representative — as a composite for the 
many stories that cannot and will not ever be told. See also Approaches 
to Morrison's Work: Feminist/Black Feminist; Brother; Clearing, The; 
Ghost Story, Use of; Home; Neo-Slave Narrative. 

BIG BOX, THE (1999) 61 

References: William L.Andrews and Nellie McKay, eds., Toni Morrison's 
Beloved: A Casebook (1999); Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The 
Novels of Toni Morrison (1991); Missy Dehn Kubitschek, Toni Morri- 
son: A Critical Companion (1998); Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle, 
eds., Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison (1997); David 
L. Middleton, ed., Toni Morrison's Fiction: Contemporary Criticism 
(2000); Nancy J. Peterson, ed., Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical 
Approaches (1997); Barbara H. Solomon, ed., Critical Essays on Toni 
Morrison's Beloved (1998); Steven Weisenburger, Modern Medea: A 
Family Story of Slavery and Child Murder from the Old South (1998). 

Lovalerie King 

Best, Patricia 

See Cato, Patricia Best (Paradise). 

Big Box, r/ie(1999) 

In 1999, award-winning novelist Toni Morrison made her first foray into 
the world of children's literature. The result is a picture book, The Big 
Box, coauthored by Morrison's son Slade and illustrated by Giselle Pot- 
ter. A long story poem, the book focuses on three children, Patty, Mickey, 
and Liza Sue. Each of the children, in turn, has behavior problems and is 
sent, by parents and other authoritative adults, to live in a big box, a room 
from which the children cannot escape. They are provided with all the 
material comforts they could want, but must live isolated in the box, the 
monotony broken only by weekly visits from their parents. Throughout 
the book, the children are compared to animals who enjoy the freedom 
and liberty of the natural world. While the adults maintain that these se- 
vere restrictions are for the children's own good, the final page of the 
book depicts the three breaking down the walls of their box to escape. 
As in her fiction for adults, Morrison has created a work of strong so- 
cial commentary, questioning commonly held beliefs about the rights 
and responsibilities of our youngest citizens. The three children in this 
book are portrayed as perfectly normal children — energetic, exuberant, 
and perhaps a bit mischievous. But none of them is a serious problem 
child; Patty talks too much in school, Mickey plays handball in his apart- 
ment building, and Liza Sue sympathizes with the animals on her fam- 
ily farm. None of them threatens social order. Clearly, the society that 
would repress children to the extent of eliminating normal childhood is 
the real threat. Morrison manages to attack our rule-bound society (rules 
are posted everywhere in the children's world), as well as our intolerance 


for the inconvenience that we so often associate with children. She also 
comments strongly on the materialism of contemporary American cul- 
ture. When these children are put in the box, they are obviously cut off 
from experience in the natural world; their parents respond by filling 
their lives (their box) with stuff — toys, gadgets, total consumer indul- 

Unfortunately, Morrison's message is a bit heavy-handed, and the book 
suffers. Critical response to The Big Box has been mixed, at best. Re- 
viewers agree that this picture book holds little appeal or meaning for 
the traditional picture-book audience: young children. The plot is boring 
for little people, perhaps even a bit frightening, and the message doesn't 
really apply to them — children are the victims here, not the oppressors. 
Adults, on the other hand, are not typically drawn to picture books, nor 
are older children. So The Big Book may be remembered purely because 
it was written by Toni Morrison, not because millions of children clam- 
ored to hear it every night at bedtime. 

Lisa C. Rosen 

Birth of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the 
O.J. Simpson Case (1997) 

In a work that reveals her continuing interest in the American legal sys- 
tem, Birth of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. 
Simpson Case presents Morrison's response to the O.J. Simpson phe- 
nomenon, resulting from his arrest for the murders of his ex-wife, 
Nicole Brown Simpson, and her acquaintance Ronald Goldman, his trial, 
and his acquittal. This collection, coedited by Claudia Brodsky Lacour, 
was published in 1997 by Pantheon Books. The contributors to the book 
are notable intellectuals who are both male and female, both Black and 
white, and include writers (among them Ishmael Reed) and professors 
from the fields of literature, legal studies, and American studies. While 
one reviewer of the book suggests that there is little groundbreaking 
work here on the subject of race* and is disturbed by some of the con- 
tributors' insistence on Simpson's innocence, he still applauds the book 
for its interesting investigation of whiteness* . The result of Morrison's 
collaboration is a collection of thoughtful examinations or interroga- 
tions of what the O.J. Simpson case represents to an American cultural, 
racialized, and classed consciousness. 

Morrison not only edited this collection but also wrote the introduc- 
tion, "The Official Story: Dead Man Golfing." While the book refers to 
her contribution as an "introduction," her essay is one more conversa- 
tion in the think tank of the collection; nowhere in the introduction does 
Morrison refer to the themes or ideas offered by the other contributors, 


nor does she mention their names. However, the "misnaming" of Mor- 
rison's essay by no means detracts from its interesting exploration of the 
O.J. Simpson quagmire. 

Morrison begins by comparing the Simpson case to Herman 
Melville's short story "Benito Cereno." Morrison's interest in the story 
revolves around the themes of deception and contradiction, themes that 
she sees as equally pervasive in the cultural readings or misreadings of 
the "character" O.J. Simpson. Rinaldo Walcott, in his review of this col- 
lection, begins by arguing that the entire O.J. Simpson case is about 
"reading practices." Repeatedly, Morrison insists that within the media- 
generated narratives O.J. Simpson "stands in for" or represents some- 
thing else, whether that be the whole African American race or other 
racialized stereotypes or fears heaped upon the backs of African Amer- 
icans. Additionally, she quotes William Faulkner* as an indication of the 
complete reduction or dehumanization of African Americans and the 
perceptions of their thoughts and behaviors. Of course, it is precisely 
these misperceptions or misreadings of the captain in "Benito Cereno" 
that lead to the chaos and mutiny: the belief that the Blacks are demure 
servants incapable of violence* reveals how the captain, and perhaps the 
readers are shocked out of their comfortable situations through the 
mutiny. Morrison argues that the inability to classify the abyss of con- 
tradictions seen in the alleged actions of an American hero or icon like 
O.J. Simpson gives rise to a need for culturally sanctioned narratives 
that not only leave Americans feeling safe but also protect them from 
the vulnerability that Melville writes about in his story. 

For Morrison, one of the most disturbing aspects of the O.J. Simpson 
case is the manner in which it gives rise to the official story, the national 
narrative, or a metanarrative. Morrison explores tendencies of the offi- 
cial media to include or exclude particular surveys, opinions, and atti- 
tudes that might complicate thinking about the Simpson case. Moreover, 
she explores theories, conspiracy and otherwise, in an attempt to better 
understand the culture's desire to simplify the plethora of both legal and 
societal issues emerging from the Simpson case, including domestic vi- 
olence, police brutality and abuses of power, sexual assault, equal treat- 
ment under the law, freedom of information, and freedom of speech, 
among others. For Morrison, the result of this metanarrative is a denial 
similar to that in "Benito Cereno" when the white captain has to discover 
the "hidden" racism. 

Near the conclusion of her essay, Morrison calls on another American 
narrative driven by the polemics of race. The title for the collection sig- 
nifies or maybe reracializes the title of D.W. Griffith's famous film The 
Birth of a Nation (1915), which single-handedly, through its heroic por- 
trayal of the Ku Klux Klan, gave rise to a new Klansman, reinvesting 
post-Civil War America with white rights and supremacy. By adding the 

64 BLACK BOOK, THE (1974) 

"hood" to Griffith's title, Morrison accomplishes two tasks: she reveals 
the "hidden hood" represented by the hoods worn by the Klansman, hid- 
den racism now recognizable in its more familiar forms, and she ques- 
tions how the official story manages to re-present O.J. Simpson as an 
African American Everyman, in a kind of "gentrification" of race in the 
hood of the media. 

Reference: Rinaldo Walcott, "Deceived: The Unreadability of the O.J. 
Simpson Case," Canadian Review of American Studies 28: 2 (1998). 

James M. Ivory 

Black Book, The (1974) 

During her career as a senior editor for Random House, Toni Morrison 
worked on a one-of-a-kind project titled The Black Book, edited by Mid- 
dleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith. In com- 
piling materials for the volume, the editors acknowledge the contributions 
of a number of people, including Morrison's parents, Ramah Willis and 
George Wofford. Readers familiar with Morrison's work are no doubt 
aware that while working on this project she encountered a visual repre- 
sentation (not included in The Black Book) and the story of Margaret Gar- 
ner*, the formerly enslaved Cincinnati woman who killed her daughter 
rather than have her returned to slavery*. Margaret Garner's story would 
become the impetus for Morrison's masterwork, Beloved*. 

The Black Book is both eclectic and grandly illuminating. Its real value 
lies in its breadth of coverage, for even the most devoted scholar of Black 
life and culture is likely to find something revelatory in the volume. En- 
tries — including news items, photographs, recipes, handwritten letters, 
patent records, and birth records — are generally, but not always, arranged 
chronologically; the "story" clearly begins with the African, and includes 
information about Blacks in the New World before the coming of Colum- 
bus and the Atlantic Slave Trade as we know it. Salient passages from the 
writing of Aim e Cesaire, Henry Dumas, Langston Hughes, Robert Hay- 
den, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others often accompany the visuals and 
serve as epigraphs, sometimes encapsulating a specific period or attitude, 
and other times suggesting the possible interpretation of an individual 

The first almost full-page photograph is of a vibrant, young woman, 
clearly African. She is standing upright — looking ahead and possibly 
walking forward; her facial expression suggests wonder, perhaps long- 
ing, and some measure of anxiety. Above the photograph, lines from 
Bernard Dadie speak to witnessing the beginning of a major turning 

BLACK BOOK, THE (1974) 65 

point: "I was there when the Angel/drove out the Ancestor/I was there 
when the waters/consumed the mountains." Juxtaposed against this 
opening visual is the final one, featuring an elderly, feeble-looking Black 
American man, seated, fully dressed in worn clothing — in stark contrast 
to the sparsely clothed, almost nude subject of the opening photograph. 
The words of Henry Dumas that accompany this final photo suggest the 
beginning of a new journey, perhaps toward full citizenship: "We have a 
journey/to take and little time;/we have ships to name/and crews." 

In the volume's short but provocative introduction, celebrated enter- 
tainer William H. (Bill) Cosby, Jr., asks us to consider the type of scrap- 
book a 300-year-old Black man might have put together had he started 
collecting materials at the age of ten. What he might have included is an 
assortment of pictures of Black cowboys, a list of colonial enactments 
aimed at impeding Black progress, and a late nineteenth-century news 
article about a prize-winning grower and spinner of silk, Miss Ruth Low- 
ery of Huntsville, Alabama. He might have included records of patents 
relating to all the following items: the fountain pen, a type of clothes 
dryer, an airship, a typewriting machine, a pencil sharpener, a window 
cleaner, a cigarette roller, a corn harvester, a street sweeper, a hot comb, 
a lawn sprinkler, a steam furnace, the antiaircraft gun, a lamp, the tele- 
phone, and many more. He might also have included a recipe for scup- 
pernong wine, or the very specific directions for mixing and cooking hoe 
cake; he might have included a wonderful parody of Joyce Kilmer's fa- 
mous poem about trees. Surely he would have explained how the 
"dozens" came to be called by that name, and he would have included 
posters advertising the public sale of displaced Africans as slaves, such as 
the one describing "2 likely young Negro wenches," one of whom is 
missing an eye. 

Like the editors of The Black Book, in compiling his scrapbook the 
300-year-old Black man would have wanted to include testimonials of 
everyday miracles of resistance and survival alongside more notorious 
historical events, such as an eyewitness account of John Brown's execu- 
tion following his raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. There would be space 
for a copy of Frederick Douglass's handwritten letter defending his 
choice for a second wife, and for pictures and news articles representing 
the horrible period of lynching following the Civil War and extending 
well into the twentieth century. He would include evidence of religious 
hypocrisy and moral corruption among the beneficiaries of "the evil in- 
stitution," and he would make note of the fact that New York's African 
Aid Society addressed a letter to the king of Dahomey in West Africa, 
telling him that it would be much more financially lucrative to stop sell- 
ing enslaved Africans to European traders and instead use their labor at 
home to boost local production. Indeed, he would be sure to include in- 
formation about New World Blacks who owned slaves, and information 

66 BLUEST EYE, THE (1970) 

about whites who served as conductors on the Underground Railroad. 
Certainly he would want people to know that the Empress of the Blues 
once won the Tennessee roller-skating championship in Chattanooga, 
and that one of the Fisk Jubilee Singers went to Europe, changed her 
name to Desireo Plato, and continued to perform concerts. 

An incredibly rich and unique source of information about Black 
American life covering several centuries of Blacks as subjects and par- 
ticipants in the history of the world, The Black Book includes all the above 
information and much, much more. 

Lovalerie King 

Bluest Eye, The (1970) 

Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, is a coming-of-age story 
that marks painful childhood lessons and the far-reaching effects of 
those pains in adulthood. It weaves different stories of adolescence and 
adulthood that, together, come to revolve around the life of the novel's 
protagonist, Pecola Breedlove*. As readers learn Pecola's story, the novel 
provides a look into and understanding of the stories of the other char- 
acters in the text. More important, the novel illustrates what happens 
to seeds planted in childhood innocence and watered by racial hatred, 
social discrimination, and sexual violence*. By forcing readers to inter- 
pret the characters' stories in the text, Morrison forces them to rein- 
terpret the stories of their own childhood that have come to shape their 
adulthood, their existence. 

The novel begins with a tale from the popular Dick and Jane series of 
children's literature. The Dick and Jane stories taught many children how 
to read through short, simple sentences recounting scenes from, accord- 
ing to the books' portrayals, everyday life of everyday people. The story's 
text introduces readers to its concept of the typical family* unit. This 
middle-class family is complete with a father, mother, son, daughter, dog, 
and cat, all housed in a quaint green and white house bordered with a 
white picket fence. While the family has no name, everybody knows them 
because, supposedly, they speak the story of childhood in Anytown, USA, 
and the life lessons learned therein. Every story has some basic, rudi- 
mentary elements. The man has ascended to the head of this household, 
in strength and stature. The woman has fulfilled the dream of home- 
maker and wife, and happily assumes those roles in her home*. The two 
children, Dick and Jane, are being groomed in this tradition and learning 
the bonds of family. More important, each member seems to be learning 
the lessons of love — the love of family, the love of life. In The Bluest Eye, 
however, the story and its telling become more disjunctive. By mimick- 
ing the Dick and Jane story, Morrison creates a poignant par 

BLUEST EYE, THE (1970) 67 

adox for study of the novel. While she reinforces the idea that this story 
reflects life lessons and childhood experiences, and maintains the earlier 
tone and structure of the Dick and Jane story in her mimicry, she also re- 
minds the reader that the story and the lessons that come to form those 
experiences are different for different children and different communi- 
ties. The simple sentences become a jumble of words, one after the other, 
with no terminal punctuation and no lines of clear division and borders. 
Finally, the words become a series of letters running together, and the 
message and the sense of the earlier story are suddenly and violently dis- 
rupted. The story, in essence, turns against itself and falls apart as other 
stories, which lie buried beneath this mythic portrait of the American 
Dream, appear and shatter the conventional paradigm. 

Set between the fall seasons of 1940 and 1941, it immediately informs 
the reader that Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old child, is having her 
father's baby. The happy-go-lucky tenor of the earlier Dick and Jane 
story, which informs the mind-set of the reader and the characters within 
the text, is immediately banished for more realistic portrayals of life, liv- 
ing, and love in this alternate story. Immediately, Morrison reminds the 
reader that the stories other American texts have told are not universal. 
There are others that lurk in the silences, in the places and hearts that 
have tried to hide and conceal the ugliness of that existence. The Dick 
and Jane story frames the novel's central story and implies the novel's 
central theme. Thus, only by reading the story of Dick and Jane can one 
understand The Bluest Eye. In essence, for readers, learning the rudi- 
mentary elements of the frame enables an understanding of the lessons 
about racial, social, and sexual discrimination to come. 

From a distance, the story seems simple. Pecola Breedlove, a foster 
child, comes to live with a small neighboring family, the MacTeers, in Lo- 
rain, Ohio*, after her parents' relationship spirals into a continuous cycle 
of poverty, discord, and violence*. Particularly, Pecola relocates after her 
father, Cholly Breedlove*, attempts to burn down the storefront home 
where they live — the first of his many abuses. The MacTeers' two daugh- 
ters, Claudia* and Frieda*, bond with Pecola during her stay in their 
parents' home. While Pecola's presence is unexpected and sudden, both 
Claudia and Frieda consider Pecola to be family, and want to learn as 
much as they can about their new friend. As the story continues to un- 
fold, however, Claudia and Frieda learn more about themselves as they 
learn more about Pecola and the events that bring Pecola to the MacTeer 
home — and eventually remove her. Claudia and Frieda, ironically, go on 
their own personal journeys. Eventually, the reader learns that all of the 
girls are searching for growth and acceptance of themselves in a world 
that seeks to ignore and discredit their presence. 

Claudia narrates Pecola's story and immediately contrasts the arche- 
typal Dick and Jane. Pecola is the daughter of Pauline* and Cholly 

68 BLUEST EYE, THE (1970) 

Breedlove.The Breedloves, a lower-class family, live in a converted store- 
front. Here, Pecola learns her basic lessons of childhood and how to read 
the world. While Dick and Jane sleep soundly every night to the sound 
of a figurative lullaby of love and acceptance, Pecola's lullaby is anger and 
rejection. As Pecola listens to her mother and father argue each night, 
she imagines that all except her eyes disappears. In essence, her eyes be- 
come the core of her being, her inner self. Her eyes, however, are not the 
dark eyes that she is born with, but the bluest eyes imaginable. She ul- 
timately believes that if she has blue eyes, not only will she no longer be 
considered the ugly child, but her parents will not fight, and she will be 
loved. Pecola's one desire is to learn how to get people to love her. Read- 
ers, feeling wise, assume that Pecola's flaw is in wanting to know how to 
be loved. Yet, before readers can feel sorry for Pecola, Morrison takes this 
sad perversion a step farther and draws not just on Pecola's failings but 
on the readers' failings as well. The idea that Dick and Jane's parents love 
them, that Dick and Jane's parents love each other, and that Pecola wishes 
to have this love is not worthy of pity. Instead, it is Pecola's and the read- 
ers' assumption, both within and outside of the text, that only aspects of 
whiteness*, or products thereof, are beautiful and should be loved. In fact, 
whiteness, never stated in the story itself, becomes the readers' creation 
and, automatically, synonymous with being loved and beautiful. Thus, 
while the Dick and Jane story seems out of place in the novel itself, it has 
a central place in the story of the characters in the text and the readers 
of the text who consciously and subconsciously view whiteness, and ex- 
pressions of it, as synonymous with love. 

All of the members of Pecola's family, readers learn, have struggled 
with the need to be loved, and possess a level of self-loathing for their 
own being as Black in a white world. Pecola's mother, Pauline (Polly) 
Breedlove, lost a front tooth through rot and also impaled her foot at age 
two. This accident left her with a flat, archless foot that flopped around 
when she walked and the persistent feeling in her childhood that she did 
not belong anyplace. Though her family prevents her from hearing the 
taunts of other children, Pauline feels unaccepted, so she creates a world 
within where she controls her own destiny and experiences love through 
acceptance in all parts of her community*, not just in the protected space 
of her family and her home. Love, for Pauline, equals acceptance. As she 
grows older, Pauline assumes all of the responsibilities of caring for her 
younger siblings, which makes her feel needed and then accepted. Thus, 
as an adult, she feels love only in places where she feels acceptance. Her 
tumultuous relationship with Cholly makes her feel unaccepted in her 
own home, ugly, and unloved. Yet when she works as a maid in a white 
family's home, she feels beautiful and loved; she mistakes the white fam- 
ily's need for her services as an acceptance of her. Consequently, she be- 
stows more love on the white child for whom she cares than on her own 

BLUEST EYE, THE (1970) 69 

child, Pecola, whom she feels is too Black, dirty, and ugly — ironically, the 
same way she felt about herself as a child. 

Similarly, Cholly Breedlove struggles to find love through acceptance 
in a white world that sees him only as an uneducated Black brute. He is 
plagued by a time in his childhood when he bore the brunt of the sexual 
perversion of three white hunters, who stood over him and watched as 
he had his first sexual experience. While the experience could have been 
a beautiful one, instead it was unfulfilling and tinged with hatred both 
for the white men and for the young girl with whom he had the en- 
counter. When Pauline and Cholly meet, they are two beings longing and 
needing to be accepted, who view that acceptance as love. 

By the spring of 1941, Pecola is back home with her parents. While she 
is washing dishes at the sink, Cholly comes into the kitchen and returns 
momentarily to a time of his youth. He remembers his love for Pauline, 
and the day that Pauline leaned idly on the fence in front of her home 
and he, Cholly, bent down, laughing, tickling her foot and kissing her leg. 
He thinks lovingly of his young Pauline in her awkwardness perched 
over that fence. He reaches out to Pauline and, tickling and kissing that 
foot and leg again, remembers the love that he felt and so desired. Yet 
the foot and the leg are not Pauline's, but Pecola's, and the fence is not a 
fence but a kitchen sink where Pecola attends to one of her daily tasks. 
The love and laughter that return from the heart of Pauline that sunny 
day in Kentucky are replaced by the screams and pain of a daughter un- 
able to understand the brutality of this love in a kitchen in Lorain, Ohio. 
Cholly rapes Pecola and impregnates her. Ironically, the love that he per- 
haps wanted to show makes her first experience of sex* as painful and 
devastating as his own. 

As Pecola's pregnancy becomes evident, she is expelled from school 
and scorned by the community. More important, she falls farther and 
farther from reality. By the fall, Pecola's baby is dead. With the death of 
her baby, Pecola lapses into madness and develops an imaginary friend 
who, she exclaims, loves her and her blue eyes. 

Critically, Morrison's story reflects several important themes and con- 
cepts. The setting of the text in Lorain, Ohio, the place of Morrison's 
own coming-of-age, gives the reader a backdrop for the pattern of racism 
and discrimination in America of the 1940s that came to a head in Amer- 
ica in the 1960s and 1970s. She reminds the reader that places other than 
the South were mired in the same racial prejudices, despite being north 
of the Mason-Dixon Line. Several critics make this connection to the 
American tradition and Toni Morrison's critique of the traditional values 
within. Morrison seems to make this connection herself by juxtaposing 
the concept of the American Dream and American patriotism fostered 
during U.S. participation in World War II with the hypocritical treat- 
ment of the Black community at the war's end. The nationalistic 

70 BLUEST EYE, THE (1970) 

ethic that held the nation together through the bombing of Pearl Har- 
bor in 1941 and the entrance of America into the war shortly thereafter 
becomes a vague memory* by the 1960s. In fact, the disenfranchisement 
of millions of Black Americans perpetuated through the 1940s and 
1950s, resulting in the activities and events of the 1960s, seems to con- 
textualize the many thematic emphases of this story. While many Black 
Americans fought for the nation in World War II and helped ensure 
America's victory, these same persons were discriminated against, re- 
jected, and reviled in their homeland. Claudia's recollection of the events 
of that fateful year of 1941 is poignant when considering the effect of 
those racial tensions on her and other people of color, not only as chil- 
dren but also as adults fighting in the Civil Rights movement of the 
1960s and 1970s. She does not speak of the war abroad but of the war at 
home. The Bluest Eye, in essence, addresses this tension but, through 
Claudia, also speaks to the hope of being able to exist regardless of the 
hatred and bigotry of others. The events of Pecola's story culminate in 
this nationalistic climate of 1941, and just as her dream is a perverted 
one, so, too, is this ethic. 

On a deeper level, however, the novel, though devoid of white persons 
as major characters, incorporates whiteness not only as an idea but also 
as a character. Thus, while there are no visible white characters that come 
to frame the story's tale, their presence is immediately felt by readers. In 
essence, all of the characters are struggling against whiteness and trying 
to accept their Blackness. They define acceptance, however, by the tenets 
of a white world and, ultimately, many of the characters lose themselves. 
Pecola has a fascination not only with blue eyes but also with the baby- 
doll stature of the child star Shirley Temple and the Shirley Temple cup 
in the MacTeer home. Pecola gorges herself on white milk and drinks the 
milk only from the Shirley Temple cup so that she can look upon those 
blue eyes and blond curls and, for a moment, "be" like Shirley and be 
loved. Claudia's childhood love-hate relationship with white baby dolls 
and Shirley Temple, icons of whiteness and innocence, stems from the 
presence of whiteness in her life as well. But Claudia, unlike Pecola, comes 
to hate white baby dolls and Shirley Temple for the very images of white- 
ness they possess. She questions why beauty has to be white. More im- 
portant, by questioning whiteness she questions whiteness's abuses of 
Blackness. Whiteness is both hated and revered. Some of the characters 
believe that whiteness brings privilege, and with privilege comes the ac- 
ceptance of and, more important, the love of self. Claudia is able to un- 
derstand that love is color-blind, and learning how to love yourself is 
what is most important in learning how to "be" despite the world's at- 
tempt to deny that you exist. Pecola (and all little Black girls like her) 
searches for the love that she is denied by the world, but finding that love 
means learning to love herself. 

BLUEST EYE, THE (1970) 71 

Scholars cite institutional racism and its psychological and physical ef- 
fects on African Americans and the African American community as an- 
other predominant theme. While the Dick and Jane story never mentions 
the skin color of its characters, the behavior and activities of the charac- 
ters force many readers to assume that they are white. Whiteness, then, 
becomes synonymous with beauty and love. Rosemary Villanucci, the 
neighbor of Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola, though Italian, has white skin, 
and thus white privilege and "love" associated with that skin. Rosemary's 
ethnicity, however, speaks something other than the privilege of white- 
ness that she enjoys. Maureen Peal is a young Black girl, but her light 
skin, in the minds of the Black community, makes her closer to white than 
Black and closer to the world of privilege. Thus, even the appearance of 
whiteness lays claim to privilege. Ironically, however, this appearance leads 
to ambivalence because it reminds those who cannot pass of their inabil- 
ity to find the acceptance they desire. Color, then, is not just a barrier be- 
tween different racial groups; color is a barrier within the races as well. 
Morrison's text not only calls on the white world to consider how they 
love, but on the Black race* to consider what they call love. 

While the story is a struggle for being African American against the 
larger American tradition of institutionalized racism, it also uncovers 
what some scholars have called the identity* of the Black female or the 
Black female self. The world consumes Pecola. Claudia, however, lives to 
tell the pains of her existence and to rise above them. She learns that 
beauty and love are found only through self-acceptance, and once she ac- 
cepts herself, she finds the love she needs. Both characters reflect the dif- 
ficulties that confront Black women and the obvious force that threatens 
them — racism — but they also speak to other intersecting oppressions, 
like class and gender, that serve as additional, crippling forces. The char- 
acters equate acceptance with love in the story. For Black females, by na- 
ture of both color and sex, acceptance is further complicated. Pecola and 
all the members of her family feel uglier than, in reality, they are be- 
cause they feel outside of the community. The storefront is out of place 
with the other dwellings in Lorain and marks the family as members of 
the lower class. Class, like race, breeds acceptance. The MacTeers, though 
not rich by any stretch of the imagination, possess membership in the 
higher class and garner acceptance through that membership. The 
Breedloves' lower-class status garners them pity and disdain. 

Yet, within this class story, women are further distanced from self-ac- 
tualization by virtue of a world that views their worth in terms of the 
function of their reproductive organs. Pecola's, Claudia's, and Frieda's 
lives are marked not only by their social experiences with the world but 
also by their sexual ones — particularly Pecola's sexual experiences. Read- 
ers mark the maturation of the girls in the story through Pecola's first 
menstruation, her rape, her dealings with the prostitutes*, and her 


danger at the hands Soaphead Church*, a pedophile. Pecola's life becomes 
marked by her sex, as do the lives of all of the female characters in the 
text. The prostitutes, for instance, are working girls who earn their liv- 
ing and ascend to their middle-class standing by selling their bodies to 
men for money. While the community at large rejects them, they enter- 
tain many of the "higher" members of that same community in their 
beds. In addition, the prostitutes are the only people in the story who 
make Pecola feel beautiful and loved, because they offer the only place 
where she finds acceptance. With the prostitutes, Pecola is no longer the 
ugly, too-Black girl who wants blue eyes; she is simply a young girl want- 
ing to belong, and with the prostitutes, she belongs because she learns to 
accept herself. 

So the story comes full circle and dramatizes the unspeakable pain of 
what it is to be outside of what is accepted. As simple as the lesson may 
be, beauty and love come from within. Finding the truth of one's own 
beauty is the only way to avoid the madness, the loss of self. In essence, 
the text ends as it begins, presenting an alternate story of being, but in 
this case, that being is not Pecola's, or even Claudia's, but a reminder of 
the choice we have as individuals to succumb to the madness of racism or 
to overcome it. See also Approaches to Morrison's Work: Feminist/Black 
Feminist; Motherhood; South, Influence of; Shame; Trauma. 

Reference: Elizabeth T Hayes, "'Like Seeing You Buried': Persephone in 
The Bluest Eye, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Color Purple," 
in Images of Persephone: Feminist Readings in Western Literature 

Gena Elise Chandler 

Bodwins, the [Beloved) 

The Bodwins are a brother and sister who live in Cincinnati and are long- 
time acquaintances of Mr. Garner*, the onetime owner of Sweet Home* 
and of the Blacks who live there. The Bodwins lease Baby Suggs* the 
house at 124 Bluestone Road* when Garner first delivers her to Ohio in 
1848. Quakers and abolitionists, the Bodwins are opposed to slavery* in 
any form. Mr. Bodwin intervenes to save Sethe Suggs* from the gallows 
after she commits infanticide*. Toward the end of the novel, at Janey 
Wagon's urging, the Bodwins hire Denver Suggs*. Mr. Bodwin is almost 
assaulted by Sethe when he arrives at 124 Bluestone Road during the 
communal exorcism of Beloved*. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 


Bottom, the (Sula) 

African American neighborhood in Medallion, Ohio*. Given its name as 
a "nigger joke" by a white farmer who tricks his slave into performing 
some difficult chores in exchange for freedom and a piece of land, "the 
Bottom" is actually located in the hilly, hard-to-farm section of the town. 
See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Breedlove, Cholly {The Bluest Eye) 

Cholly Breedlove, Pecola's* father, appears at the novel's opening to be 
the villain. His rape and impregnation of Pecola is the first and lasting 
memory* that readers receive. However, the complexity of Cholly 's char- 
acter does not stop with this one violent act. Cholly's adult behavior, like 
that of all of the novel's characters, has roots in a painful childhood. As 
a young boy, Cholly's first sexual experience was shared under the glar- 
ing lights and eyes of three white hunters who stumbled upon Cholly 
and then forced him to finish the sex* act under their watchful glare. 
Since that day, Cholly has struck back at the white world that humiliated 
him. The powerlessness that he experienced as a child, however, does not 
go away. While he is able to overpower his wife and his child physically, 
he still cannot overcome the white world and their perception of him as 
an ignorant, Black brute. His helplessness in the white world manifests 
in violence* at home. Cholly's ugliness is in his helplessness and his 
choice to punish those around him for his own inadequacies. His rape of 
Pecola is just as psychologically violent as it is physically violent, for in 
his attempt to "breed love" from the world that loathes him, he kills love 
in the world that needs him. See also Bluest Eye, The. 

Gena Elise Chandler 

Breedlove, Pauline [The Bluest Eye) 

Pauline "Polly" Breedlove is the mother of Pecola* and, in a sense, fore- 
shadows Pecola's downfall. "The sins of the mother," it seems, fall on the 
child and eventually come to destroy her. Pauline's childhood fears, we 
learn, are much like her daughter Pecola's. A loss of a front tooth and the 
piercing of her foot with a nail in childhood left Pauline with irreversible 
scars, threats to her physical beauty, and a fear that she would not gain 
acceptance. While Pauline's mother attempted to ensure her acceptance 
in the world, Pauline destroys Pecola's chance for acceptance. In fact, 
Pauline's lack of acceptance of herself leads her to fall victim to the white 


world's conception of beauty. She becomes enamored with white movie 
starlets and resigns herself to ugliness in the face of what is simply her 
difference. Despite others', including Cholly's, attempts to make her be- 
lieve that she is beautiful, she chooses to see only ugliness. Transferring 
her desires to reflect the white images on the screen, she finds pride in 
cleaning for and taking care of a white family and their child in the Lo- 
rain community, but fails to see how she has succumbed to the same 
racism and oppression that she has been blindly fighting against. Even 
her name, Polly, reflects her oppression, as she is reduced to a diminu- 
tive name given to her by the white child she raises. Her assigning of 
beauty to race* and social class leaves her feeling ugly and rejected in her 
own community and yearning for acceptance of herself as she attempts 
to "breed love" instead of accepting love from those around her. See also 
Bluest Eye, The. 

Gena Elise Chandler 

Breedlove, Pecola [The Bluest Eye) 

Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove functions as The Bluest Eye's protag- 
onist. In addition, she comes to signify the novel's central themes and to 
illustrate how racism can distort and destroy the self. Pecola believes that 
she can be accepted, and thus loved, only if she has blue eyes. The blue 
eyes in the text are synonymous with whiteness*, and since Pecola has 
never found acceptance as a young Black girl, she turns to the only ex- 
pression of love she has seen: the blond-haired, blue-eyed characteristics 
of whiteness. Pecola also equates her lack of love with her outward ap- 
pearance, and thus decides that she is cloaked in ugliness. She sees that 
ugliness in her Blackness and the brown eyes and features that accom- 
pany it, and believes that she can "breed love," as her surname suggests, 
if she has the things the ones who are loved, the little white children, 
possess. All she needs are the seeds to grow what was not given to her at 
birth, to create what was denied her. Pecola misunderstands the problems 
of accepting these white conceptions of beauty and attempting to find ac- 
ceptance without when she has not found acceptance within. More im- 
portant, Pecola's childhood naivete prevents her from understanding that 
the blue eyes she covets will never disguise the ugliness of an outside 
world that senselessly assigns acceptance on the basis of race*. 

More painful than Pecola's inability to accept herself is the complicity 
of her community* in fostering her lack of acceptance, continuously re- 
flecting images of white beauty. All around her, these are the images that 
people love and admire. There is no positive reinforcement at home 
telling Pecola that she is just as beautiful and loved as those images, so 
she seeks to breed the love that she lacks and desires. The rape by her 


father further compounds her misconception of love. All she truly wants 
is love and acceptance, and the first place she looks for them is in her 
home*. The lack of acceptance and love at home leads her to look for al- 
ternative ways and places to receive what she is lacking. When her fa- 
ther rapes and impregnates her, he not only confirms what she views as 
a lack of love and acceptance, hut also ensures that she will feel unloved 
and unaccepted by the world. The death of her baby, born prematurely, 
signifies the death of a chance, in essence, for the Black baby. Instead of 
breeding love, Pecola succeeds in breeding a child of anger and a world 
of hate. See also Bluest Eye, The. 

Gena Elise Chandler 

Brother (Beloved) 

"Brother" is the name given to a giant sycamore tree at Sweet Home*. 
The enslaved men at Sweet Home lie under the tree during episodes of 
male bonding. Brother is a highly symbolic aspect of Paul D's* medita- 
tion on manhood. An African parallel to the role of the giant sycamore 
can be found in the role of the giant baobab tree under which men in 
some cultures gathered to make decisions. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Cato, Bi Hie Delia [Paradise) 

The light-skinned daughter of Patricia Best Cato* and Billy Cato. Al- 
though still a virgin in her twenties, Billie Delia has a reputation for 
sexual promiscuity because at the age of three, she removed her un- 
derwear on Main Street one Sunday morning in order to feel the move- 
ment of Hard Goods, a horse, against her skin. Having taken refuge at 
the Convent* after her mother hits her on the head with an iron, Bil- 
lie Delia is one of the few who befriend the Convent women and is the 
only character who is not puzzled by their disappearance; she believes 
the women have left only to return prepared for a battle with Ruby, 
Oklahoma*, with men, and with all the forces that had haunted them. 
See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Cato, Patricia Best [Paradise) 

Title character of one of Paradise's nine sections and the daughter of 
Roger Best and a not-from-Ruby woman light enough to pass as white, 
Patricia is Ruby, Oklahoma's* light-skinned schoolteacher and unoffi- 
cial town historian. Distinctly aware of Ruby's inverse color hierarchy 
(the Black-as-8-rock people disdain those of lighter skin), Pat is dis- 
content with both her own place, and her light-skinned daughter's in 


the community*, and ultimately destroys her notebooks on Ruby's 
history* in an attempt to save herself from its oppression. See also 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Chicken Little {Sula) 

Little boy who slips from Sula Peace's* hands into a river, and drowns. 
Chicken Little is later found by a white bargeman, returned to the Bot- 
tom*, and given a proper burial. Sula and Nel Wright* never admit the 
role they played in Chicken Little's accidental drowning. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 


African American children were an integral part of the fight for civil 
rights. Along with their elders they have borne the albatross of racism. 
Many lived to tell their stories of courage and strength during a time of 
national crisis. Ruby Nell Bridges, founder of the Ruby Bridges Founda- 
tion, at the age of six integrated the William Frantz Elementary School 
in New Orleans in 1960. Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice King; At- 
tilah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malikah, and Malaak Shabazz; Darrell 
Kenyatta, Reena and James van Dyke Evers — all these children bore up 
under the assassinations of their fathers. The Shabazz and Evers children 
witnessed the horror firsthand. Other children, including Emmett Till 
and four little Sunday school girls — Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, 
Addie Mae Collins, and Carol Robertson — were lynched and murdered, 
respectively, by white supremacists. 

Within the vortex of racial hatred, bigotry, and divides between rich 
and poor, the African American child became either a witness to or a tar- 
get of violence* in the dominant culture. In her novels, however, Toni 
Morrison explores the plight of the African American child within the 
African American community*. In various works Morrison asks: What 
intraracial dynamics has the African American child had to bear within 
its own community? Does s/he survive? If so, how? What is "home"* 
for the African American child when its own community is in chaos ? Are 
there any happy children in the African American community, and if so, 
how is happiness defined and how is it maintained? 

What is interesting about Morrison's children is that they cannot com- 
pletely articulate what is happening to them. There are struggles — psy- 
chic ones — that compel characters to carry traumatic events which are 
beyond their control as childhood secrets, as Sula Peace* and Nel Wright* 


do; to come to terms with mothers whose choices can even name you in 
a community, as in Milkman Dead's* case; to journey from the afterlife 
to the present in order to make some sense of being murdered by your 
mother; and to come to terms with adultery and what that means when 
your "indiscretion" cannot find a seat at the table of girl talk, as Dorcas 
Manfred* realizes. Morrison's children must possess an inner wisdom to 
buffer them against the ideologies of racism and bigotry that are bigger 
and stronger than they are. If this wisdom is arrested, we see the total 
destruction of the child. 

Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye*, is a testament to this arrest of 
wisdom and lack of inner strength. Pecola Breedlove* is a Black child who 
yearns for blue eyes. From her birth, Pecola is pronounced ugly by her 
mother. Blue eyes, Pecola believes, will not only make her beautiful, but 
these particular organs of sight will bring her acceptance and love. Thus 
begins her journey to find someone who will give her blue eyes. 
The MacTeers, school, Geraldine's household, Pauline* and Cholly 
Breedlove*, the prostitutes* (Poland, China, and Miss Marie) and the 
church are some of the people and institutions that Pecola unconsciously 
consults for acceptance. Pecola's position as "the ugly one" in her Black 
community practically gives other children carte blanche to cast her 
about without any thought of punishment. Maureen Peale can dare to 
drop her facade and taunt Pecola; the boys on the playground can freely 
encircle Pecola and push her around; and Louis can get away with the lie 
that Pecola harmed the black cat. Interestingly, because Pecola's looks sig- 
nify to Geraldine, Louis's mother, the Southern ugliness from which she 
escaped, it is easy for her to believe that Pecola is the culprit. In the end, 
Pecola is raped by her drunken father and further abused at the hands of 
religious leader Soaphead Church*. Pecola disintegrates and descends 
into madness. The members of the community allow it to happen. 

Nel and Sula are two child characters who have to live with the secret 
that one of them unwittingly caused the death of Chicken Little*, their 
childhood friend. In the novel Sula*, the twelve-year-olds have partici- 
pated in the taking of a life, no matter that it was an accident that hap- 
pened innocently. Even though Chicken Little's fall is dismissed as an 
accidental drowning, the fact that Nel and Sula agree to make it a memory 
all their own casts a spell on the friendship. Boundaries are broken, and 
the relationship becomes fraught with conflict, assumptions, and misun- 
derstandings. Moreoever, it is that summer which welds Nel and Sula 
into one entity. Therefore, sharing the secret of Chicken Little opens the 
door for every other thing to be shared. This is why the adult Sula feels 
no remorse in "stealing" Nel's husband because, essentially, Sula cannot 
steal what she already owns. That childhood secret is why Sula takes no 
thought for Nel and her love for Jude Greene*: Sula is Nel is Sula is Nel 
loving Jude. Within the confines of the nursing home, Nel comes to this 


realization. Her visit with Eva Peace*, Sula's grandmother, jars her mem- 
ory of the Chicken Little incident. On the way home, Nel calls out to Sula 
and comes to appreciate that the two were joined in friendship in the 
very end. 

In Song of Solomon*, Ruth Dead* nurses her son beyond normative 
time in the privacy of her own home, but is discovered by a passing neigh- 
bor who verbally thrusts Ruth's furtive gesture into the street of the 
neighborhood. Her son, thereafter nicknamed Milkman, must negotiate 
within a community that knows his mother's secret; fortunately, he finds 
solace in the wisdom of Pilate Dead*, his aunt. Ultimately Milkman Dead 
literally disinters his own name in the quest for the truth behind the bag 
of bones, literally using the songs of nursery-rhyming children. 

On one level, Morrison's Jazz* is a novel that deals with the process 
of reassembling the self once it is torn from the land of the South* and 
placed on the concrete sidewalks of the North. Joe* and Violet Trace* are 
people of the agricultural South who migrate north, and we see their psy- 
chological struggle to fit themselves into an environment far removed 
from their Southern roots. On another level, Jazz bows to the genre of 
Black popular romance, and it is within this framework that Morrison 
treats teenage love. Dorcas, Joe Trace's teenage lover, removes herself 
from the relationship because its secrecy and constraints prohibit her 
from sharing the details with her peers. She chooses Acton*, even though 
he is no good for her, because she is able to gossip about this relation- 
ship. This kind of dialogue creates a bond among girlfriends; it allows the 
peer group to take sides and develop loyalties (and betrayals). The Dor- 
cas/Joe dyad alienates Dorcas from her peers as she realizes that adult 
love stifles her interaction with her world. The relationship cuts off com- 
munication with her generation, and aligns her with the world of Joe and 
Violet, which includes the elder couple's past. Dorcas, then, releases her- 
self from the relationship with Joe to reintegrate herself into her time 
and her space — a time and space within which she can move without 

In Morrison's Beloved*, we experience the spiritual unrest of Beloved*, 
the crawlingalready? baby girl who is killed by her mother, an escaped 
slave named Sethe Suggs*. Even though Sethe's dreadful act is motivated 
by her desire to protect her children from being returned to slavery*, 
Beloved translates it as being abandoned and unloved. Beloved returns 
from the afterlife to insert herself into the present and into the memory 
of her sister, Denver Suggs*, and to become a part of her mother's life — 
to be loved. Beloved, too, is searching for her own stories, stories she 
hopes will tell her who she was before her life was taken. But her broth- 
ers, young Howard and Buglar*, are affected by the legacy as well. They 
are, literally, the almost-killed children who share, firsthand, the experi- 
ence of their slain sibling. This psychological trauma* causes them to re- 


fuse Sethe's touch after her release from jail. Finally Howard and Buglar 
run away from the spite of 124 Bluestone Road*. 

Morrison's treatment of children reminds us of the legacy that African 
American children have given to the world. Her novels order us to be 
cognizant of their presence, to honor them, and to take responsibility for 
their existence, because they are viable and visible testimony to the sur- 
vival of the African American community. 

Reference: Philip Page, Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation 
in Foni Morrison's Novels (1995). 

Kwakiutl L. Dreher 

Childs, Jadine {Tar Baby) 

One of the main protagonists of Far Baby, Jadine is an orphan who is 
raised by her uncle and aunt, Sydney and Ondine Childs*, who work 
as butler and cook to Valerian Street*. A model and art history gradu- 
ate student at the Sorbonne studying cloisonne, Jadine is Morrison's 
image of the new Black woman. She is more concerned with herself 
than with her community* or the past. Her relationship with Son* fails 
because she is not prepared to give up her independence, her lifestyle, 
or her values. Some consider her a race* traitor and the tar baby of the 
title, because she adheres to white cultural values. However, Morrison 
complicates this view in the conclusion when Jadine declines to marry 
her white boyfriend, Ryk, and returns to Paris to take on life on her 
own terms. 

Jadine is one of Morrison's most complicated and conflicted characters. 
Some readers believe she has "sold out" and is a cautionary example of 
a Black woman out of touch with her "ancient properties." Son accuses 
her of embracing white values and culture. For him these white values 
include wanting to get ahead, participating in the consumer society, and 
remaining apart from "real" Black society. If Jadine rejects Black culture, 
it can also be said that Black culture rejects her. Son calls her a white girl, 
Marie-Therese Foucault* and Gideon refer to her as the "yalla," and the 
woman in yellow spits in her direction. Further, Jadine is tormented by 
nightmares of being attacked by representations of Black women; she 
dreams she is attacked by women's hats — a sign for Black women — and 
dreams of the Black women braggadociously showing her their breasts. 
Each dream focuses on Jadine's supposed lack of authenticity as a Black 
woman. If Jadine is not Black enough, according to these criteria, then 
what is she? Jadine's realization at the end of the novel that she is the 
tar responsible for holding herself together seems to be in line with 


Morrison's previous articulation of individualistic Black female identity* 
that she explored in Sula* and Song of Solomon*. See also Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Childs, Sydney, and Ondine {Tar Baby) 

Sydney and Ondine Childs, Jadine Childs's* aunt and uncle, also act as 
her surrogate parents. They have been employed as Valerian Street's* 
butler and cook for years. They are both Philadelphia Negroes and very 
proud of this fact. The Philadelphia Negroes were the basis of an 1897 
sociological study by the young W.E.B. DuBois. The first engaged study 
of African American society, it became the foundation for his notion of 
the "Talented Tenth," the cream of Black American society, that would 
uplift the Black race*. Sydney and Ondine are disappointed that Jadine 
does not feel obligated to them. Slighted by her return to Paris, they are 
not confident that she will return to do her duty as a daughter by taking 
care of them in their old age. See also Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 


See Spirituality. 

Church, Soaphead/Micah Elihue Whitcomb 
(The Bluest Eye) 

Though appearing only briefly in The Bluest Eye*, Soaphead Church 
comes to symbolically represent the problems with loving in a racist 
world. Soaphead is a self-proclaimed spiritualist and psychic who min- 
isters to the people through false promises, and services his own needs 
by molesting little girls. Soaphead considers both his ministry and his 
molestations ordained by God; they are expressions of God's love 
through him. Soaphead's own perversions illuminate the perversions of 
a world driven by race* as a determinant of love. Just as readers find Soap- 
head's endeavors loathsome, so, too, they should find the world and its 
preoccupation with race loathsome. Pecola Breedlove* comes to Soap- 
head with one request: blue eyes. Despite his earlier crimes against the 
community* and his inability to see his ugliness, Soaphead genuinely 
empathizes with Pecola because he knows she is in search of the thing 
that all of the people he meets, including himself, desire — to be loved. 
Soaphead himself is a product of inbreeding and incest, so the need in 


Pecola is a need that Soaphead understands and shares. Yet like everyone 
else, Soaphead abuses Pecola's need and uses her desperation to help al- 
leviate a nuisance in his own life. Pretending to cast a spell, Soaphead 
mixes a poison and directs Pecola to give the mixture, sprinkled on some 
meat, to a mangy dog that lies every day on his doorstep. He tells Pecola 
that the dog's behavior will be a sign that her wish has been granted. 
When Pecola gives the mixture to the dog, it convulses and dies. Pecola 
is horrified. 

Her rape, compounded with Soaphead's trickery and the community's 
abuse, causes Pecola to spiral into madness. In her madness, however, 
Soaphead leaves her with the belief that she has blue eyes. In his own 
madness, he chastises God in a letter for not bestowing upon Pecola the 
one thing she desires and assigns a level of greatness to his own person 
in his ability to give her, and other little girls, the love that they want. Ul- 
timately Soaphead becomes not just a critique of the world but a critique 
of how the world justifies who and what it loves. See also Bluest Eye, The. 

Gena Elise Chandler 

Circe [Song of Solomon) 

The apparition-like, ancient housekeeper and midwife who delivers both 
Macon Dead* and Pilate Dead*. She possesses supernatural powers and 
remains alive long after her former employers have died, determined to 
see their home literally disintegrate around her. Milkman Dead* seeks 
her out while on his journey to his father's Southern homeland. Circe is 
indispensable because she provides him with valuable information and 
stories about his father's family* and history. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Clearing, The [Beloved) 

The wooded area where Baby Suggs* preaches, urging her followers — 
members of the free Black community* and escaped slaves — to love 
themselves, since the dominant culture will not. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 


Morrison's novels are about triumph and failure in African American 
communities. Morrison believes that her writing must be about the 
community and the individual, or it will not be about anything. Thus, 


her fiction is rooted in the folkways of the African American community. 
Her novels depict women gathered in kitchens talking together or doing 
each other's hair; they also show men gathering in pool halls, on the 
streets, and in barbershops. 

Because of its role in creating ritual and determining appropriate be- 
havior, community is as powerful a force in Morrison's novels as any of 
her characters. Throughout her fiction, Morrison stresses that one's iden- 
tity* is dependent upon and inseparable from community, even if the 
community is seriously flawed. For example, since race* and gender are 
socially constructed, individual identity is inextricably linked to com- 
munity. Morrison subverts traditional Western notions of self-identity 
as a reflection of an inner "essence." Instead, she challenges the notion 
of the self in her novels by creating representations of community which 
suggest that identity is constructed through social relations. In other 
words, one's identity is always dependent on community, no matter how 
dysfunctional the community may be. Self and community are insepa- 
rable in the African cosmos. In other words, the individual cannot exist 
apart from his/her relationships with others. 

In Morrison's novels, the values of a community are the measuring 
stick for an individual's behaviors. Since the community embodies cul- 
tural memory*, individuals must be a part of it if they are to be whole. 
The concept of neighborhood as community through which the charac- 
ters understand history* is an important one. 

Morrison grew up in Lorain, Ohio*, where the entire community took 
responsibility for raising each child. Her upbringing explains why in her 
fiction her characters are generally better off when they are close to the 
community. Community affirms a culture's traditions and beliefs, and it 
shapes individual character. However, physical proximity to the com- 
munity is less important than emotional attachment to it. Those charac- 
ters in Morrison's novels who fail to internalize community, or who 
reject it, experience tragedy. In fact, Morrison often writes about the 
theme of the individual against the community. Her novels The Bluest 
Eye*, Sula* ', Beloved* , and Paradise* all have this theme at their center. 

Morrison's fiction contains outlaw or outsider figures. These impor- 
tant characters stand outside of the community and include Sethe Suggs* 
in Beloved, Soaphead Church* in The Bluest Eye, and Shadrack* and Sula 
Peace* in Sula. These novels depict families and individuals living on the 
edges of their communities. In Beloved, for example, Sethe lives on the 
edge of town, and the physical isolation leads to her isolation from the 
community on the day she kills her daughter. In Song of Solomon, Pi- 
late Dead's* house is described as being located barely inside the bound- 
ary of the Black community. Such characters are "outdoors," meaning 
that they are in some way "exiled" from community and lack meaning- 
ful connections to it. The community often fears these people, even 


though it often is marginalized or dispossessed, as is the case in both Sula 
and The Bluest Eye. In fact, the community's condemnation of Sula and 
Pecola Breedlove*, both outsider figures, helps them to define themselves. 
However, while Sula can handle being "outdoors" because she herself en- 
courages this status, Pecola cannot, and subsequently goes insane. Other 
characters, such as the prostitutes* in The Bluest Eye, find freedom in 
their outsider status. 

Characters who are cut off from the community for whatever reason 
are frightening to the community, particularly when the community it- 
self is marginalized from mainstream society. The community deals with 
its fear by treating the "exile" as a scapegoat. We see this in both The 
Bluest Eye and Sula. In turn, the isolation that the victims experience 
eventually may cause them to behave violently or cruelly (as Cholly 
Breedlove*, Sula, and Soaphead Church do) because of an inability to in- 
teract meaningfully with others. 

Repeatedly in her fiction, Morrison shows the reader that those who 
cut themselves off from community experience a feeling of incomplete- 
ness, even when the community is not a positive force, as is the case in 
Sula, Beloved, and Paradise. When faced with small-minded and arro- 
gant communities, individuals must choose between accepting this sense 
of "wholeness" offered by the community (even though it is restrictive) 
and rejecting the community in favor of freedom (even though doing so 
results in incompleteness). 

The Bluest Eye, Morrison's first novel, is a realistic portrayal of a specific 
Black community at a specific time — Lorain, Ohio, in the 1940s. At the same 
time, it shows how the racism and poverty of the wider world have affected 
this community. This community is out of touch with its history, and that 
is part of their problem. They collectively experience a sense of dislocation 
because they are defining themselves by external (white) standards, instead 
of according to their own heritage. The difference between the white com- 
munity and the Black community is dramatized by the Dick and Jane chap- 
ter headings. Having internalized the racism of the white community, the 
Black community destroys its weakest members. For example, in the sec- 
tion titled "Winter," Claudia MacTeer* relates the community's idolatry of 
Maureen Peale, because she is both light-skinned and middle-class. She then 
shows Maureen verbally attacking Pecola. When Cholly rapes his daugh- 
ter, he is condemned by the community. However, they also speculate that 
Pecola must have done something to bring it on. In The Bluest Eye, the com- 
munity treats Pecola badly because they recognize, guiltily, that they 
cannot live up to society's standard of beauty, either. Pecola becomes the 
African American community's scapegoat, just as the African American 
community is the scapegoat for white America. 

When Claudia uses the word "we" in The Bluest Eye, she is not just 
referring to herself and her sister, Frieda*; she is simultaneously 


speaking for the specific community of Lorain, Ohio, and for the 
world community. All of these communities are complicit in Pecola's 
breakdown. It is the specific community that placed the Breedloves 
"outdoors" and looked down on them, and it is the larger community 
that places such emphasis on white standards of beauty. 

In Sula, Morrison's focus on place (the Bottom*) demonstrates the 
ways in which Black communities form their own social structures and 
cultures. Sula concerns the life and death of the community of the Bot- 
tom. The novel explores what it takes for a community to be healthy and 
viable (and, by extension, what it takes to be a healthy individual). 

In Sula, the community establishes the acceptable attitudes and con- 
ventions for the citizens of the Bottom. Nel Wright* and Sula are con- 
trasts in their relationship to this community. Nel assimilates, defining 
herself according to community standards. Sula, however, rejects the 
community and defines herself against it. 

Sula's rejection of her community is undermined by the novel's struc- 
ture and narration. First, the novel begins and ends with the Bottom com- 
munity and is threaded throughout by the stories of Shadrack, Nel, and 
the Peace family. This structure forces us to read Sula's story as part of 
the community's story. Ajax* and Sula exist as contrasts to the value the 
community places on ritual and tradition. However, the community 
needs Sula as a scapegoat; they unite against her when she rejects them. 
Despite rejecting the community, Sula is defined by and gets her iden- 
tity from the community. Morrison does not describe the eighteen years 
Sula spent elsewhere because she does not exist outside of the Bottom 
(narratively). Sula, like Shadrack, may reject the community's ways, but 
both characters need to stay in it in order to exist. 

Sula is different from the other characters in the Bottom because she 
chooses to leave the community. When other members have left, it has 
not been solely of their own volition. Shadrack and Plum* leave when 
they are drafted to serve in World War I, and Eva Peace* leaves after Boy- 
Boy abandons her so that she can find a way to support the family. When 
they return, each is somehow damaged; Shadrack and Plum suffer psy- 
chological damage, and Eva has lost her leg. 

However, the community's acceptance of Shadrack and his "suicide 
day" shows that the African American community is willing to absorb 
its bizarre characters. A further example of this is Hannah's and Eva's ac- 
ceptance of the insane, infirm, young, and old into the "big house." Sula's 
case is different because she refuses to be a part of the community. Still, 
the community finds a way to allow Sula to coexist with them when she 
returns. The novel shows that the community needs all of its members 
if it is to survive. The ending of the novel, which shows the Bottom 
changing significantly, suggests that such communities are in danger of 
being lost and, with them, their history and culture. 


One of the primary themes in Morrison's fiction is the relationship be- 
tween the individual and the community. Her third novel, Song of 
Solomon* , follows a bildungsroman pattern, hut Morrison gives much 
space (most of the first part of the novel) to Milkman's home* life be- 
fore he leaves. The inclusion of such details of community underscores 
Morrison's belief in the community's influence on creating individual 

Morrison's emphasis on and incorporation of folklore* into her nov- 
els further supports this theme, because folklore comes out of and ex- 
presses a particular community. In Song of Solomon, Milkman Dead 
achieves a sense of self and discovers his place in community only when 
he hears the legend of his great-grandfather who could fly. This folktale 
of the flying Africans* underscores the importance of community to 
African American identity, because it helps create a group identity. 

In contrast to Milkman is Hagar Dead*, whose lack of meaningful con- 
nection to community has tragic consequences. If Hagar had a relation- 
ship with a community, she would have learned how to cope with being 
abandoned by her lover. Without such important knowledge, she goes 
mad and dies. 

Beloved depicts a community in transition from slavery* to freedom, 
and the adjustments it will have to make in the process. The community's 
resentment of Baby Suggs*, for example, demonstrates their reluctance 
to make a commitment to one of the members, and is one of the legacies 
of slavery. The community's jealousy of Baby Suggs — for having a pros- 
perous, relatively intact family* — is stronger than their loyalty, indicat- 
ing slavery's negative impact on communities. As a direct result of this 
jealousy, they fail to warn Sethe that schoolteacher* has come after her. 
They also do not help her after she is arrested for the murder of the 
crawlingalready ? baby. It is this betrayal that leads to Baby Suggs's own 

Due to this lack of community support, Sethe, Denver Suggs*, and 
Beloved* — at one stage in their relationship — seem to mother each other. 
However, the same community that alienates Sethe eventually rescues 
her. Nineteen years after betraying her, the community collectively saves 
Sethe by driving away Beloved. In this action, the community represents 
the African American network of care and support. 

Paradise focuses on the self-governing, all-Black community of Ruby, 
Oklahoma*. In the novel, Morrison exposes the problems of such 
"utopias." The Oven* functions as a symbol of the community of Ruby. 
It was constructed by the townspeople of Haven*, the first all-Black com- 
munity. From Haven, some of the townspeople later left to start a new 
community and took the Oven with them. There is an ongoing genera- 
tional debate about what the Oven's inscription supposedly says. All any- 
one knows for sure are the words "the Furrow of His Brow." The older 


generation believes it to say "By the Furrow of His Brow." Younger 
townspeople, however, think it reads either "Be the Furrow of His Brow" 
or "Beware the Furrow of His Brow." This debate symbolically repre- 
sents the deep fissures that exist in this community. 

Chiefly, the town ostracizes those whom they deem unworthy. Such 
"perfect" communities are doomed to fail, because all people are capable 
of sin and violence*. Morrison undermines the romantic views of com- 
munities of African Americans who are completely free of white op- 
pression and governance. Even though Ruby is founded by those who 
have been excluded from white, mainstream society, the townspeople 
themselves are quite conservative and practice exclusion. They exclude 
those who are not dark black, for example. The novel shows two com- 
munities at war: the women of the Convent* and the town[smen] of 
Ruby. The attack on the Convent shows Black men excluding Black 

Throughout the body of her fiction, Morrison portrays a variety of 
communities. In The Bluest Eye and Sula, the community fails the main 
characters. However, in Song of Solomon, the Southern community helps 
Milkman find his roots. Like Paradise, Tar Baby* depicts a divided com- 
munity that cannot provide adequate role models for the younger gen- 
eration. The community in Tar Baby is divided on a number of fronts: 
gender (Son* v. Jadine Childs*), generation (Jadine v. Ondine Childs*), 
and class. In Beloved, the community initially betrays Sethe but even- 
tually rescues her. /azz* portrays a political and artistic community. In 
all of the novels, the community acts as a kind of character, because it is 
crucial to the individual's existence. Through her novels, Morrison 
demonstrates her commitment to preserving Black communities; she 
communicates cultural values that are in danger of being lost. She main- 
tains that we need stories and novels because they are the rituals by 
which we create community. See also Ancestor. 

References: Susan Blake, "Folklore and Community in Song of 
Solomon," MELUS 7: 3 (Fall 1980); Toni Morrison, "Rootedness: The 
Ancestor as Foundation," in Black Women Writers (1950-1980), ed Mari 
Evans (1984); Sandi Russell, "It's OK to Say OK," in Critical Essays on 
Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y. McKay (1988). 

Lisa Cade Wieland 


"Conjure" is a term used in African American cultures to denote the 
magical and the mystical. It is often referred to as voodoo, hoodoo, and 


obeah. Conjure may also be an umbrella term used to identify various 
spiritual Africanisms in American culture; therefore, practices like the 
voodoo and Santeria religions may also be considered conjure. Voodoo 
and Santeria are synthesized religions that mix African religions with 
Catholicism; however, in the Americas, voodoo, hoodoo, obeah, root- 
working, and conjure are sometimes used interchangeably. Add to this 
list the healing art of midwifery, and the word "conjure" takes on even 
more nuances. Western culture has often labeled the mysticism and heal- 
ing rituals of voodoo as magic. 

Frequently labeled magical realism*, Toni Morrison's works make use 
of conjure in various ways. Her narratives accept that magic is real. That 
women are born without navels, that grown men fly, and that murdered 
babies return from the dead full grown and willful are natural elements 
of Morrison's texts. She portrays practitioners of these African-rooted 
traditions (also known as rootworkers, conjurers, hoodoos and witches) 
in her fiction and, just as important, relies upon these ancient beliefs and 
practices to inform and construct her narratives. Three of Morrison's nov- 
els utilize conjure overtly: Song of Solomon*, Tar Baby*, and Beloved*, 
The Bluest Eye*, Sula* , jazz* , and Paradise* subtly make mention of 
conjurers and conjure, but do not use African spiritual elements as con- 
trolling images or influences in their texts. 

Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, mentions a conjurer named 
Soaphead Church*. He is a sad man who is named as conjurer by the 
community* but possesses no real magical or mystical powers. The tragic 
Pecola Breedlove* comes to him in the hope of receiving blue eyes. He 
performs no magical African ritual to heal Pecola. He only offers her a 
cruel solution to her problem. Soaphead commands her to feed an an- 
noying neighborhood dog. She complies, not realizing she is feeding the 
dog poison. Soaphead tells Pecola that by following his command she will 
receive her blue eyes. This scene, which comes at the novel's conclusion, 
is the only reference to conjure in the text. Likewise, in Sula the only ac- 
knowledgments of conjure are the references to Sula* as a witch at the 
novel's conclusion and to Ajax's* mother as a conjure woman. 

Song of Solomon offers clear examples of Morrison's reliance on 
conjure. This world is a world where words create magic, where words 
create power. As Milkman Dead* embraces his role of family* griot and 
discovers family secrets and power, he learns of his destiny and his ca- 
pacity to love through his aunt, Pilate Dead*. Pilate is a true conjurer or 
conjure woman. Morrison gives Pilate a magical start in the world by de- 
scribing her as being born without a navel. Pilate is also responsible for 
Milkman's conception. Macon* and Ruth Dead's* union, long passion- 
less, is temporarily renewed when Pilate creates a mixture to be ingested 
by her brother Macon. It is Pilate who foresees the powerful coming of 
Milkman Dead. A woman who lives close to the earth, who births babies, 


and who believes in ghosts, Pilate is one of Morrison's most important 

The other important conjure element of Song of Solomon is its link to 
the oral tradition*. Morrison's use of the myth of the flying Africans* is 
embedded in the text as a real legacy of African magical power. The novel 
convinces its readers that it is possible to belong to a lost tribe of flying 
Africans, and it is possible to reclaim this heritage by remembering the 
power of their stories through language. This connection of power and 
magic with African American folklore* is also seen in Tar Baby. Using 
the classic African American folktale as a model, Morrison constructs the 
story of Jadine Childs* and Son*, two people in love but lost to each other. 
The setting of the novel, a fictional Caribbean island Morrison names 
Isle des Chevaliers*, is haunted by the ghosts of African horsemen who 
escaped enslavement and still roam the mountains. When their love af- 
fair ends, Son, who is a fugitive from the law after killing his wife, es- 
capes into the mountains to join the ghost band of maroons. Tar Baby 
claims oral folklore, but also makes the imaginative, intangible world of 
ghosts as real as the African, New World history* it represents. 

The most important of Morrison's texts to utilize conjure is Beloved. 
Morrison borrows from ancient African sources to create the ghost child 
Beloved*. The child called Beloved is hard to recognize because Morri- 
son looks to West African Yoruba culture to help create this character. 
Even though Beloved is a novel about a woman's loss of her child to the 
brutality of slavery*, it is also about the loss of many enslaved mothers 
and children*. In the language of the Yoruba, Beloved is an abiku, a spirit 
child who is fated to a cycle of early death* and rebirth to the same 
mother. These spirits are said to be souls who are seeking to torment their 
parents by repeatedly returning. Usually a child who is stillborn or dies 
in infancy is referred to as an abiku. After the death of abiku children, 
parents frequently mark the bodies before burial, so if that child returns, 
it will be recognizable to the parents. 

Morrison relies on the abiku in several ways. First, Sethe Suggs's* 
murdered daughter is "born" to the same mother, as signified by the 
breaking of Sethe's water when she first lays eyes on Beloved. Second, 
when Beloved emerges from the water, symbolic of amniotic fluid, she 
has the characteristics of an infant. Third, before killing Beloved, Sethe's 
fingernails scratch the child's head, and these marks appear on the fore- 
head of the "adult" woman. Finally, the abiku appears to torment its par- 
ents for some sin. The child ghost wreaks havoc in the lives of the Suggs 
family, specifically Sethe. In African belief, torment of this nature hap- 
pens when some crime against the gods or against the universe has been 
committed; therefore, the torment is punishment. Perhaps Sethe's sin is 
loving her children too much (enough to kill them), or perhaps it is her 
willful forgetting. 


There are also some important conjurers in Beloved. Baby Suggs*, 
Sethe's mother-in-law, is a healer who assists her bruised and battered 
people through the harshness of slavery toward wholeness. Sethe's 
daughter Denver* is also portrayed as a conjurer, for it is she who sees 
her sister's ghost long before the other characters recognize her. Den- 
ver's magic is expressed in her power to see ghosts and in her ability to 
see the truth of Beloved's intentions clearly. 

Finally, Paradise's magic is not specifically related to the African spir- 
itual tradition, but it does contain unique magical elements. Paradise is 
the story of the all-Black town of Ruby, Oklahoma*, and a band of emo- 
tionally wounded women who settle in a deserted convent there. These 
women become a community* of sorts and are perceived as an affront to 
the patriarchy. Consolata Sosa*, Mavis Albright*, Grace Gibson*, Pallas 
Truelove*, and Seneca* band together for their own survival and become 
ostracized as witches, much as Morrison's character Sula is. They are a 
group of tragic characters whose crimes range from murder to prostitu- 
tion. The men of Ruby feel compelled to invade the Convent* and kill 
the women. They believe they have succeeded, only to find that the bod- 
ies have disappeared without a trace. Readers are left with the same sense 
of openness that appears at Song of Solomon's conclusion: Did Milkman 
fly? How did these women survive such a brutal crime? 

Morrison's use of conjure is multilayered and complex, with her in- 
fluences ranging from Western myth to West African spirituality*. Her 
body of literature demonstrates a diverse knowledge of cultural tradi- 
tions synthesized to create an important and ultimately unique contri- 
bution to the American canon. See also African Myth, Use of; Folklore; 

Kelly Norman Ellis 

Convent, The (Paradise) 

Never an actual convent and seventeen miles from Ruby, Oklahoma*, 
the Convent was originally an embezzler's mansion, decorated through- 
out with sexually explicit objects: bathroom fixtures, doorknobs, and ash- 
trays shaped like genitalia; paintings of copulating couples or women in 
positions of subjugation; dark rooms whose original purposes are un- 
known. After having thrown one grand orgy in the not-quite-completed 
mansion, the embezzler was arrested, and the land was leased to the Cath- 
olic Church. The Sisters Devoted to Indians and Colored People came to 
the Convent in 1925 to establish Christ the King School for Native Girls, 
also known as Sisters of the Sacred Cross School for Arapaho Girls, and 
quickly destroyed, hid, or painted over the sexually explicit decor. By 
1953, the school was closed, and only the aging Mother (Mary Magna*) 


and Consolata Sosa* stayed on, selling hot pepper jelly and pies to Ruby's 
citizens and occasional travelers. Beginning in 1968, when Mavis Al- 
bright* arrives, the Convent is transformed into a safe haven for way- 
ward women. Regardless of what brings them to the Convent, the women 
stay without financial obligation or moral restriction. Although — or per- 
haps because — many of Ruby's citizens visit the Convent in times of 
trouble, the Convent and its women, who live free of patriarchal restric- 
tions, become the scapegoat for Ruby's growing turbulence. In July 1976, 
nine of Ruby's leading men attack the Convent and presumably kill the 
five women living there. The men find signs of the women's lives that 
they cannot interpret: baby booties hanging above a new, but empty, crib; 
an unreadable letter written, they believe, in blood; and on walls and floor 
of the basement, signs and pictures drawn in paint and colored chalk. 
Although all five women are shot, when Ruby's mortician, Roger Best, 
returns to the Convent, there are no bodies and the women's car is miss- 
ing. Later, when Reverend Richard Misner* and Anna Flood visit the 
Convent to see for themselves that the women are gone, they see, or 
rather feel, an opening in the air (he sees a door, she sees a window) that 
leads to some other place. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 


Dead, First Corinthians {Song of Solomon) 

Daughter of Macon Dead*, and sister to Milkman Dead* and Magdalena 
Dead*. She is highly educated, having attending Bryn Mawr and a French 
university. However, she is overeducated and can find work only as a 
housekeeper for a poet. This is emblematic of the racism rampant in the 
Midwest. She eventually falls in love with Mr. Porter, a member of the 
Seven Days*. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Dead, Hagar (Song of Solomon) 

Granddaughter of Pilate Dead* and daughter of Reba Dead*; her love af- 
fair with Milkman Dead*, her cousin, lasts for seventeen years. Milkman 
takes advantage of her love and eventually breaks off their relationship 
with a casual Christmas card. This devastates her and prompts her to at- 
tempt to kill Milkman on a monthly basis. She eventually dies from a 
broken heart. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Dead, Macon [Song of Solomon) 

Technically named Macon Dead, II, after his father, Macon Dead, Sr., 
Macon, unlike his namesake, is concerned primarily with making money 


and owning things and people. Hence his being slumlord in which he 
rules tyrannically over poor, working-class African Americans. He mar- 
ried his wife, Ruth*, the daughter of a prominent Black doctor, as a means 
of joining the ranks of the Black middle class. His tyrannical ways ex- 
tend into his mistreatment and abuse of his wife and his two daughters, 
Magdalena* and First Corinthians*. He is estranged from his sister Pi- 
late* and her family. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Dead, Magdalena {Song of Solomon) 

Also called Lena. She is sister to Milkman Dead* and First Corinthians 
Dead*, and daughter of Macon Dead*. She is a timid, undeveloped 
woman who, in an isolated moment of fearless rage, vehemently casti- 
gates Milkman for informing their father about First Corinthians's re- 
lationship with Mr. Porter. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Dead, Milkman {Song of Solomon) 

The novel's unlikely protagonist. His actual name is Macon Dead III, but 
he was given the nickname "Milkman" by Freddie, the janitor, after Fred- 
die witnessed Macon nursing at his mother's breast at the ripe old age of 
four. The novel opens with his birth, notable since he is the first Black 
child born in Mercy Hospital. The spoiled and selfish youngest child of 
Macon* and Ruth Dead*, he is estranged from the African American 
community* and out of touch with his cultural heritage. The novel cen- 
ters on his eventual acquisition of a sense of his history* and his embrace 
of the Black community. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Dead, Pilate {Song of Solomon) 

Sister of Macon Dead*, and Milkman Dead's* aunt. Her most distinctive 
feature is her lack of a navel. She is the mother of Reba Dead* and grand- 
mother of Hagar Dead*, Milkman's longtime lover. In contrast to her 
materialistic brother, Pilate is steeped in folklore* and the supernatural. 
Milkman becomes fascinated by her, much to his father's chagrin, and 
she is the key to Milkman's discovery and eventual embrace of his 
African American heritage. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 


Dead, Reba (Song of Solomon) 

Pilate Dead's* only child and mother of Hagar Dead*. She is a listless, 
unfocused woman, unlike her strong and impressive mother. She lives 
with Pilate. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Dead, Ruth Foster (Song of Solomon) 

Long-suffering, abused wife of Macon Dead* and mother of Milkman*, 
Magdalena*, and First Corinthians Dead*. As the daughter of the only 
Black doctor in town, Ruth enjoyed a life of relative wealth and luxury. 
She was unnaturally close to her father, as evidenced by the scene Macon 
witnessed upon her father's death* — Ruth lying prostrate and naked over 
her father, sucking on his dead fingers. She is a timid shell of a woman 
and allows Macon and her son to walk all over her. See also Song of 

Fiona Mills 


The reality of death and the ways death affects African American com- 
munities haunt Toni Morrison's work. Death and dying are everywhere; 
slave murders, lynchings, and the deaths ever present in Black Ameri- 
can experience (along with multiple specific deaths) grace each novel. 
But death is not only an inevitability of poverty and pain, something 
inflicted by white society; death is the truth, a part of life, the connec- 
tion to ancestors*. Morrison's novels challenge readers to think about 
the relation between life and death, ensuring that even murders of one 
Black person by another invoke awareness of community* and the ne- 
cessity for embracing truth and each other. Death haunts because it is a 
spiritual challenge, demanding responsibility to the world of meaning 
and the question of what God has in mind. 

Death in Morrison's novels also helps to articulate the responsibility 
readers and characters, cast in a clearly African American and embodied 
spirituality*, bear: to life, love, and community. Facing death enables life 
and consciousness. There is no self-centered guilt in Morrison's charac- 
ters, no retaliatory solution to deaths caused or experienced. Those who 
feel false guilt recover; those who cause death learn to live with their ac- 
tions; those who watch others die respond with curiosity and/or grief. 
Death is not an ending; it doesn't resolve. Rather, as readers recognize 
the reality that death carries for people who can get killed simply for 
being Black, death enables thematic and structural celebration of Black 


life. As Morrison's characters' particular vulnerability to death comes 
through, so does an ability to value others while living with, under- 
standing, and surviving the deaths that create the contexts of their lives. 

The Bluest Eye*, for example, tells the story of a young Black girl who 
wants Shirley Temple eyes. Death in the novel is at first the ultimate loss, 
something the young narrator Claudia MacTeer* comes to understand 
as a violation of nature caused by systemic racism: Pecola Breedlove's* 
baby (by her father) dies, and so do the marigolds, because nothing grows 
the year that Pecola grows too fast, too much, too soon. Death operates 
as a semistructural element, signaling racist oppression: in the back- 
wardness of the telling through the seasons, in the madness of impossi- 
ble identity* goals framed by the Dick and Jane story, in the disturbingly 
violent death of a cat. But death also becomes the negative positive 
theme — the realization that her mother's harsh care is about trying to 
keep Claudia alive. Love made visible by the proximity of death provides 
the location of the novel's transformative possibilities. 

Morrison's second novel, Sula*, also uses death thematically and struc- 
turally. Shadrack*, a returning World War I veteran, decides to manage 
death's unexpectedness by devoting one day to it every year. The rest of 
the novel, about a Black community and the friendship between women, 
shows death not just as the horrors of war but also, inevitably, as unpre- 
dictable accident, intention, and result of life's desires, fears, and disap- 
pointments. Chicken Little* dies when Sula spins him out over the water 
and their hands slip. Sula's mother, Hannah, dies after catching fire while 
canning. Hannah's mother sets her own son on fire. Shadrack's first suc- 
cessful National Suicide Day* results in death when townspeople go to 
kill the tunnel they are not allowed to build and are killed by its collapse. 
And Sula dies, leaving Nel Wright*. Sula's multiple deaths structure the 
truth of Medallion, Ohio's* lives while helping characters and readers 
realize that friendship and community matter. 

Song of Solomon* confronts death as a moral question, both by nam- 
ing its principal character Milkman Dead* and by having two thematic 
death threads: Milkman's need to comprehend the losses of his past, and 
his friend Guitar Baines's* insistence that the killing of innocent Black 
people be met by the killing of innocent white people. The story opens 
with an insurance agent leaping to his death — except the word "death" 
does not appear. Robert Smith* believes he can fly. By the end of the 
novel, Milkman also can fly, like his ancestor Solomon*. Death, flying, 
and abandonment articulate the moral condition of Black American 
men's freedom while the background provides the motivations for such 
freedom in the deaths haunting Guitar's and Milkman's histories. As the 
novel explores the question of an appropriate response to the killing 
white culture, it presents others: what happens in death, when one is left 
or when one kills? The family* that killed Milkman's grandfather died 


out while the Dead children survived. Milkman's lover tried to kill him 
after he left her, and he has to learn that she died of lovelessness. Guitar 
tries to kill Milkman and kills Pilate Dead* instead. In Song of Solomon, 
facing death consciously becomes a means of flying, of outlasting pain 
and turning it to love, knowledge, and responsible freedom. 

Tar Baby' 1 ' uses death as a motif framing questions of how and whether 
Black and white can live together. The novel begins on a Caribbean island 
with a young Black man trying to escape death (he has killed a white 
woman) and an old white man waiting for it. But there is also death within 
culture and in the imagination. When the novel describes Jadine Childs's* 
sealskin coat, it repeats over and over that ninety baby seals died for that 
coat. The older characters, Valerian Street* and his servants Ondine and 
Sydney Childs*, constantly say they are simply living until death. But 
Valerian Street lives with one kind of personal ghosts, such as his mother, 
who tells him about her abortions. Isle des Chevaliers* contains other 
ghosts — Black swamp women and blind horsemen — associated with the 
natural world. Neighboring Dominique holds dead plantations, an eco- 
nomic and social death brought by white colonists. Death as a phase of 
cultural history shows the economic source of racial conflict, while re- 
minders of death illuminate the imperative that Jadine and Son* find a 
way to be born, to live and love in time, without killing their ancestors. 

Beloved* makes another point dramatically clear: when humans are 
property, everything is a matter of life and death. Even a "good" planta- 
tion becomes a killing field when its owner dies, for it leaves slaves. Un- 
able to tolerate this condition, the five Black men and one woman of 
Sweet Home* risk their lives to escape. Some die, but while he burns, 
Sixo*, whose lover is carrying his child, laughs — he will live. Those who 
survive have to come to terms with Sixo's kind of death and the fact that 
they sometimes wished for their own. Sethe Suggs*, faced with the loss 
of life and freedom for her children* — for thus she sees slavery* — tries 
to kill them, succeeding only in slashing her toddler's throat. And yet the 
novel doesn't ask whether Sethe's act is legitimate so much as it explores 
the causes of the urge for death; why a mother would wrest death away 
from slaveholders; how this would affect her and her surviving children; 
and how any of them could continue living. Sethe and her community 
have to "rememory" stories that are literally unbearable. Thus the slain 
toddler becomes a living presence, ensuring that Beloved doesn't claim 
death as a simple means of freedom, but rather shows the consequences 
of appropriating death's power. Readers realize Beloved's* death is not a 
return to Nature but to history* and the trauma* of the Middle Passage. 
The rememory of this journey is a necessary step in the development of 
Beloved's, Sethe's, and their own consciousness. 

jazz* also explores the question of why one Black person would kill 
another. Multiple references to horrible deaths and the highlighted death 


of a young girl emphasize the historical conditions of Black lives — the 
ever present pain of what had to be borne. Deaths also create the plot, 
presenting characters with revelatory moral and psychic challenges. Jazz 
wonders how, in the context of the Great Migration* and Harlem*, a 
good Black man might take a teenage lover and then kill her. The tale, 
however, is more about living with death than about the legitimacy of 
murder. Jazz most deeply probes how Joe* and Violet Trace*, Alice Man- 
fred* (the aunt), and Felice* (her friend) confront Joe's shooting of Dor- 
cas Manfred* (a reincarnation of Beloved); Violet's slashing of her dead 
face; and the fact the girl let herself die. As the novel moves beyond why 
and how, Dorcas's death, like Beloved's, forms a spiritual and communal 
challenge to consciousness. 

Continuing Morrison's historical trilogy, Paradise"' again invokes the 
stark horror of child death. Mavis Albright* has managed to kill her twin 
babies by leaving them in a hot car; she now fears she will be killed by 
her husband and children. Yet death is neither a direct moral question 
nor a specific plot element; rather, it is a means of examining the two par- 
adises in the novel: the all-Black, male-authorized town of Ruby, Okla- 
homa*, named after a young dead Black woman and fiercely protecting 
itself from white death; and the Convent*, an embezzler's mansion later 
converted to a school for Indian girls and now a refuge for lost women 
like Mavis, who transcend death differently. The sons of the town's 
founding fathers have not experienced a local death since they picked up 
and moved in mid-century; people have died only outside Ruby. In the 
Convent, Consolata Sosa* has the power to raise the dead, race* takes a 
different tone, and Mavis's children and the Mother (Mary Magna*) 
sometimes seem alive. When several of Ruby's men think they have 
killed the women, including one who is white, there are no bodies to be 
found. Paradise's questions become not only what death and paradise are, 
but also what happens in the movement from one to the other, their re- 
lation in life, time, and beyond. There is no simple answer. With African 
American spiritual foundations, Paradise's questions about death become 
a means of experiencing what living in the face of death really means — 
including how much hope it holds — for those who have experienced 
America's death-filled racial history. See also Flying Africans, Myth of; 

Karen E. Waldron 

Denver, Amy (Beloved) 

Amy Denver is the eighteen-year-old runaway daughter of a white in- 
dentured servant who comes upon Sethe Suggs* lying in a field follow- 
ing the latter's escape from Sweet Home*. Abused and exhausted, Sethe 


has all but resigned herself to death* when Amy happens along. Amy 
assists her both in getting to the Ohio River and in her delivery of her 
fourth child, a daughter whom Sethe names Denver*. Amy's strongest 
desire is to reach Boston, where she can acquire some velvet. Though a 
temporary bond between the two women — based on common fugitive 
status and gender — is established, the barrier of race* (and all that im- 
plies in the slaveholding South in 1855) remains. After helping Sethe, 
Amy departs for Boston, afraid to be caught in daylight with an escaped 
slave and her child. Amy is an excellent example of a Morrison charac- 
ter who defies easy categorization as absolutely good or absolutely evil. 
See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Deweys, the {Sula) 

Three little boys who are adopted by Eva Peace*. The boys are not blood 
relations, but because of their common name, they come to resemble each 
other so closely that people can no longer tell them apart. The Deweys 
stop growing at the height of four feet, and are dependent upon Eva and, 
later, Sula Peace* for their subsistence. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Dick and Jane Story, Use of 

See Bluest Eye, The. 


Morrison's first five novels feature a striking cluster of women with 
physical disabilities or congenital anomalies, each of whom functions as 
a pariah figure. The Bluest Eye* has the crippled mother of Pecola 
Breedlove*, Pauline Breedlove*. Sula* has the one-legged Eva Peace* 
and her facially birth-marked daughter, Sula*. Song of Solomon* has Pi- 
late Dead*, who is born without a navel. Tar Baby* has the blind wash- 
erwoman Marie-Therese Foucault*. Beloved* has the limping Baby 
Suggs*; the one-armed Nan, who is Sethe Suggs's* early caretaker; 
Sethe, who is marked with a severely scarred back; and Sethe's unnamed 
mother, whose body bears the brand of slavery* and whose mouth is per- 
manently twisted from the frequent punishment of the bit. Each of these 
disabilities, these bodily markings or wounds, is the etching of history* 
onto the corporeal self; these women's bodies and spirits have been 


literally shaped by the institutions, injustices, and resonating, devastat- 
ing consequences of racism and sexism. In figuring these women as dis- 
abled, Morrison suggests that their validation, power, and identity* 
derive from being literally different from the cultural norm. Their po- 
litical and psychological resistance to the dominant racist, sexist, ableist 
order is manifest in bodies that refuse to comply with the oppressive and 
exclusionary standards that order demands. By connecting physical being 
with individual history and culture, these disabled women define the self 
in terms of its uniqueness rather than its conformity to the norm. 

All these disabled women function similarly, except for Pauline 
Breedlove, whose opposition to the others clarifies Morrison's message. 
These women are excluded from the cultural center because they are dis- 
abled, Black, poor, female, and (sometimes) old; yet they are not dimin- 
ished, victimized, or demoralized. Their disabilities and anomalies are the 
imprints and the judgments of social stigmatization — rejection, isolation, 
lowered expectations, poverty, exploitation, enslavement, murder, rape. 
Excluded from most privileged categories but empowered in the narra- 
tive, Morrison's pariah figures explore the potential for being and agency 
outside culturally sanctioned spaces. The prototype for them all is Eva 
Peace, Sula's matriarchal, amputee grandmother. Like all the pariah 
women, Eva — who may have sacrificed her leg for insurance money — 
literally constitutes herself with a free-ranging agency whose terms are 
tragically circumscribed by an adversarial social order. Eva's disability 
augments her power and dignity, inspiring awe and becoming a mark of 
superiority. Eva is a goddess/queen/creatrix character, rich with mythic 
allusions and proportions, even though she is by dominant standards just 
an old, Black, one-legged woman who runs a boardinghouse. An alter- 
native Eve, she is a trickster* whose asymmetrical legs suggest presence 
in both the material and the supernatural worlds, and signal empower- 
ment rather than inadequacy. Eva is a goddess of the flesh, grounded in 
physical existence — nurturing, eating, defecating, dying, and demands 
of earthly survival. Her enduring body is both her distinction and her 
ultimate resource. 

In contrast to Eva, Morrison denies Pauline Breedlove the authority, 
dignity, or quasi-supernatural powers of Eva, Therese, or Pilate. Instead 
of enabling, Pauline devastates. By internalizing the dominant judgment 
of inferiority, Pauline betrays her family, racial community*, and self. 
Embracing the decree of ugly and the role of the ideal servant without 
question or defiance robs her of the powers and community that Morri- 
son bestows on the other disabled women. Bereft of a sustaining com- 
munity of other Black women, Pauline is seduced into self-loathing, 
squandering her potential by finding praise and satisfaction in keeping a 
rich white family's house and loving their blue-eyed, blond-haired girl 
instead of her own daughter. With no sources of resistance, Pauline ac- 


cepts disability as imperfection and idealizes white physical beauty as 
virtue. These sins against Blackness, femaleness, and self destroy her 
daughter, Pecola. Pauline is Morrison's sympathetic study of the viola- 
tions and perversions of potential perpetrated by racism, sexism, and 
ableism. What Morrison withholds from Pauline is one of her chief em- 
blems of empowerment: the inclusive, woman-centered, Black home* 
where she might have reigned as a priestess of the flesh. 

With these disabled women figures, Morrison rejects assimilation or 
condescending tolerance. Instead, she aligns these heroic pariah figures — 
accentuated by the cautionary tale of Pauline — with the paradigm of out- 
siderness, the disabled figure. In doing so, she redefines difference from 
the norm, transforming it from lack, loss, or exclusion into a form of 
mythic empowerment. See also Approaches to Morrison's Work: Femi- 
nist/Black Feminist; South, Influence of; Trauma; Violence. 

References: Michelle Fine and Adrienne Asch, eds., Women with Dis- 
abilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics (1988); Rosemarie 
Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability 
in American Culture and Eiterature (1997); Susan Wendell, The Rejected 
Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability (1996). 

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson 

Divine (Paradise) 

SeeTruelove, Pallas/Divine (Paradise). 


Until recently, most critical attention to domesticity as a central motif in 
the novel has ended with examination of the didactic "domestic novel" 
of the nineteenth century. Reflecting the ideology of separate spheres 
and woman's place as moral and spiritual guardian of her household, the 
nineteenth-century domestic novel idealized home* as a virtuous space 
set apart from the greedy, corrupt, and aggressive public realm. Like 
many of her twentieth-century counterparts, however, Toni Morrison 
represents home not as a place safe from the corrupting influences of the 
outside world, but as a complex and potentially dangerous space in its 
own right. In Morrison's fictional world, domestic tasks indeed have the 
potential to sustain life, convey love, and express joy and devotion. At 
the same time, however, home is a place vulnerable to corruption and vi- 
olence* both from within and from without. Morrison represents home 


neither as Utopia nor as dystopia, but as a space offering complex possi- 
bilities of salvation or ruin. 

In all of Morrison's fiction, home is a clearly matriarchal space. In The 
Bluest Eye*, her depiction of the MacTeer family's domestic life centers 
on the two female children*, Claudia* and Frieda*, and their efforts to 
understand the world around them by observing their mother and her 
friends as they care for children, share domestic chores, and gossip. Men 
live on the periphery of this almost exclusively female world; Claudia 
and Frieda's father receives only brief mention in the novel as he strug- 
gles grimly to keep the house warm during a bitter Ohio winter. In Sula* , 
the Peace household includes several generations of women; men are 
transient and peripheral figures, absent husbands and fathers, hangers- 
on and drifters. Similarly, in Song of Solomon* , Pilate*, Hagar*, and Reba 
Dead* share an exclusively female household that men find threatening 
and strange; they peer through the windows and sneak about at night in 
order to get a glimpse of this potent and mysterious world. In Beloved* , 
when Sethe Suggs's* house is haunted by the ghost of her dead child, 
male characters respond helplessly. Stamp Paid, Sethe's loyal, longtime 
friend, literally stands on the doorstep of her home, unable to understand 
the voices and relationships within; her lover, Paul D*, flees in fear and 
horror. While Morrison does not villainize these ineffectual male char- 
acters — both Stamp Paid and Paul D are rendered sympathetically — she 
portrays them as clearly outside of and apart from the domestic lives of 

Morrison's novels give detailed attention, and thus weight and im- 
portance, to domestic tasks as a way of sustaining a meaningful life. In 
The Bluest Eye, the MacTeers live just on the edge of poverty, and do- 
mestic ritual is all that preserves the household from ruin. Morrison does 
not sentimentalize either poverty or domestic practice; life for a poor 
Black family in Lorain, Ohio*, in 1941 is cold, dirty, and cruel, and Mrs. 
MacTeer's response to Claudia and Frieda's troubles often seems cruel as 
well. Because childhood illnesses bring unanticipated worry and expense, 
she reacts not with tenderness but with anger when one of the children 
comes home sick. Morrison nonetheless portrays the torturous treat- 
ments with liniments and foul-tasting medicines as a means of preserving 
life, saving children from the ever-present threat of illness and death*. 
In Beloved, similarly, Morrison uses domestic tasks as a way of holding 
family* and community* together. When Sethe escapes from slavery* 
and arrives at her mother-in-law's house in free Ohio, Morrison describes 
the scene as a domestic paradise in which Sethe is free, for the first time, 
to feed and care for her family. Baby Suggs's* home serves as a way sta- 
tion for escaped slaves and their families where she feeds and cares for 
the community, and Sethe enters joyfully into this domestic life. Even 
when the house is later haunted and Paul D urges her to leave, Sethe 


refuses to run again. In Beloved, therefore, freedom is largely defined in 
domestic terms. 

In virtually all of Morrison's novels, domestic tasks serve not only as 
expressions of love and a means of physical sustenance, but also as po- 
tentially transformative and transcendent rituals. In Morrison's fictional 
world, women living without men often inhabit a liminal, mystical world 
outside of history* and time. In The Bluest Eye, Claudia and Frieda learn 
from overhearing the women's talk over their chores that domestic life 
is full of mysterious rituals and fraught with secret meanings to be de- 
ciphered. It is a communal life, shared primarily by women, whose col- 
lective responsibility is to sustain the lives of husbands and children. 
Morrison's lyrical description of the women's tasks as they snap beans, 
boil sheets, and perform the dozens of domestic rituals that sustain life, 
transforms those tasks into sacred rites. Similarly, in Beloved, Baby 
Suggs's caretaking is not merely physical, but also spiritual; she is not 
merely a mother figure to the community, but a preacher of healing and 
salvation. Morrison also elevates Sethe's brief period of domestic happi- 
ness to mythic status by limiting its length to the twenty-eight days of 
the moon's rotation around the earth and of a woman's menstrual cycle. 
Performing domestic tasks to preserve life is therefore not merely a phys- 
ical, mundane practice, but a spiritual and transcendent one as well. 

Domestic life in Morrison's work is not inherently spiritual or salvific, 
however; its saving qualities are vulnerable to corruption. Poverty and 
violence threaten domestic life in The Bluest Eye, as Morrison shows by 
juxtaposing the saving power of home for the MacTeer family with the 
dissolution of the Breedloves, a family living without community or do- 
mestic ritual. Through the degeneracy of the father, Cholly Breedlove*, 
his wife and children have ended up "outdoors" — a condition partly 
physical but mainly spiritual. Everything about the Breedloves' domes- 
tic life proclaims their despairing spiritual condition: they live in a bleak, 
abandoned storefront furnished with a couch bought new but delivered 
with a great tear across its back; their kitchen serves as a daily battle- 
ground for the parents' fights; and Pecola Breedlove*, sharing a bedroom 
with her parents, interprets the sounds of their lovemaking as "terrible." 
Pecola's mother, deprived of any hope for an ordered and sustaining do- 
mesticity in her own home, abandons caring for her own children and 
uses the home of her wealthy white employers to create the domestic 
order she craves. Morrison shows that a domesticity performed as servi- 
tude, and to the detriment of care for one's own children, lacks any spir- 
itual dimension. 

In several of Morrison's texts, a primary function of the home is to 
protect girl children from sexual violence. In The Bluest Eye, when Frieda 
MacTeer is assaulted by a male boarder, the MacTeers' response is fierce, 
loyal, and swift as they run the offender out of town with a shotgun. 


Although even a loving home can therefore be vulnerable to infiltration 
by evil, the power of familial support preserves Frieda's life and saves her 
from the long-term ramifications of this violation. In a parallel scene, 
Morrison demonstrates Pecola Breedlove's utter lack of family cohesion 
or support when her father, a victim of poverty and sexual abuse him- 
self, rapes and impregnates her. Rather than rushing to protect her 
daughter, Pauline Breedlove* beats her when she finds her collapsed on 
the floor. Morrison implicates not only the family here but the entire 
neglectful community of women who fail to intervene or care for Pecola, 
instead gossiping about her as the child deteriorates into madness. 

Even as she illustrates the potential horrors of home life, however, 
Morrison also creates the possibility for redefining home. While Pecola 
is abused by her own family, she is lovingly embraced by a household of 
prostitutes* who live above the Breedloves and who offer Pecola far more 
charity and familial care than she receives in her own home. Although 
they are social outcasts, these women share a communal life of stories, 
conversation, and mutual care, and extend an almost maternal sympa- 
thy toward the essentially motherless Pecola. Similarly, in Song of 
Solomon, the female household of Pilate, Hagar, and Reba forms an al- 
ternative to the traditional but lifeless household of Macon Dead*, who 
has symbolically killed his family through his materialism, cruelty, and 
hatred. Although impoverished and disordered, Pilate's house offers 
Milkman a vision of a more spiritually meaningful life than his own af- 
fluent family can provide. 

The most dramatic corruption of domestic life in all of Morrison's fic- 
tion occurs when mothers are driven to kill their own children. In Sula, 
for example, Eva Peace* burns her beloved son Plum* in his bed when 
he arrives home from World War I mentally broken and addicted to 
drugs. Morrison clearly defines Eva as a loving mother. Like The Bluest 
Eye's Mrs. MacTeer, however, she is not the nurturing, playful mother 
her children might have desired; rather, she shows her love for them sim- 
ply by keeping them alive through dark years of poverty. When Plum's 
drug addiction and the effects of war destroy him mentally, Eva creeps 
into his room to hold and rock him as she weeps, then sets him on fire in 
his bed. 

In Morrison's Beloved, the legacy of slavery is what makes home vul- 
nerable to corruption. The clearest reminder of that potential for cor- 
ruption is found in the ironically named Sweet Home*, the plantation 
where Sethe suffers horrific abuses, including the stealing of her mother's 
milk by the slave owners' nephews*. Morrison's neo-slave narrative* il- 
lustrates the horrors of slavery not so much for the individual as for fam- 
ilies, and specifically for the mothers who tend them. The impetus that 
keeps Sethe alive during her horrific flight from Sweet Home is the need 
to get milk to her still-nursing baby. Her twenty-eight days of freedom 


are marked not only by the joys of communal life but also by the free- 
dom to nurse and care for her children. When her former owner arrives 
with a slave catcher to recapture her and her children, Sethe tries to kill 
all four children but succeeds only in murdering her crawlingalready? 
daughter. Morrison casts this horrific violence as a desperate act of 
mother love, a slave mother ushering her child into the only safe place 
she could imagine. Rather than judging Sethe's action, Morrison judges 
the community that condemns and shuns Sethe for the next eighteen 
years. Only when the women of the community finally arrive to rescue 
Sethe from the ghost of the baby girl that has taken control of her house 
is the community redeemed. 

While Morrison is thus an inheritor of the nineteenth-century do- 
mestic novel, establishing home as a matriarchal realm and ascribing val- 
ues to domestic life that distinguish it from the external, public world, 
Morrison's portrait of domesticity is far less idealized and more complex 
than that of her predecessors. The values of caretaking, nurturing, and 
sustaining life are not uncomplicated or "natural" for her female char- 
acters; they must be cultivated, practiced, and protected fiercely. Feeding 
one's family in Morrison's text may mean being willing to cut off a leg 
for the insurance money; housekeeping may require a willingness to live 
with a vengeful ghost; keeping one's children safe may mean being will- 
ing to kill them. See also Motherhood; Spirituality. 

References: Lori Askeland, "Remodeling the Model Home in Uncle Tom's 
Cabin and Beloved," American Literature 64: 4 (December 1992); 
Jeanette Batz Cooperman, The Broom Closet: Secret Meanings of Do- 
mesticity in Postfeminist Novels by Louise Erdrich, Mary Gordon, Toni 
Morrison, Marge Piercy, jane Smiley, and Amy Tan (1999); Michael 
Hogan, "Built on the Ashes: The Fall of the House of Sutpen and the Rise 
of the House of Sethe," in Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re- 
Envisioned, ed. Carol A. Kolmerton, Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant 
Wittenberg (1997); Giavanna Munafo, "'No Sign of Life': Marble-Blue 
Eyes and Lakefront Houses in The Bluest Eye," Lit: Literature Interpre- 
tation Theory 6: 1-2 (April 1995). 

Kristina K. Groover 

Dreaming Emmett 

Dreaming Emmett, Toni Morrison's only play, premiered at the Market- 
place Theatre in Albany, New York, on January 4, 1986. Commissioned by 
the New York State Writers Institute, the play was produced to commem- 
orate the first nationwide celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday. 


Unfortunately, no print or video version of the play exists for public view- 
ing, and thus details about the drama must be drawn from a handful of 
newspaper accounts and reviews. Requests to secure a script from the play- 
wright have been denied, and the play's producers — the Albany Capital 
Repertory Theatre — confirm the fact that, after the 1986 production, Mor- 
rison collected every record of the play and had it destroyed. 

We do know that Morrison conceived of the play two years before she 
received her invitation from the Writers Institute. Her desire was to "see 
a collision of three or four levels of time through the eyes of one person 
who could come back to life and seek vengeance. Emmett Till became that 
person" (qtd. in Croyden 6H). As Till emerged as the centerpiece of the 
drama, however, Morrison did not attempt to write a historically accu- 
rate play. "I like to make up stuff," she told Margaret Croyden of the 
New York Times. "I take scraps, the landscapes of something that hap- 
pened, and make up the rest: I'm not interested in documentaries. I'm 
not sticking to facts. What is interesting about the play is the contradic- 
tion of fact. Dreaming Emmett is really about that" (16). In a summary 
of the play Croyden, who interviewed Morrison a week before opening 
night, writes: 

The characters and the action shift back and forth in time and place, and there is a play 
within a play. The nonlinear story involves an anonymous black boy who was murdered. 
In a dream state he suffers the pain of remembering his death* 30 years before. Seeking 
revenge and a place in history,* he summons up the perpetrators of his murder, as well 
as his family and friends, all to be characters in the dream. But his ghosts refuse to be 
controlled by his imagination; all see the past in their own way, as the boy doggedly 
searches for a meaning to his death and thereby his life. At one point he is challenged by 
a member of the audience, a black woman who rejects his dream and provokes a con- 
frontation on sexual issues. (6H) 

According to Stephen J. Whitfield, the confrontation that closes the play 
gives it a "feminist perspective" (119). Tamara, the Black woman in the 
audience who challenges Till, condemns the slain boy for "his attraction 
to white women and for his indifference to Black women" (120). As 
Whitfield notes, this condemnation is delivered in "a voice that compels 
recognition as Morrison's own" (120). 

Dreaming Emmett received mixed reviews, but this alone does not ac- 
count for Morrison's unwillingness to make a script or video available. 
Perhaps one day she will change her mind. Until then, one resists the 
temptation to speculate. 

References: Margaret Croyden, "Toni Morrison Tries Her Hand at Play- 
writing," New York Times (December 29, 1985); Harlow Robinson, 
"Dreams of a Prophetic Past: Novelist Toni Morrison Tries Her Hand at 


Playwriting," American Theatre 2 (January 1986); Stephen J. Whitfield, 
Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till (1988). 

Christopher Metress 

Dupres, Lone {Paradise) 

Title character of one of Paradise's* nine sections, and named "Lone" he- 
cause she was found that way during the trip from Louisiana and Mis- 
sissippi to Haven, Oklahoma*, Lone serves (after her adopted mother 
Fairy DuPres dies) as Ruby, Oklahoma's* only midwife until the hospi- 
tal in Demby, the nearest town, ninety miles away, begins to admit Blacks. 
Lone, a Christian who also "practices," befriends Consolata Sosa* and 
teaches her the power of "stepping-in" to people to save them. While gath- 
ering medicinal herbs in the dark before the rains come, Lone overhears 
the men of Ruby planning to raid the Convent*. Convinced that the men 
mean no good, Lone is able to persuade some of Ruby's remaining citi- 
zens to go to the Convent to prevent the violence*. They arrive too late, 
in time to witness the death* of the women. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Editor, Morrison as 

Toni Morrison's career as an editor began in the mid-1960s when she ed- 
ited textbooks for a publishing house in Syracuse, New York. Later, she 
became a senior editor at Random House in New York City. Her move 
proved particularly fortuitous and timely; for almost two decades, she 
nurtured the careers of a number of Black American writers. The works 
she edited range in genre from fiction and poetry to autobiography and 
"how-to" books. In other manifestations of her career as an editor, she 
has collected and introduced two volumes of essays on social criticism, 
and she has reintroduced works by other Black writers, including James 
Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, and Huey P. Newton. 

When Morrison became a senior editor at Random House (in 1965 or 
1968, depending on the source), she was assigned almost exclusively to 
Black writers. Her significance in this capacity during what has come to 
be described as a new renaissance period in African American letters is ev- 
idenced by the following impressive list of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction 
published under her direction: Toni Cade Bambara, Gorilla, My Love 
(1972), The SeabirdsAre Still Alive (1977), The Salt Eaters (1979), Those 
Bones Are Not My Child (1999); Wesley Brown, Tragic Magic (1978); 
Chinweizu, West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slaves and 
the African Elite (1975); Lucille Clifton, Generations: A Memoir (1976); 
Bill Cosby, Bill Cosby 's Personal Guide to Tennis Power (1975); Angela Y. 
Davis, Women, Race and Class (1981); Henry Dumas, Play Ebony, Play 
Ivory (1974), Jonoah and the Green Stone (1976), Rope of Wind and Other 


Stories (1979); Leon Forrest, There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden 
(1973), The Bloodworth Orphans (1977), Two Wings to Veil My Tace 
(1983); Middleton A. Harris et al., The Black Book (1974); James Haskins, 
The Cotton Club (1977); George Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1972); Gayl 
Jones, Corregidora (1975), Eva's Man (1975), White Rat (1977); Nettie 
Jones, Tish Tales (1984); June Jordan, Things I Do in the Dark (1977); Rudy 
Lombard, Creole Teast [Master Chefs of New Orleans] (1978); James A. 
McPherson, Railroad: Trains and Train People in American Culture 
(1976); Muhammad Ali, The Greatest (1975); John McCluskey, Look What 
They Done to My Song (1974); Huey P. Newton, To Die for the People 
(1972); Barbara Chase Ribaud, Trom Memphis and Peking (1974); Quincy 
Troupe, Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writings (1975); and 
Ivan van Sertimer, They Came Before Columbus (1976). 

The list is impressive in terms of sheer numbers, but more important 
in terms of the variety of genres and subgenres represented therein, and 
even more important in its inclusion of so many authors and texts of 
enduring significance and popularity. For example, Toni Cade Bambara's 
two most famous works of fiction are included: the short-story collec- 
tion Gorilla, My Love (which has been reprinted many times), and The 
Salt Eaters, a novel Random House editors saw as experimental, but 
nevertheless brought Bambara the American Book Award, the Langston 
Hughes Society Award, a Medallion Award, and a Zora Neale Hurston 
Society Award. Bambara echoed earlier African American writers 
(including W.E.B. Du Bois) and joined the many voices of her contem- 
poraries in her commitment to art that also served a social purpose. Cer- 
tainly, one finds abundant evidence of Morrison's dynamic relationship 
with Bambara, and Gayl Jones as well, in the common themes, issues, 
and narrative strategies exhibited in their respective works of fiction. 
Morrison scholars are also well aware that the author/editor came across 
the story of Margaret Garner* while editing The Black Book"' . Garner 
became the model for Sethe Suggs*, the protagonist in the Pulitzer 
Prize-winning Beloved"'. 

Thus, in some ways yet to be revealed, the benefits of Morrison's work 
as editor have perhaps been reciprocal. No doubt her experiences at Ran- 
dom House enhanced her personal and professional development as an 
author. It was during that time that Morrison completed and published 
her first four novels. She has since published three additional novels and 
garnered some of the most prestigious literary awards (including the 
Pulitzer and Nobel prizes) for her efforts — guaranteeing her place in 
world literary history. After leaving Random House in 1983, she was 
named Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at the State Uni- 
versity of New York at Albany. 

Morrison is currently Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities 
at Princeton. Her successes in the literary world have allowed her to 


branch out into other areas of editing, including the collecting of two 
very well-received volumes of essays on social criticism. Race-ing Jus- 
tice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and 
the Construction of Social Reality"' features thought-provoking essays 
by some of America's foremost legal scholars, historians, and social crit- 
ics, including A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., Paula Giddings, Patricia }. 
Williams, Manning Marable, Homi K. Bhabha, Wahneema Lubiano, and 
Cornel West. Morrison's opening essay, "Friday on the Potomac," in- 
vokes two famous literary characters — Defoe's Friday from Robinson 
Crusoe and Melville's Babo from "Benito Cereno" — to talk about the 
charade and spectacle surrounding the Hill-Thomas hearings. 

Another Morrison-edited collection, Birth of a Nation' Hood: Gaze, 
Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case, includes essays and com- 
mentary by Ishmael Reed, Kimberle Crenshaw, Ann duCille, and a num- 
ber of scholars who contributed to the Hill-Thomas collection. Morrison's 
opening essay, "Dead Man Golfing," again invokes Melville's Babo to ex- 
plore the question of how — in the white mind — a Black man can go from 
being an affable, self-effacing pet to a raving, murderous monster in a 
matter of moments. The essays in both volumes give voice to a variety of 
perspectives on America's continuing drama of racial politics, and on its 
continued fascination with matters concerning race* and sex*. 

Finally, Morrison's outstanding credentials permit her to maintain the 
in-print status, or to bring back into print, important works by deceased 
writers whose enduring value in Black American (and American) culture 
is unquestioned. They include James Baldwin: Collected Essays (1998); 
James Baldwin: Early Novels and Stories (1998); Toni Cade Bambara's 
Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations 
(1999); and To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton 
(1995), a project for which Morrison initially served as editor in 1972. 
With the recent resurgence of interest in Baldwin's work (several new 
volumes of criticism have appeared in the past two years), it is perhaps 
more important than ever that the original works be readily available for 
new generations of scholars. 

Morrison's role as editor continues to develop and expand alongside 
her remarkable and extraordinary literary career. The ripple effect of 
her presence at a major publishing house during such a significant his- 
torical moment will continue to be felt for a very long time. The en- 
during cultural significance of works by Ali, Bambara, Clifton, Dumas, 
Jones, Troupe, Jordan, McPherson, and so many of the other writers she 
nurtured is immeasurable. In 1996, she wrote the introduction for a 
new release of the Mark Twain classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry 
Finn. The new volume is based on Twain's recently discovered original 
manuscript, which contains passages not published in previous versions 
of the novel. Though it is usually overshadowed by her outstanding 


contributions in fiction and criticism, Morrison's powerful presence as 
an editor must not be underestimated when considering her signifi- 
cance as a literary figure. 

Note: The list of Morrison-edited works at Random House was pro- 
vided by Rene Boatman, assistant to Toni Morrison, Department of Hu- 
manities, Princeton University. 

Lovalerie King 

Ella (Beloved) 

Formerly enslaved woman who operated the Underground Railroad sta- 
tion that assisted Sethe Suggs* and her children to successfully arrive at 
124 Bluestone Road*. She is a very practical person, knowledgeable about 
herbal medicines. She would not refer to herself as an intellectual, nor 
would she be inclined to rely solely on divine intervention for the an- 
swers to life's problems. Under slavery*, she had spent her puberty as 
the sex* object for a father and son who used her in such a way as to turn 
her permanently against sex. She measured life's atrocities against what 
they had done to her. The experience killed her desire to love or be loved. 
Love, according to Ella, was a disability*. She had once given birth to 
something she described as a pup, fathered by one of her abusers, and 
refused to nurse it. As much as she abhors Sethe's act, she is even more 
appalled when she learns that Sethe's dead child has come back and is 
abusing the mother. Ella leads a group of chanting and praying women 
to Sethe's house for the exorcism of Beloved*; she knocks Sethe down 
and effectively forestalls the latter's misdirected ice-pick attack on Mr. 
Bodwin*. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Eloe (Tar Baby) 

Son's* hometown, an all-Black town that has not really changed since 
he left. The return to Eloe allows Son to get back in touch with his his- 
tory* and his past. Eloe is the bedrock of Son's existence and the center 
of his consciousness. It is portrayed as the authentic home of Blacks. The 
fact that Jadine Childs* doesn't fit in despite the hospitality of Son's fam- 
ily* and friends is evidence of her inauthenticity. Unfortunately, the re- 
turn to Eloe hastens the failure of Son and Jadine's relationship because 
it exposes the real and perceived differences between them. See also Tar 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Fairly, Oklahoma {Paradise) 

Fairly is the all-Black town that rejected as too poor and too Black the 
original nine families on their trek from Louisiana and Mississippi after 
the overthrow of Reconstruction governments. These families went on 
to establish first Haven, and later Ruby, and named their rejection at 
Fairly the "Disallowing." Each Christmas, Ruby, Oklahoma's*, school- 
children reenact a conflation of the Disallowing and Christ's birth story, 
representing their mission as holy and Haven, Oklahoma's*, forefathers 
as martyrs. The Disallowing solidifies the fierce pride of the original fam- 
ilies already wounded by the inaccurate white depictions of Black polit- 
ical corruption during Reconstruction and establishes an intense distrust 
and disapproval of light-skinned Blacks. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 


Toni Morrison's fiction clearly portrays the importance of family and kin- 
ship in African American culture. Her novels depict a variety of family 
structures, many of them alternatives to the traditional nuclear family. 
The need for African Americans to create alternative family structures 
stems from the systematic destruction of families under the slave system. 
Slavery*, Morrison shows us in Beloved*, is extremely hostile to fami- 
lies. Slavery separated parents from their children*; these parents were 


themselves legally unable to marry, and often were unable even to live 
together. Slavery separated families, sometimes deliberately, sometimes 
capriciously. Nonetheless, different alternative family units developed be- 
cause the concept of family is so important. Family provides individuals 
with a sense of identity*, community*, and history*. The result is that 
throughout her novels, Morrison demonstrates to the reader that there 
are many ways to be a family, and shows characters seeking to create some 
sense of family within their communities. 

The families represented in much of Morrison's fiction are matriar- 
chal. Morrison's only short story, "Recitatif"*, is a perfect example. The 
two main characters, Twyla and Roberta, are each the only child of a 
single mother. Sula* and Beloved, too, have at their centers matriar- 
chal families. Despite the prevalence of matriarchal families in her 
fiction, Morrison does not present them as ideal. In fact, these matri- 
archal family structures are often at odds with the larger society. Such 
is the case in "Recitatif," in which the two girls meet at an orphanage 
where they have been placed because their mothers are "unfit." In Sula, 
the Peace family is viewed suspiciously by the community of the Bot- 
tom*. Beloved presents a more extreme example. The community first 
abandons Baby Suggs* and Sethe Suggs* by not telling them that 
schoolteacher* has come to bring the escaped slave Sethe back to the 
plantation. After Sethe murders her crawlingalready? daughter, the 
community ostracizes her and her other daughter, Denver Suggs*, ig- 
noring 124 Bluestone Road*. In Paradise* , the Convent* functions as 
a matriarchal pseudo family, with Consolata Sosa* at the head. The men 
of Ruby, Oklahoma*, suspicious of this all-female household, break into 
the Convent and murder the women. 

Nevertheless, Morrison's characters find stability in kinship, even 
when the family is at odds with the larger society, or when individual 
family members are at odds with each other. For example, in Sula, Eva 
Peace*, Hannah, and Sula Peace* are a strong matrilinear network de- 
spite their conflicts with each other, as are Baby Suggs, Sethe, and Den- 
ver (and — during part of the novel — Beloved*) in Beloved. When the 
larger community ostracizes these families, they have each other to turn 
to for support. 

Morrison's portrayal of several generations of women living together 
is related to her belief in the importance of the "ancestor* figure" in 
African American culture. Morrison's "ancestor figures" are primarily 
responsible for naming in the novels. They also pass down culture and 
language. Such "ancestor figures" abound in Morrison's fiction and in- 
clude M'Dear in The Bluest Bye* , Ajax's* "conjure* woman" mother and 
Eva in Sula, Pilate Dead* and Circe* in Song of Solomon* , Marie- 
Therese Foucault*, the swamp-haunt in Tar Baby*, Baby Suggs 
in Beloved, and Consolata in Paradise. These women serve as guides to 


history (particularly racial memory) and as storytellers. Stories are im- 
portant to families because they create a sense of shared history. 

Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, investigates the ways that fam- 
ily values, gender, and community shape both individual and cultural 
identity. The novel contains different examples of family structures. 
While the Breedloves and the MacTeers represent "traditional" nuclear 
families, the prostitutes* who live above the Breedloves' storefront home 
are a type of pseudo family. Some of the families portrayed in the novel 
are more successful (functional) than others, and through the novel Mor- 
rison investigates what makes a successful family. 

The Breedloves are the most obvious example of a dysfunctional fam- 
ily, and their name is highly ironic. The Breedlove family members do 
not love themselves or each other. Cholly Breedlove*, the father, does 
not know how to be a good parent, because his own father abandoned 
him and his mother died when he was young. Like Cholly, Pauline (Polly) 
Breedlove* also did not have a close family in her childhood. Pauline 
points out that she never had a house. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of 
Pecola Breedlove's* life is that she is, essentially, motherless. Her bio- 
logical mother, Polly, does not nurture her, preferring instead to care for 
her employer's little blond daughter. Thus, Pecola does not have some- 
one to teach her self-love and self-confidence. Seeking a maternal figure, 
Pecola visits the prostitutes' apartment regularly, but they are poor sur- 
rogate mothers. Pecola does not find many good examples of mothers in 
her community. Like Pauline Breedlove, Geraldine also cannot adequately 
love and nurture her son. The result is that the little boy assaults Pecola 
with his mother's cat, the only creature she does love. 

While Claudia MacTeer*, the narrator, relates the horrors of Pecola's 
childhood, she also reveals that her own family life was less than ideal. 
The ideal family is represented by the "Dick and Jane" story that be- 
gins each section of the book. Claudia mentions the verbal attacks her 
parents made on them, such as the screaming fit her mother had when 
Pecola drinks all the milk. Claudia also points out that parents talk at 
them, and we see Mrs. MacTeer lose her patience on more than one oc- 
casion. Compared to the Breedloves, however, the MacTeers are clearly 
committed to their children. They appear to succeed in making a de- 
cent family life. For example, while Pauline slaps Pecola and chooses 
the white girl over her own daughter, Mrs. MacTeer takes Pecola in 
(even when doing so is financially difficult for the family). Further- 
more, whereas Pecola's father rapes her, Mr. MacTeer nearly kills a 
boarder who sexually assaults his daughter Frieda*. While the 
MacTeers are not perfect, they have instilled a healthy sense of self in 
their daughters, who are able to resist the white baby-doll images con- 
stantly thrown at them. The Bluest Eye shows the effect of racism on 
Black families. 


The male characters in Morrison's novels often contrast sharply with 
the strong maternal figures. These male characters generally fail as patri- 
archal figures. Cholly Breedlove is an obvious example of the failed pa- 
triarch whose actions place the family "outdoors" and who rapes his own 
daughter. Many of Morrison's mothers are overly indulgent of their sons, 
which results in infantilizing and emasculating them. This can be seen in 
Sula, in which the childish names given to the male characters — BoyBoy, 
Chicken Little*, Plum*, and Tar Baby* — reflect their childish behavior, 
such as leaving their families and becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs. 
The alternative to this "overmothering" is neglect, exemplified by Eva's 
treatment of the three "Deweys"*.The Deweys are three boys whom Eva 
takes in to raise. They are not brothers, yet Eva treats them as if they are 
indistinguishable; she gives them the same name. She provides for their 
material needs, as a mother would, but does not acknowledge their indi- 
viduality. As a result, their physical and mental development are stunted 
and it becomes impossible to tell them apart. 

In Sula, Morrison uses the rift created by Sula Peace's and Nel 
Wright's* life choices to represent the conflict between traditional mar- 
riage and family, on the one hand, and independence, on the other. Nei- 
ther Sula nor Nel comes from "traditional" families. For one thing, their 
fathers are absent. Moreover, they do not have conventional relation- 
ships with their mothers. Sula's mother, Hannah, admits that she does 
not like her daughter. Sula overhears this comment and is hurt. 

This rejection goes far in explaining why Sula later watches her mother 
burn to death* without offering help. Nel's mother, Helene Wright*, is 
not particularly "maternal" or nurturing, either. She forces Nel to try to 
change the shape of her nose so that it fits in with the idea of beauty she 
has gained from white society. Given that Sula and Nel lack supportive 
mothers, the strength of their friendship during their adolescent years 
can be explained as an attempt to "mother" one another. Sula's rejection 
of both her mother (Hannah) and her grandmother (Eva) leaves her with- 
out an "ancestor figure," which also leaves her without a center. When 
women deny their mothers in Morrison's novels, as they often do, the 
result is a loss of self or center. 

Song of Solomon presents a family within the context of a hundred 
years of American history. In it, Morrison redirects her investigation of 
family, marriage, and community to focus on the perspective of African 
American men. The female characters are not as clearly drawn in this 
novel as in Morrison's other works. 

Milkman Dead*, the main character in the novel, seeks to understand 
how his family history and his race affect him. Macon Dead* (Milkman's 
father) views family as merely another reflection of material wealth, and 
he is incapable of giving and receiving love. Milkman feels pressured to 
accept his father's love of ownership of things. Like his father, he views 


the family itself as an annoyance. He cannot distinguish between his 
mother and his sisters, for instance, and he relates to his mother with 
thoughtlessness and indifference. Eventually, however, Milkman rejects 
his father's perspective and comes to embrace spirituality* over material 

The epigraph to Song of Solomon, "The fathers may soar/ And the chil- 
dren may know their names," points to the importance of knowing fam- 
ily (which Milkman Dead comes to understand when he goes to seek his 
forefathers). Although this conception of family seems to exclude fe- 
males, mothers are important in this novel. This is seen in Pilate's ob- 
session with carrying her name around with her, because she does not 
want to forget her connections to family, history, and tradition. 

Morrison returns to the dynamics of mother-daughter relationships 
in Tar Baby. One of the central characters of the novel is Jadine Childs*, 
who is in the midst of an identity crisis. She must decide what direction 
her life should take, and is considering a marriage proposal from a white 
Frenchman. She escapes to the island where her aunt, Ondine Childs*, 
lives to sort out her life and seek Ondine's advice. Ondine tells her that 
a girl has to learn how to be a daughter before she can learn to be a 
woman. The situation illustrates Morrison's belief in the power of fam- 
ily and, in particular, the value of strong maternal relationships. Jadine's 
problem is that she has missed out on the important mother-daughter 
relationship, and it is too late for her, as a grown woman, to claim it. Fur- 
thermore, Ondine is not an adequate substitute, partly because she does 
not know her niece very well. Even though she believes strongly in the 
need for loving connections between parent and child, Ondine rejects Ja- 
dine because she and her husband, Sydney Childs*, fear she will not bury 
them when they die. 

In Beloved, Morrison presents the argument that the greatest horror 
and tragedy of slavery is the way that it separates and destroys families. 
Morrison depicts slavery's attempt to subvert notions of family and kin- 
ship. Sethe, the central character, does not know or remember her own 
mother, having been raised by the plantation's wet nurse. Sethe's chil- 
dren do have a sense of family at Sweet Home* when Mr. Garner* runs 
it. However, when he dies and schoolteacher takes over, Sethe is brutally 
reminded that her children do not actually belong to her. The catalyst for 
Sethe's decision to escape Sweet Home is when schoolteacher's nephews* 
physically assault her and take from her breasts the milk that is supposed 
to be for her crawlingalready? baby. This act denies her daughter the 
nourishment she needs; perhaps more important, it sends Halle Suggs*, 
the father of her children, into madness. 

Once Sethe escapes Sweet Home and unites with her children, she at- 
tempts to create a new family with her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. How- 
ever, slavery destroys this family unit, too. Sethe kills her baby daughter 


in order to prevent the slave catchers from returning her to Sweet Home. 
Baby Suggs dies soon after, and Sethe's older sons leave home as soon as 
they are old enough. Later, Sethe again attempts to construct an alterna- 
tive family when Paul D Garner* returns and moves in with Sethe and 
Denver. Slavery is indirectly responsible for the failure of this quasi-tra- 
ditional family, too. When Beloved (presumably the ghost of Sethe's dead 
daughter) shows up, she comes between Sethe and Paul D, first by sleep- 
ing with Paul D and then by demanding Sethe's undivided attention. 
However, once Beloved is driven off by the community, Paul D returns, 
and the novel indicates that he and Sethe will try again to construct some 
version of a family unit. 

Paradise depicts the pseudo family created in the Convent. The Con- 
vent functions as a family unit, but the larger community of Ruby, 
Oklahoma, views this pseudo family as a threat to its stability. With Par- 
adise, Morrison creates in the Convent yet another all-female version of 
family, with Consolata Sosa as the maternal figure. These women have, 
for the most part, come to the Convent seeking an alternative to their dys- 
functional traditional families. The alternative offered in the Convent is 
more nurturing and successful than what they had known in the outside 
world. However, their success is threatening to the patriarchal, traditional 
structures valued by the men of Ruby. Partly in order to put down this 
threat, some of the men storm the Convent and murder its inhabitants. 

After the Convent women are shot and killed, the novel shows them 
interacting with the families they left behind when they came to the Con- 
vent. Mavis Albright* has breakfast at a diner in New Jersey with her 
daughter Sally. Gigi (Grace Gibson*) visits her father, who is working on 
a chain gang in prison; Seneca* meets the woman who abandoned her 
(Jean) in a parking lot; and Pallas Truelove* and her baby "appear" to her 
mother. Consolata (who seems to be of the spirit world to begin with) is 
the only character who does not have such a meeting after her death. 

In all of Morrison's fiction, families emerge as essential to an individ- 
ual's sense of well-being and identity. When an individual is denied fam- 
ily, he or she instinctively creates alternatives to fill the need. If those 
alternatives fail, then the individual suffers from isolation, madness, 
and/or loss of identity. When an individual rejects his or her family, that 
individual also experiences grave consequences. As Morrison so aptly il- 
lustrates, one of the greatest crimes a person, society, or system can com- 
mit is to destroy a family. See also Motherhood. 

Reference: Cynthia A. Davis, "Self, Society, and Myth in Toni Morrison's 
Fiction," Contemporary Literature 23 (Summer 1982). 

Lisa Cade Wieland 


Faulkner, William, Influence of 

Superficial connections are easy to make between William Faulkner and 
Toni Morrison: both won the Nobel Prize for literature; both examine 
the South as a focus of their work; Morrison even wrote part of her mas- 
ter's thesis on Faulkner. Faulkner's influence on Morrison would seem 
clear. Yet Morrison has claimed on several occasions that she does not re- 
semble Faulkner, which is true in that she does not merely mimic her 
predecessor. Morrison revisits his works in tribute to his artistic genius, 
but also in combat with his cultural values and beliefs. Morrison's nov- 
els exist in an intertextual relationship with Faulkner's work that allows 
us to move beyond a linear notion of influence to a more complicated un- 
derstanding of the interplay between the two authors' works. 

Morrison revisits themes that obsessed Faulkner throughout his ca- 
reer, engaging them from the perspective of African American culture. 
Perhaps the most important theme they share focuses on the effects of 
race* on individual and communal identity*. Faulkner's novels portray 
racial identity and its formation in the crucible of social relations. Light 
in August, for example, presents Joe Christmas as a man of indetermi- 
nate racial identity. As a result, others assign him race based on visible 
markers such as skin color and then through knowledge of his possible 
ancestry. Joe internalizes this debate as well, alternately viewing himself 
as white, then Black. Race for Faulkner, then, is a fiction imposed upon 
individuals in social interaction, but it is a marker written on top of one's 
identity, which is already within a person. Morrison accepts race's fic- 
tional status as primary and critiques its use as a means of enforcing so- 
cial separatism and inequality. Where Joe Christmas accepts his fate in 
an existential manner, Sethe Suggs* chooses to kill her child rather than 
let her endure another day in the dehumanizing life of a slave. 

Morrison's strong stance against racism and its horrors further defines 
her against Faulkner's ambivalent stance. Raised in a Southern culture 
that strictly demarcated racial boundaries, Faulkner writes as an early 
twentieth-century white male immersed in racial turmoil that he notes 
but cannot avoid. He also marks how white males are at times uncon- 
scious of their own offenses and privileges. Morrison registers less the 
ignorance of specific deeds committed than the unawareness of a sys- 
temic racism in which one is — as white — complicit with a range of bru- 

Racism finds a challenge from these authors in the specter of misce- 
genation, or mixed-race relations. Faulkner uses miscegenation as a 
means to explore racial prejudice in his community. Absalom, Absalom ! , 
for example, figures miscegenation in the character of Charles Bon, a 
Black man who appears white. Bon represents the fear of tainted blood- 
lines that would undermine the strict Southern racial hierarchies, and 


thus he is murdered to prevent contamination. Similarly, Joe Christmas 
(Light in August) is unable to join any community* because of his du- 
bious parentage. Though there is no strong evidence of mixed-blood par- 
ents, the mere possibility alienates Joe from everyone around him and 
leads to his lynching. Faulkner thus represents a culture obsessed with 
notions of skin color and its (in) visibility. 

Morrison similarly examines the obsession with race in American cul- 
ture, but from an African American viewpoint. The Bluest Eye* depicts 
the African American community's preference for the lighter-skinned 
Maureen Peal (a product of miscegenation) over the darker Pecola 
Breedlove*, revealing the internalized racialist hierarchy based on visi- 
ble skin color. Jazz's* Golden Gray*, the product of a miscegenative union 
between a privileged white woman and a Black slave, allows Morrison to 
explore racial prejudice in a manner similar to Faulkner's. Both authors 
suggest that United States culture is always and already mixed, and that 
the horror miscegenation produces is one based on a false ideology of 
racial purity. Faulkner and Morrison use their mixed-blood characters to 
ask for recognition of the falsity of racial categories. Morrison and 
Faulkner argue through their novels that America is a nation of many 
bloods, and that the repression of that fact is what leads to the social prob- 
lems between racial groups. Yet where Faulkner's mixed-blood charac- 
ters never receive that acceptance (only death*), Morrison's characters 
do achieve some form of recognition: Lestroy (Hunter's Hunter*) accepts 
Golden Gray as a son, while Joe Trace* manages to reconcile with Violet 
Trace* and create his family* anew. Morrison rewrites Faulknerian 
tragedy, bringing a sense of hope through recognition and reconciliation. 

As part of that recognition, Faulkner and Morrison sustain an en- 
gagement with history*. Both writers focus on the past's effects on the 
present, and both reveal the construction of the past through historical 
narrative. Yet Morrison extends Faulkner's revisionist historical per- 
spective to include African American viewpoints in a more thoroughgo- 
ing fashion, particularly in terms of Black females. Whereas Clytie is 
silent in Absalom, Absalom!, Circe* speaks in Song of Solomon*, relat- 
ing the histories of Blacks and whites. Further, while an omniscient white 
male narrator dominates Absalom, Absalom!, Morrison's jazz con- 
sciously moves beyond that authoritative voice to a more inclusive com- 
munal narration. 

Content is not the only point of confluence for Faulkner and Morri- 
son. Narrative experimentation is also a hallmark of both writers. With 
their multiple narrators, disjunctive time sequences, and nonlinear sto- 
rytelling, Faulkner and Morrison explore the limits of narrative fiction 
as a means of representation and communication. Their craft speaks to 
an engagement with each other and with American letters regarding the 
art of fiction. In The Sound and the Tury, for example, Faulkner experi- 


ments with multiple narrative styles embodied in different narrators as 
a means of exploring consciousness and its relation to time. Absalom, 
Absalom! extends this experimentation, using letters, conversations, and 
embedded stories to present the narrative. All these formal modifications 
are present in Morrison's novels as well. The Bluest Eye uses multiple 
narrators to present Pecola's quest. Song of Solomon incorporates 
myths* and stories told by a variety of characters to propel the story, and 
its protagonist, forward. Beloved* certainly resembles Absalom, Absa- 
lom! in its radical experimentation with narrative form, and Jazz and 
Paradise* continue that pattern. Both novelists display a deep under- 
standing of their craft and a desire to extend the boundaries of narrative 
fiction in exciting ways. 

Of course, one could trace a variety of themes and structural devices 
through Faulkner's and Morrison's works. The important point is that 
Morrison's treatment of such themes, whether conscious or simply the 
product of a shared culture, engages with Faulkner's novels and rewrites 
them in productive ways. Her connection to Faulkner is one of active in- 
corporation, not passive reception. Faulkner's and Morrison's novels 
speak to one another across time, providing an ongoing critique of U.S. 
culture and its anxieties, fears, hopes, and dreams. See also History; Nar- 
rative Voice; South, Use of; Whiteness. 

References: Carol A. Kolmerten, Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant 
Wittenberg, eds. Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-Envi- 
sioned (1997); Patricia McKee, Producing American Races: Henry James, 
William Faulkner, Toni Morrison (1999); Philip Weinstein, What Else 
but Love? The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison (1996). 

David E. Magill 

Felice [Jazz) 

Identified by the narrator of Jazz as another young woman with four 
marcelled waves in her hair, Felice is incorrectly perceived as a poten- 
tial source of trouble, an error that propels the narrative. Instead, she 
becomes the lifeline who enables Joe Trace* and Violet Trace* to 
establish a larger sense of community*. A symbolic orphan, whose par- 
ents are separated from her by their work, she becomes the Traces' fig- 
urative daughter and an independent woman in her own right when 
she rejects Dorcas Manfred's* legacy of anger, deception, and depen- 
dence. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 


Fleetwood, Save-Marie {Paradise) 

Title character of the last of Paradise's nine sections and never a pres- 
ence in the novel until her burial, Save-Marie is Jeff and Sweetie Fleet- 
wood's youngest child who, like all the Fleetwood children, is bedridden. 
Four months after the raid on the Convent*, Save-Marie's death* (she 
is the first of Ruby, Oklahoma's* original settlers to die within the city 
limits since 1953) symbolizes an end of the "compact" between God and 
the original families of Ruby. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Flying Africans, Myth of 

Images of individual or collective flight as resistance to New World chat- 
tel slavery*, or as transcendence of dehumanizing constraints and re- 
strictions in general, figure prominently in Black American literature 
and folklore*. Some critics have suggested, however, that images of flight 
alone do not signal the liberation or transcendence associated with the 
myth of the flying Africans; merely invoking the myth does not mean 
that transcendence is achieved. A basic story that incorporates the myth 
of the flying Africans tells of newly enslaved Blacks who, upon arriving 
at Ibo Landing in South Carolina and sensing the nature of things, turn 
and fly (or walk) back to Africa. Blacks who jumped over the sides of 
slave ships are said to have taken flight. Flight signals spiritual rebirth 
in freedom, so the question of whether those who take flight to escape 
oppression survive in a physical sense is less important than the fact 
that they are no longer oppressed. The most obvious use of the myth of 
the flying Africans in Toni Morrison's work is as a structuring device in 
Song of Solomon*, but Morrison invokes the myth in most, if not all, 
of her novels. 

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved*, for example, passages 
used to describe Sethe Suggs's* most desperate act invoke the myth of 
the flying Africans. As schoolteacher* and his slave catchers approach 
124 Bluestone Road* to carry Sethe and her children* back into slavery, 
Sethe is described as a giant, protective bird who gathers her children in 
her wings and attempts to remove them from harm's way. She is not al- 
lowed to complete her act of transcendence, however, and she ends up 
trying to explain to the angry ghost of the one daughter she manages to 
kill what it was she had in mind. The myth is nevertheless invoked here 
and in other scenes in Beloved, including the images of failed flight in 
the skating episode, and indeed in several characters' failed flights from 
Sweet Home*. Interestingly, though Sixo* is captured and killed during 
that his failed escape attempt, we learn through the memories of Paul D 


Garner* and Sethe that, like Pilate Dead* in Song of Solomon, he had 
managed throughout to resist and transcend the limitations of the mas- 
ter narrative. In a significant scene, Morrison illustrates Sixo's ability to 
resist the master's restrictive language when schoolteacher attempts to 
label Sixo's act of securing food as theft. 

In Sula* , as Eva Peace* makes her way toward her son's room to end 
his drug-addicted life, she is depicted as a giant heron. Plum* imagines 
that the arm sprinkling kerosene over him is the giant wing of an eagle 
bestowing a blessing or salvation. The novel contains a number of other 
images of flight (or failed flight), including Sula Peace's* flight from the 
Bottom*, her return on the Cincinnati Flyer, Ajax's* wish to be a pilot, 
and Eva's flight from her upstairs window in a futile attempt to save the 
burning Hannah, whose fiery flight ends in a sizzling death. Chicken Lit- 
tle* "flies" over the water during Sula and Nel Wright's* adolescent 
game. All these images of flight notwithstanding, none of them signals 
the level of success that transcendence implies. 

In The Bluest Eye*, Morrison makes the overriding influence of the 
master narrative readily apparent by using parts of it to open the book 
and to frame pertinent chapters throughout. Here, as in other works, the 
ability to transcend the limits of the master narrative is tied to the achieve- 
ment of self-knowledge and the ability to locate value in Black experience. 
By the time she is a pregnant adolescent, Pecola Breedlove* has endured 
a lifetime of negative reinforcement and abuse at almost every turn — 
from the larger society, from certain members of the Black community*, 
from many of her peers, and, most significantly, from her parents. A gen- 
eral failure to transcend the limitations of the master narrative's influ- 
ence is manifested in the extreme self-hatred the Breedloves exhibit. 
Driven mad by a combination of all the negative forces in her life, Pecola 
longs for the blue eyes that she believes will right everything in her world. 
She is finally reduced to spending her days emulating a bird whose wings 
will not lift her in flight. Like the half-dead bird that Claudia* and Frieda 
MacTeer* could not save, Pecola is too far gone to resist, let alone to tran- 
scend, the narrative that allows her to exist only as a negative entity. 

Perhaps the most direct parallel to the myth of the flying Africans in 
Morrison's corpus is found in Song of Solomon. Centered on Macon 
(Milkman*) Dead, Jr.'s, quest for identity, Song of Solomon begins with 
a North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent's leap (and attempted 
flight via homemade wings) from the roof of No Mercy Hospital*, and 
ends with Milkman's own giant leap toward self-knowledge, or freedom 
from an endless quest for Western materialism. Significantly, Milkman's 
leap takes place once he stops trying to define his self-worth in terms of 
material things and develops a rich sense of community. Just before he 
takes the leap that ends the novel, Milkman finally realizes that his now 
dead Aunt Pilate Dead* (pilot) had long been able to fly without leaving 


the ground. Throughout the story — which is saturated with references 
to flight and flyers of varying kinds — Pilate is the family* member who 
most obviously lives on a transcendent spiritual plane; she is a flying 
African because she is not constrained by the limitations of the master 
narrative. The end of the novel suggests that Milkman has finally learned 
that important distinction. 

In the language of the final passages of Song of Solomon, Morrison 
makes apparent certain parallels to the flight motif in Tar Baby* — in 
Son's* "jumping" ship and being reborn into the island's natural setting 
and, even more significantly, in his ultimate identification with the fig- 
ures of the free-riding horsemen of the Isle des Chevaliers*. Son's "de- 
scent" into nature and away from materialism parallels Milkman's 
changing quest from the pursuit of material wealth to the pursuit of self- 
knowledge through a series of natural experiences. Like Song of 
Solomon, Tar Baby ends on an ambiguous note; however, like Milkman, 
Son seems poised for freedom and transcendence. In these and other 
Morrison works, the myth of the flying Africans is invoked to examine 
the potential that exists for self-knowledge and self-actualization, both 
of which are tied to the capacity to locate value and authority in Black 
experience. See also Ancestor; Folklore; Myth. 

References: "All God's Chillen Had Wings," in The Doctor to the Dead: 
Grotesque Legends and Tolk Tales of Old Charleston, ed. John Bennett 
(1943); Paula Barnes, Tradition and Innovation: Toni Morrison and the 
Tlight Motif in Afro- American Literature (2000); Charles Chesnutt, "Sis' 
Becky's Pickaninny," in Collected Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt, ed. 
William L. Andrews (1992); "The Flying Africans," in A Treasury of 
Afro-American Folklore, ed. Harold Courlander (1976; repr. 1996); Geor- 
gia Writers' Project, Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the 
Georgia Coastal Negroes (c. 1940; repr. 1973); Virginia Hamilton, "The 
People Could Fly," in The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, 
ed. Virginia Hamilton (1985); Grace Ann Hovet and Barbara Lounsberry, 
"Flying as Symbol and Legend in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Sula, 
and Song of Solomon," CLA Journal 27: 2 (1983); Zora Neale Hurston, 
"The Last Slave Ship," The American Mercury 44: 243 (1944); Julius 
Lester, "People Who Could Fly," in Black Folktales, ed. Julius Lester 
(1969); Kenneth Porter, "Blacks and White Mores: The Flying Africans," 
in Primer for White Folks, ed. Bucklin Moon (1945); Kenneth Porter, 
"The Flying Africans," in Primer for White Folks, ed. Bucklin Moon 
(1945); Gay Wilentz, "If You Surrender to the Air: Folk Legends of Flight 
and Resistance in African American Literature," MELUS 16: 1 (1989-90). 

Lovalerie King 



For African Americans the common bond of the folk is formed initially 
in the bitter experience of the Middle Passage from the western coast of 
Africa to the New World. The African captives who endured this perilous 
journey into human bondage carried with them key aspects of their in- 
digenous culture: music*, myth*, metaphysical systems of order, and 
forms of performance. Many of these aspects of their original culture en- 
dured despite their extended period of captivity. In their post-captivity 
experiences, this bond of the folk, based on unique aspects of their African 
culture and their New World experiences, is further reinforced by legal- 
ized racial segregation from the European majority. The cultural experi- 
ences of the descendants of these initial African captives who survived 
the Middle Passage continue to be characterized by a constant group 
struggle to gain acceptance into the mainstream of American life. 

Alan Dundes says in Folklore Matters that the term "folk" can apply 
to any group of people whatsoever who share at least one common fac- 
tor, and that what is important is that a group formed for whatever rea- 
son will have some traditions to call its own; an ethnic group is simply 
one type of folk (11). In his A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore Harold 
Courlander expands on Dundes's definition of folklore in a more cultur- 
ally specific way: 

African American folklore is myths, tales, recollections, songs and other orally trans- 
mitted lore of the various, sometimes disparate (so-called) Negro cultures in the New 
World. It includes narratives and traditions unique to particular communities as well 
as those that are shared by many or all, and it contains themes of European as well as 
African origin. (6) 

Given Dundes's and Courlander's definitions of the folk and African 
American folklore, it should not surprise anyone when the argument is 
made that the essential core of the African American literary tradition is 
deeply rooted within its folkloric culture. Important texts by contempo- 
rary critics of African American literature, including Houston Baker's 
Blues, Ideology, and African-American Literature and Henry Louis 
Gates's The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Liter- 
ary Criticism, acknowledge the fact that the folk roots of this tradition 
serve as its defining linchpin. Baker and Gates argue that the oral tradi- 
tion* of the blues and the trickster* figure provide the basis for theoriz- 
ing about African American literature. In the introduction to his text, 
Gates says, "The Signifying Monkey explores the relation of the black 
vernacular tradition to the Afro-American literary tradition. The book 
attempts to identify a theory of criticism that is inscribed within the black 
vernacular tradition and that in turn informs the shape of the Afro- 
American literary tradition" (xix). 


Additionally, Trudier Harris says in Fiction and Folklore: The Novels 
of Toni Morrison that Houston Baker makes the point that the "blues 
matrix" is a method of understanding the narrative voice* of African 
American literature (10). Baker's "blues matrix" is a constantly evolv- 
ing synthesis of African American vernacular language, and he desig- 
nates it as an important repository of African American folklore. It 
becomes a metaphor not just for the folklore itself but for the entire folk 
culture: a worldview of an entire people (Janifer 156). Further, Keith By- 
erman asserts in Fingering the jagged Grain: Tradition and Form in Re- 
cent Black Fiction that contemporary Black writers have shaped a tech- 
nically sophisticated body of literature by combining the methods of 
modern fiction making with the materials of folk culture (1). Like 
Baker's "blues matrix," Byerman focuses on the "performative" (4) 
spontaneous aspects of Black folk culture, as well as a variety of folk 
forms and characters. 

Toni Morrison's literary career is illustrative of this vital link between 
the African American folk and formal literary traditions that Byerman 
describes. She published her first novel, The Bluest Eye*, some twenty 
years after Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952), but Morrison's first 
novel is very much like Ellison's masterpiece because it continues an 
African American folk tradition without completely abandoning West- 
ern conventions. Just as Ralph Ellison called on all Black writers to do in 
"Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke," so her fiction reaches the point 
where "Western culture and African American folkways and traditions 
do not appear to pull in opposite directions, but to say the same thing in 
different vocabularies and reinforce insight with insight" (49). Dinitia 
Smith remarks in her New York Times article "Tragedy, Domesticity and 
Folklore" that Morrison's novels have the arc of Greek tragedy, yet they 
are filled with domestic details, street talk, and folklore (El). 

However, The Bluest Eye does not simply collect and retell folktales 
and reiterate folk beliefs and practices. Harris argues that Morrison's nov- 
els do not simply replicate the dynamics of folk communities by show- 
ing how people interact with each other to shape tales, legends, rumors, 
and folk beliefs. Harris's contention is that in many of her novels — Sula*, 
Song of Solomon* , Tar Baby* , and Beloved* — Morrison manages to sim- 
ulate the ethos of folk communities and to saturate her novels with a folk 
aura intrinsic to the texturing of the whole: 

A single folk belief or superstitious practice can reflect an entire community's attitude 
towards a character or involvement in a particular event. For example National Suicide 
Day* in Sula (1974) is not an isolated imposition of a ritual upon a novel. It is a dynamic 
event that reveals the whole community's attitude towards Shadrack*, his attitude to- 
wards death*, and the place of death in war and in the demise of one's community*. 
[Fiction and Folklore 11) 


Harris emphasizes that Morrison, through careful portrayal of such nu- 
ances of folk beliefs and practices, is able to show folklore in process 
rather than as a static force. Clenora Hudson-Weems says, "She is a 
powerful fiction writer whose work abounds in mystical occurrences — 
conjurations, superstitious manifestations and spiritual visitations. She 
artistically interweaves the physical and spiritual worlds in an African 
continuum so characteristic of true African Americaness" (134). Barbara 
Christian argues in Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black 
Women Writers that Morrison's primary means of invoking these be- 
liefs and practices is reversal of the so-called expected truth (52), most 
particularly the unnatural inversion of truth contained within ideas of 
physical beauty and romantic love (57). 

In The Bluest Eye and in most of her later novels, Morrison establishes 
a pattern where she presents a dialectic of values that forces her charac- 
ters and her readers to look at alternative ways of being Black, or being 
female or male, and of being human. For example, Pecola Breedlove's* 
fantasy about becoming a Black child with beautiful blue eyes is actually 
a fairy tale in reverse. In this reversal, though, the ugly duckling does 
not become a beautiful swan, the North is not a freer place for Blacks, 
and for some Blacks isolation within their own insanity may be prefer- 
able to their integration into the "melting pot" of mainstream America. 
Pecola and her mother's quest for white values is just as devastating as 
the racism they have been forced to endure because of their obvious 
Blackness and lack of knowledge about the seduction and betrayal of 
Black people by white culture. 

In Sula, when the protagonist returns to her Medallion, Ohio*, neigh- 
borhood called the Bottom*, looking ten years younger than the rest of 
the women her age, the community* is immediately suspicious of her 
because of her difference. When their suspicions are connected to their 
rumors, she is made into a witch through the evolutionary process in 
folklore where rumor becomes solidified as legend. Harris says this pro- 
cess usually takes several generations, but Morrison's skill enables her 
to accomplish it in her novel in a matter of weeks (12). Morrison rein- 
forces the folkloric elements of this novel by giving it a fairy-tale struc- 
ture that is complete with ballad formulas and African American jokes 
and music. Kimberly Mazur says in "A Womanist Analysis: Triple Op- 
pression in the Early Fiction of Toni Morrison" that despite being sur- 
rounded by the Civil Rights movement and pretending to be changing 
economically and socially, the Bottom and its residents, who actually live 
on a hill (the bottom of heaven), are essentially unchanged (23). 

Just like the other residents of the Bottom, Sula Peace* is unchanged by 
the passage of time while she is away. However, when she returns, she is 
damned for not conforming to the norms established for the women of the 
community. Sula refuses to become a homemaker and baby maker, and 


seeks sexual gratification in nontraditional ways. Barbara Lounsberry and 
Grace Hovet maintain in "Principles of Perception in Toni Morrison's Sula" 
that she ignores the ownership principle of marriage and operates on the 
principle that sex is noncompetitive and nonthreatening. She also rejects 
traditional employment (128). They insist that her non-conformity even- 
tually makes her into a pariah because she longs for independence, knowl- 
edge, and self-gratification. Morrison endows her with a significant 
birthmark on her eyelid that is symbolic of her original powers of percep- 
tion. Others characters in the novel, though, see this birthmark (depending 
upon their individual perception of her) as a rose, a tadpole, a rattlesnake, 
her dead grandmother's ashes, or simply a scary black thing (129). 

Susan L. Blake says in her article "Folklore and Community in Song 
of Solomon" that the title of Morrison's third novel is a variant of a well- 
known Gullah folktale. In this folktale a group of African slaves in the 
New World rise up one day from the field where they are working and 
fly back to Africa {77). When we encounter Milkman Dead*, the protag- 
onist of Song of Solomon, he is searching for his freedom and identity*, 
but not by traveling the traditional route for African Americans. He does 
not pursue the North Star of freedom while fleeing slavery or share- 
cropping in the cruel South. Harris says Morrison reverses this piece of 
African American folklore by having Milkman searching for his identity 
while traveling from north to south on a type of Odyssean journey (12). 
Through Milkman's character Morrison forces us to confront the diffi- 
culties of various economic levels within the Black community, its vio- 
lence*, grotesque characters, bizarre actions, and biblical allusions. In her 
article "Memory and Mass Culture," Susan Willis tells us that Milkman's 
journey of discovery from north to south is a process of reclaiming his 
family's* history* of post-emancipation Blacks. He learns to relinquish 
all of the commodity trappings and egotistical practices that defined his 
bourgeois life as cloistered and ignorant (186). 

On his journey of discovery Milkman is made aware of the difference 
in the values espoused by his materialistic father, Macon Dead*, and his 
earthy Aunt Pilate Dead*, and he must determine which worldview rep- 
resents progress for him. To Macon Dead, the richest Black man in his 
Michigan town, progress means strictly material progress gained at the 
expense of human beings. Mr. Dead advises his only son to own things. 
To Pilate, who, despite being born without a navel, develops into an in- 
dependent, resourceful, and courageous Black woman, progress means 
going out of one's way to help others, even those who are not family. She 
is representative of the folk and family consciousness that she demon- 
strates by listening to her father's ghost and befriending her brother's 
wife and son. 

Milkman eventually progresses from his father's values to his aunt's 
values as he discovers his family's true history in the South. His jour- 


ney into the South eventually evolves into a positive quest because he 
starts out looking for gold hut ends up seeking his family's legacy. Blake 
says that by basing Milkman's identity quest on a folktale, Morrison calls 
attention to one of the central themes of her fiction, the relationship be- 
tween individual identity and community. She argues that folklore is by 
definition the expression of community and of the common experiences, 
beliefs, and values that identify a folk as a group (77). Thus the Gullah 
tale of the flying Africans*, including Milkman's own great-grandfather, 
represents a common dream, a common disappointment, and a group 
identity (78). 

Morrison's fourth novel, Tar Baby, takes its title from an African 
American folktale in the Br'er Rabbit cycle, but it is different from her 
other novels. It is set in the contemporary period, and much of its action 
takes place not in the Midwestern United States but in the Caribbean. 
According to Keith Byerman, its setting, the fictional Isle des Chevaliers*, 
is a perverse Eden that is an exotic example of the flawed "garden" (208), 
and it features the major European American characters Valerian* and 
Margaret Street*. Terry Otten notes in The Crime of Innocence in the 
Fiction of Toni Morrison that the little community of wealthy homes 
where the Streets live with their Black servants, Sydney and Ondine 
Childs*, had been built by Haitian laborers. They built it above a swamp 
they called Seine de Ville (witch's tit) that was formed when the white 
invaders rerouted the river and displaced it to end twenty leagues from 
the sea (64). Although this island seems idyllic, the land is rotting and 
haunted by demons. 

Just as she did with the myth of the flying Africans in Song of 
Solomon, Morrison offers us a revised rendering of Tar Baby's folktale. 
Her protagonist Jadine Childs* plays the role of the tar baby and devel- 
ops a romantic interest in Son*, a bluesy traveling man from Eloe*. To 
Jadine, the presumed richness of African American oral and family tra- 
ditions and Son's attraction to them mean little compared to her edu- 
cation at the Sorbonne and modeling the latest fashions in Paris and New 
York. Once Son comes into contact with her, he runs the risk of having 
his own values negatively transformed to hers. Jadine is unable to re- 
spond to the needs of anyone but herself, and she is unable to reclaim 
"ancient properties" that would link her more to African than to Euro- 
pean American values. Her adoption of these values is so obvious that an 
African woman who sees her on the street in Paris spits on her in dis- 
gust (Song of Solomon 68). 

Morrison generated her fifth novel, Beloved, from a newspaper ar- 
ticle she discovered while editing The Black Book*, a scrapbook of 
African American history. In a sensational case, Margaret Garner*, a 
runaway slave, killed her daughter rather than allow her to be returned 
to slavery*. In Morrison's version of this story her protagonist, Sethe 


Suggs*, kills her child to keep her from being returned to slavery, but 
she is freed and ostracized even from her own Black community. Stu- 
dents of African myth and culture explore the relationship between 
the West African concept of ancestor* worship and the mythic core of 
the novel. Beloved is the first work of a trilogy that includes Morri- 
son's latest novels, fazz* and Paradise* . See also Conjure; South, In- 
fluence of; Spirituality. 

References: Houston A. Baker, Blues, Ideology, and African American 
Literature (1984); Susan L. Blake, "Folklore and Community in Song of 
Solomon," MELUS: 7: 3 (Fall 1980); Keith E. Byerman, Fingering the 
fagged Grain: Tradition and Form in Recent Black Fiction (1985); Bar- 
bara Christian, Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women 
Writers (1985); Harold Courlander, ed., A Treasury of Afro-American 
Folklore (1996); Alan Dundes, Folklore Matters (1989); Ralph Ellison, 
"Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke," in Mother Wit from the Laugh- 
ing Barrel, ed. Alan Dundes (1990); Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Signi- 
fying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism 
(1988); Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore in the Novels of Toni Mor- 
rison (1991); Clenora Hudson-Weems, "Toni Morrison's World of 
Topsy-Turvydom: A Methodological Explication of New Black Literary 
Criticism," Western Journal of Black Studies 10: 3 (Fall 1986); Raymond 
E. Janifer, "The Black Nationalistic Aesthetic and the Early Fiction of 
John Edgar Wideman," Ph.D diss., The Ohio State University (1996); 
Barbara Lounsberry and Grace A. Hovet, "Principles of Perception in 
Toni Morrison's Sula," Black American Literature Forum 13: 4 (Win- 
ter 1979); Kimberly A. Mazur, "A Womanist Analysis: Triple Oppres- 
sion in the Early Fiction of Toni Morrison," M.A. thesis, Shippensburg 
University of Pennsylvania (1999); Terry Otten, The Crime of Innocence 
in the Fiction of Toni Morrison (1989); Dinitia Smith, "Toni Morrison's 
Mix of Tragedy, Domesticity, and Folklore," New York Times (January 
8, 1998); Susan Willis, "Memory and Mass Culture," in History and 
Memory in African American Culture, ed. Genevieve Fabre and Robert 
O' Meally (1994). 

Raymond E. Janifer 

Foucault, Marie-Therese {Tar Baby) 

The blind former nursemaid who now works as a washerwoman for Va- 
lerian and Margaret Street*, Marie-Therese is considered a witch because 
she is able to commune with nature and has second sight. She claims 
Son* as one of the blind race of Black horsemen and is instrumental in 


ensuring that Son joins them at the end of the novel. In contrast to 
Jadine Chilcls*, Marie-Therese has not lost her ancient properties. In fact 
she is the keeper of history* and is the center of Black female authority 
in Tar Baby. See also Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Garner, Margaret 

The model for Sethe Suggs* in Morrison's Beloved"', Margaret Garner 
was born June 4, 1833, at Maplewood, the 297-acre northern Kentucky 
plantation of John Pollard Gaines, then a well-to-do lawyer and farmer, 
and later a state senator, colonel in the Mexican War, U.S. congressman, 
and second governor of the Oregon Territory. Garner was the name of 
Margaret's husband Robert, the slave of Gaines's neighbor John Mar- 
shall. The archive does not reveal if Margaret's parents Priscilla and Duke 
went by a last name. 

Maplewood's twelve to fourteen slaves chiefly produced hogs and sheep 
for the Cincinnati market, seventeen miles north. They labored in a 
neighborhood (called Richwood) of large plantations with a total slave 
population running around 50 percent, three times the Kentucky aver- 
age and significant because it allowed for the development of a more ex- 
tensive (and resistant) slave subculture. Gaines himself was often absent 
from the plantation, leaving its management to his wife, Elizabeth, and 
the eldest of his twelve children, residents of the sizable "big house" con- 
structed when Margaret was an infant. We also know from the record 
that, beginning at age five, "Peggy" (to her owners) worked in the Gaines 
household, first as "babysitter" of toddling Gaines children, later as gen- 
eral household servant and caretaker of Gaines's aging mother. We also 
know that when Margaret was seven, the Gaines family took her to 
Cincinnati, a sojourn on free soil that would figure importantly in her 
1856 fugitive slave trial. 


The September 1850 census recorded Margaret as a seventeen-year-old 
"mulatto" slave, and just below, Margaret's five month-old boy (Thomas), 
also a "mulatto." Around these bare facts, archived information unfolds 
the story of a single year in Margaret's biography. Notable, first, is Mar- 
garet's "mulatto" identity*: Duke and Priscilla are both listed as "black" — 
like all other Maplewood slaves — and so this "light brown" girl must have 
been the product of an interracial union, probably coercive. In 1849-50 
Margaret herself must have been facing similar coercion; during that year 
John Gaines accepted appointment as governor of the Oregon Territory 
and sold Maplewood to his younger brother Archibald, a moody, violent, 
and grieving widower. Concurrently, Margaret became pregnant by Robert, 
nearly a year younger. By any standard, theirs was an exceptionally early 
union, and it was probably designed to stave off Gaines's advances. Dur- 
ing the next five years Margaret bore a second, light-complexioned boy 
(Samuel), perhaps also by Robert; then she bore two girls (Mary and 
Priscilla) whom newspapermen would describe as "nearly white." Even in 
1856 these signs were taken as pointing to Margaret's sexual victimization 
and Gaines's probable paternity. Additionally, she herself claimed that 
Gaines beat her, once leaving a scar on her cheek. 

These conditions galvanized a decision to flee, and the Garners were 
aided by other circumstances. In Cincinnati, Margaret had a free Black 
cousin, Elijah Kite, whom Robert Garner had visited in 1855 after tak- 
ing a drove of hogs to market. Then the winter of 1855-56 froze the 
Ohio River to a depth of six inches, forming an "ice bridge" for north- 
ern Kentucky slaves desiring freedom. So on Sunday night, January 27, 
1856, Robert Garner stole a six-shooter and a horse-drawn sleigh from 
his master, loaded his mother and father aboard, then picked up Mar- 
garet and her four children from Maplewood. In a boldly executed plan 
Robert sped north, eluding slave patrols and finally abandoning the 
sleigh in Covington, on the Kentucky side. The fugitives walked over 
water, then the two miles to Kite's cabin, there to await Underground 
Railroad assistance. But Archibald Gaines was in close pursuit, and by 
Monday morning he and several U.S. marshals had the cabin sur- 
rounded. When the fugitives refused to surrender, the marshals burst 
in, Robert fired his pistol (wounding one deputy) and "fought like a 
lion." After subduing him, the slave catchers found three wounded Gar- 
ner children and the body of two year-old Mary, nearly decapitated when 
Margaret cut her throat. 

There followed the longest, most dramatic fugitive slave trial of ante- 
bellum U.S. history, with every Northern newspaper spotlighting the 
mother who would kill her children rather than yield them up to South- 
ern slavery*. The Garners' attorney, the well-known Quaker abolition- 
ist John Jolliffe, futilely argued that Margaret's 1840 sojourn on free soil 
emancipated her (and thus, her offspring), and that the 1850 Fugitive 


Slave Act was unconstitutional. The federal commissioner ruled in late 
February that the seven surviving Garners should he returned to their 
Kentucky masters. His order was carried out on February 29, Archibald 
Gaines having promised to return Margaret to Ohio authorities on a 
murder warrant. Ohio abolitionists planned to convict Margaret for 
Mary's death, using the trial to showcase Margaret's victimization and 
slavery's horrors, and later to secretly pardon Margaret and speed her to 
Canada. A suspicious Gaines never fulfilled his promise. After a series of 
evasive maneuvers, he shipped the Garners first to Arkansas, then leased 
them for a year in New Orleans, and finally sold them to an acquain- 
tance, D.C. Bonham, owner of Willow Grove plantation in Issaquena 
County, Mississippi. There Margaret died of typhoid fever in the late 
summer of 1858. Robert escaped and served in the 71st Colored Infantry 
during the 1863 siege of Vicksburg. In an 1870 newspaper interview, he 
remarked that Margaret's surviving boys, Thomas and Samuel, were still 
farming in Mississippi. See also Beloved; Suggs, Sethe. 

References: Levi Coffin, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed Pres- 
ident of the Underground Railroad (1876); Steven Weisenburger, Mod- 
ern Medea: A Family Story of Slavery and Child Murder from the Old 
South (1998); Cynthia Griffin Wolff, "Margaret Garner: A Cincinnati 
Story," Massachussetts Review 32 (1991); Julius Yannuck, "The Garner 
Fugitive Slave Case," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 40 (1953). 

Steven Weisenburger 

Garner, Mr. and Mrs. {Beloved) 

The Garners owned Sweet Home* and the enslaved population whose 
labor they exploited there. The Garners (primarily represented by Mr. 
Garner's philosophy) believed that their type of benevolent slavery* — 
which provided for certain "privileges" — was superior to other forms of 
slavery. Garner referred to the men he enslaved as "men" instead of 
"boys," and for this he was ill-regarded among his peers. Those enslaved 
at Sweet Home felt that Garner's death was related to his philosophy of 
slavery. Morrison's drawing of this character and his particular liberal 
brand of slavery demonstrates that regardless of whether a master was 
considered kind or unkind, slavery was still slavery. Mrs. Garner, to her 
credit, does not punish Sethe Suggs* for stealing fabric to make herself 
a wedding dress, gives Sethe a pair of earrings, and speaks to school- 
teacher* about having allowed his nephews* to abuse Sethe. Generally, 
Morrison portrays her as a kinder-than-most, but nevertheless typical, 
plantation mistress whose operating space was confined to the domestic 


sphere. She becomes an invalid following her husband's somewhat mys- 
terious death. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Garner, Paul D (Beloved) 

Since Paul F is sold shortly after Garner's* death, and Paul A is hanged 
during the escape attempt from Sweet Home*, Paul D Garner is the last 
of the Pauls* alive at Sweet Home. After being forced to witness the tor- 
ture and death of the rebellious Sixo*, Paul D is manacled, shackled, col- 
lared, and fitted with a bit. Later he is sold, and after trying to kill his new 
owner, is put to work on a chain gang in Alfred, Georgia. He escapes and 
roams from place to place. In all his experiences Paul D has learned to 
love everything just a little bit, in case he has to give it up. In 1873, he 
comes upon Sethe Suggs* at the house at 124 Bluestone Road*. After 
driving off the spirit of the baby ghost, he and Sethe begin a romantic 
relationship. The ghost returns in the flesh and gradually drives Paul D 
off the premises — seducing him along the way. When Paul D learns about 
the worst of Sethe's past, he makes the mistake of telling her that she 
acted like something less than human in killing her child. His romantic 
relationship with Sethe is, in essence, disrupted by the insistent presence 
and full weight of the ghost of slavery*. The novel's ending suggests that 
Paul D and Sethe will have a chance to resume their relationship; in the 
end, he returns to 124 Bluestone Road. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 


Throughout the body of her work, Toni Morrison regularly focuses on 
geographical and physical settings. All seven novels, and much of her non- 
fiction writing, embody a profound sense of place, with the geographical 
situations often taking on the status of character. For example, in Beloved, 
124 Bluestone Road* certainly commands as much attention as many of 
the humans who inhabit Morrison's books. Likewise, places in other nov- 
els — the Bottom*, the Convent*, Eloe* — are deeply familiar to Morri- 
son's readers. Within her fictive world, Morrison steeps her characters in 
their settings, resulting in literature that could exist nowhere else. 

In addition, Morrison's works emphasize not only where the action 
takes place, but also a considerable preoccupation with the very concept 
of geography. That is, we learn how towns are born, what histories their 
names reflect, the way the streets are arranged. Or, as in The Bluest Eye*, 
we discover that women can be named for countries or identified by their 


Southern places of origin. Morrison imbues her writing with a direct 
awareness of place, often emphasizing influences of the American South*, 
even within the urban North. Overall, Morrison's milieu embraces ge- 
ography as a powerful influence, literally and symbolically. 

The Bluest Eye, the only novel so far that Morrison has set in her 
hometown of Lorain, Ohio*, brings to life that steel town on Lake Erie. 
In her first novel, Morrison presents the layout of the town, the place- 
ment of the MacTeers' home and the Breedloves' storefront. The expe- 
riences of the characters reveal the divisions between the richer whites' 
manicured lakefront homes and the cinder-strewn environs of the poorer, 
often Black, folks. The idea of home* security becomes clear through 
its absence: when the Breedloves are evicted — put outdoors — Pecola 
Breedlove* temporarily lives with Claudia* and Frieda Breedlove*. 
Pecola's family home is never safe, for it is the site of her rape by her fa- 
ther, Cholly*, and her subsequent descent into madness. And Frieda is 
molested within her own more upright home by their boarder, Mr. 
Henry. Morrison shows the futility of seeking a safe place through the 
eradication of disorder attempted by some of the more geographically 
oriented characters, those proper ladies from Mobile, Alabama; Merid- 
ian, Mississippi; and Aiken, South Carolina. These women's direct an- 
titheses also have geographically based names; the three prostitutes* who 
befriend Pecola are named China (she also appears in Sula*), Poland, and 
Miss Marie, who is otherwise known as the Maginot Line (a failed for- 
tification line in World War II France). 

Sula also reveals a geographical bent, with the opening scene detail- 
ing the genealogy of the Bottom. Resonating with Morrison's descrip- 
tion of the non-Dick and Jane houses in the first pages of The Bluest 
Eye, Morrison's second novel introduces its readers to the perverted 
racist joke that has created this place. As the community of African 
Americans pushed out of Medallion, Ohio*, the residents of the Bottom 
must live in the hills, where growing crops is hindered by the steep to- 
pography. Eventually, this neighborhood comes to embody a richness 
that can nurture an unconventional young woman like Sula Peace* or 
give Nel Wright* the courage to resist her mother's attempts to mold 
her into an impossible white ideal. The negativity associated with the 
Bottom's creation, in other words, becomes inverted, for it turns out to 
be a relatively positive place to live. Yet that opening scene reveals also 
that this neighborhood will eventually be obliterated by an encroach- 
ing white-owned golf course. The geography of Sula also encompasses 
the river, the place where Chicken Little* dies, as well as the mighty tun- 
nel, itself the site of tragic loss of life. Each geographical focus, there- 
fore — including the distant New Orleans Sundown House feared by He- 
lene Wright* — possesses the bittersweet quality often characteristic of 
Morrison's fiction. 


In her third novel, Song of Solomon"', Morrison intensifies this al- 
ready pronounced preoccupation with geography. Here, in an unnamed 
Michigan city on the shore of Lake Superior (inexplicably said to be 
not far from Pennsylvania), the opening scene involves a delineation 
of the city's mapping, including its leaders' attempts to redefine what 
the Southside people insist on calling Doctor Street. The renamed Not 
Doctor Street* joins No Mercy Hospital* in an environment of eccen- 
trically named places and people, not the least of which is the geo- 
graphically based Macon Dead*. This novel's focus on place also 
appears in the Southern source of the Dead family, Shalimar, Virginia, 
which Milkman Dead* discovers on a quest with a far different moti- 
vation. Furthermore, Pilate Dead*, Macon's sister, who lives on the 
other side of the tracks from his respectable home, prizes as one of her 
few possessions a geography book. 

Tar Baby" involves a very different geographical setting, for most of 
the action occurs on a fictional Francophone Caribbean island named Isle 
des Chevaliers*. Morrison describes this mythical place as being near 
Dominique, which could possibly be a French-inflected name for Do- 
minica, in the southern Caribbean. But because the houses are built by 
workers brought in from Haiti, the area may have more in common with 
the Dominican Republic. Wherever Morrison imagines it to be, this is a 
magical place where trees yell and rivers have their hearts broken by 
human development. The island's sentient geography frames the story, 
with Son* swept along by a willful ocean at the beginning and claimed 
by the horsemen and respected by the trees at the end. While on the is- 
land, the otherwise confident Jadine Childs* is haunted by a vision of an 
African woman in Paris who makes her question her own authenticity. 
The main white characters also evoke geography, in part through their 
names suggesting place: Valerian Street* and his wife Margaret*, who is 
often referred to as a faded beauty queen from Maine. Beyond the island 
setting, Tar Baby also involves Philadelphia, New York, Paris, and Son's 
legendary hometown of Eloe, Florida, all places Morrison instills with 
powerful influences over the hearts and minds of her characters. 

This concentration on geographical and psychological setting becomes 
more pronounced as Morrison's works progress, culminating in the tril- 
ogy of Beloved* , Jazz* , and Paradise*. These novels profoundly illustrate 
the tensions between her characters' geographical expectations and emo- 
tional realizations. For each of these works, the characters' Southern or- 
igins reveal bittersweet combinations of poignant beauty and intense 
pain. Whether the characters in these novels end up in the North or the 
West, their new homes also prove to be problematic. 

In Beloved, the ambiguities of geography occur everywhere the char- 
acters exist. Whereas the South* evokes the horrors of slavery*, life in 
the North is not free, either. For Sethe, just thinking of Sweet Home*, 


the plantation in Kentucky, reminds her simultaneously that it was the 
site of unspeakable atrocity and violence*, and where she was together 
with Halle Suggs* and her children* in a place of sylvan beauty. Like- 
wise, Alfred, Georgia, is where Paul D Garner* and his fellow prisoners 
are terribly abused — sexually, mentally, and physically. Nevertheless, he 
is amazed by its unabashed natural splendor, finding himself moved by 
Alfred's trees, stars, and flowers. Morrison depicts Cincinnati, Ohio, a city 
beyond the realm of slavery, as the refuge Sethe and her children attain 
against all odds, as well as Baby Suggs's* destination. Yet it is also where 
schoolteacher* and his nephews* track the runaways to return them to 
the terror of enslavement. More specifically, 124 Bluestone Road becomes 
both the site of togetherness, reunion, and love and a place of capture, 
haunting, and death*. 

Ambivalent contrasts abound in Beloved: between the North and the 
South, between slavery and freedom, and, through its emphases, on bor- 
ders and rivers. The Ohio River particularly fulfills this situation, for it 
is the division between slave state and free, as well as the site where Sethe 
gives birth to Denver*, another geographically named character. When 
Baby Suggs crosses the river into free territory, after Halle buys her free- 
dom, she realizes for the first time that her body, particularly her beat- 
ing heart, belongs to her. This geography of the in-between also evolves 
abstractly in the novel, as Morrison merges the realm linking life and 
death with the place where Beloved* originates and also with the slave 
ships of the Middle Passage. 

Morrison informs Jazz with its own emphasis on borders and on divi- 
sions between the North and South through the primary settings of Ves- 
per County, Virginia, and the City — unnamed, but clearly New York. As 
a novel of the Great Migration* tradition — rather than Beloved's slave 
narrative orientation — ]azz emphasizes the profound distinctions be- 
tween the rural South and the urban North during the early years of the 
twentieth century. Violet* and Joe Trace* change dramatically within 
these settings, and the narrator holds the City responsible for the prob- 
lems they encounter. Whereas Harlem*, which Morrison maps out in 
some detail, becomes their racial sanctuary, in keeping with the histori- 
cal Harlem Renaissance, the resulting disconnection from their South- 
ern ancestral roots brings trouble for Violet and Joe. Also within the City, 
Dorcas Manfred* tries to get Joe to take her to a dance club named Mex- 
ico*. The characters may perceive themselves as stronger and more dar- 
ing in the City, but Joe kills Dorcas there, and Violet desecrates the corpse 
at her funeral, events that leave the living utterly bereft. 

Within the South, these characters experience racial violence, in which 
greedy whites run many African Americans, including Violet and Joe, 
from their land (this dispossession parallels a related event of land seizure 
in Song of Solomon). Yet the ambivalence abides, for this region is also 


where Joe experiences a profound love of hunting in the woods, along- 
side his mentor, Hunter's Hunter*, and it is also where Joe and Violet are 
born, and where they work, meet, and marry. Also inhabiting these Ves- 
per County woods is Wild*, simultaneously a source of fear and Joe's 
quarry in his search for parental validation. A parent's absence in the 
South also haunts Violet, for her mother, Rose Dear*, commits suicide 
in a well. Furthermore, Golden Gray* of Baltimore* seeks out Vesper 
County in his search for his father, an ambivalent quest involving issues 
of race*, identity*, and privilege. 

In Paradise, rather than drawing these more familiar distinctions be- 
tween the North and the South, Morrison differentiates racist Recon- 
struction Louisiana from the possibility of all-Black towns in Oklahoma. 
In addition, once they travel to this more western setting, the Old Fa- 
thers and their families encounter the surprising stain of intraracial dis- 
crimination, for the darkness of their skin color prevents them from being 
accepted in towns these other African Americans have already estab- 
lished. Years after this Disallowing, in the contemporary setting of the 
novel, the geographical contrasts of note become those between Haven* 
and Ruby*, and then between Ruby and the Convent. Because its resi- 
dents are preoccupied with a desire for absolute safety, Ruby becomes a 
bastion of self-righteousness, as Deacon* and Steward Morgan* and the 
other leaders seek to delimit the town's identity along rigid, color-struck, 
tradition-bound lines. 

The men regard the Convent as dangerous, a foil, the perceived "evil" 
against which they define themselves. Therefore, the ensuing violent con- 
flict between the men of Ruby and the Convent women — which frames 
the main action of the novel — becomes inevitable. The distance between 
these two places is seventeen miles, which Morrison reveals in her open- 
ing lines, again immediately drawing attention to the novel's geograph- 
ical circumstances. Interestingly, Morrison gives another instance of her 
cartographic focus via Seneca's* self-mutilation; she cuts her arms and 
thighs, forming wounds she regards as maps, complete with streets and 
intersections. The in-between realm of ambiguity also appears more 
metaphorically in this novel, through the door/ window that Anna Flood 
and Richard Misner* perceive after the Convent women have disap- 
peared. Amid the potent positionings of Paradise (the title itself is evoca- 
tive of a significant idealized location), this more conceptual perspective 
of ambiguous geography opens infinite possibilities. As Morrison has 
said in several interviews, she ends her novel with references to travel in 
order to emphasize the crucial nature of human beings creating and rec- 
ognizing the potential for paradise while still here on earth. 

Furthermore, Morrison's nonfiction and other creations also fre- 
quently involve geography. Her 1993 Nobel Prize address* sets up its 
story within a context where struggling people journey, including those 


escaping enslavement. Within this parable, the blind woman and the 
children evoke familiar Morrisonian themes of exile and homelessness, 
thereby echoing her geographical concerns. Playing in the Dark: White- 
ness and the Literary Imagination* also involves these issues, most 
notably in the opening paragraphs, which plot a course for American lit- 
erature in cartographic terminology. In all of Toni Morrison's work, 
these concerted geographical orientations abound, providing reference 
points for her readers and sometimes safe havens for her characters. See 
also History. 

References: Melvin Dixon, Ride Out the Wilderness: Geography and 
Identity in Afro-American Literature (1987); Farah Jasmine Griffin, 
"Who Set You Tlowin'V The African-American Migration Narrative 
(1995); Lawrence R. Rodgers, Canaan Bound: The African-American 
Great Migration Novel (1997). 

Kristine Yohe 

Ghost Story, Use of 

Scholars have for some time regarded most of Toni Morrison's stories 
as being within the genre of magical realism*, and indeed the super- 
natural seems to pervade her works. The most celebrated supernatural 
element of her stories would surely be the ghost who makes her epony- 
mous presence felt in Beloved*. The novel's ghost borrows heavily from 
familiar spectral traditions, but there are many unique aspects to the 
ghost as well. 

The novel informs its reader from the very beginning that the setting 
will be fantastic. The first chapter quickly and successfully blurs the lines 
between animate and inanimate, conscious and otherwise. In this sense, 
the novel follows old strategies of horror, transgressing boundaries in 
ways that could never be called natural. The novel seems to encourage a 
reading of these opening pages that unsettles the reader, a feeling that 
comes back to haunt the narrative when Sethe Suggs* and her two 
daughters are getting along so well. 

But if we can say that Beloved follows a path similar to those of other 
ghost stories, we must be careful to point out that it is not really the same 
path at all. For example, the structure of the narrative is quite different 
from the structure of most ghost stories. The traditional story featuring 
any kind of monster usually follows a pattern of a chaotic force infil- 
trating a secure space, followed by the introduction of a detective figure 
who investigates all the mundane explanations available, eventually 
names the terror for what it is, and finally initiates the appropriate pro- 


cedures for destroying the monster. However, Beloved has no clear de- 
tective figure, and the space this ghost invades has been anything but 
stable for some time. Furthermore, and though the reason that Beloved* 
chooses to leave Sethe's house is not perfectly clear, it is doubtful that 
the women who cannot even enter Sethe's yard have really exorcised 
Beloved. In some sense, their hodgepodge of religious activities mirrors 
the Western tradition of Catholic-style exorcism, but theirs is an exor- 
cism without teeth: the ghost is not driven away by their exorcism, or at 
least not by it alone. 

The novel declines to answer many questions, and among those ques- 
tions is one to which the traditional ghost story demands an answer: 
Just whose ghost is Beloved? Is she the ghost of Sethe's slain daughter? 
Most of the novel would support this reading. For example, she recalls 
events which only that daughter would have witnessed, and the way she 
acts as an incarnate being seems to be a direct response to the baby's 
short life and gruesome death. However, powerful moments in the nar- 
rative encourage the reader to think that perhaps Beloved is the ghost 
of one or more of the slaves who died in transit to the Western Hemi- 
sphere. The novel's dedication, one of the few elements of the novel we 
can rely on to express the author's intentions without disguise, rein- 
forces such an interpretation. In fact, it is never quite clear whether 
Beloved has to fit just one of these definitions. Perhaps she is all of these 
things and more, but if so, she is both recalling and transcending the 
traditional ghost. 

Another tradition of the ghost story, dating at least from the writings 
of Henry James, suggests that the ghost (or hallucination thereof) must 
originate in the protagonist's own psychological instability, or at least 
from her own wrongdoing. In this sense the story is more traditional, in 
that Beloved seems to be the reincarnation of the child Sethe slew. How- 
ever, no contemporary reader would argue that Sethe's crime takes place 
in a vacuum. Since Sethe is the one who is haunted, the traditional ghost 
story would seem to indicate that it is Sethe who is being repaid, but since 
Sethe is only trying to keep her daughter from a life of slavery*, is she 
the one at fault, or is schoolteacher*, her master? Or is Mr. Garner*, her 
previous and remarkably humane owner, at fault? Further, if Beloved is 
not just the reincarnation of Sethe's daughter, but a vengeful spirit born 
of the miseries of the many individuals who perished at sea during the 
Middle Passage, why is she haunting Sethe at all? Wouldn't it be more 
appropriate for her to haunt members of the white community who ben- 
efited from slavery, or even members of the African communities who 
assisted the slave trade? 

And of course in this context the "traditional ghost story" refers to the 
traditional Western ghost story. African understandings of the super- 
natural assume a different set of traditions, and these traditions often 


contradict European-informed ideas about ghosts. For example, ghost sto- 
ries told within the African tradition often insist that the natural and the 
supernatural intertwine. Such a tradition would apply well to Beloved, 
which opens with a mundane family* that has to learn to live with the 
daily terrors of what appears to be a fantastic visitor. Further, Beloved's 
immense power to drag Sethe back into the past, and indeed her pres- 
ence as a reincarnation of the dead, blurs the neat divisions of time, again 
echoing African traditions. This power serves the narrative well, as 
Beloved and Paul D Garner* struggle to make the present Sethe live in 
the past or present, respectively. 

Finally, Beloved the ghost and 124 Bluestone Road* the haunted house 
work splendidly to foreground one of the novel's most powerful themes: 
possession. Throughout the novel, a central issue is possession: who be- 
longs to whom, who has a claim on whom, and who owns what. Just as 
the spirit (who seems to fit the description of a poltergeist until she takes 
on flesh after Paul D casts her out) possesses the house, Sethe is pos- 
sessed by her past, in which she was possessed by schoolteacher, Mrs. 
Garner, Mr. Garner, and perhaps even Halle Suggs*. In its subtler mo- 
ments, the novel even interrogates family ties, asking troubling ques- 
tions about the nature of familial love and the uncanny kind of love that 
could survive slavery. Introduced as it is in the opening words of the 
novel, ghostly possession becomes a powerful insight into the heart of 
Beloved. See also African Myth, Use of; Conjure; Gothic Tradition; Ro- 
mantic Tradition. 

Joe Sutliff Sanders 

Gibson, Grace/Gigi [Paradise) 

In too-high heels and too-short skirt, Gigi, title character of one of Par- 
adise's nine sections, steps off the bus in Ruby, Oklahoma*, in 1971, hop- 
ing to find two trees entwined in love and some unbeatable rhubarb pie. 
Her boyfriend Mikey, arrested during the Oakland riots, has told her of 
two rocks making love forever in the desert just outside Wish, Arizona, 
and they are to rendezvous there on April 15, after he is paroled. But 
Gigi, a girl really named Grace from Alcorn, Mississippi, finds no love- 
making rocks, and on her way to anywhere else, a stranger's tale of two 
trees that might do brings her to Ruby; she arrives at the Convent* the 
day Mother (Mary Magna*) dies. Finding Consolata (Connie) Sosa* 
alone, drunk, and almost passed out on the kitchen floor, Gigi misses her 
ride to Demby and ends up staying at the Convent. Fond of sunbathing 
naked and wearing few clothes, Gigi immediately garners the disapproval 
of the more conservative Mavis Albright*, but attracts the attention of 
Coffee (K.D.) Smith*, only nephew of Ruby's important Morgan fam- 


ily. Their two-year, turbulent affair ends when the Convent women ban- 
ish K.D. for beating Gigi, whose sexual attention then turns to the 
childlike Seneca*. Free-spirited, sensual, and liberated, Gigi had been 
abandoned by her mother, has a father on death row, and is haunted by 
the image, from the Oakland riots, of a beautiful Black boy spitting blood 
into his hands. Understanding that she has not approved of herself in 
years, Grace exorcises these images in Connie's "loud-dreaming" ses- 
sions. Grace is one of the three women shot down in the grass; however, 
we see her again, dressed in a black T-shirt and camouflage pants, pack- 
ing a gun: first at a lake, visiting her father, who has received a perma- 
nent stay of execution, and presumably twice more, once as a passenger 
in a car and finally in a parking lot, helping Seneca clean her bleeding 
hands. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Gigi (Paradise) 

See Gibson, Grace/Gigi (Paradise). 

Gothic Tradition 

Toni Morrison's nonfictional work Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and 
the Literary Imagination*, which focuses on the presence of blackness 
in nineteenth-century American literature, gives an accurate though per- 
haps inadvertent description of her own Gothic paradigm in her novels. 
Morrison questions why nineteenth-century American writers, trying 
so desperately to break with the English tradition, would appropriate the 
Old World Gothic form. She then explains the power of darkness and 
race* in Gothic terms: all that was terrifying and unknown about the 
New World experience, with its vast uncharted wilderness, became part 
of the Gothic legacy from Europe. Additionally, for Morrison, the con- 
cept of the racialized Other became important because it represented the 
lure of freedom and the fear of enslavement, part of the contradictory 
experience of the American democracy. The European Gothic derived its 
power from the concept of the "sins of the fathers," an obvious biblical 
allusion to the curse of the past, and like its American successor, it could 
find sustenance only in the dusty and moldy terrain of the past. The bur- 
den of the histories — and its choking hold on the present — informed 
American Gothic, and it would be surprising if Morrison, with her back- 
ground in American literature (a master's degree in English from Cor- 
nell) would not have felt some residual effects of reading Hawthorne and 
Faulkner*, two masters of the Gothic mode who are able to depict terri- 


fying landscapes fraught with the dangers and perils and lure of dark- 
ness. Indeed, it is not coincidence that part of Morrison's master's degree 
thesis concerned itself with the greatest Southern Gothic writer, Faulkner, 
who also implicated race with the sins of the fathers and the darkness of 
American history*. 

Obviously, Toni Morrison is interested in recounting ghost stories* as 
a way to access history and to understand an oppressiveness of the past 
so that a possibility for future equality and freedom can exist within gen- 
der and race relationships. It is not as if the ghosts can he exorcised com- 
pletely, but they need to be brought out of the darkness of the past and 
of their hiding places, so that they can be contended with. Even as the 
narrator asserts in Beloved' 1 ' that it was a story not to pass on — some- 
what disingenuously, after recounting an epic ghost story — the reader 
knows that this is most definitely a story to pass on, lest history repeat 
itself. One of the objectives of the Gothic is to reveal an oppressive power 
dynamic so that the empowered and disempowered can both escape from 
a vicious and stultifying cycle of history. There are many ghosts that need 
to be exorcised in the Morrison oeuvre — Beloved*, most obviously, so 
that Sethe Suggs* and Paul D Garner* can imagine a future. Similarly, 
Joe* and Violet Trace* in Jazz* need to come to terms with the ghost of 
Dorcas Manfred* after Joe murders his young lover in a fit of rage; here, 
though, the ghost of Dorcas resides more in their minds than in actual 
life, as real spirit, as was the case in Beloved. 

Such psychological ghosts haunt all the protagonists in all the major 
works: for example, Sula Peace* is haunted by Chicken Little*, whom 
she inadvertently kills; Shadrack*, the passive accomplice in Sula's crime, 
is haunted by a battlefield of dying men in war-torn 1917 France; Pecola 
Breedlove* in The Bluest Bye* is haunted by her newly fashioned self 
(brought about by the spells of the wizard figure, Soaphead Church*) in 
the psychiatric ward. Such doomed characters, like Poe's Gothic heroes, 
are confined within the abyss of self and cannot purge themselves of the 
oppression they witness and experience because they are too self-pos- 
sessed, from a Gothic perspective. The ghosts emanate from themselves 
rather than from an encounter with others; indeed, the Morrison char- 
acters who cannot redeem themselves, who cannot experience a cathar- 
sis through a loving connection with another individual, are damned to 
an eternal haunting of their own minds. 

If the Morrison ghosts are not manifestations of a disturbed psyche, 
they are often beneficial spiritual guides whose purpose is to bring the 
characters to a clearer sense of their history. Thus, in Tar Baby* , images 
of big-breasted, maternal women haunt Jadine Childs* when she is in 
the Caribbean, urging her on to an understanding of the past. The group 
of singing women who exorcise the ghost of Beloved from Sethe's life 
includes mothers, dead and alive, among them the spirit of Baby Suggs*. 


There are also folkloric associations with the ghosts, especially in their 
relation to an African past. Thus, for example, mythological blind African 
horsemen, the ghosts of escaped slaves, greet Son* on the Caribbean is- 
land in Tar Baby after Jadine has run off to Europe. Milkman Dead* in 
Song of Solomon* is guided by the spirit of Shalimar of Solomon, his 
paternal great-grandfather, who, according to the folk song that Pilate 
Dead* taught him and that the children of his ancestral village sing, was 
able to escape slavery* and fly back to Africa like an eagle. Indeed, Song 
of Solomon is the most Gothic of Morrison's novels, in the traditional 
English (eighteenth-century) sense. As a quest story, it has all the un- 
derpinnings of a Gothic framework: a cursed or dysfunctional family*, 
the protagonist's need to free himself from a tyrannical father, betrayal 
and the righting of family wrongs, the search for the ancestral home, the 
use of magic (the evocation of the spirit of Shalimar) to guide the pro- 
tagonist to the family legacy in a mysterious and hidden place (the gold 
in the cave). The traditional Gothic haunted house is present in many of 
Morrison's works: for example, the spiteful 124 Bluestone Road*, home* 
of Sethe, which Beloved haunts, or the Convent* mansion in Paradise*, 
where the mystical and ghostlike women reside, and which is attacked 
by the uncomprehending men of the community*. 

The fabulous or miraculous quality of Morrison's Gothic is akin to 
the magical realism* of Isabel Allende's or Laura Esquivel's ghost sto- 
ries, and in all three cases, these women writers evoke the ghosts in order 
to connect their protagonists with their histories. Indeed, though Song 
of Solomon has the trappings of traditional "pure" eighteenth-century 
Gothic, Morrison's brand of Gothic is more thoroughly modern, for she 
rejects the resolution of the traditional Gothic plot. Morrison does not 
finally allow the realm of the rational to supersede or transcend the 
realm of the intuitive or the spiritual, and ultimately, though one may 
lay one's ghosts to rest, it is necessary to re-create their stories in order 
to understand one's own place in the universe. See also Approaches 
to Morrison's Work: Psychoanalytic; Ghost Story, Use of; History; 
Romantic Tradition. 

References: Katherine Piller Beutel, "Gothic Repetitions: Toni Morri- 
son's Use of Echo," West Virginia Philological Papers 42-43 (1997-98); 
Wesley Britton, "The Puritan Past and Black Gothic: The Haunting of 
Toni Morrison's Beloved in Light of Hawthorne's The House of the 
Seven Gables," Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 21: 2 (1995); Ellen J. Gold- 
mer, "Other(ed) Ghosts: Gothicism and the Bonds of Reason in Melville, 
Chestnutt, and Morrison," MELUS 24: 1 (1999); Deborah Horvitz, 
"Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved," Studies 
in American Tiction 17: 2 (1989); Linda Krumholz, "The Ghosts of Slav- 


ery: Historical Recovery in Toni Morrison's Beloved," African- Ameri- 
can Review 26: 3 (1992); Franny Nudelman, "'Ghosts Might Enter 
Here': Toward a Reader's History," in Hawthorne and Women: Engen- 
dering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition, ed. John L. Idol, Jr., and 
Melinda Ponder (1999); Barbara Hill Rigney, "A Story to Pass On': 
Ghosts in the Fiction of Black Women Writers," in Haunting the House 
of Fiction: Feminist Perspectives on Ghost Stories by American Women 
Writers, ed. Lynette Carpenter and Wendy K. Kolmar (1991); Liliane 
Weissberg, "Gothic Spaces: The Political Aesthetics of Toni Morrison's 
Beloved," in Modern Gothic: A Reader, ed. Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd 
Smith (1996). 

Monika Elbert 

Gray, Golden [Jazz) 

The illegitimate son of Vera Louise Gray*, the Southern aristocrat ex- 
iled from her family's plantation for carrying a Black child, and Henry 
Lestory/LesTroy (Hunter's Hunter*), the Black slave with whom she has 
a covert relationship. Golden, whose hair and eyes reflect his ambiguous 
racial heritage, grows up as Vera's adopted son. Vain, spoiled, and arro- 
gant, he sets off on a patricidal voyage of discovery from Baltimore to 
Virginia upon discovering the truth. There he encounters first Wild*, a 
pregnant Black forest dweller, whom he helps to rescue when she knocks 
herself unconscious, then his father, who delivers Wild's unwanted baby, 
Joe Trace*. Rather than sympathizing with Golden's haughty indigna- 
tion, Hunter tells him to accept adult responsibility and choose his own 

One of the most elusive segments of/azz, the Golden Gray episode can 
also be viewed as the unidentified narrator's active rumination on both 
artistry and identity. Golden seems to reject his African heritage. Yet the 
narrator, in constructing Golden's character and what may be the his- 
torical narrative behind Joe and Violet Trace's* present moment, funda- 
mentally embraces the complexity that is the identity and the artistic 
process which permit communication in the form of literary production. 
See also jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

Gray, Vera Louise (Jazz) 

A Southern aristocrat disinherited by her family* for her clandestine re- 
lationship with a Black family slave and subsequent impregnation by 


him. The biological mother of Golden Gray*, she never informs him of 
his true heritage, presenting herself, instead, as his adoptive mother. 
When he demands to know the truth, she locks herself in her room and 
refuses to communicate. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

Greek Mythology, Use of 

Although direct references to Greek mythology are relatively rare in 
Morrison's novels (especially in comparison to biblical allusions), one 
does occasionally find them. The most common direct allusions are char- 
acter and place names or brief descriptive metaphors. The "Elysian Fields" 
in Sula* ironically names the street on which Helene Wright's* mother's 
house sits, a house she prefers to escape rather than a desirable heaven. 
Paradise* includes a Pallas*, who in one scene becomes the very image 
of the warrior goddess Pallas Athena by wearing a long, flowing dress 
and wielding a sword. In The Bluest Eye*, the narrator's father is por- 
trayed as a Vulcan guarding the flames as he adjusts doors and windows 
to regulate the heat in the house. At Old Jimmy's funeral, the deceased 
is described as a tragic hero; the mourners, as the strophe and antistro- 
phe of a Greek chorus. 

The preceding examples are quite brief, but there is one extended di- 
rect allusion to Greek mythology in the novels. Song of Solomon* 
chronicles Milkman Dead's* "odyssey." The allusion is made apparent 
by the presence of the character Circe*, who in the Greek Odyssey is 
the goddess who enchants Odysseus's shipmates by her song and a lav- 
ish feast that turns them into swine. Odysseus, made immune to her 
magic with Hermes's help, rescues his crew by sleeping with the en- 
chantress. She then provides vital information on how to continue his 
journey home, specifically, how to get to Hades in order to consult the 
dead prophet Tiresias. 

Morrison's Circe is also surrounded by animals, the weimaraners be- 
longing to her now dead white employer. Unlike the Greek Circe, this one 
is not singing songs, weaving beautiful tapestries, or laying out banquets; 
she remains alive only to see through to its final destruction the home* 
of her hated employer. But she is an enchantress. Even at her frail old age, 
Milkman feels compelled to climb the steps to embrace her. The smell of 
the dogs' waste in the rest of the house is replaced by a sweet ginger smell 
in the room where Circe sits. She gives Milkman directions to his own 
Hades, the dark cave where he believes he will find gold. He finds noth- 
ing, but like Odysseus's sojourn in Hades, Milkman's trip to the cave is 
the first step in the real purpose of his journey — to find his way home. 


This is perhaps the most important parallel between Song of Solomon 
and The Odyssey, the quest itself. Odysseus leaves the site of the Trojan 
War as a warrior. As he travels home and undergoes numerous trials, his 
warrior self is broken down, and he returns to Ithaca with nothing that 
he started with, no conquered treasure from Troy or any of his adven- 
tures on the journey, nothing except his desire to be home and his new- 
found understanding of what "being home" means. 

Milkman, too, returns home, not with the gold he seeks but with new 
realization about his connections to people and a place. Most important, 
he learns his family's real name. He leaves his father's house in Michi- 
gan, ashamed of himself for playing what now seems like a juvenile trick 
on his aunt Pilate Dead*, and with his sister Magdalena's* charge that 
he has been using people all his life. The gold is his chance at redemp- 
tion, to return home a conquering hero. When he finds no treasure in 
the cave, he continues his journey to Virginia, the place where his grand- 
parents lived, a small, isolated town called Shalimar that cannot even be 
found on the AAA map. The people of Shalimar, many of them named 
Solomon*, resent Milkman's rich, city ways, and put him through tests 
of strength and skill, including a nighttime coon hunt. 

As he sits alone in the middle of wild and unfamiliar woods, he comes 
to the realization that nothing he has — his expensive clothes, his father's 
money, or anything it can buy — will help him out there. Like Odysseus, 
he is stripped down by his trials to the bare essentials and must rebuild 
himself as something new in order to reach his goal. He manages to elude 
Guitar Baines's attempt to kill him in the forest and continues his new 
search, now for his family's* past rather than for gold. He discovers the 
story of his family, a great-grandfather who could fly but dropped his 
youngest son as he attempted to fly away (shades of Daedalus and Icarus). 
This son was Jake*, Milkman's grandfather. The story, like that of 
Odysseus, is even immortalized in a song — the children's* nursery 
rhyme that Milkman heard as he watched them play. It is his song, the 
song that tells the story of his heritage. Milkman does eventually return 
to his father's house as a hero, not for bringing back the legacy of the 
gold, but the true legacy of their name. 

The most interesting uses of Greek mythology, however, are evocative 
rather than direct. One example is a fascination with the feminine trin- 
ity, groups of women living together in threes and set apart from the ev- 
eryday world. The three Graces, the three Fates, the three Furies, the three 
Gorgons, the three virgin goddesses, the nine Muses (three squared), and 
many other feminine trinities from Greek mythology elicited powerful 
emotions in those, especially men, who encountered them — fear, hatred, 
awe, gratitude, and occasionally love. The Gorgons turned men who saw 
them to stone; the Muses inspired great acts of artistic creation. Morri- 
son's trinities tend to be set apart and inspire powerful emotions as well. 


In The Bluest Eye, the prostitutes* China, Poland, and Miss Marie live 
together in an apartment in the same building as Pecola Breedlove*.They 
are set apart not only by their profession but by their profound hatred of 
men. They inspire strong emotions: Pecola is attracted to them because 
they treat her well; others are repelled by their profession and their repu- 
tation for having committed unspeakable acts, especially Miss Marie, who 
was thought to have killed someone by cooking the person in lye (invok- 
ing another theme favored by Morrison and Greek mythology: Medea). 
Song of Solomon presents us with Pilate, Reba*, and Hagar Dead*, who 
live apart from society in a house with no electricity or other comforts, and 
support themselves by selling bathtub liquor. Pilate even has an element 
of the divine about her, having been born with no navel. In Beloved' 1 ', Sethe 
Suggs*, Denver Suggs*, and Beloved* form a trinity that drives Paul D 
Garner* and everyone else away. The Medea theme is strongly invoked in 
Beloved, too, with Sethe killing her daughter in order to keep her from 
slavery*. (Medea kills her children out of revenge, to save them from be- 
coming outcasts, or to make them immortal; interpretations of her act vary 
widely.) In Paradise we have the three squared — nine chapters, named after 
nine women, who are set apart, living in an abandoned convent*. They in- 
spire enough suspicion and fear in the nearby town that they are eventu- 
ally hunted down by the men of that town. 

What develops through the progression of Morrison's novels from 
earliest to latest is the level of destruction visited upon the trinities. They 
are women set apart, seemingly without need of, and sometimes with 
active hatred of, men. They are perhaps best compared to the Gorgons, 
who turned men to stone. Perseus destroys one (Medusa), thus neu- 
tralizing the power of the trinity and the accompanying fear of it. Paul 
D "exorcises" Beloved from Sethe's house and returns it (and Sethe and 
Denver) to the realm of society. Milkman (although indirectly) is the 
cause of Hagar's death and the source of Pilate's newfound joy in know- 
ing she has her father's bones, rather than some white man's. He re- 
stores her connection to family (meaning him and their shared pater- 
nal ancestors; Reba and Hagar, her daughter and granddaughter, 
disappear from the novel at this point). Paradise multiplies the number 
of women and the hatred and violence* visited upon them, in order to 
return things to "normal." 

In general, Morrison's use of Greek mythology is subtle and suggestive 
rather than direct. Her allusions, even the fairly obvious comparisons 
such as Milkman and Odysseus, invite the reader to tease out implica- 
tions, rather than figure out one-to-one symbolic correspondences. 

Catherine S. Quick 


Greene, Jude (Sula) 

Nel Wright's* husband, his name suggests the New Testament figure of 
Judas. Jude marries Nel out of rage at his inability to secure a job build- 
ing the New River Road. He is determined to take on what he perceives 
to be the role of a man in society at all costs. He also wants somebody to 
care about his hurt. Jude leaves the Bottom* for Detroit after Nel catches 
him and Sula Peace* having sex*. Nel has no further contact with him, 
and he does nothing to help raise his children*. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 


Harlem, New York (Jazz) 

Destination of thousands of Black migrants from countless rural towns 
and villages throughout the Southern United States; also a destination 
for scores of Caribbean immigrants. Harlem, fueled by massive Black mi- 
gration* and a strong postwar economy, clubs that served bootleg alco- 
hol, and white patronage of the arts, symbolized African American 
political and cultural confidence, and fed the movement that became the 
Harlem Renaissance. Harlem is where Joe* and Violet Trace* settle, and 
becomes the focal point of the rising action in Jazz*. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

Haven, Oklahoma (Paradise) 

Precursor of Ruby, Oklahoma*, and original site of the Oven*, Haven 
is the all-Black town founded in 1890 by nine families who had trekked 
from Louisiana and Mississippi after Reconstruction ended and after 
being rejected by the all-Black town of Fairly, Oklahoma*, for being too 
poor and too Black. Zechariah "Big Papa" Morgan chose the site of the 
town based on his divine visions of a traveling man who guided them to 
the spot. After sixteen months of negotiating with and working for a 
family of "state Indians" who owned the land, the group finally pur- 
chased the land. Haven's imminent failure after World War II inspired 


the "fifteen families" to move farther west and establish Ruby. See 
also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 


Toni Morrison's works are replete with history, with a purpose. Each 
novel invokes specific historical details that remind — or teach — readers 
about slavery's* legacy, the removal from Africa, particular locations and 
kinds of Black community* North and South*, labor conditions, music*, 
foods, religious beliefs, stories, and the rich texture of rural and urban 
African American culture. Morrison's novels also make clear that African 
American and minority history defines American history, providing its 
shape and feel. With novels that remember and recover specifically Black 
history, Morrison gives depth and complexity, as well as subjective own- 
ership, to historical periods ranging from the Middle Passage, slavery, 
and the founding of all-Black communities to the Great Migration* of 
the 1920s, 1940s Ohio (her home state), the 1960s and Black Power, and 
the formation of the 1980s Black middle class. Details of clothing and 
context, rather than appearance, create her often specifically historical 
characters. Personages like Booker T. Washington and Hitler are often 
subjects of conversation, and Morrison frequently uses the technique of 
dating sections by year: 1919, 1937, 1963, and so on. 

But Morrison narrates historical context and the years that particular 
community events happened in order to explain the present's need for 
and relation to the past. Morrison focuses on a kind of history that is oral 
and aural, known in African American lives and communities, and on a 
reality in which years do not signal merely a time line of external events. 
She does not let readers forget the pain of what happened historically, 
the consequences of specific events, or the white culture's obsession with 
Blackness, because these form the contexts of the lives Morrison explores. 
Historical facts, contextual specifics like Afros, bone buttons, milk cans, 
and a big Packard; deeply evocative renditions of individual experience; 
and sometimes painstakingly researched details convince readers of the 
truth of the history Morrison portrays. 

Each of Morrison's novels and other works, such as Dreaming Em- 
mett* and Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagi- 
nation*, presents a different aspect of African American history, although 
certain both general and specific events reappear throughout, like the 
massive Black migration from South to North, the Depression, and the 
murder of Emmett Till. Morrison acknowledges the importance of his- 
tory and its rereading in her scholarly work and discussions of writing. 
But she makes it clear that much of the history she uses is oral, frag- 


merited, contained in music, tales, folk culture, art — from memory*, 
song, or silent places. Morrison's historical details signal a Black narra- 
tive, the storytelling that is part of her African American experience, and 
the novel's potential to express the living relation of past and present for 
Black people, whether they recognize specific historically imagined char- 
acters and a historic structure in the fiction or not. 

Morrison grounds each retelling of historical impact within a Black 
community. For example, The Bluest Eye* takes place in Lorain, Ohio*, 
and opens with a reference to personal history as the narrator Claudia 
MacTeer* reflects on her childhood in the 1940s. Claudia recalls the 
movies of Jean Harlow, the vulnerability of Black people in the South, 
the candy Mary Janes, and the unique names of the community's pros- 
titutes*: Poland, China, Miss Marie. Other historical elements include 
the specificity of clothing, the ways Black people take care of each other, 
and the novel's sense that there is more knowledge to be gained than 
Claudia had access to at the time. The Bluest Eye invites the reader to re- 
search, to ask questions and discover more. The Maginot Line, the fights 
between the Breedloves, Claudia's mother wrapping her in Vicks-coated 
flannel, and a father who keeps the fire burning like a Vulcan graphically 
convey what must be learned about the texture of one community's his- 
tory and values. Similarly, the Dick and Jane framing story, along with 
the idealization of Shirley Temple and dolls with blue eyes, dramatize 
the overpowering presence of the standards of white culture, white 
beauty, and white success in the 1940s — their power, literally, to kill mind 
and memory, to destroy Pecola Breedlove*, Soaphead Church*, and 
the story. 

With Sula* , Morrison invokes the World War I of Shadrack's* past, 
the Depression, and what follows by inventing the town of Medallion, 
Ohio*, where the hill land was not considered valuable and so became 
the Black community called the Bottom*. Although Sula is primarily 
about the place and community that make Sula Peace's* and Nel 
Wright's* friendship possible, Shadrack's experience of World War I 
structures the novel. The plot begins with Shadrack's confrontation with 
it, the unbearability of what he saw and participated in on the fields of 
France in December 1917. Shadrack's experience of war acts as the text's 
specific reminder of racism and the historical treatment of returning 
Black veterans, but also and more generally what it means to be a throw- 
away person. As the novel moves through the lives of Nel and Sula, from 
the background of Medallion in the early twentieth century through the 
1930s to the 1960s, products like Nu Nile and Strawberry Crush and Lib- 
erty magazine, and Nel's encounter with signs saying COLORED ONLY 
on the train to New Orleans, operate side by side with frequent refer- 
ences to years. The 1911 after which Eva Peace* does not set foot on the 
stairs, the 1917 when Plum* went to war, and the 1922 when Sula and 


Nel are twelve keep historical events in mind while positioning the reader 
to understand them from Medallion's perspective. Shadrack's National 
Suicide Day* operates as a kind of Greek chorus claiming there is always 
this one form of response to history's madness. However, Shadrack, like 
Pecola, signals the effects of racist culture but also the reasons to return, 
as Sula does in 1937, to the Bottom. And as the Bottom moves through 
its own history, the narration laments what is past. There has always been 
the promise, the hope, of a brighter day, but it has never truly come, and 
much has been lost: the sense of place, the value of work, and the mean- 
ing of shared survival. Thus Sula not only rewrites history but also starts 
to value it in new ways, by recognizing the sustaining qualities of Black 
communities as the past's treasure. 

Song of Solomon* reaches farther back into African American history 
with its legend of the Black man who flies back to Africa. Milkman Dead* 
must recover a family history that moves from slavery to freedom, 
through the Depression and Herbert Hoover's presidency, from Virginia 
to Pennsylvania to Michigan. Song of Solomon's sense of its characters' 
histories gets built through constant references to the year this or that 
happened, as well as to phenomena like racial-uplift groups, the shoot- 
ing of Irish in the streets, the railroads, wars men lived through, the first 
Black doctor in town, and the TB sanatorium. Particularities of African 
American history are specificially invoked as well, through stories, music, 
and naming. Macon Dead* got his name from the ignorance and/or mal- 
ice of a drunk white man at the Freedman's Bureau who asked him who 
his father was — "dead" — and where he was born, then wrote everything 
down in the wrong places. Quaker schools, the soldiers in 1918, Winnie 
Ruth Judd, Hitler, Sam Shepard axing his wife, Emmett Till, and the mur- 
der of four girls in a Birmingham church all appear as memory, parts of 
someone's life, subject of conversation, or lived event. Not only does the 
novel in this way re-create the history of a Black family; it rewrites the 
experience of World Wars I and II, the Depression, and lynch mobs from 
the perspective of Black people who live, see, and analyze their power dy- 
namics. The attentive reader cannot help but reconstruct and experience 
the presence of African American and Indian blood everywhere on the 
land Milkman travels in searching for his own history. 

Tar Baby* moves to a different historical setting, with a location that 
emphasizes the economic structure of American race* relations. The 
novel tells the Caribbean story of slave history as the rape of the natu- 
ral world conducted by forced labor in the cocoa, rum, and sugar trades. 
Within the first few pages readers must experience the connections be- 
tween the Caribbean and Philadelphia, between cane fields and candy fac- 
tories. References to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, The Search for Tomorrow, 
and industrious Philadelphia Negroes emphasize that the popular cul- 
ture of the past is its economic culture, dependent on a specific class 


system and racial hierarchy. References to Caribbean exoticism, the 
humiliations of immigrant life, and what the dream of U.S. citizenship 
represents — leisure suits — form the background texture of the drama 
between a wealthy white couple, their Black servants, and the next 
generation. While Son* has come from Eloe*, an all-Black town in 
Florida, has memories of Baltimore, and sees Isle des Chevaliers* haunted 
by Black, naked, hard-laboring men, Valerian Street* sees the same is- 
land as founded by Napoleonic chevaliers. There are at least two histo- 
ries for every past, every place, as with the story of the tar baby and briar 
patch, depending on whether one is Black or white. Frequent references 
to years, locations, and past events weave these histories together and 
shape them as the forces that create the conflict between Jadine Childs* 
and Son. As the characters try to make each other see history differently, 
the reader must also engage with multiple dimensions of historical 
narrative, and questions about how the twentieth century can bring 
them together. 

Morrison becomes more explicitly historical with Beloved"', investi- 
gating not just the general qualities of African American memory but 
also how people experience specific events. A neo-slave narrative*, 
Beloved opens a historical trilogy of novels that extends the investiga- 
tion of Black consciousness back to the Middle Passage, documenting not 
only Morrison's careful reading of slave texts but also how slavery nec- 
essarily lives in the present. Morrison's retelling invokes unbearable 
trauma*, in which it is not clear whether death* or life is preferable, and 
either could be imposed at any moment. With /azz* and Paradise*, 
Beloved spans the African American experience, defining the shape and 
rhythms of culture and exploring the nature of life, death, suffering, sur- 
vival, community, and love when the past is trauma. Making use of its 
setting (Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1873), Beloved highlights the diversity of 
experiences and responses to the slavery its characters encountered eigh- 
teen years before. Ohio was a free state; the Ohio River, from Kentucky 
the path to freedom. There were abolitionists in Ohio, as well as the Un- 
derground Railroad, newly formed communities of free Blacks, and jobs 
in meatpacking factories. But there were also the Klan and the Fugitive 
Slave Law, living memories of slavery past and present for Sethe Suggs*, 
Paul D Garner*, Baby Suggs*, and Stamp Paid, as well as the lost Halle 
Suggs*, Sixo*, and Howard and Buglar Suggs*. Denver Suggs*, born 
during her mother's escape, and Beloved*, killed by her mother to pro- 
tect her from slavery, are as important as Sethe and Paul D; each carries 
a vital aspect of the experience that must be remembered. Paul D, speak- 
ing of the coffle and the bit, of working on the chain gang; Denver of pay- 
ing a nickel a month to learn to read with slates; Beloved on what it was 
like in that dark place; and frequent movement from Kentucky to Ohio, 
south to Georgia and Alabama, north to Delaware — all tell a piece of the 


story of the Middle Passage and beyond, requiring the reader to feel, from 
the inside, the consequences of the way the United States was built — on 
the backs of Blacks, the poor, and Redmen. 

jazz continues the African American saga, narrating the Great Migra- 
tion of the 1920s, the Black nationalist movement, the return of African 
American soldiers from World War I to economic racism, and the 
Harlem* that included both Marcus Garvey and hooch joints. Morrison 
challenges readings of the Harlem Renaissance as the celebratory rebirth 
of Black culture by highlighting the struggles associated with the music, 
the city, the constant reinventing of oneself, and the profound class shifts 
as a generation moved from hard, outdoor physical labor to waiting ta- 
bles, hairdressing, and selling cosmetics. Again, Morrison gets inside the 
history: the reader feels the drums on Fifth Avenue, hears the cold si- 
lence, understands Alice Manfred's* sense of the threat of lowdown, 
below-the-belt music, as well as the music's appeal, its promise of the 
only possible future for a girl like Dorcas Manfred*, whose only past is 
her parents' violent deaths in East St. Louis. Historical details manifest 
in clothing, food, specific records: the marcelling iron and Victrola; 
Cleopatra products; the Age, the News, and The Messenger. The novel 
takes specific events — the 1919 procession of veterans of the 369 Regi- 
ment on Fifth Avenue, the East St. Louis riots, the development of 
Harlem's jazz clubs — and takes readers inside them with characters who 
watched, who felt the music or the fire, who experienced these events as 
the defining present. 

With its musical metaphor, jazz shows movement generating infinite 
possibilities. Joe* and Violet Trace* move from Vesper County, Virginia, 
where both have been physical laborers, to New York City. There is no 
why, no specific dream or hope; the focus is on how their lives change 
and what is left behind. Joe's history becomes his means of explaining 
how he shot Dorcas, trailing without intending to kill, yet responding 
instinctually to a series of losses: of his mother, hunting, a father, phys- 
ical labor, his wife (when she starts sleeping with a doll). "What does 
the reinvented life cost?" is the question of the novel for all characters: 
not only Joe but also Violet, who thought she did not want children* 
because her mother eventually just gave up; Alice, who remembers only 
her husband's teeth are left; even Felice* and Dorcas. Dorcas cannot rein- 
vent herself; she's the Beloved who signals that it's not all triumph or 
even survival. The most important work of reinvention is the reader's, 
who must revisit the history of Harlem and face the real losses now that 
these characters' stories have been told. 

Paradise, like The Bluest Eye and Sula, is a novel of profoundly Black 
community. But it also, with Beloved and jazz, forms the third part of 
Morrison's historical trilogy by representing the kind of all-Black town 
that got created by determined free Blacks in the South, in the Midwest, 

HOME 159 

even in Oklahoma. There's a dead young woman in this text as well, and 
her name becomes the town's when returning veterans move the town 
after World War II. As with Beloved and jazz, the history in Paradise 
consists of more than just the rich, evocative texture of period details and 
cultural memory, though the novel effortlessly weaves in such signals of 
historical time. Years, when invoked, have a specific political as well as 
personal context; 1963 marks John F. Kennedy's assassination; 1968, the 
summer of riots and the deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby 
Kennedy. Readers must not only get inside these events but also must 
feel them as if they were being lived by runaway Black women, a town 
trying to keep out not only white racism but Black power, and a privi- 
leged white girl whose world makes no sense at all. 

Paradise contains a history written and destroyed, a history that 
needs to be rewritten, the history of town and world seen through com- 
peting African American spiritualities. The primary questions of the 
novel are about immanence and history: whether paradise is now or to 
come; how the spine of the Civil Rights movement was made up of or- 
dinary people; the sacrificing of fathers and mothers, past and present. 
With Richard Misner's* decision to stay in Ruby, the novel reclaims 
even the behavior of a town acting like white people as worthy of 
redemption. See also Approaches to Morrison's Work: Historical; Com- 
munity; Flying Africans, Myth of; Identity; South, Influence of; Vio- 
lence; Whiteness. 

Karen E. Waldron 


Home occupies both a literal and a conceptual space in Toni Morrison's 
fiction. Morrison's interest in home can be understood through the prism 
of American history*. As a result, home is rarely an uncomplicated space 
of sanctuary. Rather, Morrison probes in her literary imagination the idea 
of America (and often the American South*) as a dislocated home place 
for African Americans. The South is critical in her work because for many 
African Americans, the South represents a place of beginning. Although 
most of her novels are not set entirely in the South, its landscape fre- 
quently recurs as a familial or ancestral location, or is embedded as a mem- 
ory* of home. As a result, Morrison's characterization of home does not 
always offer peace and serenity. Indeed, the domestic is not impervious to 
societal ills, such as racism and sexism. In fact, these forms of violence* 
are frequently replayed in this domestic arena with disastrous conse- 
quences. Often, though, it is not geography* that signals home, but iden- 
tity*. There are characters in many of Morrison's novels who foster the 
best elements of home, regardless of the conditions of their households. 

160 HOME 

Thus, it is not always North or South that defines home; instead, certain 
characters transcend temporal and social divisions in order to become 
spaces of home for themselves and others. 

In Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye*, the larger setting of home 
is Lorain, Ohio*. This is an important beginning of literary homes in 
Morrison's canon because she was born and raised in Lorain. Thus Ohio 
not only represents a personal connection to Morrison's own life but also, 
as she has remarked on many occasions, it is an important state in our 
national past. Juxtaposed to the South (as a border to Kentucky) and the 
North (as a border to Canada via Lake Erie), Ohio is a complex geographic 
site. During the antebellum period, the Ohio River was a demarcation 
line between freedom and enslavement, and thus became a symbol of 
freedom for escaping enslaved peoples. 

The Bluest Eye, perhaps more than any of Morrison's subsequent 
novels, can be understood by tracing the various arenas of home. The 
novel begins with descriptions of two homes: the MacTeers' and the 
Breedloves'. Although both families are poor and reside in modest 
dwellings, it is clear that the MacTeers' house is a place of warmth, love, 
and community*. By contrast, the Breedloves are dispossessed. The fam- 
ily* enjoys little if any sense of camaraderie, and the shabbiness of the 
storefront house and dilapidated furnishings symbolize their own feel- 
ings of unworthiness and despair. As a result, the youngest member of 
the household, Pecola Breedlove*, lives a desperate life in which she for- 
ever yearns for safe harbors. Although she receives temporary shelter in 
the home of the MacTeers, she is not of that environment and is perpet- 
ually exiled in her search for family and love. 

Pecola also receives some kind of emotional safety in the home of the 
three prostitutes*: China, Poland, and Miss Marie. The configuration of 
their lives provides a counternarrative to socially assembled constructs 
of home. First, these are unmarried women who are not bound to the do- 
mestic in the roles of mother/ wife/caretaker. Choosing how to earn their 
money and live their lives, the women are not susceptible to social mores 
and are thus able to offer love and support to this young, lost girl. How- 
ever, Pecola does not join this triad, and instead continues her emotional 
journey to selfhood and belonging. Circumscribing her journey even fur- 
ther is the Dick and Jane myth*. This children's* primer story is the over- 
arching symbol in the novel and represents the seemingly perfect image 
of home and happiness that Pecola must confront each day. This story 
does more than negate Pecola's home life; it negates her very existence. 
Her race* and class distance her from the fairy-tale world of Dick and 
Jane and their domestic bliss to such an extent that she desires blue eyes 
so that she may finally find a home, not merely with Dick and Jane but 
with herself. Despite the fact that in her madness she convinces herself 
that she has attained blue eyes, and thus a sense of home, her tragic life 

HOME 161 

reminds the reader of the destructive consequences of perpetual dis- 

Like The Bluest Eye, Sula* is set in Ohio, in the fictional town of 
Medallion*. The first few pages of the novel identify the import of home 
in terms of community and neighborhood. In Sula, the African Ameri- 
can population resides in the Bottom*, an ironically named hillside com- 
munity that has its beginnings in exploitation. An enslaved man was 
tricked by his master into acquiring this unfarmable terrain, believing 
that it was fertile valley land. Thus, historical forms of exploitation un- 
derlie the characters' displacement. Moreover, binary divisions, such as 
this spatial geography epitomizes, occur throughout the novel. Most ob- 
viously, Nel Wright* and Sula Peace*, the two female protagonists, be- 
speak this kind of separation and complementation. 

Nel's and Sula's childhood homes mark the division: Nel inhabited a 
home that was predicated on cleanliness, whereas Sula lived in a house 
imbued with disorder. However, neither home provided sanctuary for the 
young girls. As an adult, Sula audaciously bucks traditional female rules 
of behavior, and leaves town after Nel's wedding. Notably, it is Nel's as- 
sumption of the mantle of housewife that provides the catalyst for Sula's 
years of wandering. Here, Morrison indicates that the options for the cre- 
ation of home can be limiting and stifling for women. When Sula returns 
and literally displaces her grandmother — forcibly placing her in a nurs- 
ing home — the community casts her as a pariah and she is without a 
sense of harborage or fellowship. By contrast, Nel, an upstanding mem- 
ber of the community, has worked hard to create a conventional home 
life for her husband and children. However, Sula engages in a brief af- 
fair with Nel's husband, Jude Greene*, and punctures this facade of do- 
mesticity*. Rejecting any sense of home life, Sula does not conceive of 
her behavior as a betrayal. 

As expected, the women are estranged for many years. However, by 
the end of the novel, after Sula's death, Nel recognizes that although she 
is of the community, her true home — her place of sanctuary, belonging, 
and identity — is found within her friendship with Sula. Ending the novel 
thus, Morrison questions the sanctions surrounding homemaking and 
its prosaic rules regarding matrimony and family structure. Morrison 
posits that such constructs have the potential to damage genuine spaces 
of sanctuary. 

Morrison continues her critique of middle-class affectedness in her 
third novel, Song of Solomon*. The protagonist, Milkman Dead* (Macon 
Dead III), lives an emotionally void life with his two sisters; his father, 
Macon Dead II* (the richest businessman in town), and his mother, Ruth 
Foster Dead* (the daughter of the town's only African American doctor). 
Despite the material advantages that this family enjoys, the Dead house 
is just that — an empty edifice that is bereft of nurturing and fellowship. 

162 HOME 

Milkman's father, so concerned with appearances of wealth and pom- 
posity, forbids his family to visit or even acknowledge his sister, Pilate 
Dead*. Juxtaposed to Macon's home is Pilate's; she is a bootlegger who 
lives on the outskirts of town. Her home is antithetical to her brother's, 
absent as it is of indoor plumbing and any kind of modern amenity. Fur- 
ther, the facade of middle-class respectability, on which Pilate's brother 
relies, is fully absent in this dwelling. Pilate's home life resembles the 
triad of independent women in The Bluest Eye, for Pilate lives with her 
adult daughter Reba* and her granddaughter Hagar*. Despite the paucity 
of material goods, Pilate's home, a decidedly female space, becomes a site 
of safety, love, and protection for all who enter, including, at different 
times, Ruth and Milkman. 

Indeed, Milkman's living in Pilate's dwelling place marks his first move 
into a space of community and healing. For Milkman to fully embark on 
this journey to home, he must leave his lakeside Michigan community 
and travel to the ancestral homeland of the American South. Although 
his flight is initiated by the hope of materialistic gain, as Milkman trav- 
els to sites of family and culture, he begins to realize that his alienation 
is not solely a result of his family's dissonance, but is part of a discon- 
nection from heritage and ancestry; in short, a forgetting of home. As a 
result, it is only when he is on ancestral ground that he begins to reclaim 
his cultural identity, which includes an understanding of slavery* and 
the intergenerational effects of this trauma*. Thus, by the end of the 
novel, Milkman becomes Pilate's heir; he surrenders himself to the com- 
plications of home, recognizing that love and violence do coexist in this 
landscape of heritage, yet he emerges fortified by an awareness that the 
creation of a liberating space of home is predicated on the knowledge of 
family, history, and community. 

Unlike the promise of home in Song of Solomon, in Tar Baby* home 
is a less stable affair where domestic hierarchies are erected only to be 
unmasked and dismantled. Moving the location of her fourth novel to a 
fictional Caribbean island, Isle des Chevaliers*, Morrison considers the 
politics of homemaking as a wealthy white candy manufacturer and his 
wife resituate a plantation economy, complete with domestic servants 
and field hands. Setting the novel in a secluded island community, where 
the big house and servants' quarters are neatly intact, recalls not only 
the spatial geography of antebellum plantations but also reflects Carib- 
bean colonial history. Despite the seemingly rigid polarization of home, 
Morrison confounds this construction, for it is in this domestic arena 
where family secrets unfold and identities converge, resulting in a de- 
struction of racial stratification and a restructuring of home. 

In Beloved"', Morrison returns to American soil to probe the meaning 
and creation of home in the face of slavery. The cataclysmic event in 
Beloved is an escaped enslaved woman's mercy killing of her daughter 

HOME 163 

to prevent her from becoming re-enslaved. Although Sethe Suggs* is 
shunned as a pariah for committing this horrifying act, it is not until 
Sethe and the community recognize the pain and devastation of their 
lives under slavery — which this murder epitomizes — that the creation 
of home ever can be realized. As a result, memory becomes the ultimate 
site of home. 

Through flashbacks and recollections, the novel chronicles the different 
settings of home for Sethe. She was enslaved on a Kentucky plantation, 
known as Sweet Home*. This ironically named plantation underscores 
Sethe's dissociation from home. In fact, it was at Sweet Home that a preg- 
nant Sethe was physically and sexually abused. Traumatized by this un- 
speakable act of violence*, Sethe fled, and after a harrowing journey, she 
arrives at 124 Bluestone Road*, her mother-in-law's home in Cincinnati, 
Ohio. Not only is Baby Suggs's* home a restorative location for Sethe, but 
like Pilate in Song of Solomon, Baby Suggs is herself a site of home for the 
larger African American community. Baby Suggs's largesse is most evi- 
dent in the Clearing*, a wooded area in which she preaches love and dig- 
nity to a newly freed population. Retreating to this uncharted territory, 
Baby Suggs enables the community to feel at home in their skin and in 
their souls. Recognizing that slavery attempted to negate their humanity, 
she encourages the community to create what they have been systemati- 
cally denied: a shelter, a protected place, in which to grow, flourish, and sim- 
ply be. Notably, this arena of home is not confined to a domicile, but is an 
outside dwelling, which not only signifies the expanse of home but also 
problematizes the notion of home as that which merely can be purchased 
and owned. Instead, Beloved reveals the multiple ways in which home can 
be imagined and achieved. 

Despite Baby Suggs's inability to sustain her own vision of the do- 
mestic after Sethe's infanticide*, the novel begins and concludes with 
the conditions of 124 Bluestone Road. The import of home as a place re- 
flective of yearnings and memories is signaled by the narrative con- 
struction of the novel; the opening lines of the three sections of Beloved 
personify 124 as a station that chronicles Sethe's, and by extension the 
community's, suffering and recovery*. As a testament to this reclama- 
tion of self and history, home becomes a locus of memory and a place of 
belonging. Indeed, by the end of the novel, Morrison allows the reader 
to recognize what Baby Suggs could not: that home, although not re- 
sistant to cultural and social harms, is a locale capable of continual re- 
newal and re-creation. Indeed, by the end of the novel Sethe, with the 
help of her loved ones, is encouraged to envision the possibility of cre- 
ating a future. 

The desire to realize a better future is amplified in/azz*.The Great Mi- 
gration*, a mass exodus of nearly four million African Americans from 
the South to the North after the Reconstruction period, is the primary 

164 HOME 

thrust of Jazz and an implicit theme in most of Morrison's previous nov- 
els. Indeed, many of Morrison's characters are from the South and bring 
that ethos to their lives in the North. This is true of Jazz, the story of Joe* 
and Violet Trace*, who leave the South to move to the "City," which, while 
not named as such, suggests New York's Harlem*. Although Morrison's 
prose captures the excitement and vibrancy of Harlem, this novel does 
not merely pay tribute to the Harlem Renaissance. Instead, Morrison di- 
rectly engages with the climate of terror in the post-Reconstruction pe- 
riod. Drawing migrants away from a locus of family and cultural history, 
the City is not a Utopian space of home; rather, the migrants, desperately 
looking for a place of protection, are dislocated in this seeming landscape 
of freedom. Years later, Joe and Violet find themselves alienated in a 
strange land. Although neither makes a return trip home, as does Milk- 
man in Song of Solomon, Joe and Violet participate in ritual acts of re- 
membrance that allow them to mourn their disconnection from the home 
space of the American South. Joe and Violet's dissociation from a geo- 
graphic home is mediated by a metaphoric site of home, namely, jazz*. 
Jazz becomes an important setting of home for the new migrants because 
its enabling cadence offers meaning and gives expression to their lives. 
Moving through chords of pain, sorrow, and healing, jazz provides the ex- 
pressive language of home. 

Morrison's most recent novel, Paradise*, moves away from the 
South-North dyad, and relocates the reader to the West, in the all-Black 
fictional towns of Haven* and Ruby, Oklahoma*, the first of which was 
founded by nine families searching for a safe place to reside after the Civil 
War. This novel highlights the polarities of home through gender and 
space; Ruby is a town founded and governed by men, whereas the Con- 
vent* (located on the outskirts of town) is a home inhabited solely by 
women. The Convent is a haven for displaced women seeking refuge. Like 
so many female spaces in Morrison's oeuvre, the Convent is an uncon- 
ventional household that proves to be a threatening force to the patri- 
archs of Ruby. Under the guise of protecting their hometown, nine men 
of Ruby raid the Convent. This unprovoked attack does not result in the 
safeguarding of the town and its history, but unravels the hierarchy of 
the community's governance and undermines the community's status as 
a secure and protective home. 

While Morrison certainly critiques patriarchy as a form of domina- 
tion, this novel does not resituate a matriarchal home space. Rather, an 
unspecified paradise marks the final domain. In keeping with the com- 
plexion of home in Morrison's canon, even this paradise, this heavenly 
home, is not a Utopia, but is fraught with earthly concerns. As such, it is 
only through communal strivings that this paradise, though imperfect, 
promises to be a home accessible to all. See also Ancestor; Approaches to 
Morrison's Work: Postcolonial; Children; Magical Realism. 


References: Lori Askeland, "Remodeling the Model Home in Uncle Tom's 
Cabin and Beloved," American Literature 64: 4 (December, 1992); 
Catherine Carr Lee, "The South in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon: 
Initiation, Healing and Home," Studies in the Literary Imagination 31: 
2 (Fall 1998); Carol E. Schmudde, "Haunting of 124," African American 
Review 26: 3 (Autumn 1992). 

Anissa Wardi 


The novels of Toni Morrison are replete with references to hunger. Be- 
yond the literal, physical hunger that occupies an important position in 
many of her characters' life stories, there are other types of hunger, or 
appetites, to be accounted for: sexual appetites, for instance, and 
metaphorical hunger for things like memory*, history*, and voice. Also 
important to a discussion of hunger in Morrison's work are scenes of eat- 
ing and images of food that, when focused on critically, take on a greater 
significance, beginning to appear less like themes and more like func- 
tional parts in her narratives that help define her writing. 

Physical hunger is frequently presented not necessarily in terms of 
class but in terms of racial power struggle — whether it be through ques- 
tions of strength and voice (in Song of Solomon*, Milkman Dead* finds 
that hunger energizes him, while in Beloved*, Denver Suggs* finds that 
it silences her), the hunger of slaves on a homestead (in Beloved, for ex- 
ample, when schoolteacher* no longer allows the Sweet Home* men to 
have guns, they are no longer able to supplement their diet with game) 
or the hunger of slaves on the run. Hunger for food reveals much about 
familial ties as well, especially a woman's identity* as mother. In Beloved, 
we are told of the strength of Sethe Suggs*, a mother determined to reach 
her hungry children and nurse them; and in Song of Solomon, physical 
hunger offsets psychological hunger, we learn of a mother's own hunger 
to feed her child — Ruth Dead's* continued suckling of her son that earns 
him the nickname Milkman. 

Travelers and mourners are two of the hungriest character types in 
Morrison's novels. Many of the wayward women who end up at the Con- 
vent* in Paradise* are convinced to stay on because their travels have 
made them hungry and Consolata Sosa* offers them something to eat — 
but also because they are hungry for themselves, and the rituals that she 
leads them through reveal to them their hunger to know and accept 
themselves. In Morrison's work, there are many scenes of hungry trav- 
elers being offered the hospitality of strangers, and there are many scenes 
in which the proper hospitality of neighbors is shown: for example, 
Stamp Paid feels that, after he has words with Ella*, he has to eat a piece 


of something she has cooked in order to let her know that he holds no ill 
will toward her (Beloved); and Pilate Dead* makes sure that she always 
offers something to eat to anyone who enters her house before they begin 
talking (Song of Solomon). 

The portrayal of emotional or psychological hunger in Morrison's nov- 
els often works so that the relationship of a character with food takes on 
some of the hidden fears and anxieties of the character's being or history. 
These moments of desire, or psychological hunger, usually take prece- 
dence over the physical. In Song of Solomon, for instance, Milkman is un- 
able to eat the breakfast served to him in Shalimar because his real hunger 
originates from his desire to learn more about his family* history. 

Sexual appetite is also spoken of in terms of hunger. In Beloved, there is 
a scene in which white guards line up in front of kneeling Black prisoners 
and force them to perform oral sex* on them, referring to it as giving them 
their "breakfast." Jadine Childs*, in Tar Baby*, reflects on how she has had 
to reign in her "hunger" in order not to be dominated by any man. Also 
in Tar Baby, there is the interplay between sex and hunger when Margaret 
Street* finds Son in her closet and believes that he is there to rape her; 
however Son chides her about this assumption, telling her that it is hard 
for a person to think about sex when he is on the verge of starvation. 

Images of food and eating in the novels of Toni Morrison serve to qual- 
ify the private relationship between husband and wife, as well as to ex- 
press public ties to the community*. The importance of the space of food 
exchange between a wife and her husband can be found, for instance, in 
Sula* , when the narrator mentions, indicating the very hot weather, that 
it is the type of weather in which women might consider putting ground 
glass in their husbands' food to seek revenge for ill treatment, and that 
it was so hot and the husbands so hungry that they would wonder about 
it but eat it anyway. Beloved shows us how food mediates ties to the com- 
munity: The feast — started by a tub of blackberries picked by Stamp 
Paid — that angers the community against Baby Suggs and Sethe because 
it is considered too generous, and thus prideful, is countered by the ac- 
cumulated feast — the baskets left on their yard — provided by the com- 
munity when they learn from Denver that Sethe is in trouble and that 
the household has no more food. This charity from the community feeds 
the relationships in it: between the church members who conspire to help 
by cooking and leaving the food, but especially between Denver and the 
community she has been isolated from. 

The fact of being in a situation where you know little about other 
members of your family who have been separated from you, a situation 
in which many of Morrison's characters find themselves, heightens one's 
relationship to food memories and allows characteristics of a person, such 
as favorite foods, to begin to embody their memory. Denver, in Beloved, 
holds onto the detail that she is told regarding the father she has never 


seen: that he loved soft fried eggs. Milkman, in Song of Solomon, always 
thinks of Pilate as the woman who made him his first perfect soft-boiled 
egg. This phenomenon explains why Pauline Breedlove*, in The Bluest 
Eye, feels like she doesn't belong in her family: because, among a longer 
list of grievances, nobody cares about her food preferences. 

Many times descriptions of types of people are offered through de- 
scriptions of the foods they eat or of their relationship to food. Northern- 
ers are described by Guitar Baines* as interested in the fancy presentation 
of food instead of the food itself (Song of Solomon). The bland processed 
food eaten by the white people in whose house Macon Dead* and Pilate 
are hidden by Circe* causes them to revolt against it and informs their de- 
cision to leave; they depart after the morning when Pilate cries for fresh 
cherries, the kind she enjoyed on her father's farm, when given cherry jam 
from ajar (Song of Solomon). Associated with Pilate's wish for fresh cher- 
ries is the shooting of Macon's father, the account of which includes, along 
with the shooting, the fact that the white men who shot him ate the 
peaches from the trees in his orchard, the violation of eating the beautiful 
peaches embodying the killing, which was motivated by the desire for his 
land and the successful farm he had made of it (Song of Solomon). 

Food and hunger in Morrison's novels are used to mark and define re- 
lationships, and they often mediate or inform politics of race*. Consider 
the fiasco in Tar Baby when Margaret attempts to cook Christmas din- 
ner and have the help, Ondine and Sydney Childs*, join her and her hus- 
band at the dining room table — racial tension becomes unbearable and 
awful secrets, hidden in the family for years, surface. In these novels, 
characters reveal ways of thinking about their relationship to the world 
around them through food, through their reactions to hunger, and 
through the types of hunger they experience. 

Lynn Marie Houston 

Hunter's Hunter/Henry Lestory/Lestroy [Jazz) 

Golden Gray's* biological father, Hunter becomes Joe Trace's* father fig- 
ure and mentor, rescuing the infant when he is abandoned by Wild*, his 
unresponsive mother. Hunter delivers the tiny Joe, finds an adoptive home 
for him with the Williams family, then teaches him how to hunt and trap. 
When confronted by Golden Gray with the news of his paternity, Hunter 
tells him that he was never informed of Vera Louise Gray's* pregnancy 
and, as a Black man and a slave, had no power to assist her in any case. 
Furthermore, Golden must now choose his own identity* and claim adult 
status rather than waste time feeling sorry for himself. See also ]azz. 

Caroline Brown 


In 1865, slavery* was abolished in the United States. Yet, for the next 100 
years and more, African American men and women found themselves 
still struggling to secure freedom and to understand what such freedom 
means. Using various settings, Toni Morrison delves into the lives of 
African American women, examining how they cope with poverty, rape, 
incest, beliefs regarding beauty, and numerous forms of oppression. In 
exploring these survival techniques, Morrison questions how African 
Americans struggle to establish a self they can call their own and call free. 
In order to survive, Morrison's characters need to choose whether to exist 
in the shadows, submerging their identities, or to fight back, proving that 
they have a self worth respecting. Morrison says that one of her fore- 
most concerns is exploring how we learn to live our lives fully and well. 
In order to discover how to live wholly, Morrison's novels focus upon is- 
sues of self and cultural identity through the lives of African Americans. 
Morrison emerged on the American literary scene in 1973 with The 
Bluest Eye*. Early on, the narrator states that when it comes to Pecola 
Breedlove's* story, since it is so difficult to understand "why" such things 
happen, we must instead examine "how" they happened. Ultimately, in 
explaining Pecola's descent into insanity, the novel tells us why such 
tragedies occur. In her desire for blue eyes, which she associates with 
beauty and acceptance, Pecola sets herself up for disappointment. As she 
details this loss, Morrison exposes how the culture in which Pecola lives 
creates the false standards of beauty she strives for, and how these 


standards, based upon white norms, affect all the African American 
women and men in the novel. Claudia MacTeer* accurately pinpoints the 
time when the female self is threatened in childhood after Maureen Peal 
announces her cuteness to them. Claudia, her sister Frieda*, and her 
friend Pecola at a very young age encounter prejudice that molds their 
insecurities about their identities. Maureen, a mixed-blood child with 
yellow coloring, appeals to white sensibilities because she is cute and 
dressed to perfection. Her wealth enhances her outer image and inflates 
her inner image, causing her to put down the three young girls who, 
without money or looks, will never be seen as cute. 

This feeling of being lesser, coupled with a lack of understanding, leads 
Pecola to dream of having blue eyes because blue eyes are owned and val- 
ued by the white world. With these eyes, she believes that she will be 
beautiful and recognized by others. Claudia, on the other hand, responds 
to the feeling of being lesser by fighting back. Through observing Pecola 
and the African American culture's treatment of Pecola's family, Claudia 
recognizes the dangerous results of alcohol, poverty, child abuse, and in- 
traracism. She sees how such things drag a person down to a point of near 
selflessness. In essence, then, The Bluest Eye critiques the white beauty 
myth* while also critiquing the Black community's* intraracism as they 
internalize feelings of otherness, of degradation and loss of identity. Those 
internalized feelings create the story of what happens to Pecola and Clau- 
dia, and the contrast between Claudia's survival and Pecola's loss of self. 

Set in a Midwestern community called the Bottom*, Morrison's Sula* 
follows Nel Wright* and Sula Peace* from childhood to adulthood and 
illustrates Morrison's ideas regarding the formation of women's identi- 
ties. Morrison questions the ways in which the self has been used in nar- 
rative through her critique of "such concepts as 'protagonist,' 'hero,' and 
'major character' by emphatically decentering and deferring the pres- 
ence of Sula, the title character" (McDowell 80). While the title suggests 
Sula is the central protagonist, her presence is missing as we meet ev- 
eryone but Sula. Even more interesting is Morrison's blurring of self and 
other revealed through Sula and Nel's friendship. These two young girls 
come together out of emotional needs. For example, Nel grows up in a 
stifling household; under her mother's hand, she becomes obedient and 
nonimaginative. Sula, on the other hand, lives in a house where no rules 
or expectations exist. As a result, Nel finds imagination in Sula's chaotic 
household, while Sula finds peace in Nel's ordered household. 

Moreover, the two find themselves joined in their discovery that they 
need to create themselves, for they are neither male nor white. As the 
narrator indicates, the two use each other to grow; furthermore, the two 
young girls become women affected by their childhood experiences — 
Sula's overhearing of her mother's declaration that though she loves her 
daughter, she does not like her; Nel's realization that she is a "me" and 


separate from her mother's overbearing hand; and the two girls' com- 
plicity in the death* of young Chicken Little*. While this event causes 
Nel to become even more unimaginative and conservative — following 
the path given to her by her mother and the community as she marries 
and becomes a mother — Sula, by contrast, loses all sense of responsibil- 
ity to her self and to the community. She leaves Medallion, Ohio*, re- 
turning only to wreak havoc on Nel's life. The reader journeys with both 
women as Morrison asks her readers to decide for themselves which 
woman has successfully found her self. 

Sula suggests that she has been the more successful of the two, for she 
claims her self as she lies dying, telling Nel that she has lived fully. Nel 
angrily asks Sula what she has to show for her life, to which Sula replies 
that she has her self. However, Nel views Sula as lonely. Yet Sula asserts 
that her loneliness is a choice she made, while she suggests that Nel's 
aloneness comes from others. Here, Morrison comments on the need for 
agency in self-definition, suggesting that while Sula's choices may have 
negatively affected those around her and shortened her life, Sula has lived 
fully, claiming her self. Nel learns about agency as she gradually under- 
stands that her choices have been formed by those around her rather than 
by her actions. 

With Song of Solomon*, Morrison turns her focus to an African Amer- 
ican man, Milkman Dead*, as he explores his family* heritage and moves 
from innocence to self-awareness and communal knowledge. Such an ex- 
ploration succeeds when Milkman delves into traditional African Amer- 
ican history*, mythology, and culture, and "discovers, understands, and 
respects these traditions" so that he then "discovers the meaning of his 
name, his own life, and his familial past" (Mobley 95). As a result, we 
trace the story of Milkman Dead questing for his identity, and we dis- 
cover he can fulfill his quest only by coming to an understanding of not 
just his personal past but also his culture's past. 

Song of Solomon is also about the power of naming and identity. In 
"The Language Must Not Sweat," Morrison focuses upon how Africans 
lost their names through the institution of slavery, which in turn created 
a loss of connection with their ancestry. In order to secure an identity, 
Morrison believes African Americans need to acquire names of their own 
choosing. She explains that Milkman needs to learn his own name and 
the meaning of that name, for it will give him power. Early on, we dis- 
cover that the name "Dead" originated as a mistake written down by a 
drunk Yankee soldier. Immediately, Morrison points out that Milkman's 
family did not choose their name, a lack which immediately disconnects 
them from their past. In making this distinction, Morrison exposes the 
significant difference between being given and consciously choosing a 
name. This difference is most apparent through the actions of Pilate 
Dead*, Milkman's aunt. At the age of twelve, Pilate ripped her name out 


of the family Bible and placed it in a brass box she then hung from her 
left ear. With a conscious act, Pilate controls her name and carries it with 
her; on the other hand, Milkman was handed his names first by his par- 
ents, who named him Macon, Junior, and second by the community, who 
named him Milkman after discovering that his mother still nursed him 
at the age of four. 

In addition, Milkman acquires his identity from the forceful influence 
of his father, Macon Dead*, who teaches Milkman that the most impor- 
tant thing in life is earning money and owning things. Owning things, 
for Macon, means that you will own not only others but also yourself. 
Macon has bought into the white, capitalist culture where identity results 
from material possessions. Milkman believes his father, yet he eventually 
realizes that he needs more in his life, and he sets off on a journey to the 
South*, where he struggles to reconstruct his family's history and un- 
derstand his identity. Along the way, Milkman discovers the emptiness of 
his father's materialism and accepts Pilate's truth — the sense of self-iden- 
tity that Pilate carries hung from her ear. As he rides a bus south, Milk- 
man reflects upon the names that have been passed down in his family, 
along with the names of famous African Americans in history and music* 
until he ends with general names that cover a broad range of people. This 
action situates Milkman within a larger continuum of the African Amer- 
ican community (O'Shaughnessy). Milkman lives the communal truths 
he has learned with a woman named Sweet* as he enters into a relation- 
ship where he both gives and receives. A new man, Milkman freshly un- 
derstands that his identity does not derive from material acquisitions; 
instead, his sense of self originates from his relationships with others and 
his individual and communal history. 

Set in the Caribbean, Tar Baby* centers around Jadine Childs*, a young 
Black woman educated in France, and Son*, an uneducated Black refugee. 
Jade's light skin color alienates her from Black culture; however, her up- 
bringing plays a larger role in shutting her off from her cultural heritage. 
Sponsored by a white man, Valerian Street*, Jadine studied art history at 
the Sorbonne in Paris, modeled, and traveled the world. Yet these privi- 
leges prevent her from discovering her sense of self. Caught in limbo be- 
tween the Black and white worlds, Jadine longs for freedom, but she has 
no past to draw upon for direction that will allow her to integrate with 
Black culture or her self. Her lack of direction creates an overwhelming 
insecurity in her sense of self. This insecurity overtakes her contempla- 
tion of marriage when she wonders if she is Black enough for her new 
mate, especially when she wants to leave her skin color behind at times 
and just be known for her self. 

Jadine, however, does not know how to be "just me," questing for that 
"me" in her involvement with Son. While finding love in Son's embrace, 
she remains haunted by dreams of Black women condemning her white, 


imitative lifestyle. This condemnation fills Jadine with fear, serving to 
submerge any chance of her establishing an independent identity. Jadine 
realizes that her safety comes from the white world. This realization 
pushes her to turn her back on the women ghosts and, in doing so, reject 
the past — a rejection that forces her to give up Son and sacrifice her 
chances of becoming whole. Yet Jadine's final appearance in the novel 
suggests that she realizes the dangers of her choice, as she returns to Paris 
with the desire to start over and battle with her demons. Jadine under- 
stands she no longer needs to dream of safety, for her own identity pro- 
vides her the safety she seeks. As such, the novel's ending implies that 
Jadine will struggle to find her self within Black culture. Jadine appears 
to be learning to validate the beauty, strength, and history of Black 
women and culture; in doing so, she has found the key to establishing a 
solid identity. 

In her fifth novel, Beloved*, Morrison examines the effects of slavery 
upon an African American woman's identity. The telling of Beloved is 
dominated by Sethe Suggs's* act of infanticide* and Morrison's desire 
to know what causes a woman to give up her self. Throughout the novel, 
Sethe lacks a clearly defined self. For example, she continually refers to 
herself in the third person when retelling the story of Denver Suggs's* 
birth (Keizer). More important, she views her children* as her best thing, 
the one part of herself that slavery has not harmed. Yet, this identification 
becomes suffocating as Sethe allows Beloved* access to her self, to emo- 
tionally and physically drain Sethe of her individuality. It is up to Den- 
ver to rescue her mother from self-disintegration. Unless she leaves the 
house and gets a job, Denver knows her family will disintegrate and her 
mother will die. Her establishment in the community helps Denver ma- 
ture into an independent adult, and she "rediscovers what is perhaps the 
most successful strategy for adult development: she replaces the solitary 
maternal bond with a larger community of adults and opens herself to 
an empathetic network of fellows" (Mathieson 15-16). In doing so, Den- 
ver learns to differentiate her self from her mother and to counteract 
Sethe's disintegration. 

Denver's maturation illuminates the lack of differentiation between 
Sethe and Beloved. Beloved's immaturity and Sethe's failure to set 
boundaries result in Sethe's self-sabatoge. Beloved's childish demands, 
as well as Sethe's guilt, prevent either woman from distinguishing her- 
self as a separate being. The disastrous results of Sethe's efforts is her 
own loss of identity. Meanwhile, Denver's discovery of self-identity is 
the catalyst that creates the return of the community into Sethe's life. 
The women of the Black community expel Beloved through a symphony 
of voices. Reminiscent of Baby Suggs's* admonition for the members of 
the Black community to love themselves, the Black women's voices urge 
Sethe to return attention to her self. With the added strength of these 


women, as well as Denver's watchful eye, Beloved is expelled and Sethe 
returns to the living. Morrison concludes Beloved with the admonition 
that Sethe's story should not be passed on, for Sethe and Beloved's story 
is a dangerous one of self-sabotage. Sethe's thick love denies Beloved life, 
and her own life as well. Through Denver's emergence as an autonomous 
adult, the expulsion of Beloved, and the return of Paul D Garner* and 
the Black community, Sethe's chance for selfhood emerges. As Barbara 
Schapiro explains, "the free, autonomous self, Beloved teaches, is an in- 
herently social self, rooted in relationship and dependent at its core on 
the vital bond of mutual recognition" (209). Beloved illustrates the need 
of human beings to differentiate self from others and to claim that self; 
after all, as Denver learns, there is a self to protect if one is to survive in 
this world. 

Morrison's sixth novel, jazz* , covers familiar territory: love, what is it 
to be a man or a woman, the importance of relationships, the role of the 
community in the identity and survival of the individual, and women's 
friendships. What is most interesting about Jazz, however, is Morrison's 
ambiguous narrator. As readers, we never discover the narrator's name, 
gender, age, or race*, for Morrison wants readers to create their own in- 
terpretations of her works. Here, she does so by creating a narrative pres- 
ence who is the voice of African American history, the voice of the local 
neighborhood, and the voice of the African American community 
(Lesuinne). Readers must construct the narrator's identity and question 
the narrator's reliability in telling the stories of Joe Trace*, Violet Trace*, 
and Dorcas Manfred*. In involving readers in the process of telling and 
interpreting the stories, Morrison forces them to confront the ways in 
which we create and re-create our own identities and stories — how we 
know who is who, and how we define people's identities by having to de- 
fine our selves in the process. 

As the novel concludes, the narrator reflects upon the stories that have 
been told, most specifically the story of Joe and Violet's marriage. Joe's 
affair with Dorcas, whom he killed rather than lose, irrevocably altered 
all three people's lives. The novel details how the affair came about and, 
more important, how Joe and Violet picked up the pieces of their lives 
afterward. Violet searches endlessly for a way to release her pain, to un- 
derstand her place and her identity in the urban environment she in- 
habits. She longs for love, and late in the novel she learns that to come 
into her self, she must open herself up to the world and people around 
her. Furthermore, the narrator realizes that we are all searching for our 
selves, trying to understand our own stories that we create. The narra- 
tor understands that s/he needs to figure out what is missing in his/her 
life and then find a way to replace what is missing. This understanding 
is revealed even more clearly in the closing paragraph as the narrator 
points out that the remaking of self in the novel is done by both the nar- 


rator and readers alike. With Jazz, Morrison has created a novel in which 
the very process of creating and knowing self is enacted upon readers and 
by readers. 

Once again, with Paradise*, we encounter Morrison's primary con- 
cerns, among them women rebelling against the patriarchy, the dangers 
of intraracism, and people's desire to be free and safe. The novel creates 
two locales — Ruby, Oklahoma*, and the Convent*. In Ruby men lead 
the community, while in the Convent women reign. Paradise, ostensi- 
bly, sets out to explain how the men of Ruby came to attack the women 
of the Convent. At the same time, the novel critiques the false belief that 
a separatist Black community will be free of oppression. In Ruby, a small 
all-Black town in Oklahoma, people believe that they will be protected 
from white oppression. However, Paradise reveals that oppression does 
not always originate from the influences of white culture. The separatism 
enforced by the town creates an atmosphere of social exclusion; more- 
over, the atmosphere forces the excluded group, which finds itself in 
Ruby, to define "its own nature, goals, and values. But its processes of 
definition inevitably involve the creation of an 'other' — 'them' as op- 
posed to 'us.' Naturally, good qualities appear in us; evil qualities in them. 
The world is defined in absolute terms, with no middle ground, only bi- 
nary opposites" (Kubitschek 181). What results in Paradise is a com- 
mentary on how a place can be the cause of its own destruction, a 
destruction that stems from the community's founding members' efforts 
to impose their identities, values, and beliefs on the townspeople. 

While the novel does not delve directly into issues of self-identity as 
previous novels do, Paradise does indeed illustrate the dangers of people 
trying to control other people by creating an identity and way of believ- 
ing for the place in which they reside. As a result, Ruby becomes a place 
where the men in power decide who can live in the town and who can- 
not. Ultimately, in exploring how these men wreak havoc upon the 
women of the town and the Convent, Morrison's novel asserts that 
artificially imposed separations create as many troubles as culturally cre- 
ated separations. The people of Ruby learn that, like the town, they can- 
not live divided on the basis of polar oppositions and beliefs about 
good/evil, white/Black, love/hate, and more. The warning found in Par- 
adise is that people need to define the places they live in as a group, for 
if a few take control of a community's identity, disintegration of the place 
and the people in it is sure to follow. Moreover, who is excluded defines 
a place and a community as much as who is included. 

Toni Morrison's novels, in some shape or form, handle how identities, 
both individual and communal, form, sustain, and/or destroy themselves. 
From her critique of white cultural myths and intraracism in The Bluest 
Eye to the close examination of two women's lives in Sula to the larger 
discussions regarding the influences of African American history upon 


African American identities in the present found in her later novels, Mor- 
rison provides readers with a well-rounded evaluation of the challenges 
and successes to be found when the self is revealed and sustained by both 
an individual and the community in which the individual resides. In 
doing so, Morrison provides a blueprint for her readers to follow as they 
attempt to enact the creation of their own selves while investigating the 
influences of history, relationships, and place upon their understanding 
of those selves. See also Ancestor; Family. 

References: Carolyn Denard, "The Convergence of Feminism and Eth- 
nicity in the Fiction of Toni Morrison," in Critical Essays on Toni Morri- 
son, ed. Nellie Y. McKay (1988); Genevieve Fabre, "Genealogical 
Archaeology or the Quest for Legacy in Toni Morrison's Song of 
Solomon," in Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y. McKay 
(1998); Arlene R. Keizer, "Beloved: Ideologies in Conflict, Improvised Sub- 
jects," African American Review 33: 1 (1999); Missy Dehn Kubitschek, 
Toni Morrison: A Critical Companion (1998); Thomas LeClair, "'The Lan- 
guage Must Not Sweat': A Conversation with Toni Morrison," New Re- 
public (March 21, 1981); Vernique Lesoinne, "Answer Jazz's Call: Experi- 
encing Toni Morrison's Jazz," MELUS 22: 3 (1997); Barbara Offutt 
Mathieson, "Memory and Mother Love in Morrison's Beloved," Ameri- 
can Imago 47: 1 (Spring 1990); Deborah E. McDowell, "'The Self and the 
Other': Reading Toni Morrison's Sula and the Black Female Text," in Crit- 
ical Essays on Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y McKay (1988); Marilyn Sanders 
Mobley, Tolk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne fewett and Toni 
Morrison (1991); Gloria Naylor and Toni Morrison. "A Conversation," 
The Southern Review 21: 3 (1985); Kathleen O'Shaughnessy, '"Life life 
life life': The Community as Chorus in Song of Solomon," in Critical Es- 
says on Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y McKay (1988); Barbara Schapiro, "The 
Bonds of Love and the Boundaries of Self in Toni Morrison's Beloved," 
Contemporary Literatrue 32: 2 (1991); Valerie Smith, Self -Discovery and 
Authority in Afro-American Narratives (1987). 

Jeannette E. Riley 


The seminal event in Morrison's novel Beloved* is Sethe Suggs's* mur- 
der of her daughter to save her from a life of slavery * . This action, at once 
an indictment of slavery and an exploration of maternity, shapes the en- 
tire novel as the narrative spirals around the actual infanticide, seemingly 
unable to confront this unspeakable deed head-on. A startling disrup- 
tion of the normative maternal function, commingling the mother's 


nourishing milk with the child's blood, the murder of Beloved* places 
maternal power at the forefront of the novel and forces the reader to con- 
sider complex issues of identity*, responsibility, and morality. Loosely 
based on the story of Margaret Garner*, a fugitive slave who killed one 
child, wounded two others, and sought to murder a fourth to prevent 
them from being recaptured by the slave owner, Beloved forces a direct 
confrontation between Sethe's dual identities as slave and mother, two 
categories that blur the lines of selfhood. Historically, motherhood* has 
often been connected with violence*; the ultimate symbol of the "good 
mother" — the pelican who mutilates herself to feed her children* with 
her blood — suggests the ambiguity of the figure. Add to that Sethe's role 
as slave, and motherhood in the novel becomes doubly conflicted. 

Infanticide has existed at all times and in all societies. Although judged 
by Darwin as one of the most important checks on population growth, 
infanticide seems to occur most commonly in oppressive cultures where 
female agency is closely monitored and controlled. In early modern En- 
gland and America, infanticide came to be associated almost exclusively 
with unmarried, sexually active women — the "looser sort," women who 
killed their newborn babies to "avoid their shame*." Such shame cul- 
tures, while not openly encouraging murder, at least tacitly seemed to 
condone it, especially when the child was conceived out of wedlock. Doc- 
umented cases of infanticide within marriage are far more unusual and 
difficult to explain. Although sometimes linked with witchcraft and other 
forms of malevolent nurture, more frequently, married mothers who 
killed their children did so not in an attempt to avoid the shame of moth- 
erhood or out of spite, but rather out of their sense of duty as mothers. 
Because married women were generally not committing infanticide to 
maintain their reputations, their actions more clearly indicted patriar- 
chal definitions of domesticity* and motherhood, and necessitate a more 
thorough examination of the motivations behind their crimes. The very 
existence of infanticide, then, calls patriarchal systems into question, and 
represents a clash of maternal and paternal power. It is just this clash of 
ideologies that Morrison so effectively chronicles in her depiction of 
Sethe's murder of her daughter in Beloved. 

The infanticide in Beloved (technically a filicide, since the child is more 
than a year old) is all the more compelling because such occurrences ap- 
parently were rare in slave society. Despite the fact that mortality rates 
were higher for slave children than for whites, there is no real evidence 
to suggest that the practice of infanticide among slave mothers was wide- 
spread. Nonetheless, proponents of slavery often used infant mortality 
statistics to justify their treatment of slave mothers as little more than 
brood mares and stereotyped them as at worst murderous and unnatu- 
ral, as at best careless and unloving. Recent scholars dispute this idea, ar- 
guing instead that many infant deaths were likely the result of sudden 


infant death syndrome (SIDS). Although tales of heroic mothers who 
murder their children to save them from slavery occur occasionally in 
antislavery tracts from the period, it is hard to know the true incidence 
of these actions. There are few documented cases of infanticide among 
slave mothers, and their motives are even more difficult to ascertain. Evi- 
dence presented in several court hearings in Virginia in the 1850s, for in- 
stance, suggests that the motivation for killing newborns was similar to 
that in other Western cultures — to avoid the shame of illegitimacy. 
Nonetheless, court records do reveal at least a few instances of salvific 
infanticide: an Alabama slave killed her child because her mistress was 
abusing it, and another killed her child to prevent it from being sold. 

Abolitionist writings offer two explanations for the infanticidal slave 
mother. The first of these, depicted in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem 
"The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" (1848), presents the mother 
murdering her child because she identifies it with her oppressive master: 
"Why, in that single glance I had/Of my child's face, ... I tell you all,/I 
saw a look that made me mad/The master's look. ..." The mother's ac- 
tion here seems almost Medea-like in its revenge on the father, but the 
mother gains at least a measure of sympathy because her actions reveal 
the master's sexual exploitation of his slave. Morrison represents this 
type of infanticide with her portrayal of Sethe's mother, who rejects the 
children fathered by her white owners, and with Ella, who refuses to 
nurse her white baby and causes its death through neglect. 

The second explanation for infanticide is more sympathetic and is de- 
scribed in works such as Mary Livermore's "The Slave Tragedy at Cincin- 
nati," a poem published in The Liberator in 1856, and in Harriet Jacobs's 
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). In these works the slave 
mother contemplates killing her child to free it from the tyranny of slav- 
ery. The most famous actual instance of this kind of child murder is that 
perpetrated by Margaret Garner, whose story was memorialized in po- 
etry, plays, and novels in the nineteenth century, then disappeared into 
the pages of history until Morrison revived it with Beloved. Although 
romanticized by philosophers and writers as a heroic act (see, for instance, 
The History of Women, from the Earliest Antiquity to the Present Time 
[1779], where William Alexander portrays such killings as humanitar- 
ian acts of compassion), infanticide remains problematic in these texts 
and certainly in Morrison's novel. At once a form of resistance to slav- 
ery — a way for mothers to redefine their infants as their own rather than 
as commodities to be used by the slave owners — it is also a kind of ac- 
quiescence to the slave system that classifies human beings as property. 
Therein lies the true tragedy of Morrison's novel; no matter how hard 
Sethe tries to free herself from the horrors of slavery, she is thoroughly 
defined by its mindset and its violence*. See also Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 
Influence of. 


References: James Berger, "Ghosts of Liberalism: Morrison's Beloved and 
the Moynihan Report," PMLA 111: 3 (1996); Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, 
Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1976); Steven Weisenberger, 
Modern Medea: A Family Story of Slavery and Child- Murder from the 
Old South (1998); Deborah Gray White, Arn't I a Woman? Female Slaves 
in the Plantation South (1985). 

Susan C. Staub 

Isle des Chevaliers (Tar Baby) 

The island on which the main action of Tar Baby takes place. The English 
translation is "the island of the horsemen." According to Marie-Therese 
Foucault* and Son*, the horsemen are Black slaves who were struck blind 
at the sight of the island. See also Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Jake {Song of Solomon) 

Macon Dead, Sr., father of Macon Dead II*, and grandfather of Milkman 
Dead*. He was a slave who, upon emancipation, was mistakenly named 
Macon Dead by a drunken Yankee officer. He owned his own farm in Vir- 
ginia and was brutally murdered in front of his children after refusing to 
give up his land to whites. He was the youngest child of Ryna and 
Solomon*, and married Singing Bird*. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Jazz (1992) 

Jazz is the second novel of Toni Morrison's trilogy that began with 
Beloved* and ended with Paradise* . All three works, historical in scope, 
are centered around the unclaimed Beloveds, those bruised and battered 
Black girls and women simultaneously on the margins and at the core of 
American history* and culture. Jazz, like the other novels, functions as 
an ensemble piece, panoramic in scope and ambition. However, it both 
becomes the textual manifestation of the music* after which it is named 
and chronicles the era during which jazz* became the hallmark of African 
American achievement. What further distinguishes the novel is Morri- 
son's appropriation of another artistic commodity, lames Van Der Zee's 
photograph, published in The Harlem Book of the Dead, of an unidenti- 
fied dead woman who rests, silenced, in her coffin. Refusing to name her 

182 ]AZZ (1992) 

assailant, suspected of having been her lover, she slowly bled to death 
from a gunshot wound. Her image was captured for posterity by her 
grieving family*. Morrison's novel is a literary counterstatement to Van 
Der Zee's earlier visual statement, her interpretation of the mystery of 
the young woman's identity* and experiences. Rather than a lovely, 
opaque enigma, she becomes Dorcas Manfred* and speaks from the dead. 
Yet it is not Dorcas alone who speaks; it is a community* of people mar- 
ginalized by custom and lost to the passage of time. 

Although the Harlem* Renaissance, even at its most neglected, has 
provoked continuous interest and is, in fact, in the process of being 
recuperated as a focus of intense academic and artistic scrutiny, it has typ- 
ically been the social elite — prominent professionals, the political lead- 
ership, the intellectuals, artists, and entertainers — who have represented 
the larger era. The narratives of ordinary people, workers often migrat- 
ing to the metropolis from small towns and rural regions, are all too fre- 
quently eclipsed by the better-known and more exhilarating accounts of 
the luminaries. Still, in his photographs, Van Der Zee honors the lives of 
both the celebrated and the anonymous, portraying all with the dignity 
and artistry allowed by his vision. Though commonly posed in mannered 
positions, sporting borrowed finery and surrounded by props, the sub- 
stance of their lives — from their social and religious affiliations, to their 
family bonds, group aspirations, and individual dreams — is represented 
with obvious respect and affection. Morrison returns to examine these 
individual lives that are constantly sandwiched between the more os- 
tentatious Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age. Her vehicle for doing 
so is the music that has loaned the era its name, yet that at the time was 
surreptitiously enjoyed or barely tolerated, if not held in outright con- 
tempt, by the Black bourgeoisie, who scorned its vulgarity and licen- 
tiousness. However, jazz, with its passion, speed, and cultural vitality, did 
capture the pulse of the African American masses. And Morrison's novel 
reincorporates the music into Van Der Zee's visual testaments. Her text 
proceeds where the uplift of the Harlem Renaissance necessarily left off. 

While jazz, with its nonsequential cycles, functions as the novel's 
medium, its melody is the scandalous trio, composed of adulterous hus- 
band, aggrieved wife, and younger woman, at the heart of the novel. From 
this initial arrangement, the enigmatic narrator interjects variations, 
which erupt and seek resolution against the chaotic harmony of Harlem 
of the 1920s; the novel, the perpetual elaboration of this original melody, 
becomes, like jazz itself, a chronicle of rhythmic and emotional innova- 
tion and the manifestation of the African American movement into the 
modern moment. Though bound by the narrator's contrapuntal har- 
mony, which repeats and remixes its particular philosophical stance 
throughout, the text, like jazz, it is destabilized by the ruptures and dis- 
tinct rhythms of the various characters' unexpected solos. As such, the 

JAZZ (1992) 183 

narrative not only advances; it is in continuous regression. These shift- 
ing tempos and combinations allow the emergence of secrets, of the past, 
unshared and abandoned. Jazz becomes the process through which the 
past and present touch, that space in which order collapses and reinven- 
tion is possible. 

The core oijazz revolves around Joe* and Violet Trace*, for whom the 
reclamation permitted by jazz appears elusive. Caught within an unful- 
filling marriage and the melodrama of erotic compulsion and simmering 
resentments, both are lost to the siren call of Dorcas, Joe's dead mistress, 
whose face stares at them, frozen in a borrowed photo placed by Violet 
in the couple's parlor. Not only has each partner rejected the other in 
favor of Dorcas, they have both rejected themselves as individuals. Dor- 
cas, young, near-white, superficially attractive, cosmopolitan yet imma- 
ture, becomes the standard against which all else is judged — and found 
lacking. After his murder of her, Joe falls into a self-absorbed melancholy. 
Violet, increasingly manic, makes a brief attempt at adultery with a 
younger man, then abandons it for the dogged pursuit of the mystique 
that even in death surrounds her rival. In order to move beyond this 
space, each must exorcise those demons that have permitted them to in- 
ternalize Dorcas's image as their reality, to crave her body as their own. 

Within this process, the past becomes a metaphorical orphan, sup- 
pressed and abandoned. The novel's emotional entanglements and erotic 
obsessions, seemingly a by-product of the now, of the clash of need, im- 
pulse, and changing values, are even more profoundly the intrusion of 
the past into the present, which becomes a metaphor for the larger 
African American community. Jazz represents the movement through 
which Violet and Joe each reclaim this past, that which both have, in a 
sense, rejected for the glamour and security represented by the City. Frac- 
tured people, individuals whose behavior diverges from their conscious 
intentions, they must reconcile the dichotomy between their internal and 
external worlds and discover constructive ways to integrate the discor- 
dant elements of their fragmented beings into a whole. In doing so, they 
must first fall into those cracks, those psychic fissures, manifested as har- 
monic stops and severed melodies, that serve as the foundation of the 
music and, by extension, of the novel. 

For Violet and Joe this process takes very different forms, becoming a 
reflection of the multiplicity that is jazz. Yet for both spouses, new songs, 
based on the active reinterpretation of that which was passively received, 
can thus emerge. Although a destructive process, Violet's song contains, 
like jazz, the possibility for renewal within its structure. It begins with 
Violet's psychological alienation, expressed as a turbulent division be- 
tween the urban Violet and her rural, assertive, younger self. Noisy and 
frantic, this break is manifested in an antisocial hysteria, her descent into 
an unkempt and aggressive egotism. Violet disrupts Dorcas's funeral and 

184 ]AZZ (1992) 

is brutally ejected. In a rage following the humiliation of the funeral, she 
releases her birds, pampered domestic pets, in the middle of winter. Later, 
she attempts to possess Dorcas through an intrusive quest, which ulti- 
mately leads her to shamelessly invite herself into the life of the 
teenager's bereaved aunt. 

Before the commotion of her very public breakdown at Dorcas's fu- 
neral, Violet is trapped within a persona that is of decreasing personal 
significance. Her life is divided into work and marriage, both of which 
confer status and safety. Trapped within the rage and sorrow of a life 
that has passed her by, she anesthetizes herself to avoid feeling either. 
The result is a psychic split between her social self and private other, be- 
tween superego and id. Violet's "cracks," her minor transgressions be- 
fore the funeral, are the means by which her subconscious sabotages the 
facade that has replaced a substantive self. Interestingly, Joe's betrayal 
does not create this submerged self; it merely permits its escape. This 
self, who had earlier sat down in the street, disoriented and uncommu- 
nicative, is also the self who, driven by maternal longing, impetuously 
plotted to steal an infant left in its care. This renegade self is Violet, 
hexed by loneliness and the unresolved conflicts of the past. With Dor- 
cas's death, her recognition of the depth of the lie with which she was 
willingly complicitous causes an acrid revolt. For Violet to liberate her- 
self from this self-constructed prison, she must allow herself to be re- 
born through the disruption symbolized by the jazz process. The vio- 
lence of the funeral, the frenzy with which she drove away her 
domesticated pets, and the rebellious nonproductivity of mental disor- 
der produce a chaos, rich and discordant. Yet they also release Violet 
from her mechanical parroting of normalcy, her going through the mo- 
tions of respectability. 

After complaining of a headache and requesting a place to sit down, 
she finds her way to the door of Alice Manfred*, Dorcas's aunt. Staid, 
class-conscious, and wary of the shabbiness Violet represents, Alice had 
resisted Violet's written requests to meet. However, once Alice does let 
"Violent," Violet's appellation within the larger community, into her 
structured home and tidy life, both are permanently changed. Their in- 
teraction is the manifestation of the jazz structure. The two clash and 
challenge one another, each convinced of the correctness of her beliefs. 
Yet they bond through talk and simple acts of sharing in the form of di- 
rected activity. Each accepts the other's presence and is subtly altered in 
the process. Their friendship becomes a duet, odd and unsentimental. 
This is an especially important process for Violet, who has begun to live 
largely in her own mind, consumed by the aimless quest for vengeance 
and the neat explanation that will supposedly balm her wounded spirit. 
Alice allows Violet to redefine femininity through a model of platonic 
bonding. For Violet, orphaned by her mother's suicide and her father's 

JAZZ (1992) 185 

being chased from the South* due to his radical politics, Alice becomes 
a maternal presence, mending her clothing, giving her tea, providing her 
a space to sit and while away the time. But Alice is also her equal, a sis- 
ter and a friend. Though theirs is an unconventional friendship, non- 
committal and brusque, it also represents a safe space away from the 
sexist demands and racial violence of the larger society. In this space, Vi- 
olet finds someone who accepts her idiosyncrasies and is willing to in- 
teract with her on her often peculiar terms. 

And it is this past from which Violet cannot escape. Distanced memo- 
ries over which she has no control and which dominate her waking mo- 
ments, its variations, hard and incessant, or soft and quizzical, are played 
and replayed by her stunned consciousness. Central to them is Rose 
Dear*, her mother. As Rose Dear is lost to the sorrow and silence of de- 
pression and humiliation at the hands of white creditors, ending her life 
four years later at the bottom of a well, so Violet cannot lift herself from 
the anger and shock of Joe's deception. As she had done as a child, Vio- 
let once again watches passively as her life unravels. Although she at- 
tempts to lash out, her actions are unfocused. She rages at the symptoms 
and leaves untouched the underlying disorder, the love, capricious and 
irate, starved and hungry for more. She thus attempts to hurt the dead 
Dorcas but avoids Alice's gruff suggestion of questioning Joe about his 
motives for fear of what he might say. Feeling unfulfilled in her life and 
rejected within the marriage, she envisions happiness coming either from 
a baby or from a younger, lighter, more voluptuous Violet. Unable to find 
beauty or worth in herself, her attitude, whether dazed withdrawal or a 
silent but hostile recrimination, is merely a manifestation of this impo- 

Yet even as there is a movement to growth in the form of owning and 
admitting the depth of her rage, Violet is unable to shift the initial par- 
adigm. The narrative's tone is unchanged and its variations adhere to the 
same theme. Violet remains furious that someone took what she assumed 
was hers. Beneath this possessive wrath is an insecurity of her value apart 
from the value Joe bestows on her, both by his affection and by the sym- 
bolism of his presence as a spouse and a man. 

However, even as Violet fixates on her memories of her beloved grand- 
mother, True Belle*, and the racially ambiguous, economically privileged 
Golden Gray*, the mixed-race child who was True Belle's ward, her nar- 
rative twisting from third person to first and back again, she finds a way 
out of them. This takes the form of an abrupt, jazz-inspired shift allowed 
by her recollection of her experience with Alice earlier that day. Alice had 
curtly informed Violet that Joe could possibly cheat on her again. Violet 
perhaps cannot control the variables affecting her life, but she can find 
something within the marriage worth saving. Implicit in this is the fact 
that Violet must invest in herself, loving both herself and others freely, 

186 ]AZZ (1992) 

with few expectations and conditions. While Alice castigates the 
wheedling Violet, her attention strays from the task at hand and she 
burns her ironing. Even as she yells in frustration, however, she laughs. 
Violet joins her. Both lose themselves in the fullness of the moment, com- 
ical and joyous. 

Sitting in a cafe, Violet focuses on her first memory* that is not filled 
with rancor and self-pity. Once again it is of True Belle, who saved Rose 
Dear, Violet, and her siblings from dispossession and poverty. Rather than 
with tears, though, it was with the hope and generosity of laughter. Vi- 
olet later recalls laughing with Alice, tickled by both the irony of the 
burning iron and the retrospective absurdity of her behavior at the fu- 
neral. When she looks outside the window of the cafe, she notes that it 
is spring, a time of rebirth and regeneration — her divided consciousness 
reunifying into a single identity. Although Violet cannot change the past, 
she can alter her response to it. As a result of reorienting her perspec- 
tive, she can become the primary agent of her own contentment. In hav- 
ing sought out Alice, and investing in the tart honesty of her friendship, 
she regains access to both True Belle's grace and the wonder that is her 
own life. As with jazz, beauty emerges from the intersection of conven- 
tion and innovation; transformation itself arises from conflict; and love, 
fluid but endlessly nourishing, permits the rebirth of the soul. 

A similar dynamic occurs in relation to Joe's psychic rupture after his 
murder of Dorcas. Like Violet, he must return to the past in order to 
transform the present. Unlike Violet, Joe's journey is configured as a de- 
scent into the heart of jazz, which is the blues, his distress manifesting 
itself as a depression, solitary and torpid, a figurative cave within which 
he has interred himself. He is trapped not only within his guilt but also 
in his self-indulgent memories of the murdered girl. Grieving for Dor- 
cas — and himself — is his way of keeping her alive, of possessing her even 
in death. Thus, healing and transformation will involve letting her go. 
However, this is not simply by finding a way out of the morass of his de- 
pression. It is through accepting his complicity and using the resulting 
regression as an instructive tool to better comprehend his motivations. 
Therefore, by re-enacting his hunt for Dorcas, he journeys back to the 
past, back to the literal cave/metaphorical womb of the maternal. As 
much the search for his lost mother, Wild*, as for his child-lover, both of 
whom have abandoned him, it provides insight and catharsis. 

Joe and Violet's narratives are a study in contrasts, yet both incarnate 
the instability of those imprisoned within their own perspectives. Vio- 
let's voice veers almost haphazardly, the force of her will permitting her 
to abruptly seize the word that weaves itself, unquoted, into the art of 
the ongoing narrative. Joe's solo, reasonable and methodical, is exclu- 
sively contained within quotation marks, a controlled composition that 
never quite touches — that, in fact, refuses to acknowledge — the rage at 

JAZZ (1992) 187 

its core. However, when his words abut those of the larger narrative, what 
emerges is an antiphonal exchange that provides a haunting mental col- 
lage. This sequence juxtaposes Joe's conscious rationale behind his pur- 
suit of Dorcas, written in the first person, with the narrative's objective, 
third-person chronicle of his earlier searches for his mother, who aban- 
doned him as a newborn. In the process it reveals the inextricability of 
the two women in Joe's mind and the tragedy that is inevitable when love 
becomes possession. 

And there is always a possessive — in fact, a predatory — element to Joe's 
conception of Dorcas. From the moment he sees her, his mind devours her 
image. Soon after, as a guest at her aunt's house, where he is selling his 
Cleopatra cosmetics to the assembled members of a woman's club, he 
covertly seduces her. Finally, he stalks her. She is the object of his pursuit, 
to be pleased, indulged, and controlled. Dorcas is far from an innocent led 
astray, but rather an enthusiastic participant in the intrigue, relishing the 
clandestine nature of their liaison. Nevertheless, for Joe, despite his insis- 
tence otherwise, her function is that of an icon, a charm who permits him 
renewed youth. And it is this connection to his youth that links Dorcas 
to Wild for Joe, becoming the undercurrent of his search. The hoof marks 
symbolized by Dorcas's facial acne link her to the untamed Wild, who 
abandoned Joe in his infancy. Whether the prior search occurs in the realm 
of Joe's subconscious or is simply being recounted by the mysterious nar- 
rator, the two women inevitably merge into one. As Joe moves from 
borough to borough seeking Dorcas, he stealthily moved through the Vir- 
ginia bush. As he follows the sooty twang of guitars, so he had known the 
music of the earth; both mislead him. He eventually locates Dorcas in the 
arms of Acton*, a younger man, vain and swaggering, at a dance with 
harsh lights and free-flowing alcohol. 

He never finds Wild, but he does discover her cave, timeless and serene, 
with walls that change from gold to fish-gill blue, and the remnants of 
other people's lives for furniture. A home* at once orderly and unculti- 
vated, it deepens her mystery, further removing her from Joe, an intruder. 
Joe's three months of unquenchable tears appear to be as much for Wild 
as for Dorcas, and much more for himself than for either woman. He thus 
feels the wound that throbs at the core of his existence, yet can neither 
identify nor heal it because he has not opened himself to the possibility. 
However, for Joe as for Violet, transformation is made possible through 
the dynamic created by community. When Felice*, Dorcas's friend, en- 
ters their lives in search of her mother's ring, which unbeknown to her 
was buried with Dorcas, she brings the possibility of the joy signified by 
her name into their lives. Though the narrator first views her as a threat, 
the reincarnation of Dorcas with her marcelled hair and youthful vorac- 
ity, this assumption is proven incorrect, becoming an example of an error 
that forces the narrator's improvisation beyond the expected. 

188 ]AZZ (1992) 

What emerges is the reconfiguration allowed by the jazz structure. 
Players change, the melody shifts, and a new energy is created. Calls 
change, as do responses. This synthesis begins with talk, the figurative 
touching of souls, and the intimacy of nonsexual bonding outside of the 
conjugal union. Both Joe and Violet increase Felice's confidence through 
their attentiveness and respectful acceptance of her developing opinions, 
which, in turn, grants her the courage to confront her own fears and let 
go of her anger at Dorcas, symbolized by the ring that was buried with 
her. Felice, who becomes their figurative daughter, brings to Joe and Vi- 
olet the joy of nonjudgmental camaraderie and the freedom that the 
truth, no matter how painful, represents, permitting them to share and 

The image of the trio both opens and closes the novel, yet it is an en- 
semble reconfigured. The three, all symbolically orphaned, have found a 
home with each other; the dynamic of friendship evokes the patterns of 
jazz performance. As jazz strains coming through an open window from 
a neighbor's home fill the apartment with joy, its cultural expressivity 
becomes a point of pride, a space of affirmation. Ultimately, it allows the 
reclaiming of the love assumed lost, which materializes in reconfigured 
combinations of the solo, the duo, and the trio. Reflecting the constantly 
shifting patterns, spontaneity, and exuberance of jazz, it is transformed 
into the manifestation of self-love, romantic love, and platonic love. What 
thus becomes possible is the creation of harmony, not necessarily reso- 
lution or closure, from the tumult of psychic cacophony. 

Jazz examines the myriad ways in which love becomes transfigured 
within interpersonal relationships, effecting concrete change both within 
and between individuals. Through the Violet-Joe-Dorcas trio and its re- 
configurations, love is posited as an abstract yet powerful force that can 
permit either chaos or transcendence. It re-creates, from the lives of its 
various characters, the movements of jazz as performance; the reader, as 
auditor, is witness to the virtuosic display, removed yet bound by the very 
process of reading. However, while the novel re-creates the rhythm and 
configurations of jazz performance through the dynamic of the trio, it 
also invites the reader to participate in jazz as a creative process, an on- 
going, ever-evolving endeavor. Through the presence of the narrator as 
self-conscious artist, what Morrison captures in the metaphor of the talk- 
ing book, the abstract and intangible process that is creativity becomes 
an active manifestation of love. See also Baltimore, Maryland; Gray, Vera 
Louise; Hunter's Hunter; Malvonne; Mexico; Music; Narrator of 
/azz/Talking Book; Virginia. 

References: Elizabeth M. Cannon, "Following the Traces of Female De- 
sire in Toni Morrison's jazz," African American Review 31: 2 (Summer 

JAZZ 189 

1997); Angels Carabi, "Interview withToni Morrison," Belles Letters: A 
Review of Books by Women 10: 2 (Spring 1995); Carolyn M. Jones, 
"Traces and Cracks: Identity and Narrative in Toni Morrison's Jazz," 
African American Review 31: 3 (Fall 1997); Veronique Lesoinne, "An- 
swer Jazz's Call: Experiencing Toni Morrison's Jazz," MELUS 22: 3 (Fall 
1997); Roberta Rubenstein, "Singing the Blues/Reclaiming Jazz: Toni 
Morrison and Cultural Mourning," Mosaic 31: 2 (June 1998). 

Caroline Brown 


Despite the gap implicit between an aural art form and the printed word, 
wave after wave of new readers have noticed similarities between the fic- 
tion of Toni Morrison and jazz music*. The similarities characteristically 
center around the style of both dialogue and narration, but they are not 
necessarily limited to just those elements. There has been much critical 
debate, especially in the 1990s, over why or even whether Morrison's 
works should be considered through the lens of a jazz aesthetic. As many 
scholars correctly point out, William Faulkner* and James Joyce em- 
ployed strategies similar to Morrison's, especially in their famous styles, 
suggesting that perhaps these strategies are a modernist invention now 
so widely used that there is no point in labeling them "jazz" or other- 
wise. Unlike those authors, however, Morrison has made clear both her 
affection for jazz and the influence of the genre on her writing. The most 
readily apparent allusion to the musical tradition in her fiction is, of 
course, the title of the novel Jazz* , a work that, interestingly enough, 
never mentions the word "jazz" anywhere in its text. The invisible but 
almost tactile presence of jazz in this work has provided justification for 
many scholars to look for a similar presence elsewhere in Morrison's oeu- 

Morrison herself has noted on several occasions that her approach to 
writing is similar to the jazz musician's approach to composition. In par- 
ticular, Morrison is eager to point out the necessity of producing a work 
that seems to have been created easily. At least one scholar has insinu- 
ated that this mark of excellence in art is not unique to jazz (indeed, the 
European Renaissance was fond of the same illusion, calling it sprez- 
zatura), but the analogy between the two is peculiarly appropriate for 
jazz, since its greatest works have historically elicited criticism that it is 
all spontaneous, that no discipline is necessary for its creation. Morri- 
son's careful research and detailed historical settings, which play so eas- 
ily on the page, are in many ways similar to the seemingly endless hours 
of practice and revision necessary for musical excellence, and jazz is no- 
torious for the difficulty of its polyethnic traditions. 

190 JAZZ 

In particular, critics find themselves drawn to Morrison's style when 
discussing the influence of jazz on her fiction. The most notorious ex- 
ample might be the use of verbal "riffing," which most accurately means 
"brief repetition," but has been used by many scholars to mean "varying 
repetition." Therefore, when one character echoes a word used by an- 
other character, repeats it, reinterprets it, or even turns it around to mean 
something other than what the original speaker intended, a jazz inter- 
pretation of the passage might consider the second character's lines to be 
a series of riffs off the words of the first. Other jazzlike elements of Mor- 
rison's style include call and response (perhaps more accurately consid- 
ered to be an aspect of the spiritual tradition than of jazz) and apparent 
improvisations in dialogue. 

However, the hallmarks of a jazz aesthetic in Morrison's work have 
implications for more than her written style. Many critics have used the 
jazzy style of her books to tie her art directly to an African tradition. 
Most such efforts come from an understanding of jazz as a direct de- 
scendant of African musical styles, which is not precisely accurate, since 
jazz sprang to life far from the shores of Africa and has been performed 
with non-African instruments, lyrics, and sensibilities of time for at least 
the vast majority of its history*. Still, many writers have found an em- 
powering interpretation of Morrison's work through the uniquely 
African elements of jazz music. The most fruitful intersections of eth- 
nicity, jazz, and Morrison's work come from an understanding of jazz as 
a distinctly (though of course not exclusively) African American art form. 
For example, the novel Jazz, which is in many ways a novel about the 
migration of Black Southerners to the North, centers itself around not 
African culture or conflicts, but around the difficulties and triumphs of 
descendants of Africans who identify themselves as citizens of the United 
States. In the novel, allusions to jazz strengthen the differences between 
urban and rural, modern and past, community* and individual. There- 
fore, jazz itself becomes a wonderfully appropriate metaphor for the ten- 
sions within the novel. 

The use of jazz aesthetics in Morrison scholarship has slowed to a 
trickle since the 1997 publication of Alan Munton's "Misreading Mor- 
rison, Mishearing Jazz: A Response to Toni Morrison's Jazz Critics." 
Munton traces the urge to map jazz aesthetics onto literature back to 
Henry Louis Gates's highly influential The Signifying Monkey: A The- 
ory of African-American Literary Criticism, then on to its first formal 
application to Morrison, Anthony J. Berrett's article "Toni Morrison's 
Literary Jazz." Munton's article demonstrates a keen understanding of 
the history and terminology of jazz, and he uses that acumen to tear 
into the jazz critics. His argument seems to have three goals: drawing 
attention to the sloppy use of jazz terms in jazz criticism, the "Africen- 
tric" habit of turning jazz into a monoracial art form, and the utter 

JAZZ 191 

destruction of all previous arguments for a jazz aesthetic in literary 

Still, readers with all manner of academic pedigrees continue to inves- 
tigate the obvious relationship between jazz music and Toni Morrison's 
fiction. Many point out the similarities in the African American experi- 
ence and the history of jazz as an appropriated commodity in the culture. 
Others discuss the open-ended nature of many of Morrison's narratives, 
which they say recall the lack of closure in jazz compositions. Munton's 
arguments aside, there seems to be a strong jazz impulse in the fiction of 
Toni Morrison, an impulse that continues to excite her readers. 

References: Anthony J. Berrett, "Toni Morrison's Literary Jazz," College 
Language Association journal 32: 3 (March 1989); Alan Munton, "Mis- 
reading Morrison, Mishearing Jazz: A Response to Toni Morrison's Jazz 
Critics," Journal of American Studies 31: 2 (1997); Alan J. Rice, "Jazzing 
It Up a Storm: The Execution and Meaning of Toni Morrison's Jazzy 
Prose Style," journal of American Studies 28 (1994). 

Joe Sutliff Sanders 


K.D. (Paradise) 

See Smith, Coffee/K.D. /Kentucky Derby (Paradise). 

L'Arbe de la Croix {Tar Baby) 

The name of Valerian Street's* home* on the Isle des Chevaliers*. The 
house is as much a character as the people. It seems to have a mind of its 
own. It is constructed out of the jungle, and nature — in the form of ants, 
the tiles that keep popping up, and the greenhouse — keeps seeking to 
claim its own desires. In the end, nature reasserts its primacy. The house 
is also a series of contradictions, reminiscent of the relationships within. 
This is conveyed in the name "Tree of the Cross," a site of Christian mar- 
tyrdom and transcendence. See also Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Le story, Henry (Jazz) 

See Hunter's Hunter/Henry Lestory/Lestory (Jazz). 

Lorain, Ohio (The Bluest Eye). 

Morrison's birthplace, and also the setting for her first novel, to date the 
only novel she has chosen to set in her hometown. See also The Bluest Eye. 

Gena Elise Chandler 


MacTeer, Claudia {The Bluest Eye) 

Claudia MacTeer functions as a central character in The Bluest Eye*. 
While Pecola Breedlove* is the story's protagonist, Claudia lends a voice 
to Pecola and narrates the other characters' lives. Thus, this is Claudia's 
story as well, for as she tells readers the story of Pecola and the others, 
she tells her own story as well. As a nine-year-old child meeting Pecola 
for the first time, and a grown woman looking back on the events of her 
childhood, Claudia recounts the occurrences that lead to that fateful year 
of 1941 when Pecola is pregnant with her father's baby. In essence, though 
the voice of the story is that of a child, the reader has a chance to return 
with an adult Claudia in her memory*, trying to make sense of the sense- 
lessness of the past. The young Claudia, in her childhood innocence, re- 
fuses to accept the standards of a world that would label her as ugly and 
unlovable simply because of her skin color. While her parents have long 
accepted the ways of the world, Claudia has made her own world and her 
own ways despite her detractors. She cannot understand what it is about 
white baby dolls, little white girls, and white movie starlets that makes 
them so lovable and her not lovable. In her attempt to make sense, she 
dissects and dismembers the dolls, trying to learn what they are made of 
and what makes them so special. She does not see the ugliness in Pecola 
herself or any Black girl simply because she is Black. In fact, Claudia is 
ambivalent toward images of whiteness* in all forms, particularly seen 
in her rejection of white baby dolls and little white girls (i.e., Shirley Tem- 
ple). She has no desire to reflect or appear in these images, and she re- 
sents being told by others that she must do so. 


Thus, like a child unable to comprehend the incomprehensible, she 
shows disinterest in and disregard for all white images. In adulthood, 
Claudia is better able to understand those images and their pervasive ef- 
fect on her as an adult. She has lost that childhood optimism which helped 
her to look upon those images as not better than herself. She now un- 
derstands that she, too, has been a victim of those images and that they 
have destroyed a very powerful part of her life — her innocence — just as 
they destroyed Pecola's. Claudia is left with a lingering bitterness and a 
distrust of love that speaks to her inability to really love — accept — Pecola 
after her fall into madness. More important, she mourns the loss of in- 
nocence, and it is in innocence that humans gain the ability to love. 

Gena Elise Chandler 

MacTeer, Frieda {The Bluest Eye) 

Frieda is Claudia MacTeer's* older sister and friend to Pecola Breedlove*. 
Her voice is literally spoken through Claudia, but she, like all of the char- 
acters in the text, struggles to find love and acceptance in a world that 
views love and acceptance impossible for those who are Black. Frieda also 
seems to assume the role of surrogate mother to both Pecola and Claudia 
in the text. Frieda is the one to whom Pecola and Claudia turn initially 
to get answers to their questions. When Pecola begins to menstruate, 
Frieda is the one who recognizes her plight and handles the duty of man- 
aging Pecola's menstrual flow. She calms Pecola's fears and turns her 
seeming ugliness into something potentially beautiful — Pecola's ability 
now to have a baby. Likewise, it is Frieda who takes the brunt of the pun- 
ishment when her mother mistakenly accuses the three girls of "play- 
ing nasty" in their attempt to hide Pecola's menstruation. 

Frieda, in essence, is the foil to Claudia and Pecola. In contrast to 
Claudia, she represents the transition from childhood innocence and 
rejection of things not understood, to adolescent acceptance of and rec- 
onciliation with the things that seemingly cannot be changed. While 
she, too, is assailed by images of whiteness*, she is old enough now to 
be so used to the images that she has learned, though wrong, how to 
accept them. She and Pecola both covet the Shirley Temple cup, while 
Claudia still has enough innocence and rebellion to loathe it. Frieda has 
the love and acceptance of her younger sister to comfort her in what 
the world sees as ugliness. Pecola represents the converse — what hap- 
pens to one who does not have a support system, like a sister or fam- 
ily*, to remind her that, despite what the world may think or say, she 
is still beautiful and loved. 

Frieda, however, is not unaffected by the world or left unscarred by it. 
Just as the seasons into which the book is divided mark the changes, 


deaths*, and rebirths that occur through the year in nature, so Frieda, like 
Claudia and Pecola, experiences disillusionment and loss of innocence as 
she matures from a child into a young woman. Her innocence is lost when 
Mr. Henry, the boarder living in the MacTeer house, tries to convince her 
she is beautiful by attempting to molest her. Frieda, who once seemed 
blind to the same destructive forces that caused Pecola to withdraw and 
Claudia to rebel, is violently shocked back into reality. She is reminded of 
her loss of innocence and understands a little better the world around her 
and the difficulties in finding love. See also The Bluest Eye. 

Gena Elise Chandler 

Magical Realism 

The term "magical realism" refers to the amalgamation of realism and 
fantasy in art, film, and literature. In the magical realist text, characters 
encounter elements of magic and fantasy with the same acceptance that 
they meet those settings and figures commonly associated with "reality" 
and "fact." 

The magical realist label originated in 1924 when German art histo- 
rian Franz Roh applied the expression magischer realismus to post-Ex- 
pressionist paintings that combined realism with an emphasis on 
expressing the miracle of existence. Scholarly concensus, however, points 
to exiled Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier as the key figure in establish- 
ing the link between Latin American fiction and the phenomenon that 
he called lo real maravilloso. In his classic 1949 essay, "On the Marvelous 
Real in America," Carpentier sought to differentiate Latin American 
magical realism from European Surrealism by highlighting the distinc- 
tion between the arbitrary — even contrived — alteration of reality that 
characterized the work of the Surrealists, and the organic representation 
of the Latin American Weltanschauung in lo real maravilloso. For Car- 
pentier, magical realism mirrored an understanding throughout the Ca- 
ribbean and Central and South America of a more permeable boundary 
between the real and the fantastic than was commonly accepted in North 
America and Europe. 

Postcolonial scholar Brenda Cooper explains that "magical realism 
arises out of particular societies] — postcolonial, unevenly developed 
places where old and new, modern and ancient, the scientific and the mag- 
ical views of the world co-exist" (216). This notion, that magical realism 
arises out of those colonial and postcolonial moments which create a sub- 
stantial population of subjects whose interests may be counterhegemonic, 
explains the contradiction between the relative absence of magical real- 
ist texts produced in Europe — and by Euro-American writers in Canada 
and the United States — and the growing proliferation of such texts in 


Africa, Asia, and Latin America — and among European, Canadian, and 
U.S. authors of African, Asian, and Latin descent. The refusal of the mag- 
ical realist text to respect Western, postindustrial notions of the division 
between reality and fantasy invests it with a powerful potential to desta- 
bilize the cultural hegemonies that contribute to the privileging of "first 
world truths" over "third world myths." 

Within Anglophone literature, novelists of the African Diaspora — es- 
pecially African, Afro-Caribbean, and African American writers — have 
used elements of myth* and magic to remember, express, and account 
for those experiences which Western notions of history*, reality, and 
truth have failed to address. For writers of the African Diaspora, the in- 
corporation of mythic and magical elements exposes the role of social 
construction in maintaining the white-over-Black hierarchy; resists 
meanings for Blackness developed in the service of that hierarchy; and, 
finally, achieves a new and emancipatory vision of Blackness that privi- 
leges the interests of people of African descent. Postcolonial scholar Jane 
Campbell argues that this specific use of magical realism "constitutes a 
radical act, inviting the audience to subvert the racist mythology that 
thwarts and defeats Afro-Americans, and to replace it with a new mythol- 
ogy rooted in the black perspective" (x). 

African American novelist Toni Morrison deploys magical realism to 
the very ends, and with the very same effect, that Jane Campbell de- 
scribes. Morrison's novels probe the depths of African American history 
and experience, digging past those stereotyped images developed in the 
service of white supremacy — images like the Black brute, the thug, the 
sapphire, the sambo, the tragic mulatto, the mammy, the coon — to un- 
cover those roles, relationships, and experiences which the hegemonic 
culture has shown little interest in exploring. Morrison focuses on those 
experiences which the Euro-dominant majority, in its disinterest, has 
failed to develop means of representing. She enters these spaces, mo- 
ments, and experiences with a freedom shared by many Black writers of 
the postmodern period. Released from the bonds of accommodationist 
protest and subsequent nationalist rage that limited their literary fore- 
bears, Morrison and her contemporaries (authors such as David Bradley, 
Octavia Butler, Charles Johnson, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan) pur- 
sue their own questions about African American history and experience, 
creating prose fiction narratives that privilege their own concerns as U.S. 
Black authors. 

Morrison's strategic and emancipatory introduction of magical real- 
ism (as a tool for constructing a counterhegemonic Blackness of unlim- 
ited possibility) is evident, to varying degrees, in all of her fiction, but 
two of her novels, Beloved' 1 ' and Song of Solomon"', stand out as partic- 
ularly strong examples of the trend. The epic scope of these works links 
them with those Latin American novels (100 Years of Solitude, El Reino 


de Este Mundo, and others) so closely associated with the development 
of popular and scholarly interest in the magical realist trend. It also points 
to the usefulness of magical realism to writers whose interest is in nar- 
rating histories that have, because they were not written down, become 
what book critic James Woods has called "a necessary superstition — a 
myth, made of oral tellings and retellings" (45). In Song of Solomon, 
magical realism becomes a tool for demonstrating how, transmitted orally 
over several generations, these "necessary superstitions" are not only 
encountered as real by the communities that have preserved them, but — 
when shared with the broader community of Morrison's readers — also 
become part of a more widely accepted understanding of that which is 
possible and true. 

Developed to preserve and protect those moments and experiences 
which the historical record has overlooked, necessary superstitions be- 
come the backbone of Morrison's novel, where they function as the 
bridges on which protagonist Milkman Dead* crosses over from the 
urban decadence of the Northern city of his youth to a powerful en- 
counter with the mystery of his ancestral legacy in the rural American 
South*. In Song of Solomon magic becomes a metaphor for, and mea- 
sure of, one's retention of those Africanisms — especially African folk 
beliefs — which slavery* sought to diminish. In this novel the major char- 
acters can be divided between those who live ignorant of the depth and 
breadth of their history and those who have had the privilege of en- 
countering it firsthand. Those who resist or simply have no access to their 
own family* histories appear trapped within small, unimaginative lives, 
their dreary days circumscribed by Western notions of possibility and 
truth that limit the meanings and value of Blackness. Characters who 
have maintained a connection to the power and mystery of their own an- 
cestry are depicted as empowered women subjects whose experience of 
a reality that transgresses conventional limitations on time, space, and 
plausibility is evident in the magic and mystery that shape their lives 
and permeate their surroundings. Among the major characters Pilate 
Dead*, Milkman's aunt, and Circe*, the ancient midwife and crone, re- 
tain the strongest connections to history. With the aid of their astonish- 
ing wisdom and power, Milkman sets out on a journey that expands his 
sense of the real sufficiently to allow him to recuperate the magic that is 
his family legacy. Milkman's access to magic seems metaphorical, his re- 
covery of those gifts celebrated in the myth of flying Africans* of his 
slave ancestors a symbol of the spiritual emancipation that marks the end 
of his quest. But Morrison teases her readers with the possibility that his 
magic is literal, born out of the protagonist's recovery*, generations 
hence, of a capacity for flight acknowledged throughout African and 
African American folklore*, but simply unfathomable within constraints 
of Western thought. 


In Beloved, Morrison challenges the same line between fact and fan- 
tasy that she subverts in the magical realist text of Song of Solomon. 
Beloved differs from Song of Solomon, however, in its use of a Black 
woman's journey as the lens through which to manipulate this bound- 
ary. In Beloved, Morrison's omniscient narrator witnesses the condi- 
tions of slave motherhood* and slave womanhood through the eyes of 
the protagonist, Sethe Suggs*. Alongside the narrator, Morrison's read- 
ers experience the tragedy of Sethe's transition from slavery to free- 
dom, a shift marked by her now famous decision to kill her own daughter 
rather than permit her to suffer the plight of a woman enslaved. As dif- 
ficult as it is to conceive of the complex interaction of fear and love that 
results in Sethe's tragic act of infanticide*, Morrison finds the conven- 
tional language of domestic violence* sufficient to capture the drama 
and horror of this crucial moment. The scene in which Sethe murders 
the title character, her infant daughter Beloved*, requires the author to 
convincingly depict a Black woman acting out of a temporary sociopa- 
thy, driven by fear and desperation. Patricia Hill Collins and others have 
noted the widespread tendency throughout Europe and North America 
to portray Black motherhood as sociopathic, and Morrison is able to 
draw upon this popular construction of the relationship between Afro- 
diasporic identity* and women's reproduction (an impression essential 
to maintaining prevailing racial hierarchies) in describing this dreadful 

It is only once Morrison steps away from the spectacle of the murder 
to depict Sethe's sadness and grief that the language and imagery of 
white supremacy, in which the Black-mother-as-sociopath is presented 
as "real" and "true," and that was so useful in her portrayal of the aber- 
rant Black mother, begin to fail the author. As she probes the depth and 
texture of Sethe's grief, it becomes more and more apparent that the 
protagonist's crime, however hideous, was driven more by her compas- 
sion and love for the girl child Beloved than by deviance and fear. Mor- 
rison's embrace of the magical real in depicting Sethe's longing and grief 
is simultaneously a rejection of the systems of meaning that, in privi- 
leging controlling images like the Black-mother-as-sociopath, have no 
interest or investment in representing African American mothers' com- 
passion and love. 

Beloved's return from the dead as an unruly and mischevious ghost 
can be read as a metaphor for the Black mother's lingering sorrow for a 
child lost to the intolerable brutality of slavery, a symbol dramatic and 
vivid enough to counteract the conspicuous absence of conventional re- 
alist language to account for that specific brand of despair. Beloved's 
eventual incarnation, a full two decades after her death* and burial, as 
a fully embodied child-woman depicts the persistence and intensifica- 
tion of Sethe's grief over time, counter to the more widely held belief 


that grieving inevitably gives way to acceptance. Complicated by her 
equal and related grief over the loss of her own humanity, Sethe's sor- 
row presents a new vision of both Blackness and womanhood, and Mor- 
rison's language of metaphor — rife with conjurings, hauntings, and 
ghosts — seeks to articulate an experience of motherhood and loss ren- 
dered unspeakable by representations of womanhood and childhood that 
fail to take into account the perversions of slavery. See also African 
Myth, Use of; Ancestor; Approaches to Morrison's Work: Postcolonial; 
Memory; Oral Tradition. 

References: Jane Campbell, Mythic Black Fiction: The Transformation of 
History (1986); Brenda Cooper, Magical Realism in West African Fic- 
tion: Seeing with a Third Eye (1998); Wendy B. Faris and Laura Parkin- 
son Zamora, eds., Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (1995); 
James Wood, "The Color Purple," review of Paradise, by Toni Morrison, 
New Republic (March 2000). 

Ajuan Maria Mance 

Magna, Mary/Mother [Paradise) 

A Sisters Devoted to Indians and Colored People nun who "steals" the 
abandoned and sexually abused nine year old Consolata (Connie) Sosa* 
from dirty city streets (presumably in Brazil), "adopts" her, and brings 
her to Christ the King School for Native Girls, a.k.a. the Convent*, in 
1925. After the school loses its funding and its clientele of Arapaho In- 
dian girls, the aging Mother and Connie remain at the Convent, selling 
produce, pies, bread, and, most famously, "purply black" hot peppers and 
hot pepper relish to travelers and locals. Mother, glowing bright white 
from Connie's "stepping-in," dies in 1971. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Malvonne {Jazz) 

Joe* and Violet Trace's* neighbor in their Harlem* apartment. A clean- 
ing woman with access to others' secrets, Malvonne has the potential to 
be the novel's unidentified narrator, although it later seems unlikely. She 
rents a room in her apartment to Joe, where he pursues his clandestine 
relationship with Dorcas Manfred*. Malvonne then betrays the confi- 
dence to Violet. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 


Manfred, Alice {Jazz) 

The aunt of the murdered Dorcas Manfred*. Trapped within her own no- 
tions of respectability, Alice attempts to stifle her niece's developing sex- 
uality*, which hastens Dorcas's rebellion. However, her friendship with 
Violet Trace* permits her to face her fears and disappointment related to 
her own sexuality and potential victimization within a racist and sexist 
society. This allows her to mature emotionally. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

Manfred, Dorcas {Jazz) 

The teenager with whom Joe Trace* has an affair and whom he later 
shoots to permit his continued possession of her in life and in death. Dor- 
cas is many things: a wounded child who lost her parents to violent 
racism and unnecessary death*; a scheming woman; a freethinking, 
happy-go-lucky girl; a self-serving friend; a sensuous nihilist trapped 
within her limited expectations of womanhood. She is based on an actual 
homicide victim who refused to name her assailant, suspected of having 
been her boyfriend; the original woman, still unidentified, was captured 
by James Van Der Zee, the Harlem* Renaissance-era photographer. Mor- 
rison borrows the motif to give words to the silenced casualty of what 
appears to have been misogynistic violence*, in the process implicating 
the victim herself. See also jazz. 

Caroline Brown 


In her various novels, Toni Morrison has identified masculinity as a key 
concern for African American culture. Her fiction takes as one of its tasks 
exploring the possibilities for Black men to imagine a different concep- 
tion of masculine identity*, one that focuses on communal values over 
individual competition and rejects violence* as a necessary ingredient. 
Morrison always recognizes that masculinity is not a biological given but 
a social invention, as is race*. Morrison represents a plurality of mas- 
culinities in her fictions, and she also notes the ways that gender, class, 
and race are discursive categories that structure the practice of manhood. 
Morrison's fiction reflects anxieties of African American men regard- 
ing their identities, tensions rooted in the dehumanizing treatment ac- 
corded them in slavery*, and the continued debasement directed at them 
through individual and structural racism. Morrison critiques such treat- 
ments throughout her work as a cause for Black masculine anxiety. 


Beloved's* Paul D Garner*, for example, has difficulty asserting his man- 
hood when facing white racists who demean him and when confronted 
by Black women like Sethe Suggs* and Beloved* who, in his mind, steal 
his strength through sexual desire. Morrison interrogates the myths of 
dominant notions of masculinity, suggesting alternative means for 
African American men to establish their manhood while also reflecting 
their frustration at disempowerment. She rejects notions of manhood 
based on economic success or property attainment, focusing instead on 
more personal philosophies and blurring gender lines. Morrison thus cri- 
tiques both the racist patriarchy that denies Black men their masculin- 
ity and the individual men who accept such patriarchal definitions of 
manhood and use them to evade communal responsibility. She takes issue 
with the adoption of white definitions of manhood by African American 
men, a model that she portrays as individualist, competitive, misogynist, 
and destructive. Morrison's fiction, then, becomes a treatise on a man- 
hood rooted in community*, cooperation, equality, and constructive be- 
havior. Morrison ultimately supports not the individualism of Anglo 
modernism but the collectivism of African American life, the individual 
as always and already part of the community. 

Morrison reveals the frustrations of African American men and the 
violence that often functions as a self-defining tool for them. This vio- 
lence, as Morrison shows us, is often directed at women in a spectacle 
that divides the community across gender lines. For example, Cholly 
Breedlove* is caught in the act of having sex* by white hunters and 
forced to continue at gunpoint. He later denigrates the females of his 
household, directing his anger and violence against them because he can- 
not do otherwise. This violence destroys his home* psychologically. Tar 
Baby's* Son* rapes Jadine Childs* in an act of masculine aggression 
against the lighter-skinned female, thus representing the interlocking 
mechanisms of race and gender oppression, jazz* also represents violence 
against women in Joe Trace's* shooting of his lover. Paradise*, where the 
men of the community come together to murder the women of the Con- 
vent*, provides a powerful critique of such actions. Male solidarity comes 
at the cost of women's lives, and the rationales for inciting such violence 
are based in irrational anxieties about feminine power. Morrison uses 
these characters as a means of demonstrating the violent gender divide 
in African American culture. 

We similarly see the use of violence to mark Black manhood in Song 
of Solomon* as well, when Guitar Baines* and Milkman Dead* join the 
Seven Days*, a group that kills white persons as vengeance for lynch- 
ings and other culturally legitimated murders of African Americans. The 
group sees these retaliations as a means of reclaiming Black subjectiv- 
ity and exacting vengeance against white culture. Violence becomes a 
means of negotiating the political space of America, where Black men 


are disenfranchised. It replaces tenderness and love for Guitar, becom- 
ing his means of interacting with the world. Yet even as Morrison re- 
flects these feelings, she provides an alternative. Milkman, who initially 
joins the Seven Days and participates in its rituals, moves beyond vio- 
lence and comes to find his identity. As a result, Morrison critiques the 
decision of many African American men to resort to violence, suggest- 
ing that it damages the community it seeks to help. 

Song of Solomon focuses on Milkman's search for manhood. As he 
travels, he must discover how to be a Black man, creating an identity that 
will integrate with the African American community. As a young boy, 
Milkman does not consciously realize the privileges accorded to males; 
rather, he accepts them as given, disrespecting his sisters as the weaker 
sex. Only when his sisters rebel and inform him of his actions does he 
realize his mistake. Milkman's journey to manhood travels through, and 
over, females and their bodies. Ruth*, Lena*, Pilate*, Hagar*, and Reba 
Dead* define Milkman's masculinity as much as his dealings with other 
men do. They inform him of his privilege as a male, removing his igno- 
rance, and they shape his identity through their actions. Song of Solomon 
argues that the problem of masculinity does not belong solely to males; 
it is a community issue. 

When Milkman arrives in Shalimar, Virginia, he meets other men who 
test him in a series of African American rituals by which he must prove 
his manhood. Morrison replicates tribal rituals within the context of 
American individualism. Success means communal acceptance; failure 
means communal rejection. They assault him verbally, insulting and de- 
grading him in the tradition of the dozens. The fight and the hunt in 
which he partakes provide further means for Milkman to demonstrate 
his ability to compete with the other males. Morrison depicts these rites 
of passage, but she also critiques them as barriers erected to divide African 
Americans into strict gender dichotomies. She sees these tests of indi- 
vidual prowess as contributing to the individualist beliefs that under- 
mine African American unity. Milkman's success comes when he gives 
up individualistic notions of manhood and embraces the community and 
its definitions of identity through language and communal mythos. His 
acceptance of his ancestral mythos, as evidenced by his final ambiguous 
leap, signifies his movement away from individualist notions of identity 
and toward the communal model. 

Beloved likewise fixates on Black manhood and its construction in a 
culture with slavery as its legacy. Paul D struggles to define his mas- 
culinity through white norms, but comes to realize that he must find al- 
ternative definitions with Sethe. Beloved questions traditional masculine 
models of self-ownership, contradicting those humanist ideals against a 
legacy of slavery and its notion of Black selfhood as the property of an- 
other. The slave owner Mr. Garner* teaches his slaves to be a particular 


type of Black men; he gives them physical prowess but no individual 
agency. Paul D learns from Garner that manhood is asserted through ag- 
gression and violent behavior. But since slavery defined Black men as 
property, not as men, Paul D recognizes that without his freedom, he is 
less than a man. His troubled manhood brings him to ask Sethe to bear 
his child as a means of legitimating his masculine identity. 

Morrison profoundly destabilizes notions of Black manhood in her fic- 
tion, for she reveals that all traditional identity structures are differen- 
tial, based in a notion of another. Thus, Black manhood results from the 
repudiation of women and whites. Stamp Paid (slave name Joshua) al- 
lows his wife to be raped by the master's son in order to gain freedom. 
The master's son asserts his manhood through such rape while signal- 
ing that Joshua can never be a man in American culture. Slavery denied 
manhood to Black males while objectifiying Black women and using them 
as a means by which to assert white manhood. Morrison shows, how- 
ever, that this notion of pure identity is a white fantasy, providing in- 
stead the reality of a communally constructed identity. 

In addition, Morrison is keenly aware of the need to disrupt biological 
notions of gender. As a result, she demonstrates through several charac- 
ters that females can adopt masculine traits, and vice versa. Morrison de- 
scribes Sula Peace* as a masculine character on several occasions. Her 
assertiveness and sexual aggression cast her as masculine, interrupting 
simplistic biological notions of gendered behavior. Tar Baby's Jadine also 
takes on many typically male characteristics. Beloved's Sethe, though 
feminine in many respects, is often connected to war imagery, a tradi- 
tionally masculine domain. She is isolated from the female community 
and must be more assertive and forthright, again traditionally defined 
masculine characteristics. In addition, Paul D takes on many character- 
istics normally associated with the feminine. His empathy and his will- 
ingness to show emotion become traits men can share as well. Morrison 
demonstrates through her main characters the arbitrary nature of gen- 
der characteristics. Gender blurring in this manner demonstrates the flu- 
idity of identity and its arbitrary connection to biology. 

Morrison's fictions depict a plurality of masculine identity formations, 
reflecting the anxieties for African American men living in a culture that 
has refused to accept their masculine identities. Yet Morrison does not 
validate all possible formations. She critiques the violent responses of 
Black men to oppression, particularly when that violence is directed to- 
ward the Black community. She also disrupts reductive biological notions 
of gender, placing traditionally feminine qualities in her male characters 
in order to blur gender lines and stress the commonality of human be- 
ings. Morrison redefines Black manhood in her texts, producing a more 
egalitarian model that disrupts traditional individualist beliefs and re- 
asserts the social dimensions of identity. See also Ancestor; Myth. 


References: Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu, "Gendering the Genderless:The Case 
of Toni Morrison's Beloved," Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review 8: 1 
(Spring/Summer 1993); Herman Beavers, "The Politics of Space: South- 
ernness and Manhood in the Fictions of Toni Morrison," Studies in the 
Literary Imagination 31: 2 (Fall 1998); Philip Weinstein, What Else but 
Love? The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison (1996). 

David E. Magill 

Medallion, Ohio (Sula) 

Fictional town that serves as the setting for the novel's action. See 
also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 


Memory is a powerful force in Morrison's novels. Its power comes from 
its ability to shape experience. Morrison's novels reveal a concern for 
African American history* and cultural memory. Morrison maintains 
that, through memory, we keep in touch with our ancestors*. When an 
individual does not remember the past (his or her ancestors), it is dan- 
gerous. Morrison illustrates this in her second novel, Sula*, in which 
Sula Peace* attempts to "make" herself by cutting herself off from her 
history (her family* and the community*). Her most dramatic actions 
are watching her mother, Hannah, burn to death, then leaving the Bot- 
tom* for several years and, when she returns, sending her grandmother, 
Eva Peace*, to a nursing home. Sula's actions result in personal failure. 
She dies, never having really succeeded in changing the community. 

Keeping in touch with one's ancestors occurs through reconstructive 
memory. Memory, for Morrison, is a conscious, deliberate act. Remem- 
bering is a creative process, not an effort to find the truth. Morrison's fic- 
tion bears witness to the need for a usable past. For African American 
artists like Morrison, the past and the present are interdependent. Mor- 
rison's fiction revives, in order to pass on, mythic truths that create con- 
nections between individuals and the past, specifically the traditions of 
Black American and Africa. She "forces" the reader's memory because of 
her belief that those who do not remember the past are in danger. Knowl- 
edge of the past, gained through memory, is a necessary basis for con- 
structing the future. 

While an editor at Random House in the 1970s, Morrison anony- 
mously edited The Black Book*, a collection of African American 
historical documents that chronicles the lives of ordinary African Amer- 


icans. The book contains diverse and unusual primary sources, such as 
bills of sale from slave auctions, pictures, newspapers, and musical scores. 
These sources enable Morrison to present some of the people and mate- 
rial that had been left out of history textbooks. The work, then, helps to 
make the past part of the memories of contemporary society. 

Like other writers of the African Diaspora, Toni Morrison uses memory 
as a main narrative structure in her novels. Through memory, Morrison 
can reconstruct those voices of oral history which are absent and/or si- 
lenced in written versions of history. The settings of Morrison's novels are 
significant because place has the power to evoke memories. The power of 
place is particularly evident in Morrison's third novel, Song of Solomon*. 
Milkman Dead* must travel to the South*, where his great-grandfather 
lived, in order to understand himself and his ancestry. Morrison relied on 
her own memories of family stories about the Reconstruction to tell Milk- 
man's story. She adapts the African American myth* that enslaved Africans 
in the South escaped by flying (literally) back to Africa. Thus, Morrison 
takes on the role of the griot, albeit a modern one. The novel itself, then, 
serves as a cultural artifact that preserves the myth by keeping it a part of 
cultural memory. At the same time, Song of Solomon provides an overview 
of American history as it affects a single family. 

Morrison draws on and creates cultural memory in her writing. The 
Margaret Garner* story was the inspiration for Beloved*, the myth of 
the flying Africans* is the backdrop for Song of Solomon; and the well- 
known tar baby story serves as the springboard for Morrison's fourth 
novel, Tar Baby*. Stories serve as catalysts or prompts to unlock mem- 
ories. Whereas Sula deliberately tries to deny her past and memories, in 
Tar Baby, Jadine Childs* has no cultural memory. She is unconnected to 
the past, and therefore in danger. When Jadine moves from Paris to Isle 
des Chevaliers*, she is seeking out her extended family, Sydney and On- 
dine Childs*, in order to develop a sense of who she is and where she 
comes from before moving forward with her life. However, Sydney and 
Ondine cannot give Jadine cultural or family memory, despite their blood 
relationship to her. They are not "ancestors," and Jadine has never spent 
much time with them. She does not have a history with them, or shared 
memories, and she cannot create these things once she is grown. Thus, 
Jadine cannot take her place in the line of history. 

Of all of Morrison's novels, Beloved is the most focused on memory. 
Beloved is created out of the scraps and fragments of Morrison' s own 
memories of the Margaret Garner case, specifically, and slavery*, in gen- 
eral. The novel is Morrison's attempt to bring forward into literature the 
unbearable memory of slavery so that African Americans and society can 
move on at last. 

Beloved's plot is constructed to mirror the way that memories unfold. 
The plot emerges in nonlinear fragments as different characters 


remember their experiences and share them with the reader and/or each 
other. Since many of these memories have been repressed for a long time, 
the process of uncovering them is slow and painful. The recognition of 
the past involved in memory requires the effort of the entire community, 
and cannot be accomplished by one individual. Like the central character, 
Sethe Suggs*, readers of the novel must engage in the act of creative re- 
construction. They have to piece together the fragments and different ac- 
counts in order to find coherent meaning for themselves. However, the 
narrative always foregrounds the subjectivity of any memory created. 
Morrison's narrative approach to memory in Beloved and in her other fic- 
tion allows the novel to go back and forth between the past and the pres- 
ent, and blurs the distinction between them. 

In Beloved, Morrison uses memory to show the reader the hidden side 
of slavery. The novel illustrates the relationship between history and 
memory. History provides the exterior view of slavery, and memory is 
the personal, interior view. Throughout her novel, Sethe tries to forget 
her experiences as a slave at Sweet Home* plantation, but memories keep 
surging up and frustrating her attempts. 

Morrison uses the term "rememory" instead of "memory" in Beloved. 
This term underscores that to "re-member" is to put together, or cre- 
atively reconstruct, the pieces of something. However, rememory does 
not depend on just one individual's subjective reconstruction. Morrison 
establishes a community of rememberers whose consciousnesses overlap 
at times, and at other times remain independent. Rememory also depends 
on place, as well as a cyclical notion of time. Rememories represent racial 
memory. Forgetting is called "disremembering," which is the opposite of 
remembering, and implies an almost conscious choice. For much of 
Beloved, Sethe struggles to resist "rememories" by "beating" back the 
past and claiming to "disremember," but fails. 

In Beloved, Morrison investigates the role of individual and cultural 
memory in relationships. Paul D Garner* keeps his memories locked up 
inside him and does not want to acknowledge them. However, the nar- 
rator points out that in order to make a life with Sethe, Paul D must put 
his memories next to hers. Paul D is as devoted to keeping his memories 
dead as Sethe is to keeping her memory of Beloved* alive. 

Throughout Beloved the narrator reminds us that the story is not one 
to pass on. On the one hand, the phrase suggests that the Beloved tale 
should not be repeated and should not happen again. On the other hand, 
it also suggests that the story is one not to pass up. By repeating the 
warning at the end of the novel, Morrison implies that while this story 
should not be repeated, it should be remembered. Beloved deals with the 
tension between remembering and forgetting. Beloved, the "ghost" of 
Sethe's crawlingalready? baby, is the physical manifestation of Sethe' 
memory. As long as Sethe cannot put her memories in the past (and ac 
knowledge their role in the present), they will haunt her. 


Jazz*, Morrison's next novel after Beloved, continues the project of 
Beloved by telling the stories of three individuals in order to tell the 
story of a people. In this case, Morrison provides brief yet detailed 
glimpses into the lives of African Americans in the rural South after 
emancipation. Like Beloved, jazz is a story reconstructed from bits and 
pieces of memory and stories. Specifically, the plot derives from two 
real tales Morrison remembered hearing. Since individuals and soci- 
eties construct memory from images, all "rememories" are such "re- 
constructions," simultaneously complete and incomplete. See also 

Lisa Cade Wieland 

Mexico [Jazz) 

The nightclub where Joe Trace* agrees to take Dorcas Manfred* on an 
illicit rendezvous. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 


In keeping with the historical emphasis on mobility evident throughout 
much of African American culture, migrations, trips, and travels of all 
sorts pervade the action within Toni Morrison's works. The Middle Pas- 
sage, the Underground Railroad, the Great Migration — these momen- 
tous mass relocations set the tone for much of the history* of Black peo- 
ple in the United States. In each of Morrison's novels, her characters 
undergo journeys that often resonate with these historical precedents, 
and she frequently depicts characters traveling between the American 
South* and the North. While engaging in physical movement, these 
characters also experience emotional and psychological journeys, which 
Morrison asserts can be equally, if not more, important, no matter what 
the ultimate destination. Repeatedly, Morrison demonstrates that inward 
exploration often overlaps with exterior travels, resulting in essential 
growth and greater possibilities not otherwise possible. Geographical re- 
location alone will not suffice. 

In The Bluest Eye*, Cholly* and Pauline Breedlove* meet in Ken- 
tucky, after she has moved there with her family* from their home* in 
Alabama, and he has traveled from Georgia. The couple eventually de- 
cides to marry and press further north to Ohio. Echoing many other 
early twentieth-century African Americans seeking better possibilities 
in the industrial North — such as Morrison's own parents, who also 
came from Alabama and Georgia — Cholly and Pauline settle in Lorain, 
Ohio*, where he finds a job in the steel mills and she eventually does 


domestic work. But when loneliness sends Pauline to seek refuge in 
movie theaters, she takes a dangerous emotional journey, resulting in 
a destructive shift in cultural values, whose legacy contributes to her 
daughter Pecola's* subsequent downfall. Other more materially suc- 
cessful Lorain residents, such as Geraldine, have migrated there from 
Southern cities like Marietta, Georgia, Aiken, South Carolina, Newport 
News, Virginia, and Mobile, Alabama — bringing their conservative sen- 
sibilities with them. One other local inhabitant, an odd, somewhat delu- 
sional, even perverted man whom everyone calls Soaphead Church*, 
grows up in the West Indies, travels to the United States for his edu- 
cation, and eventually settles in Lorain. For all of the characters in The 
Bluest Eye, then, their physical migrations are unable to overcome fun- 
damental psychic difficulties. 

Compared with the rest of Morrison's novels, Sula* has a more fixed 
setting, focused primarily in the Bottom*, a neighborhood outside of fic- 
tional Medallion, Ohio*. Nevertheless, this novel also includes impor- 
tant journeys, as well as shorter trips. After its opening gives the history 
of the Bottom, Sula provides Shadrack's* background, which takes him 
from Medallion to World War I France, where he experiences great 
trauma* and even madness, and then back to Medallion. Once he returns 
home, Shadrack establishes the annual National Suicide Day*, his own 
bizarre parade through town, which years later will be the occasion to 
lead several Medallion residents on a momentous trek to their tragic end 
in the tunnel. 

The two other important physical journeys in Sula are taken by Nel* 
and Helene Wright* and by Sula Peace* herself. Evoking the proper 
Southern women of The Bluest Eye, Helene strives above all to be proper, 
fighting hard to forget her New Orleans mother, a Creole woman she 
considers disreputable. Eager to leave that perceived taint behind, Helene 
readily marries and joins the tide of Southerners on the Great Migra- 
tion, settling in Medallion, where she seeks to impose her strict propri- 
ety on her daughter, Nel. Years later, when Helene's grandmother is ill, 
Helene and Nel take the train back to New Orleans, a trip Nel will al- 
ways remember because it reveals her mother's essential weakness and 
steels Nel to avoid a similar fate. 

Sula's own migration occurs offstage, and all we learn is that in her ten 
years away from Medallion, she has gone to college in Nashville and trav- 
eled elsewhere. Sula's return home, however, assumes mythic propor- 
tions, for it is accompanied by flocks of robins. Nevertheless, her travels 
away from Medallion seem to allow Sula to come back with a vengeance, 
as she promptly sends her grandmother, Eva Peace*, to a nursing home, 
enabling Sula to indulge her personal whims, including a fleeting affair 
with Nel's husband, Jude Greene*. The novel ends with Nel much later 
embarking on her own belated emotional migration, which occurs while 


she is walking away from visiting Sula's grave. Nel realizes that perhaps 
she has judged her childhood friend too harshly, that perhaps Sula has 
always recognized the necessity of the internal journey that Nel only 
now begins to understand. 

In Song of Solomon*, physical migrations and journeys become much 
more central. While it is set in an unnamed Northern/Midwestern city 
on Lake Superior, the plot involves Pilate* and Macon Dead's* move 
there from their father's farm in Pennsylvania, as well as Milkma Dead's* 
momentous trip south. Indeed, in the opening scene, Mr. Robert Smith* 
announces his impending flight from the top of the hospital across Lake 
Superior. Other journeys, large and small, include Macon's pretentious 
Sunday drives, Ruth's* bus rides to her father's grave, Guitar Baines* 
stalking Milkman while on the hunt with local men in Virginia, and 
Hagar Dead's* driven nonstop venture to try to buy the beauty that will 
win Milkman's affection. But it is Milkman's journey back in time, back 
to the source of his familial heritage, that has the greatest significance. 
Consistent with Morrison's proclivities, his geographical movement en- 
ables substantial emotional growth. Although Milkman leaves his North- 
ern home to travel south initially for a selfish reason — he is seeking what 
he believes is gold hidden in a cave — what he actually discovers is far 
more valuable. Symbolically, Milkman sheds his materialistic outer cov- 
erings, such as his watch and dress shoes, and arrives at a much deeper 
appreciation for what is really important, such as his family. And these 
corresponding physical and personal expeditions converge when Pilate 
joins him in Virginia, Guitar's subsequent murder of her the catalyst for 
Milkman's own prodigious leap. This novel, therefore, opens with a failed 
flight and ends with what seems to be the most powerful flight of all, as 
Milkman leaps into the air, his ultimate journey transcending any earthly 

Tar Baby* has the most exotic primary setting of Morrison's works, the 
Caribbean Isle des Chevaliers*, to which each of the main characters has 
traveled some distance. The novel begins with Son's* long swim, taking 
him from the ship job he abandons and resulting with his stowing away 
on board the small sailboat operated by Jadine Childs* and Margaret 
Street*. Within the world of Tar Baby, the older characters — Ondine and 
Sydney Childs*, Margaret, and Valerian Street* — remain fixed on the is- 
land. But Jadine and Son are more mobile, traveling to New York City, to 
Eloe*, Florida, back to New York, and then back to the island. By the end 
of the novel, Jadine is en route to Paris, where, she hopes, she will no 
longer need to constantly seek safety, yet her ultimate destination is un- 
certain. In Tar Baby's final pages, magical Marie-Therese Foucault* facil- 
itates Son's definitive and final journey to join a realm of mythic import. 
After traveling from the larger island of Dominique in a boat piloted in 
the dark by blind Marie-Therese, Son crawls ashore at Isle des Chevaliers, 


gradually finding his way and finally running off into what seems to be 
a legendary existence. Marie-Therese hopes, Morrison asserts, that he will 
forgo chasing the unworthy Jadine and instead merge with the stamped- 
ing island horsemen and embrace his own profound fate. 

While Morrison's first four novels involve characters traveling be- 
tween influential settings, the next three focus even more on geograph- 
ical migration and its attendant emotional implications. In Beloved*, 
Jazz*, and Paradise*, Morrison's characters leave their Southern homes 
in search of better lives in the North and West. Yet their quests for some 
sort of Promised Land are futile, for the relocations prove only to be dif- 
ferent, not necessarily better. 

Within Beloved, Sethe Suggs's* escape/migration from Sweet 
Home*, Kentucky, to Cincinnati, Ohio, echoes and revises the slave nar- 
rative tradition; the journey itself becomes a powerful metaphor, for it 
is simultaneously an escape and the scene for Denver Suggs's* birth. 
Paul D Garner* also migrates northward to Delaware by following na- 
ture's signs, such as the North Star, the spring flowers, and the moss 
on trees. Baby Suggs*, too, travels to the North, her departure actually 
sanctioned after her son Halle* buys her freedom. However, for each 
of these characters, the North fails in its billing as a place of refuge be- 
cause the Promised Land turns out to be yet another site of horror. 
Along these migratory lines, we also see Beloved* herself undergoing 
a monumental metamorphosis; she transforms herself into a living being 
and travels what she describes as a great distance before arriving at 124 
Bluestone Road*. This home outside Cincinnati becomes the destination 
for each of Beloved's main characters, with Paul D arriving there after 
his self-proclaimed seventeen-year walk. Paul D's earlier trip taking him 
further south from Sweet Home — on the way to the hellish prison camp 
in Alfred, Georgia — reveals another migratory emphasis, as he recalls 
that his sense of physical control diminishes the farther south he trav- 
els. Morrison also demonstrates that even shorter journeys can be sig- 
nificant, as Denver's fearful venture out of the yard of 124 becomes her 
own and her mother's only chance for survival. 

Furthermore, it is the physical incursion into the yard of 124 by school- 
teacher* and his confederates that sets much of the novel's most power- 
ful action into motion. Because of this invasion, to which Baby Suggs 
takes particular offense, Sethe believes that another essential journey is 
in order, this time between the land of the living and the domain of the 
dead. Again focused on seeking a safe place, as so many Morrison char- 
acters are, Sethe perceives the transition from life to death* as preferable 
to allowing her children to be remanded to what she views as the living 
hell of slavery*. In other words, rather than return from the relatively 
free North to the enslaved South, Sethe prefers to take her children and 
herself to what she describes as the far shore of existence, where they 


can be together with her late mother. Once the townswomen banish 
Beloved's presence to its rightful place, Sethe feels lost and hopeless. But 
by the novel's end, Sethe begins to realize, with the help of Paul D, that 
internal exploration and recovery* actually are possible, and that she can 
finally leave the past behind and embark on a journey into the future. 

Literal and metaphorical journeys into a troubled Southern past also 
inform Jazz*, Morrison's most direct Great Migration novel. This work 
gives great attention to Joe* and Violet Trace's* train journey from agri- 
cultural Virginia* to Harlem* not long after the turn of the century. In- 
deed, their very name, "Trace," suggests migration along tracks, paths, 
and roads. Also invoking the Harlem Renaissance tradition, Jazz pres- 
ents Violet and Joe initially regarding the City, as Morrison calls it, as 
enthralling. Not only do they find it relatively easy to earn money, but 
they also manage upward mobility within this Northern setting, even- 
tually landing a spacious apartment and satisfying jobs. Yet, Harlem 
eventually fails in its promise. Violet becomes mentally unstable after 
moving there, feeling trapped and confused, and Joe, too, loses his way, 
ultimately committing murder while on a hunting trek within this urban 
environment. However, by the end of Jazz, once Violet and Joe partici- 
pate in their own fundamental emotional explorations, the Promised 
Land's enticements may just be beginning to come true. 

In addition to Violet and Joe, others figure in the novels focus on geo- 
graphical migration. Golden Gray* sets off on his own expedition south- 
ward, traveling from Baltimore* to Vesper County, Virginia, in search of 
his father. Interestingly, this is the same county that Joe traverses in his 
own parental search — yet Golden easily stumbles upon the otherwise 
elusive Wild*, and Joe comfortably bonds with Golden's quarry, Henry 
Lestory, otherwise known as Hunter's Hunter*. Years earlier, his mother, 
Vera Louise Gray*, and True Belle*, her servant and Violet's grand- 
mother, made their own important migration from Vesper County to 
Baltimore to enable them to hide Golden's birth. Each of these journeys 
is steeped in identity* exploration and provides pivotal insights into the 
characters' lives. 

Paradise*, Morrison's seventh novel, embodies another migrational 
history, in which African Americans from the deep South relocated west- 
ward to build all-Black towns in Oklahoma and Kansas. The Old Fathers 
of Paradise flee from bigotry and violence in postbellum Louisiana and 
Mississippi, making a long trek to Oklahoma, where they hope to live in 
some of the African American towns already established. Along the way 
they attract more followers, but they also experience painful exclusion, 
as they are denied sanctuary by those they had expected to welcome 
them. The very circumstances that accompany the travelers' decision on 
where to found Haven, Oklahoma*, their first settlement, involve an 
almost mythical figure of a man who eventually leads them to the site. 


Yet after the influences of the twentieth century encroach, the commu- 
nity leaders feel compelled to retreat farther west. The earlier seminal 
event of rejection, the Disallowing, determines the trajectory the settlers 
eventually take; rather than stay in Haven, they seek out an even more 
remote, and they hope safer, setting, traveling onward to what will be- 
come Ruby, Oklahoma*. 

The townsmen, especially the twins Deacon* and Steward Morgan*, 
define Ruby by what it is not — specifically, the Convent*, seventeen miles 
away. Smug in their self-righteousness, the Ruby men believe visiting the 
Convent represents a dangerous foray into depravity. The very distance 
between Ruby and the Convent becomes a transitional space for signifi- 
cant physical and emotional journeying as each of the main characters in 
Paradise traverses this route, the men usually driving and the women 
often walking. Drawn to and yet repelled by each other, the residents of 
the Convent and the citizens of Ruby seem bound to travel these seven- 
teen miles repeatedly — the most profound trip being the hunt on which 
the townsmen embark when they drive to the Convent to kill the women. 

Furthermore, Deacon and Steward define the threat they believe the 
Convent represents in terms of another formative journey — when they 
accompany their father and uncles on a tour of the African American 
towns in the state. Echoing an earlier journey around Oklahoma and 
Kansas that their forebears took before the twins were born, this second 
trip also includes all-Black towns, many of which have failed in the in- 
tervening years. Their wounds still smarting from the Disallowing, the 
Morgan men seem almost to appreciate the hardships some of the other 
towns experience. While visiting one of the more prosperous communi- 
ties, young Deacon and Steward see nineteen proper African American 
women who leave a lasting impression on the boys, resulting in their 
later horror at what they perceive to be the lawlessness of the women in 
the Convent. 

These women have traveled great distances to reach the Convent, al- 
though their origins are somewhat indeterminate. The novel does reveal 
that Consolata Sosa* has come to Oklahoma all the way from Brazil; 
Mavis Albright*, from Maryland; Gigi (Grace Gibson*), from Alcorn, 
Mississippi, as well as San Francisco; and Seneca* from endless journeys, 
most recently from Indiana and Wichita, Kansas. 

Throughout Paradise, these large and small journeys are numerous, 
from Deacon's barefoot walk, to Billie Delia Cato's* relocation from Ruby 
to Demby, to Anna Flood's return to Ruby from Detroit. Morrison fur- 
ther reveals her interest in metaphysical journeying here, which the 
physical mobility seems to prompt. Deacon's unusual walk through Ruby 
parallels his newfound interest in truth-telling; the Convent women's 
final journeys of forgiveness and healing follow their flights from the 
site of murder, as well as their own potential traversals between life and 


death. The final scene of Paradise also evokes migrations and mobility of 
all sorts, as Morrison alludes here to homecoming, flowing ocean waves, 
and ship voyages. 

Toni Morrison's fictional writings embrace migrations, travels, trips — 
journeys both physical and emotional. While one may cause the other, 
she seems to say that neither is adequate alone. Morrison's own personal 
history reflects this migratory sensibility; her parents participated in the 
Great Migration, moving to Lorain, Ohio, from Georgia and Alabama, 
thus enabling their daughter, it seems, to understand and appreciate 
North, South, and the significant space for journeying in between. 

References: Melvin Dixon, Ride Out the Wilderness: Geography and 
Identity in Afro-American Literature (1987); Farah Jasmine Griffin, 
"Who Set You Plowin'V: The African-American Migration Narrative 
(1995); Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migra- 
tion and How It Changed America (1991); Nell Irvin Painter, Lxodusters: 
Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction (1976); Lawrence R. 
Rodgers, Canaan Bound: The African- American Great Migration Novel 

Kristine Yohe 

Misner, Richard {Paradise) 

The young reverend, an outsider who comes to Ruby, Oklahoma*, in 
1970, is mistrusted by Ruby's citizens and resented for his efforts to mo- 
tivate the youth to participate in the Civil Rights movement. After the 
attack on the Convent* women, Misner sees, or feels, a spiritual window 
in the air outside of the Convent. Although Misner has no answers ei- 
ther to solve the mysteries of the Convent or to give to Deacon Mor- 
gan's* introspective musings, he emerges as a spiritual and political hope 
for Ruby when he decides to stay in the divided town while giving the 
eulogy for Save-Marie Fleetwood*. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Mister (Beloved) 

"Mister" is the name of a rooster at Sweet Home* whose freedom Paul 
D Garner* envies. Paul D had assisted in Mister's birth, having helped 
him out of his shell after the hen had walked away with the other chicks 
and left him trapped inside his shell. Sethe Suggs* and Paul D describe 
the rooster as hateful and able to best every other animal in the yard. 


After Paul D is captured, shackled, and manacled, he watches Mister 
strutting around the yard and realizes that the rooster is more "man" 
than he ever was. Mister is one of the objects upon which Paul D focuses 
as he meditates on the meaning of manhood. See also Beloved; Garner, 
Paul D; Masculinity. 

Lovalerie King 

Morgan, Deacon {Paradise) 

Born in 1924, Deek is grandson of Zechariah "Big Papa" Morgan, founder 
of Haven, Oklahoma*, twin of Steward*, husband of Soane*, and head 
of one of the "fifteen families" who established Ruby, Oklahoma*. In 
1954, already married and father of two boys, Deek has a short but pas- 
sionate affair with Consolata (Connie) Sosa* that he ends ostensibly be- 
cause Connie bites his lip and licks his blood while making love. But he 
also ends the affair because their relationship is a threat to Ruby's social 
structure; Deek is one of the respected "fathers" of the community. Look- 
ing for an explanation for the loss of his sons in Vietnam (both die in 
1968) and for the changes in Ruby, Deek cannot reconcile his patriarchal 
life view and his ideals of stability and morality with Connie and the rest 
of the Convent* women; they are a threat to his authority and the com- 
munity* he has worked to build his entire adult life. 

Along with Steward, Deek leads the raid on the Convent in an attempt 
both to erase the perceived challenge of the matriarchal community and 
to eliminate his own lingering guilt over his long-ago affair. However, 
during the raid, when the unarmed Connie enters the room and addresses 
a vision only she sees, Deek attempts to deflect his brother's aiming arm. 
Although he is not physically stronger than his twin, he is the morally 
stronger of the two. After Steward murders Connie, a rift opens between 
the brothers. Unlike Steward, Deek begins to understand that the iso- 
lated and unchangeable new "haven" they had attempted to create and 
tried to uphold through patriarchal control and violence* was impossi- 
ble. As he walks barefoot to Richard Misner's* house in a reenactment 
of his grandfather's 200-mile barefoot walk from Louisiana to Missis- 
sippi, the reader understands that Deek will find what he never knew to 
look for. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Morgan, Dovey {Paradise) 

As wife of the prominent Steward Morgan* and sister to Soane Mor- 
gan*, Dovey is one of Ruby, Oklahoma's* leading (but childless) women 


who, over the years, grows increasingly restless and helpless until she 
meets her "friend," a mysterious man who first appears to her just after 
a wave of butterflies, and never tells her his name. Except for one dream, 
her friend's visits stop after Steward leases Dovey's private space — a re- 
possessed house at the edge of town — to his newly married nephew. 
Dovey and Soane are the only witnesses to Steward's shooting of Con- 
solata Sosa* at the Convent, and the sisters' disagreement over which 
husband is responsible leaves an irreparable rift in their relationship. See 
also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Morgan, Soane {Paradise) 

Wife of Deacon Morgan* and sister to Dovey Morgan*, Soane taught 
the schoolchildren of Ruby, Oklahoma*, before Patricia Best Cato*. 
Knowing her husband Deek is having an affair with Consolata (Connie) 
Sosa*, a beautiful, green-eyed woman who lives at the Convent*, Soane 
walks the seventeen miles there and demands that Connie help her abort 
her child. However, Soane has no intent of aborting the child; rather, she 
uses that excuse to show herself and her sexual relationship with her 
husband to Connie. After Connie refuses to help her, Soane loses the child 
during the walk back to Ruby and understands the miscarriage as God's 
punishment. Ten years later, Soane develops an unexpected but deep and 
long-lasting friendship with Connie because Connie "steps-into" and 
saves her son Scout after he falls asleep driving a truck. On her way to 
help prevent the slaughter of the Convent women, Soane understands 
that she has truly forgiven Connie but wonders whether she has ever 
forgiven Deek. Her sons Scout and Easter died in Vietnam, and Soane 
has been unable to read their final letters; she finally wonders whether 
that refusal has been a way to punish Deek for his unfaithfulness. Soane 
gains insight into both herself and her husband after she witnesses Stew- 
ard's murder of Connie, and Deek's too-late attempt to stop him. 
Unthinkingly, Soane implies to Dovey that the blame should rest on 
Steward. The brief exchange between the sisters changes their relation- 
ship forever. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Morgan, Steward (Paradise) 

Born in 1924, Steward is the twin of Deacon*, husband of Dovey*, and 
head of one of the "fifteen families" who established Ruby, Oklahoma*, 
Steward and Dovey are unable to have children*, so the patriarchal 


Steward places all his expectations of the future on his nephew K.D. 
(Coffee Smith*). Steward loves his wife, the history* of his family*, the 
memory* of his sister Ruby, his bank, his position in the community*, 
and, perhaps most of all, his idea of what is Right. Rasher than his twin 
and conservative in matters of race*, Steward cannot tolerate the chang- 
ing youth in Ruby, nor can he accept the menless women at the Con- 
vent*; for him, both are signs of failure, disintegration, and loss of 
control. Thus it is Steward who kills the "white girl" in the first line of 
the novel and who shoots Consolata Sosa* in the head despite, or per- 
haps because of, his brother's cautioning hand. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 


In her efforts to plumb the depths of human emotion, Toni Morrison re- 
turns again and again to that most fundamental of personal relation- 
ships — the tie between mother and child. Motherhood is at the very core 
of human experience, and to truly grasp our capacity for love, for grief, 
for pain, for survival, one must take the full measure of motherhood, as 
Morrison does. Motherhood, in one form or another, is central to all of 
her novels. She is able to take historically and culturally African Amer- 
ican interpretations of maternity and strip away the socially imposed 
limitations on that motherhood, thereby exposing the universal hu- 
manity of that experience. In so doing, she dissolves the boundaries of 
the maternal role, creating an ever-widening, intergenerational definition 
of the concept of mothering. 

Motherhood in The Bluest Eye* is hard work, a heavy load of economic 
and moral responsibility with few redeeming moments of tenderness or 
affection. Both of the mothers in this novel — Mrs. MacTeer and Pauline 
Breedlove* — are supremely pragmatic in their motives toward their 
daughters. Theirs is a motherly love hardened by necessity; their first re- 
sponsibility toward their daughters is to keep them alive, their second, 
to teach them to fend for themselves. The broader implications of fend- 
ing for themselves are the ability to survive in a hostile world, to main- 
tain personal integrity in the face of the dominant white culture, and to 
grow up to be decent, acceptable citizens. 

But Pauline Breedlove is functioning on the fringes of society; in the 
white home where she is employed as domestic help, she is just that — 
the help. The little white girl she cares for has access to a nurturing, ma- 
ternal side of Pauline that her own children never see; even Pecola* calls 
her mother "Mrs. Breedlove," an impersonal, distancing name that em- 
phasizes the difficulty of this mother-child relationship, while her white 
"daughter" calls her by an affectionate/demeaning first name. But while 


Pauline has a double identity* as a mother, she has no support network 
within her own community* — the Breedloves are accepted by no one. 
They live in white culture only as domestic help; in Black culture, as an 
example of what not to become, of sloth and laziness steeped in violence*, 
poor taste, and alcohol. Pecola's mother has no community in whose ways 
she can train her daughter. In her inability to protect her daughter from 
her drunken husband, Mrs. Breedlove fails in her maternal duty; not only 
does Pecola get pregnant when her father rapes her, but when she mis- 
carries, her tenuous hold on sanity is broken, and she is rendered forever 
incapable of attaining the status of decent, acceptable citizen. 

Mrs. MacTeer, on the other hand, is constantly aware of her responsi- 
bility toward Claudia* and Frieda*, ever vigilant that they might stray 
from the narrow path of moral decency and cultural acceptability that 
she believes will keep them safe in life. She is aware of her place in her 
social world, and is willing to sacrifice tenderness and mercy toward her 
daughters in order to ensure that they maintain that standing while sur- 
viving the delicate game of interfacing with the dominant white culture. 
They are taught to fear prostitutes*, to despise laziness, and to scorn 
those who are outside of their culture's accepted margins. Even as she 
berates Claudia for an inconvenient illness, she nonetheless clearly loves 
her daughter, but has no emotional energy available for open demon- 
strations of that affection. Throughout this novel, emotional comfort is 
an unheard-of luxury in a world where survival is a daily struggle. 

In Sula* , Morrison explores the intergenerational effects of maternal 
relationships. Eva Peace* embodies matriarchy — holding court from her 
wagon-throne, never leaving her bedroom but ruling her little kingdom 
well within her divine right as mother and grandmother. Nel Wright*, 
like Sula Peace*, comes from a line of women fending for themselves; 
her mother, raised by her grandmother, has rejected her own mother's 
life of prostitution, instead embracing the virtue of the Catholic Church 
and life as a small-town pillar of decency. Like her mother, Nel chooses 
a seemingly traditional life with a husband and children*, but when her 
husband, Jude Greene*, is seduced by Sula, Nel loses him as well as her 
lifelong best friend. 

In Eva, Morrison examines both the pragmatic and the affectionate 
sides of motherhood. When Eva's husband abandons her in the dead of 
winter, leaving her destitute with three children to feed, Eva has no choice 
but to rise to the occasion; we are never entirely sure what happened to 
her leg, but it is clear that the loss of that leg is what enables her to sur- 
vive financially and raise her children to adulthood. But throughout the 
novel her single-minded insistence on survival is tempered by unabashed 
love for her children; Plum*, particularly, is her acknowledged favorite. 
Eva's murder of her grown son, when she discovers his opium addiction, 
foreshadows Sethe's Suggs's* refusal to allow her children to be 


destroyed by slavery* in Beloved* — Eva will end Plum's degradation 
herself, rather than allow him to kill himself with drugs. 

Eva's matriarchal dynasty is short-lived; her eldest daughter, Hannah, 
who lives with her, burns to death (with daughter Sula looking on); years 
later, Sula dies of a prolonged illness, pathetically alone, having institu- 
tionalized her grandmother and alienated everyone else in town who 
might care about her, particularly Nel. Sula leads a supremely narcissis- 
tic life. She has no regard for anyone's feelings; she does exactly what 
she pleases, without thought for convention or public disapprobation. 
Her betrayals of the three most important women in her life (Nel, Eva, 
and Hannah) indicate her lack of balancing superego. But Nel's more tra- 
ditional life choices don't shield her from the repercussions of Sula's self- 
ishness; even after she loses her husband to Sula, Nel's sense of herself 
as peacemaker and protector prompts her to take responsibility, unbid- 
den, for the ill Sula, as well as the dead Sula. Both women struggle 
throughout the novel to establish identities for themselves independent 
of their female/maternal lineage, but both ultimately fail; the complex 
dynamics of mother-child relationships are too strong, too much a part 
of who they are, for either of them ever to be totally divested of that in- 

In Song of Solomon*, Morrison creates a mother character who has 
achieved a level of financial and social security that affords her the lux- 
ury of a more complex and affection-based relationship with her children. 
As in Morrison's previous novels, the presence of an abusive husband 
complicates Ruth Dead's* life; while Cholly Breedlove's* decisive act is to 
rape his daughter, and BoyBoy chooses to leave Eva, Macon Dead* just 
stays and torments his wife and children. Ruth's love for her son is her 
only act of open defiance against Macon; she tricked him into getting her 
pregnant a third time, years after he had lost all sexual interest in her, and 
then fought to keep the baby he wanted her to lose or abort. Milkman 
Dead's* very existence is the hard evidence of Ruth's maternal instinct, 
and she turns to that relationship for what little validation and pleasure 
she can eke out of life. 

On the other side of town, Macon's sister, Pilate Dead*, holds sway in 
a very different household; she raised her daughter, Reba*, alone, and the 
two women have now raised Reba's daughter, Hagar*, again without the 
benefit or burden of male input. Hagar grows up indulged and protected; 
Pilate is an eccentric, but strong and capable, woman, levelheaded and 
wise. Pilate and Reba both dote on Hagar, but she loses her heart to Milk- 
man, and comes completely unhinged when he jilts her. 

Pilate and Macon both live their lives under the shadow of their 
adored father's death; as children, they witnessed his murder and found 
themselves alone in the world. The novel hinges on their struggle to 
truly understand and come to terms with what happened to him, and to 


themselves, on that farm in Pennsylvania; throughout, Pilate is driven 
by visits from her father's ghost, convinced that he is urging her to atone 
for her sins and honor his memory*. Milkman pieces together a his- 
tory* of his grandparents that neither Macon nor Pilate knew, and re- 
veals that the dead grandfather's visits were not about himself, but about 
his wife's memory; Macon, Sr., urges Pilate to honor her mother, which 
she has never been able to do because her mother died a few minutes 
before Pilate's birth. This is clearly a quest novel; for each character the 
quest takes a slightly different form, but for all it is about understand- 
ing, honoring, and justifying the past. For Pilate and Macon, and their 
respective families, the most elusive part of that past is the memory of 
their dead mother, Singing Bird*. 

In Beloved, Morrison creates her most complex portrayal of mother- 
hood; even the novel's title is a testament to Sethe's dubious legacy of 
love and blood. Having escaped from slavery at great personal cost, when 
Sethe sees her owner and tormentor coming to recapture her and her 
children, she attempts to kill her children to keep them from having to 
live through the cruelty that she has experienced at schoolteacher's* 
hands. She succeeds only in killing her toddler daughter, and school- 
teacher is sufficiently horrified that he abandons his mission. Through- 
out the novel, Sethe's mothering is intertwined with her memories of 
her own mother, who was separated from her by the cruelties of slav- 
ery, and with the mothering and memories of her mother-in-law, Baby 
Suggs*. The ghost of Beloved*, who appears as the flesh-and-blood in- 
carnation of Sethe's traumatized psyche, is also an amalgam of genera- 
tions of African and maternal suffering under the inhumanity of the 
slave trade. The novel revolves around Sethe's accommodation of first 
the invisible baby ghost, and later the physical girl who appears, 
Beloved's ghost returned to life. When faced with the person that her 
beloved daughter could have been, Sethe relinquishes her own right to 
endure and live, and her obligation to mother her remaining child. 
Sethe's entire identity is a part of, and a reaction to, her mothering, and 
the reality of motherhood in the face of life's injustices threatens to an- 
nihilate her. 

Sethe has four children, but her sons, Howard* and Buglar Suggs*, 
pick up and leave early in the novel, unable to cope with the intensity of 
the ghost-child who haunts their home; significantly, the result of their 
departure is a truly matriarchal family unit. When Baby Suggs dies, 
Sethe is left alone to support the weight of her past, her grief, her an- 
cestral legacy, and her adolescent daughter's needs. Paul D Garner*, the 
last of the men with whom she survived the atrocities on the plantation, 
reappears and attempts to support and nurture Sethe, but his arrival only 
complicates the relationships between the mother and her two daugh- 
ters, one living, one not. Sethe's ultimate catharsis, the exorcism of 


Beloved's human ghost, can be accomplished only by the women of the 
town, when they come out to support Sethe at Denver Suggs's* behest. 
Symbolically, Sethe is unable to support the weight of her motherhood 
alone; yet again Morrison is pointing out, among other things, the im- 
portance of community-based mothering. The novel is ultimately hom- 
age to the strength of women everywhere who, collectively, enable the 
world's children to live and thrive and, by extension, sustain the very ex- 
istence of humanity, no matter what the exigencies of life and survival. 

In Tar Baby*, Morrison examines, for the first time, the relationship 
between a white mother and her son; significantly, Margaret Street* is 
the only mother in any of Morrison's novels who maliciously abuses her 
child, with no better excuse than her own psychological disturbances. In- 
terestingly, this is the only actual mother-child relationship in the book, 
and we never meet Michael; it is his refusal to visit that fuels some of 
the animosity between Margaret and Valerian Street*. Margaret clearly 
is mentally ill, but Ondine Childs's* exposure of the woman's intermit- 
tent but intentional torture of her young child, years prior, reveals the 
depth of dysfunctionality in this miserable little family. 

Jadine Childs*, Ondine's and Sydney Childs's* orphaned niece, and 
Son*, her lover, are more of Morrison's motherless children. We know 
that Jadine was orphaned when she was twelve and was raised by her 
aunt and uncle, who financed her exclusive boarding school education. 
Son, who goes by various aliases, almost as if protecting his true 
name/identity, seems to have only a father. Both of these characters are 
aimless, rootless, narcissistic, and ultimately alone in the world. Jadine is 
self-conscious of her status as an orphan, and while she welcomes the 
emotional dependence of her relationship with Son, she has no intention 
of relinquishing her financial and social independence. Son simply feels 
no concrete obligation to anyone other than himself. Having killed his 
wife, he is a fugitive from the law, but believes that he is punishing him- 
self by living with his guilt. He has an idyllic memory of the nobility of 
Eloe*, the small Florida town where he was raised, but nothing strong 
enough to hold him or stop his worldwide wandering. 

Ondine, the cook and wife of the Streets' butler, has a troubled rela- 
tionship to motherhood. Having no children of her own, Ondine has 
raised her brother-in-law's daughter, only to watch her succeed in the 
world and come back to visit as a guest of Margaret, where she is ex- 
pected to wait on Jadine like the servant that she is. At the same time, 
Ondine has witnessed the abuse of Michael, and while she seals her own 
complicity by not revealing Margaret's abuse until years later, when it 
is far too late, she also admits to trying to help the boy by giving him the 
mother love that Margaret couldn't. At the end of the novel, Ondine feels 
that the mothering she has done throughout her life has been without 
recompense; perhaps it is her substitute status in the lives of Jadine and 


Michael that allows Morrison to point out the truly sacrificial nature of 

In Jazz*, two of the primary driving forces of the novel stem from 
motherhood unfulfilled: Violet Trace's* inability to become a mother, cou- 
pled with the memory of her own mother's suicide, and Joe Trace's* 
inability ever to know his mother. As in Morrison's other novels, an un- 
derstanding of the present is always an exercise in untangling the knot- 
ted threads of history, and in this novel we see an entire cast of characters 
attempting to compensate for their lack of an enduring sense of being 
rooted in a stable network of maternal relationships. Neither Violet nor 
Joe can find comfort in a mother or a child; this lack of lineage forces them 
to find other ways of coping with life's challenges. Violet has few, if any, 
resources. She is mentally unstable, and ultimately her marriage provides 
the safety net that keeps her sane and functional. Joe is clearly searching 
for a mother figure; the image of his whispering to a wild woman in a 
cornfield, hoping she is his mother, frames the book. Dorcas Manfred*, 
Joe's lover, is more a child than a mother figure, and cannot really meet 
his psychological needs. In the final scenes of the novel, it is their shared 
history that enables the Traces to hold their marriage together — each is 
lacking a matriarchal lineage, so they create their own history, marital 
rather than maternal. Clearly, in this particular novel, the characters' lack 
of stability, of rootedness, represents the sense of disorder that plagued 
the Jazz Age culture as a whole; motherhood, or the lack thereof, becomes 
an allegory for a much larger cultural condition. 

In Morrison's seventh novel, Paradise' 1 ', the motley group of women 
who live at the Convent* represent a matriarchal rejection of the patri- 
archal "paradise" of Ruby, Oklahoma*. It is this insubordination that 
brings down upon them the wrath of the town's male old guard, and 
though the town's wise woman (poignantly named Lone DuPres* in 
honor of her discovery as an abandoned/motherless infant in the wilder- 
ness) tries to save them, she is too late, and the women are sacrificed. The 
symbolic leader of the Convent is a woman whom Consolata (Connie) 
Sosa* (the oldest resident, and mother figure to the women who gravi- 
tate there) calls Mother (Mary Magna*); she is actually an ill and aged 
nun who dies early in the novel. 

The Convent actually was, at one time, a community of nuns running 
a school for Native American girls; it gradually becomes a shelter for var- 
ious lost and hunted women who struggle to heal their wounds and nur- 
ture each other in an entirely female environment. For almost every one 
of the women at the Convent, motherhood is the background on which 
emotional battles are waged: for one, it is the accidental suffocation of 
her twin babies that fuels her escape from an abusive husband; another 
runs away from home when her boyfriend falls in love with her mother, 
and later gets pregnant, most likely after being raped. Another was just 


a child when her mother, whom she thought was her sister, walked out 
of their apartment and never returned. For all these women, the distinc- 
tion between mother and daughter is unclear; the line between self/iden- 
tity and mother love is blurred. Each is unable to create order from her 
own emotional chaos, but with Connie's help, the women support each 
other in their journeys toward wholeness and independence. 

By contrast, in the town of Ruby (even the name has maternal signif- 
icance), Black women have achieved the ironically incapacitating status 
of the white ideal of subordinate, subservient motherhood: they have no 
voice, no independent thought, no power. When any one of the women 
needs a truly supportive female community, she finds that community 
at the Convent. At the end of the novel, it is the women of the town who 
try to prevent the massacre of the Convent women, and it is the town's 
marginal women, Patricia Best Cato* (daughter of an outside woman) 
and Lone DuPres, who are able to look objectively at this piece of Ruby 
history and understand the male pride and arrogance that led to such 
senseless cruelty. But the town's female voices have all been silenced; nei- 
ther Pat nor Lone speaks of what she knows to be true. 

Throughout her novels, Morrison dissects, examines, and re-examines 
the archetypal images of motherhood, ruthlessly challenging traditional 
definitions of mothering. She examines the intergenerational impact on 
the human psyche of motherhood as both a presence and an absence. 
Writing out of a tradition in which mothers are the keepers of history — 
the oral tradition* — Morrison inextricably links the mother's role with 
the role of history. To lose, or dishonor, or ignore one is to lose the other. 
And these are the primal relationships of humanity. We are nothing out- 
side of history; likewise, without mothers, we would not exist. See also 
Approaches to Morrison's Work: Feminist/Black Feminist; Domesticity; 
Family; Home; Infanticide. 

References: Patricia Hill Collins. "The Meaning of Motherhood in Black 
Culture and Black Mother/Daughter Relationships," Sage 4: 2 (1987); 
Carole Boyce Davies, "Mother Right/Write Revisited: Beloved and 
Dessa Rose and the Construction of Motherhood in Black Women's Fic- 
tion," in Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities, ed. 
Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T Reddy (1991); Stephanie A. Deme- 
trakopoulos, "Maternal Bonds as Devourers of Women's Individuation 
in Toni Morrison's Beloved," African American Review 26: 1 (1992); 
Karen E. Fields, "To Embrace Dead Strangers: Toni Morrison's Beloved," 
in Mother Puzzles: Daughters and Mothers in Contemporary Ameri- 
can Literature, ed. Mickey Pearlman (1989); Marianne Hirsch, "Mater- 
nal Narratives: 'Cruel Enough to Stop the Blood,'" in Reading Black 
Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 

MUSIC 225 

(1990); Barbara Offutt Mathieson, "Memory and Mother Love in Mor- 
rison's Beloved," American Imago 47: 1 (Spring 1990). 

Lisa C. Rosen 


When describing her childhood, Toni Morrison frequently mentions the 
music that was always playing at home or the fact that her mother sang 
both jazz and opera. If this is the reason for Morrison's understanding 
of music, she has also passed it on; one of her sons is a musician and sound 
engineer. Her many credits include the libretto for Honey and Rue, a 
song cycle composed with Andre Previn for the Black soprano Kathleen 
Battle, and the musical New Orleans, concerning the origins of jazz* in 
that city's Story ville. Her most engaging relationship to music, however, 
may be the way she translates it into the written word 

Morrison uses music as both a structural and a symbolic element in 
her work. Music often carries information about community* knowl- 
edge, aesthetics, or perspectives. Toni Morrison often discusses the power 
of music and the way it functions in culture in discussions of her craft. 
She sometimes refers to music as an ideal art form. In her "Rootedness: 
The Ancestor* as Foundation," an essay excerpted from an interview with 
Eleanor Traylor, she details elements of music (Black music in particu- 
lar) that sustain its power. Morrison argues that traditionally, music has 
been the primary art form of healing for Black people. Because of the 
changing place of Black music as a commodity in American culture, she 
asserts, music can no longer do this work alone (Evans 340.) 

Morrison sees the novel as another form that can mirror what happens 
with Black music, and perhaps take that work further. In creating her 
works, she attends to the participatory nature of music — the way it makes 
listeners respond through singing or dancing. Morrison aims for her fic- 
tion to touch those same nerves, to make readers not only speak back to 
the text, but also recognize their responses as part of the text (Evans 341). 

She continues this line of thinking about music in "Living Memory," 
an interview with Paul Gilroy. Once again, Morrison mentions the way 
art, especially music, has been a source of healing and sustenance. She 
contemplates the "intricacy" and "discipline" involved in making the 
work of music, particularly of improvisational music, seem effortless. 
Here she also states her aim to mirror in her writing this seamless stitch- 
ing together of available information that is so often achieved in music. 
She strives, Morrison says, to parallel the tension between what infor- 
mation is given in the music and what is left up to the imagination that 
exists in exchanges between composers or performers of music and their 
audiences (Evans 181). 

226 MUSIC 

Much of what Toni Morrison learns from music is incorporated into 
her fiction, but it also informs her analysis of others' works. In her crit- 
ical monograph Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imag- 
ination*, Morrison examines tropes and structural problems regarding 
Black presence in literature by white American writers. Before beginning 
this project, however, Morrison attends to the moment of a French 
writer's memoir in which the author first recognizes her own madness. 

The event takes place in a club, while listening to Louis Armstrong. 
Overwhelmed by the music — specifically Armstrong's improvisation — 
the author (Marie Cardinal) describes running into the street, scream- 
ing that she is going to die. Morrison argues that moments of 
self-awareness such as these are often sparked by interactions with 
Black people or Black figurations in literature not written by Blacks. 
She calls attention to the fact that Cardinal's reaction is not simply to 
Louis Armstrong's Black body, but specifically to jazz and its structure. 
Morrison comes away from the passage with the notion that what she 
calls the "cultural associations" of jazz are as meaningful as its "intel- 
lectual foundations." It may be useful to think of the "cultural associ- 
ations" of jazz as the ways in which jazz operates in culture as a 
symbol of Blackness or of the city, while the "intellectual foundations" 
are the structural base and logic of the music. 

Symbolic and structural elements of music appear throughout all of 
Toni Morrison's fiction in one way or another. Music figures most promi- 
nently, however, in her three works in which the title refers to the mu- 
sicality of the work. These works are the novels Jazz* and Song of 
Solomon* and her only short story, "Recitatif*." In each of these works, 
the idea of music, or a genre of music, appears at the outset to offer read- 
ers a way in which to approach (their participation in) the text. 

"Recitatif" takes its title from a vocal style commonly found in opera. 
"Recitatif" may be so named in order to foreground the events of the 
story in the way that a recitatif would in opera. In this story, the reader 
is privy to four reunions between a Black woman and a white woman 
(Twyla and Roberta, perhaps respectively) who lived together in an or- 
phanage for part of their childhood. Although readers know that one 
character is white and the other is Black, Morrison does not give us phys- 
ical descriptions or direct references to either character's race*. Music ap- 
pears throughout the story, but each time the music carries more than 
one cultural association. 

As a result, music sets the tone of the context for several exchanges, 
indicating the way in which each character invests in or responds to a 
raced community. For example, when Twyla and Roberta meet in an up- 
scale grocery store, Twyla repeatedly notes that classical music is play- 
ing over the loudspeaker as she thinks about the expensive prices of the 
food or the expensive clothes on Roberta. Twyla is made uncomfortable 

MUSIC 227 

by the cultural associations of classical music. The music is a symbol of 
upper-class culture, and perhaps also of whiteness*. 

Sometimes the music underscores the ambiguous relationships of gen- 
res and musicians and their cultural associations. When Roberta tells 
Twyla that she is to meet with "Hendrix," Twyla inquires what she is 
doing now. What is the reader to take from Twyla's failure to understand 
that Roberta's "Hendrix" is Jimi Hendrix? Is Twyla referring to Nona 
Hendryx? If so, what does her lack of knowledge about Jimi Hendrix and 
Roberta's lack of knowledge about Nona Hendryx say about each musi- 
cian as a cultural figure? Depending on the time period, each figure could 
play a different role in the characterization of Twyla and Roberta as Black 
and white figures. 

Among the musical styles mentioned in the story, however, "recitatif" 
seems to carry the most ambiguous cultural associations of all. The vocal 
style called "recitatif" (or "recitative") is designed for singing the narra- 
tion of events in an opera and often precedes an aria. The complexity of 
the aria presents the opportunity for soloists to demonstrate their ex- 
pertise, while the recitatif is composed to follow the simple rhythms of 
natural speech. An aria gives detailed information about a character or 
the moment, whereas the main purpose of the recitatif is to give the au- 
dience the other necessary information in the form of dialogue or nar- 

How is "Recitatif" related to the recitatif? A reader may experience 
each of the five sections of the story as a "recitatif" from an opera miss- 
ing its other parts. The dialogue and narration foreground the plot. Read- 
ers must imagine the rest. 

One may even read the positioning of this story in relation to Toni Mor- 
rison's other works. "Recitatif" (1983) appeared in print between Tar Baby* 
and Beloved*, the first novel in Morrison's trilogy that includes ]azz and 
Paradise* . "Recitatif" can be read as one narrative passage foregrounding 
the story of race in America, preceding the aria, Beloved. However, it may 
be that after "Recitatif," Morrison mirrored the tension between operatic 
vocal styles in Beloved with its many narrated chapters followed by de- 
tailed, introspective passages from the perspectives of Sethe Suggs*, 
Beloved*, and Denver Suggs*. However readers read the "recitatif" of 
"Recitatif," Morrison makes good use of the cultural associations and in- 
tellectual foundations of all of the music in the story. 

In Song of Solomon, these elements of music are part of the plot. One 
of the central threads of the story is a song, the words of which are trans- 
formed throughout the novel. While the melody and structure of the 
song remain the same in different places and time periods, the names of 
the people mentioned change. The reader learns the way a particular fam- 
ily* history* and Black community memory* change over time and re- 
gion. The song stands, among other translations of oral culture into print, 

228 MUSIC 

as a representation of the routes through which community knowledge 

As Wahneema Lubiano argues, while a particular story is being told in 
vernacular culture, the ways of distributing information throughout a 
community are also passed on (95, 96.) In the case of Song of Solomon, 
the process of passing on these different kinds of knowledge occurs in 
different forms of oral storytelling. The names of places and characters, 
for example, carry histories informed by other, similar-sounding words. 
Places and people are renamed by a community's insistence on remem- 
bering them by events in their lives or their desires. Finally, both chil- 
dren* and adults sing songs that preserve community lore. 

There is also the aural story that nature tells, especially in Shalimar, 
where memory is kept in the way characters listen to their terrain. 
Ryna's sorrow is remembered not only through the song (of Solomon*), 
but also through the sound of the wind whipping through the landscape. 
Morrison uses music as only part of the soundscape in which a system 
of remembering one's relationship to the events in one's community is 
rehearsed. The memories conserved include not only details about a 
story (i.e., Solomon left behind his wife and son Jake*) but also the feel- 
ings of the community in which the story took place. 

Part of the value of understanding music as part of a whole host of ver- 
nacular elements in this work is that it allows the reader to distinguish 
which relationships are particular to music. Perhaps the most important 
distinction is that music allows the song to travel away from the place of 
its origin and gives the information a greater context. While the patterns 
for naming and renaming places and people in the text are passed down 
across time, these aural histories do not tend to travel far from their 
places of origin. The primary force propelling music from person to per- 
son is not the need to pass information or even to judge one's relation- 
ship to a place or event. Because music travels casually along lines of 
those who share an aesthetic, the context for songs extends far beyond 
the particular places in which other kinds of memory are contained. 

Once a song is separated from its original context, the lyrics can 
change. If the information articulated in the song sometimes points in 
different directions (Solomon becomes Sugarman, Jake becomes Jay), 
what remains is the melancholy mood of the song — the blues. The sad- 
ness of the singers' "Don't leave me here" resonates throughout the 
book. This mood, appropriately, propels the plot of Song of Solomon. The 
sadness of having been left is partially responsible for Macon Dead's* 
miserliness, Ruth Dead's* loneliness, Milkman Dead's* selfishness, even 
for Pilate Dead's* misunderstood message from the dead. 

One of Morrison's goals for her fiction is to relay the mood of a mu- 
sical form. She has acknowledged the desire to depict the feelings of "dis- 
location" evident in spirituals for the writing of Beloved. In Jazz, she 

MUSIC 229 

wanted to create a syntax that gives the illusion of jazz improvisation, 
but also to portray the "reckless, romantic" gestures of the form (Pici 

Each chapter of Jazz can be read as a solo taken by a different instru- 
ment. The first sentence of each chapter responds directly to some word, 
phrase, or idea from the last sentence of the chapter before it, as if in re- 
sponse to the last musical phrase of a preceding solo. The distinct syntax 
and rhythm in the language of each chapter support this idea. The repe- 
tition of phrases creates the effect of a riff. Like a response to the last mu- 
sical phrase of the preceding solo, the first sentence of each chapter 
responds directly to some word, phrase, or idea from the last sentence of 
the chapter before it (Pici 390.) 

Even the first word of the novel refers to the cultural associations and 
intellectual foundations of jazz. The word "Sth" has been read as the 
sound of sucking teeth, often made in judgment on some person or event 
in African American communities. This word has also been read as fan- 
fare — the first sounds a musician (particularly a horn player or percus- 
sionist) makes to announce that he or she is to take over the next solo. 
Whether the reader reads the word as the sounds of people or instru- 
ments, or simply pronounces the "s," the sound produced may resemble 
the sound of a cymbal. 

Toni Morrison has also incorporated the illusion of one of jazz's most 
characteristic elements, improvisation. For Morrison, this property of the 
novel is most evident in the final chapter. One form in which improvi- 
sation appears is the narrator's surprise. In jazz, Morrison's narrator be- 
gins telling the story without knowing exactly how it will end. It does 
have expectations, however. The narrator tells the reader that it expects 
Felice*, Joe Trace*, and his wife Violet* to act together in the same way 
that Dorcas Manfred*, Joe, and Violet do. When the story is set up in the 
same way, however, the song plays differently. Joe, Violet, and Felice in- 
teract in ways that the speaking voice of the text does not expect. 

Music has a stronger presence, structurally and symbolically, in jazz 
than in other printed texts by Toni Morrison. It is therefore fitting that 
the narrator of the book calls attention to the limitations of being an aural 
text in a printed form. In a direct address to the reader, the narrator oijazz 
"speaks" about the way a book works and a reader reads. In addition to 
the appreciation this "character" feels for the reader, it expresses the long- 
ing to do what music (or any aural text, any aural being) can do that a 
book cannot — to say what it has to say out loud. See also Oral Tradition. 

References: Mari Evans, ed., Black Women Writers 1950-1980: A Criti- 
cal Evaluation (1984); Wahneema Lubiano, "The Postmodern Rag: Po- 
litical Identity and the Vernacular in Song of Solomon," in New Essays 

230 MYTH 

on Song of Solomon, ed. Valerie Smith (1995); Nicholas F. Pici, "Trading 
Meanings: The Breath of Music in Toni Morrison's jazz," Connotations 
7: 3 (1997-98); Danielle Taylor-Guthrie, ed. Conversations with Toni 
Morrison (1994). 

Mendi Lewis Obadike 


Because people organize knowledge into narrative structures, particu- 
larly those captured in myths and fairy tales, Toni Morrison views 
fiction as indispensable. The variety and significance of myth in her nov- 
els illustrates how this theory governs and shapes Morrison's own 
work — from the myth of the flying Africans* underpinning Song of 
Solomon* to the Br'er Rabbit fable she revises in Tar Baby*. Morrison 
draws upon an apparently limitless repertoire of myths, appropriating 
classical, Christian, and African traditions to portray twentieth-century 
wounds and the love that potentially heals them. Morrison also mines 
contemporary myths from popular culture, particularly those perpetu- 
ating the troubling and often disruptive Western beauty standards ex- 
ploded in The Bluest Eye* and the happily-ever-after stories of men and 
women in love tested and strained in Sula* , Tar Baby, Beloved* , and 
Jazz*, among others. Finally, the myth of the pleasures offered in the 
Garden of Eden holds a particular force for Morrison, as she consistently 
alludes to and then dismisses this fantasy in several reimagined guises. 
These guises range from the tainted and colonized beauty of the Carib- 
bean in Tar Baby, to a perfect Harlem* at once promised and revoked 
during the 1920s in Jazz, to the perpetually unstable place of harmony 
and serenity established by the 8-rock people of Ruby, Oklahoma*, 
in Paradise*. 

Myths explain why things are the way they are — why the world is 
as it is and why things happen the way they do; Morrison's novels ex- 
emplify this truism. Several of her novels, such as The Bluest Eye and 
Paradise, open by describing the aftermath of a trauma*, implicitly 
promising to explain how and why the trauma occurred. On the first 
page of The Bluest Eye, a child's voice immediately betrays the novel's 
secret, that Pecola Breedlove* was carrying her father's baby. Similarly, 
Morrison opens Paradise with a description of the crime that also closes 
her narrative frame: nine men attack the Convent* women as punish- 
ment for shattering Ruby's fantasies of happiness. Morrison, in other 
words, exploits the form and content of myths by treating her novels 
as a basis for explaining the troubling ways of the world. In so doing, 
she also revises the familiar, if unacknowledged, mythic content deeply 
informing our values and beliefs. 

MYTH 231 

Morrison's interest in magical realism* also reflects her indebtedness 
to myth. Just as ancient myths deploy supernatural stories to explain 
what is beyond rational comprehension, Morrison's novels provide the 
quality of truth that can be accessed only through magic, exaggeration, 
and fantasy. Pilate Dead's* birth without a navel and Beloved's* ghostly 
appearance at 124 Bluestone Road* eighteen years after her death* are 
two examples of the supernatural stories underlying primary characters' 
lives in Morrison's fiction. The supernatural outcomes of Morrison's nov- 
els also borrow mythic elements, thus resisting the demand for closure 
associated with realist narrative: How does Beloved disappear without a 
trace? How can the Convent women of Ruby survive the ambush? Does 
Milkman Dead* really ride the air to be free? The answers are insignif- 
icant compared with the questions these supernatural tales elicit. While 
using the mythic structure to signal an explanation of the inexplicable, 
and simultaneously using supernatural elements to reinforce ambiguity, 
Morrison effectively raises questions in each of her novels about the 
mythic content lurking beneath our consciousness. Written during the 
explosion of racial strife in America from 1965 to 1969, The Bluest Eye 
exposes dominant racial assumptions — or myths — about beauty, as well 
as what Morrison calls the "gaze" condemning young African American 
girls, the most silenced victims of racial tension. Clutching her Shirley 
Temple cup and blue-eyed baby dolls amid the insistent repetition of the 
Dick and Jane primer, the myth of middle-class American happiness dis- 
integrates, literally, before Pecola Breedlove's eyes. 

The novel opens with a general description of "the" private, pretty 
house and "the" happy family, making such fairytales appear to be avail- 
able to everyone — the very basis of the American Dream. But as The 
Bluest Eye progresses, such dreams are exposed as elusive myths, par- 
ticularly for the Breedlove family, reduced to living in a storefront under 
the watchful eye (or gaze) of the community*. At every turn, the novel 
lays bare the danger of embracing such myths, from Pauline Breedlove's* 
adoration of the white, middle-class family for whom she works, to her 
satisfaction from watching idealized Hollywood film stars, to her equa- 
tion of Blackness and what she perceives as "ugliness" in her daughter, 
herself, and her husband. The most striking effect of internalizing this 
myth, however, is Pecola Breedlove's self-splitting, resulting in the be- 
lief that Soaphead Church* has, in fact, granted her cobalt blue eyes. 

The "who will play with Jane?" query fundamental to the mythic Dick 
and Jane primer cuts to the heart of a second tragedy of The Bluest Eye. 
Pecola is rejected by nearly everyone, except perhaps Claudia* and Frieda 
MacTeer* and the triad of prostitutes* at the margins of society, Fury- 
like in their associations with vengeance and retribution. Pecola's rejec- 
tion takes on full force when her father, the also-victimized Cholly 
Breedlove*, at once embraces and rejects her by impregnating her. In her 

232 MYTH 

victimization, Pecola Breedlove resembles Philomela, an ancient mythi- 
cal figure who was raped and subsequently tortured with voicelessness. 

Northrop Frye famously views novels' plots as recurrences of basic 
mythic formulas and associates elemental forms of myth with seasonal 
cycles of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Likewise, the turning of 
the seasons provides the structural basis for The Bluest Eye. Beginning 
with the autumn and the new school year, the novel progresses through 
winter, spring, and finally to summer — storm season, the child narrator 
reports, both literally and figuratively. The Bluest Eye, then, draws on 
the structure of myth by linking seasonal changes with such narrative 
events as the departure and return of Persephone from Hades. In other 
words, The Bluest Eye turns ideas as seasons themselves turn, and in 
this turning, challenges the promises offered by a Dick and Jane primer 
mythology and the Western myth that the bluest eyes are the most 

Sula opens in a spirit similar to that of Morrison's first novel, with the 
promise of explaining through a folk anecdote how the text's current sit- 
uation came to pass. The first pages provide a rich description of a com- 
munity in the hills — paradoxically referred to as the Bottom*, thanks to 
its beginnings in a "nigger joke." Morrison's narrator provides the in- 
sider's story for the origins of the Bottom by complicating the trickster* 
myth. Traditionally a trickster figure, both oppressed and driven by ap- 
petite, dupes others but is ultimately duped himself. In Sula's opening, 
the identity* of the trickster figure is unclear after the narrator reveals 
that Blacks settled the Bottom high in the hills because a farmer prom- 
ised freedom and desirable land to a former slave. Rather than reward 
the man's hard work with fertile land in the bottom of the valley, how- 
ever, the farmer proclaims the merits of the land in the hills by explain- 
ing that it is the bottom of heaven. After the expectant landowner presses 
the farmer for the hilly land, the farmer happily concedes, eventually re- 
versing the traditional equation of trickery with the oppressed. 

A trickster figure in her own right, Sula Peace* is named after a fail- 
ure in spirit or an alteration of proper conditions according to the African 
Babangi language. Defying assumptions about how Black women ought 
to behave, she is accompanied by an ominous flock of robins; she is a wan- 
derer, an anarchist, a disruptive femme fatale. According to African myth, 
a plague — like the family-shattering plague Sula embodies — lifts only 
with the community's sacrifice, as indicated by the accidental deaths at 
the tunnel on National Suicide Day*. Not only a trickster figure, Sula's 
character strikingly resembles Queen Jezebel of the Hebrew Bible. Other 
characters in the novel interpret Sula's prominent stemmed-rose birth- 
mark as the mark of evil, recalling Jezebel's aggressive rule over Israel in 
the ninth century B.C.E., establishing her mythic reputation as a beau- 
tiful temptress and the embodiment of feminine evil. 

MYTH 233 

Sula's own indiscretions include seducing her best friend Nel Wright's* 
husband, Jude Greene*, in a scathing inversion of the modern-day fairy- 
tale romance Nel deeply values. Traditionally, water and fire have mythic 
powers of purification; however, in Sula these natural elements are 
deathly in their excess. This excess is omnipresent in Sula's past, as she 
takes joint responsibility for the drowning death of Chicken Little* in 
her childhood and watches her mother, Hannah, burn to death simply 
because she is interested. 

Before the burning death of Hannah Peace, the three generations of 
Peace women lived on the outskirts of the Bottom as pariahs. Like the 
three female prostitutes of The Bluest Eye, they resemble the chorus in 
Greek tragedy, the Furies, and the Fates, who spun, measured, and cut the 
stories of people's lives. Like these women, World War I veteran 
Shadrack* is an outsider and source of confusion and mystery to people 
of the Bottom. With the desire to see his own face in a toilet bowl, 
Shadrack appears as Narcissus, the beautiful youth in Greek mythology* 
who refused all love and was punished for this indifference by falling in 
love with his own image in a pool. Similarly, the novel's heroine ulti- 
mately dies alone, unable to recognize the reflection of her other half em- 
bodied by Nel. 

Song of Solomon draws not only on the romantic quest narrative, but 
also on the African American and classical European myths of men who 
could fly. Although many readers associate Morrison's flying characters 
with the classical Greek figures Daedalus and Icarus, who attempt freedom 
with wings and candle wax, Morrison suggests that her novel's meaning 
draws on the specific myth about Black people who could fly. She explains 
that this particular myth was a part of her life's folklore*, grounded in spir- 
ituals and gospels proclaiming the ability to fly to freedom as a gift. In Song 
of Solomon, this gift manifests at the pinnacle of Milkman Dead's search 
for his past, as he discovers that his great-grandfather was a part of a fly- 
ing African tribe. In a forceful rejection of the oppression of slavery*, the 
flying African, Solomon* Sugarman, flew home to Africa. 

Revising the contemporary myth of the fragmented African Ameri- 
can family, Morrison connects two biblical myths: Solomon, who in his 
quest for freedom unintentionally left behind his son, and Hagar, the 
namesake of Pilate's granddaughter, Hagar Dead*, in Song of Solomon. 
Traditionally, the Hagar myth derives from the book of Genesis, where 
Sarah orders her slave Hagar to procreate with Sarah's husband, Abra- 
ham. After Hagar bears a son named Ishmael, Sarah conceives a son 
named Isaac. As a result, Sarah casts away Hagar and Ishmael, leaving 
them to wander the wilderness of Beersheba, consoled only by the voice 
of God telling her that he will make Ishmael a great nation. In Song of 
Solomon, this great nation is established by Morrison's trademark tril- 
ogy of female outcasts led by Pilate, a proud and spiritual survivor. 

234 MYTH 

During his heroic quest, Milkman visits the supernatural world of 
Circe*, known in Greek myth as a puzzling goddess of rare cruelty and 
strange kindness who, despite her skill in the arts of Hecate, is powerless 
to challenge the Olympians. Her greatest strength, perhaps, is her bla- 
tant rejection of Zeus's law of hospitality: she changes her guests into 
beasts without risking retribution. According to Homeric myth, Circe 
wore her hair braided to control fate and the forces of creation and de- 
struction, for in many folk-magic spells, tying and untying knots has the 
power to bind and release energy. Circe, the rescuer of Macon Dead* and 
Pilate after their father dies, is Milkman's necessary guide to "Hades" 
before Pilate joins the search. 

Finally, many of the members of the Dead family possess names and 
character traits grounded in African or European myth. Macon Dead, 
Jr., for example, resembles Anaanu, the trickster spider who fakes his 
death in order to disenfranchise others at night; by privileging material 
wealth, both Anaanu and Macon Dead give up their positions in the 
world and their families. Macon's sister Pilate, who carries her name in 
writing in her ear, is named after "Christ-killing" Pontius Pilate, and 
Macon's daughter First Corinthians Dead* is named after Paul's first 
letter to the Corinthians, which attacks ambition, pride, and vanity, qual- 
ities paradoxically portrayed through Macon's capital-seeking success 
as well as Milkman's ultimate search in the South for racial heritage 
and pride. 

In Tar Baby, Morrison returns to the African origins of Joel Chandler 
Harris's Br'er Rabbit folk tale by reintroducing Black women's spiritual 
and creative heritage. According to Morrison, the "tar baby" myth tran- 
scribed in Southern folklore originates not only in African trickster tales 
of Anaanu, but also in the ancient African "tar lady," considered a pow- 
erful mythical symbol of Black womanhood because of her power and 
creativity in binding things together. According to Morrison, a tar pit was 
a sacred place because tar comes out of the earth and has the power to 
build things, such as African pyramids and the boat, according to Hebrew 
mythology, that Moses' mother built to carry him down the Nile. 

In the Southern appropriation of this myth, however, the tar lady pos- 
sessing the capacity to suture things becomes a tar baby who, in the hands 
of the trickster figure, traps wrongdoers. According to Harris's Uncle 
Remus story, Br'er Fox places a tar baby in the road to catch Br'er Rab- 
bit. After both insulting and striking the decoy, Br'er Rabbit becomes 
stuck in the tar. Tar Baby's Son* changes a detail of the tale when telling 
it to Jadine Childs*, explaining that white farmers place a tar baby in the 
road in order to prevent Br'er Rabbit from eating their cabbages. Morri- 
son's intentional ambiguity about her novel's own elusive tar baby shows 
the complexity of both the evolution of myths and the perspectives of 
characters in contemporary fiction. The tar baby here is transformed back 

MYTH 235 

into the tar lady, as in the figures of the striking African woman Jadine 
sees in the grocery store and the swamp women who watch while Jadine 
literally tries to free herself from a tar pit. Yet Jadine herself functions 
as both a tar lady and a tar baby; this culturally savvy and attractive Sor- 
bonne-educated model embodies for Son both the artistic African woman 
and the threatening, seductive temptress. 

Both Eloe*, Florida, and the Isle des Chevaliers*, near Dominique, rep- 
resent potentially Edenic briar patches for characters in Tar Baby. For 
Son, Eloe's small population, consisting primarily of old family and 
friends, provides a misleading safe haven which seduces him into think- 
ing that it is the only possible place to settle down with Jadine. 
Conversely, the Isle des Chevalier, an idyllic paradise originally lush and 
fruitful, was eventually overdeveloped through Haitian labor supported 
by European capital. In reality, this island is the site of complicated racial 
tension on many levels: between Euro-American Valerian* and Margaret 
Street*, and Sydney and Ondine Childs*, the Black servants with whom 
they live; between Sydney and Ondine and the indigenous Gideon- 
called- Yardman and his apparently interchangeable wife Marie-Therese 
Foucault*, and, in a complicated triangular relation, between Europe-ed- 
ucated Jadine, her aunt Ondine, and their patron-mistress Margaret. In 
this novel ending with the folktale mantra "Lickety-split," all characters 
are portrayed in a weblike tangle of tar and ladies inspired by both myths 
of tricksters and dueling beliefs about racial pride and uplift. 

The name of Sethe Suggs*, the haunted heroine of Beloved who kills 
her baby daughter in an attempt to protect her from slavery, resembles 
Lethe, the personification of oblivion, daughter of Eris, and river in the 
underworld from which souls could drink to forget their past lives be- 
fore being reborn. The four horsemen (schoolteacher*, one nephew, one 
slave catcher, a sheriff) who approach 124 Bluestone Road to recapture 
Sethe and her children signal the coming of the Apocalypse as foretold 
by Saint John in Revelation. The predicted war, conquest, famine, and 
death, all borne out through the course of Beloved, accompany Sethe's 
murder of Beloved. Both borrowing from the historical story of Mar- 
garet Garner* and inverting the mythic story of Medea, who killed her 
children for the love of a man, Morrison here displays the qualities of 
"too-thick love" described in Sula and the "graveyard love" described in 
Song of Solomon. 

Through a pastiche of gothic horror embodied by an eighteen-year- 
old ravenous ghost, African-based beliefs about the powers of commu- 
nity, the myths of slavery portrayed by events at the ironically named 
Sweet Home*, and a rejection of Southern paternalism, Beloved revises 
the stories about motherhood* and romantic love among slaves by blur- 
ring the distinction between past and present as indicated by their re- 
memories. Named after the chorus in the biblical Song of Solomon, 

236 MYTH 

Beloved traverses the Middle Passage to get to 124 Bluestone Road — 
traveling not only distance but also time in search of her mother. 

Perhaps the novel least explicitly interested in mythic sources for its 
narrative base, Jazz takes up the power of jazz* music* on levels of both 
form and content. Like The Bluest Eye and Paradise, it opens in tradi- 
tional mythic form by providing the entire plot on its first pages — mid- 
dle-aged Joe Trace* killed his teenage mistress Dorcas Manfred*, and at 
the funeral, Joe's wife, Violet*, tried to slash Dorcas's face — as well as a 
promise to explain the details and motivations behind an inexplicable, in 
this case devastating, situation. Set in Harlem* during 1926, the height 
of the Harlem Renaissance, Morrison's plot recaptures the history* of 
Harlem to show how its creative energy is indebted to African American 
performers. At the turn of the twentieth century, life for African Amer- 
icans in Northern neighborhoods like Harlem gained mythic status; in 
the North, the lore conveyed through letters and train gossip indicated 
that African Americans would not experience the racism pervasive in the 
South* and they would be able to achieve unknown pleasures, liberties, 
and higher wages. As jazz demonstrates, Harlem did offer African Amer- 
icans many artistic and cultural opportunities; however, this electric and 
promising neighborhood also erupted with untold jealousy, violence,* 
passion, and malaise. 

Motivated by Morrison's interest in why ideas of paradise necessarily 
involve exclusion and why, in mythic representations of paradises, 
women are threatening interlopers in a "haven" dominated by men, Par- 
adise exploits the myth of a homogeneous Eden. Paradise's master nar- 
rative is told by patriarchal Zechariah, who, like Moses, leads his people 
from a land that rejected them to a Utopia free of the complications of 
racial tension. Suturing the Old Testament story of Exodus with the New 
Testament story of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem, Zechariah 
here represents the prophet Zachariah who kept the torch of Mosaic law 
burning, preached zealously, and embodied the symbols of piety and righ- 
teousness. According to the myth of Zachariah, most of his kinsmen pos- 
sessed neither spirit nor true faith; after being seduced, they committed 
evil deeds, deeply worrying Zachariah. The tension between the Old Fa- 
thers who founded Haven, Oklahoma*, and the second generation of 
Ruby, is palpable in their disagreement over the motto inscribed in the 
Oven*; for the second generation, it is a difference between fearing au- 
thority and becoming authority figures themselves — a tension at the 
heart of the myths of Eden, Oedipus, and the prophet Zachariah. 

Finally, like many Morrison novels, Paradise resists closure and reso- 
lution. The citizens of Ruby are unsure of what really happened when 
the nine 8-rock Ruby men ambushed the outsiders seeking solace in the 
Convent*, although they know that when they went back to look, there 
were no bodies. Even the Cadillac was gone. The return of the Convent 

MYTH 237 

women seems at once earthly and unearthly — idyllic and apocalyptic. In 
a final gesture toward magical realism and supernatural gothic, Piedade's* 
song offers solace, though there is so much work to do "down there" in 
Paradise. See also African Myth, Use of; Conjure; Ghost Story, Use of; 
Gothic Tradition; Romantic Tradition. 

References: Cynthia Y. Davis, "Self, Society and Myth in Toni Morri- 
son's Fiction," in New Casebooks: Toni Morrison, ed. Linden Peach 
(1998); Carolyn Denard, "Mythical Consciousness of Morrison and 
Faulkner," in Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-Envisioned, 
eds. Carol A. Kolmerten, Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant Wittenberg 
(1997); Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morri- 
son (1991); Anne Bradford Warner, "New Myths and Ancient Proper- 
ties: The Fiction of Toni Morrison," The Hollins Critic 25: 3 (1988). 

Aimee L. Pozorski 


Narrative Voice 

As is the case with other Black women writers, Toni Morrison's concern 
with voice in her fiction is intimately connected with questions about the 
nature of language. Feminist linguists point out that Western language 
and literature are culturally determined. In the case of American litera- 
ture, this culture is patriarchal and white. Morrison's experiment with 
narrative voice and language in her fiction provides possible alternatives 
to this patriarchal, Western way of telling stories. Morrison helps develop 
a feminine, African American language in her fiction. She creates a fem- 
inine linguistic and narrative "wild zone" that is a subversive alternative 
to phallocentric language. The best example of the feminine "wild zone" 
is in the section of Beloved* where Stamp Paid hears 124 Bluestone Road* 
(the house) narrate. As a male, Stamp Paid cannot understand this lan- 
guage, and cannot enter the zone. Throughout Morrison's novels, women 
are the main storytellers, as well as singers. Morrison suggests that 
African American feminine language is musical. Morrison recreates this 
musical language in the narratives, most dramatically exemplified in 

Morrison's attention to narrative voice leads her to attempt to capture 
in writing African American speech and storytelling patterns. She has 
said that she wonders what makes a book "Black." One answer is that 
Black language is a distinctive feature of Black literature. Morrison be- 
lieves it is important to represent the storytelling voice of the griot in 
her stories so that the reader can hear it. Her use of narrative voice in her 


novels has several effects on the reader. First of all, the narrative voices 
are lyrical storytellers, and their narratives replicate the African oral sto- 
rytelling tradition* of the griot. Morrison often employs multiple nar- 
rative voices in a single text. Having more than one narrative voice tell 
a story recalls the call-and-response pattern found in the African Amer- 
ican tradition. Additionally, this multiplicity of narrators represents the 
sense of community* so important in Morrison's fiction. At the same 
time, the reader is involved in the creation of meaning in the text, and 
thus experiences this sense of community for himself or herself. 

Even though the novels are written texts, Morrison's narrators are oral 
storytellers because of the way they relate the story to the reader. By em- 
phasizing oral storytelling, Morrison highlights the impossibility of clear 
resolutions because to some extent stories necessarily are products of the 
individual storyteller. Therefore, when readers see the limitations of a 
narrative voice, they understand that the notion of finality is subjective. 
Instead of giving her readers clear, definite endings, Morrison urges col- 
laboration between the writer, the narrator, and the reader. 

Morrison uses a variety of narrative styles and techniques to create 
this collaboration and to relate character to theme, shape to focus, voice 
to effect. She uses innovative narrative techniques, such as incorporat- 
ing frames, like the Dick and Jane primer sections of The Bluest Eye* . 
Morrison sometimes uses chapters as parentheses, as in Jazz, and at other 
times to signal a change in narrative voice or perspective (as she does in 
Beloved and Paradise*, for example). In The Bluest Eye and Sula* , Mor- 
rison uses chapter headings more traditionally to signal a change in time. 
In some cases, Morrison's narrative technique intentionally misdirects 
the reader. More common is the technique of having the narrator(s) pro- 
vide fragments out of which the reader slowly builds episodes of the 
story. In The Bluest Eye and Beloved, Morrison relies on the perspective 
of a child to narrate the story. The narrative structure of each novel works 
with the story line to create the desired effect. Morrison has stated re- 
peatedly that her objective is to present a narrative voice that seems to 
be speaking to the reader, and she is highly conscious of using techniques 
that create this storytelling effect. One technique is to have the narrator 
meander away from the main plot. Another is to reveal the story casu- 
ally, effortlessly. Even when the narrator's identity is a mystery (as it is 
in Jazz and Paradise, for example) the narrator needs to appear "real" 
(genuine) to the reader. The texts of all of Morrison's novels are 
"writerly" (according to Roland Barthes's distinction) rather than "read- 
erly," in that they involve the reader in the creation of meaning. 

The Dick and Jane structure of The Bluest Eye shows the extreme con- 
trast between the fictional tale of how things should be, and the reality 
presented in the novel. In addition to the Dick and Jane primer divisions, 
Morrison divides the story according to the seasons. This complicated 


narrative structure forces the reader of The Bluest Eye to be active, and 
Morrison is successful in drawing the reader in. 

In contrast, Sula's narrative structure is much simpler and more tra- 
ditional because it follows a chronological format. Instead of using com- 
plicated narrative techniques, Morrison reserves complexity for the 
character of Sula Peace* herself. However, the story that the narrator 
relates is not just Sula's story; it is the story of the Bottom* and its 
inhabitants — Shadrack*, Nel Wright* and her parents, and the Peace 
family. The narrator relates as much about these people, the Bottom 
community, as she does about Sula. Sula never narrates herself. Instead, 
she becomes a sign or symbol who is constructed out of the collabora- 
tion of reader and narrator. Sula's story is intertwined with these other 
stories and is revealed incrementally by the narrative voice. The narra- 
tive pattern of Sula demonstrates that life itself is nonlinear and does 
not follow a progressive pattern. 

In terms of its narrative form, Beloved is a postmodern novel pri- 
marily because of the linguistic play found throughout the novel. Mor- 
rison employs both oral and written discourse, shifts narration from 
third-person omniscient to interior monologue, and repeats words and 
phrases. This narrative style evokes the oral tradition*. The shifting nar- 
rative voice reminds the reader that stories are told by one person to 

The narrative oijazz is told rapidly and with fragments. In addition to 
the mysterious female narrative voice, there is a "written" narrator who 
refuses to explain or connect these fragments. In terms of narrative tech- 
nique, jazz is composed of "rhythmic paragraphs" that mimic a musical 
score — a jazz* piece. Morrison models her narrative strategy on the pro- 
gression of a jazz solo in order to show how improvising a single detail 
can alter the nature of what is expressed. Just as a jazz score relies on im- 
provisations of a single detail, so Morrison's narrative strategy in jazz is 
to represent the continual process of change experienced by African 
Americans by constantly changing the narrative style. 

Whereas the narrative voice of jazz initially seems confident and om- 
niscient, as the novel progresses, she expresses doubts and frustration at 
her limitations. She confesses her own unreliability as a storyteller. The 
narrator's comments can be seen as a humorous undercutting of the con- 
ventions of narration, but they also show her revising her own inter- 
pretation of the narrative, just as she invites readers to revise theirs at 
will, jazz ends with the narrative voice urging the reader to make (and 
remake) his/her own interpretations of the narrative. Both jazz and 
Beloved resist closure; in fact, these novels underscore the artificiality 
and even "danger" of closure, because once a story is closed, it is possi- 
ble to forget it. Stories and histories stay alive only when they are re- 
membered and retold. 


Throughout her novels, Morrison frequently employs narrators who 
are somewhat anonymous and whose purpose seems to be to relay in- 
formation or emotion. Even when characters from the story take over 
the narration, they often seem fragmented, undefined, and somewhat in- 
distinguishable from the larger community (as we see in Sula and Par- 
adise, for example). Morrison repeatedly has maintained in interviews 
that her fiction is not autobiographical. Just as "Toni Morrison" can't be 
found in her novels, so her narrators are frequently anonymous trans- 
mitters of information and feeling, rather than distinct personalities or 

The narrative voice of The Bluest Eye is polyphonic. The seasonal sec- 
tions use first-person narrative, Claudia MacTeer*. However, even when 
Claudia narrates (which is often) there are two "I"s: Claudia the young- 
ster who experiences the events as they happen, and Claudia the adult 
looking back on these events. Claudia most often presents herself as a 
child. Nonetheless, the reader is aware from her narrative voice and lan- 
guage that the narrator actually is an adult working through memory*. 
Even so, Claudia doubts her ability as a narrator and her ability to re- 
member correctly. At the end of the novel, she worries that she has as- 
sembled lies in the name of truth. In addition to Claudia, Morrison uses 
an omniscient narrator at times. In the opening lines of The Bluest Eye, 
this narrative voice replicates the pattern of Black women gossiping in 
the backyard. The narrative voice has what Morrison terms a "back fence 
connotation" that creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the 
story, who seem to be sharing a secret. The narrative technique of creat- 
ing intimacy between reader and text is necessary to prepare the reader 
for the terrible details of the story that follows, a tale of rape, incest, and 
racial self-hatred. In the primer scenes, Morrison's narrator assumes an 
authoritative stance, particularly when she relates to the reader the val- 
ues and lifestyles of the women of Mobile, or describes the history of the 
Breedloves' apartment. 

Morrison provides alternatives to the third-person narrator of The 
Bluest Eye. Although these narrators have their own limitations, they 
stand as important contrasts to the "omniscient" voice of the primer 
sections. Soaphead Church's* narrative section consists exclusively of 
a formal letter to God, chastizing him for his treatment of Pecola 
Breedlove*. Pecola's narrative section consists of a dramatic, schizo- 
phrenic dialogue between Pecola and the second self she creates out of 
her imagination. 

In Sula, the narrative voice and perspective usually is limited to the 
consciousness of a single character. However, at times it shifts to reveal 
the thoughts and feelings of the community. Song of Solomon uses the 
narrative perspective of the male protagonist (as the novel's title indi- 
cates), Milkman Dead*. However, throughout Song of Solomon, dif- 


ferent voices tell many stories about the relationships of characters, and 
of the past and the present. Pilate Dead* is the best storyteller, due to 
her status of "culture bearer." Pilate's storytelling teaches Milkman 
(and, through him, the reader) how to listen, and how to be a story- 
teller. Tar Baby* has a different narrative style. The narrative of this 
novel is structured according to the "call-and-response" pattern found 
in African American culture. The narrator acts as a chorus, pointing out 
the action and its meaning, but avoiding passing judgment on the 

Morrison's narrative voice is much more complicated and mysteri- 
ous in Jazz. In this novel, Morrison uses a narrative voice that emu- 
lates the improvisational techniques of jazz in order to tell the story. 
The narrative voice of Jazz is both detached from and involved in the 
story. As in The Bluest Eye, the novel opens with a gossipy female tone 
("Sth") that invites the reader to share a secret. In fact, throughout the 
narrative, the voice is seductive. The reader, however, is never certain 
to whom this voice belongs. The narrator speaks from somewhere above 
and beyond the City. It is clear that she likes the City, but she doesn't 
seem to be a resident of the community. She says that she does not have 
muscles, so she can't defend herself, and remarks that she observes ev- 
erything about everybody in order to try to figure things out. The nar- 
rator sometimes seems to be a disembodied voice, while at other times 
she seems human. 

As the narrative progresses, the narrator contradicts herself, and seems 
to change throughout the story. At times she seems omniscient, but at 
other times it is obvious that she is limited, or even incorrect. She has a 
ubiquitous line of vision that distinguishes her from the characters she 
observes, and, despite her fallibility, she knows and sees more than they 
do. At times, she appears to be a character in the story, while at other times 
she seems apart from it. A sense of chaos and instability is the result for 
the reader, who also must participate actively in the narrative. The narra- 
tive voice in Jazz, then, may very well be the voice of narrative itself. 

In Paradise, Morrison employs a narrative voice who seems omniscient. 
The voice begins by stating that they, the men of Ruby, Oklahoma*, shoot 
the white girl first when they storm the Convent*. However, throughout 
the course of the narrative, the authority or omniscience of the narrator 
is called into question. Either the voice is limited or she is playing games 
with the reader, for she never directly reveals which of the women killed 
is the white girl. 

In many of her novels, Morrison makes use of shifting conscious- 
nesses, multiple narrative voices and perspectives, and the technique of 
free indirect discourse in which the narrative slips and slides from one 
consciousness to another without clear indication. The multiple story- 
tellers and voices change constantly and without warning. The reader 


must be attentive to all of these voices in order to create meaningful 

Morrison has stated that using multiple narrators in her fiction en- 
ables her to give credibility to various and significantly different voices, 
which replicates the complexity and polyvocality of African American 
culture itself. Morrison's incorporation of multiple narrative voices also 
challenges Western (patriarchal, white, linear) plot-driven narrative, and 
replaces it with circular, nonauthoritarian narrative. 

Additionally, Morrison's use of multiple perspectives allows her to de- 
pict many subjects and themes, and to have various individuals com- 
ment upon the central character of the novel. Morrison uses multiple 
narrators to represent the call-and-response pattern of the African 
American oral tradition. The narrative voices speak to and comment on 
one another. This technique can be found in many of Morrison's nov- 
els, but perhaps most dramatically in The Bluest Eye, Sula, Beloved, 
and Paradise. 

Morrison primarily uses omniscient narrators. Sometimes, as in The 
Bluest Eye, there is a first-person narrator (Claudia), but her narration 
coexists with the omniscient narrator. By using multiple narrators, Mor- 
rison underscores that her novels are stories of communities, not just in- 
dividuals. Claudia's use of "we" throughout her narrative is a sign that 
she includes herself and the reader in the victimization of Pecola. The 
reader is included in the community, which is both good and bad. Simi- 
larly, in Paradise, Morrison's narrative technique creates a sense of com- 
munity. Morrison uses multiple narrative perspectives to tell us the story 
of Ruby's history, and draws the reader into this community, making him 
or her somewhat complicit in the violence* and intolerance that culmi- 
nate in the massacre at the Convent. While the narrative perspective in 
many of these novels seems stable, the subjects that the narrator relates 
are disordered, violent, and troubling. This creates additional tension for 
the reader. 

In Beloved, the plot develops as various characters add their perspec- 
tives and stories in their attempt to explain to themselves and to each 
other what happened and why. This indirect way of uncovering the plot 
places the reader in a situation similar to that of the characters. 

Throughout all of Morrison's fiction, the reader can hear a lyrical, mu- 
sical quality in the narrative voice(s) she creates for each tale. Her abil- 
ity to combine form and function, to use narrative voice and technique 
to complement and enhance the plot of the tale, places her in the tradi- 
tion of William Faulkner* and Virginia Woolf*. However, her ability to 
replicate the African American storytelling tradition represents her de- 
parture from her predecessors, and shows her unique contribution to 
African American literature. See also Approaches to Morrison's Work: 
Feminist/Black Feminist; Narrator of /azz/Talking Book. 


Reference: Martha J. Cutter, "The Story Must Go On and On: The Fan- 
tastic, Narration, and Intertextuality in Morrison's Beloved and Jazz," 
African American Review 34: 1 (Spring, 2000). 

Lisa Cade Wieland 

Narrator of Jazz/Talking Book {Jazz) 

Jazz* is presented as a self-contained stylistic device that functions both 
inside and outside of the narrative's perimeters. Not only does the jazz 
idiom structure the text, but, flamboyantly self-referential, it speculates 
about the unwinding action even as it incorporates itself into it. In the 
process, jazz becomes its own enigma, an object of beauty, tantalizing and 
impenetrable; while it beguiles, it simultaneously denies access. A tex- 
tual puzzle that entices, then eludes, it materializes as jazz itself, 
immersing the reader in its polyphony. Yet it is not simply jazz as a mu- 
sical form or a poetic device; it is jazz personified as a separate character, 
what Morrison herself characterizes as a talking book. Materializing in 
the slippery presence of the disembodied narrative voice* that is admit- 
tedly without muscles, the narrator observes the ensuing events, perhaps 
inventing them as well, becoming the reader's guide into the essence of 
jazz, its composer/conductor/ performer. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

National Suicide Day {Sula) 

Holiday established by Shadrack* as a means of controlling and exorcis- 
ing the chaos and death he experiences during World War I. National 
Suicide Day falls of January 3 of each year. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Neo-Slave Narrative 

The autobiographical slave narratives authored by African Americans 
during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries form a cornerstone of 
Black arts and letters. In the twentieth century — and particularly in the 
wake of the Civil Rights movement and Black Power activism of the 
1960s and early 1970s — African American writers have evidenced a keen 
interest in returning to the thematic concerns and literary conventions 
of these foundational texts in novels that scholars have come to term 
neo-slave narratives. From the mid-1960s to the present, such prominent 
authors as David Bradley, Octavia Butler, J. California Cooper, Ernest 


Gaines, Charles Johnson, Gayl Jones, Ishmael Reed, and Sherley Anne 
Williams, among others, have crafted neo-slave narratives. These novels 
have taken such forms as historical fiction focused on the era of slavery*; 
irreverent, politically engaged satire; speculative fiction that posits an an- 
cestral presence which significantly shapes the lives of twentieth- 
century characters as an enduring legacy of slavery; and personal 
odysseys narrated by protagonists themselves, much in the manner of 
actual slave narratives. 

Building upon the precedent of Arna Bontemps's Black Thunder (1936) 
and Drums at Dusk (1939), the interest of contemporary authors in the 
neo-slave narrative as a literary form was inaugurated by the publica- 
tion of Margaret Walker's }ubilee in 1966. Significantly, Walker availed 
herself of substantial oral and written historical documentation of Black 
voices in order to tell a story of the struggle from slavery to freedom 
from an African American point of view. In fact, literary projects such as 
Walker's helped to spur a radical reshaping of the historiography of slav- 
ery to include similar voices during the early 1970s. Yet, as Ashraf 
Rushdy has capably demonstrated, the emergence of an intensive inter- 
est in neo-slave narratives also owed much to specifically contemporary 
concerns, chief among which were issues of self-definition. Well aware 
of the potential social and political damage to be wrought by such acts of 
cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation as white author Wil- 
liam Styron's deeply flawed The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and 
the 1965 Moynihan Report's allegations of African American familial 
pathology as a legacy of slavery, African American authors seized upon 
the form of the neo-slave narrative as a way of asserting narrative con- 
trol over Black cultural representation and, often, issuing biting social 
commentary regarding America's failings on this front to date. The schol- 
arship of Elizabeth Beaulieu adds to this contextual framework the 
important observation that African American women authors have evi- 
denced particular interest in the experiences of enslaved mothers — again, 
figures charged with crucial historical and contemporary significance. 
Toni Morrison is no exception in this regard. 

While slavery serves as an essential historical background for the ac- 
tion of several of Morrison's novels — most notably Song of Solomon* 
and Paradise* — Beloved* is her only work to date that falls squarely 
within the conventions of the neo-slave narrative genre. In Beloved, Mor- 
rison interweaves the fabric of her rich writerly imagination with threads 
drawn from the history of slavery, specifically the case of an escaped slave 
mother named Margaret Garner*. Like Garner, Morrison's protagonist, 
Sethe Suggs*, attempts to murder her children* rather than see them 
returned to slavery. It is, of course, the daughter whom Sethe success- 
fully murders, Beloved*, who returns to haunt the family's home at 124 
Bluestone Road*, on the outskirts of Cincinnati. In the tradition of slave 


narrative author Harriet Jacobs, Morrison thus calls attention both to the 
vulnerability of nominally free African Americans in the northern 
United States (owing especially to the nation's various nineteenth- 
century Fugitive Slave laws) and to the special dilemmas of Black moth- 
ers not fully in possession of their own children. 

Through the flashbacks of Sethe and Paul D Garner* to their experi- 
ences at the ironically named Sweet Home* plantation in Kentucky, Mor- 
rison's novel also dramatizes several crucial themes voiced in slave 
narratives: acts of extreme physical and psychological violence* against 
enslaved persons; the ever-present threat of forced separation from fam- 
ily* and loved ones; the tenuous recognition of slave marriages by slave- 
holders, even relatively "sympathetic" ones; the vulnerability of enslaved 
women, in particular, to sexual violation; and the enormous privations and 
perils involved in an attempt to escape from bondage to "free" territory. 
To the conventions of its historical antecedents, Morrison's neo-slave nar- 
rative adds at least three key elements: (1) supernatural qualities center- 
ing around the re-embodiment of Beloved; (2) an exploration of Sethe and 
Denver Suggs's* relative ostracism with respect to other African Ameri- 
cans in and around Cincinnati, which provides a window onto tensions 
within Black communities themselves vis-a-vis the haunting legacy of 
slavery; and (3) through the four sections in the middle of the novel in 
which the women of 124 Bluestone Road speak "unspeakable thoughts, 
unspoken," Morrison expands her neo-slave narrative to encompass not 
only slavery in the U.S. context per se, but the Middle Passage transport 
of Africans to the Western Hemisphere as well — a subject that echoes her 
dedication of the novel to the "Sixty Million and more" believed to have 
perished in the course of the Atlantic crossing. 

Morrison's objectives in exploring this thematic terrain in her neo- 
slave narrative are manifold. Not least would seem to be the way in 
which historical African American mothers — and specifically the actions 
of a figure like Margaret Garner — are to be presented to contemporary 
readers. In this sense, the character of schoolteacher*, with his pseudo- 
scientific studies of the alleged human and animal characteristics of the 
Sweet Home slaves, would seem to stand in allegorical relationship to 
such twentieth-century figures as Styron, Moynihan, and historian 
Stanley Elkins — toward whose dubious modes of representation neo- 
slave narratives such as Morrison's clearly are intended to serve as a 
countervailing voice. Further, as several critics have noted, the novel's 
ambiguous closing refrain about not passing on the story suggests both 
Morrison's concern with the difficulty Americans have evidenced in con- 
fronting the realities of slavery's traumatic history and, simultaneously, 
the refusal of such narratives of slavery simply to go away. Indeed, Mor- 
rison's novel would seem to comprise an Ellisonian fingering of the 
jagged grain of this history*, exploring at once its most intimate and 


harrowing dimensions as a means of gaining mastery over the memory 
of slavery and the form of its contemporary representation. See also Ap- 
proaches to Morrison's Work: Feminist/Black Feminist; Approaches to 
Morrison's Work: Historical; Memory; Recovery; Trauma. 

References: Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu, Black Women Writers and the 
American Neo-Slave Narrative: Femininity Unfettered (1999); Frances 
Smith Foster, Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-bellum 
Slave Narratives (1979); Deborah E. McDowell and Arnold Rampersad, 
eds., Slavery and the Literary Imagination (1987); Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, 
Neo-Slave Narratives: Studies in the Social Logic of a Literary Form 

Stacy I. Morgan 

Nephews, The {Beloved) 

Schoolteacher's* teenage nephews. Under schoolteacher's direction, they 
participate in the torture-death of Sixo*. They forcibly "milk" Sethe 
Suggs* and, later, they beat her as punishment for reporting the abuse 
to Mrs. Garner*. Followers whose ability to reason is somewhat lacking, 
they buy wholesale into schoolteacher's theories and do his bidding. See 
also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Nobel Prize Address 

The Nobel Prize committee, describing her as one "who in novels char- 
acterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential 
aspect of American reality," awarded Toni Morrison the Nobel Prize in 
literature in 1993. This award came after several others in Morrison's ca- 
reer. She was nominated for the National Book Award in 1975 for Sula* , 
earned the National Book Critics' Circle Award in 1977 for Song of 
Solomon* , and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved* . Morrison 
was the first African American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in 

For her Nobel speech Morrison chose to focus on the familiar parable 
of the old, blind, and wise Black woman who is questioned by a group of 
children*. Seeking to test the old woman's knowledge, the children ask 
her one question: whether the bird they hold in their hand is alive or 
dead. The old woman ambiguously replies that the answer is in their 
hands. This recounting of the story begins Morrison's speech. The rest 


of her talk speculates on the ambiguity of the old woman's answer and 
the possible implications of the children's question. 

The speech has three distinct sections as Morrison moves from a dis- 
cussion of the expected to one of the provocative. The first section takes 
the task of assigning meaning to the metaphors of the story. Interest- 
ingly, the bird becomes language; the woman, a writer. The woman's 
answer, then, is a comment on dead language. Morrison speaks in this 
section of the oppressive nature of language when it becomes unyield- 
ing and narcissistic, allowing neither the quest for knowledge nor the 
exchange of ideas. The responsibility for this stagnation lies with those 
who use language for their own selfish ends. The children in this in- 
stance are not interested in creation, but rather in whether or not the 
old woman can crack what is ultimately a dead code. This reading of the 
metaphors coincides with popular readings of the children as pre- 
sumptuous and intrusive. 

The second section of the speech, maintaining the metaphor of the bird 
as language, considers the possibility that the bird is not dead, that the 
children do not bring the woman oppressive language, but rather the pos- 
sibility of creativity. This section starts with a reading of the biblical story 
of the Tower of Babel. Instead of lamenting the lack of a unifying lan- 
guage that would have allowed the builders to reach heaven, Morrison 
celebrates language that questions, creates, and illuminates. This view of 
language as living sheds new light on the old woman's response to the 
children. The children search for a definitive answer, for a precise defi- 
nition of language, and the old woman responds that the power is in their 
question, in their desire to know. 

The third section shifts attention away from the old woman and her 
answer and focuses instead on the children and their question. In this 
view the children are desperate to be taken seriously, resorting to a trick 
to be heard. The shift makes up the rest of Morrison's speech as she 
quotes from the children's pleading with the old woman. Morrison gives 
voice to the children and validates their curiosity, putting a new twist on 
an old tale that usually dismisses them. As she does in her fiction (e.g., 
Beloved's reworking of a story from a newspaper clipping), Morrison 
takes what seems very straightforward (the children are somehow dis- 
respectful in their interruption of the serenity of this old woman) and 
reveals the unexpected — the children have not come to the old woman 
to play a trick, but rather to seek knowledge, sincerely, from one pre- 
sumed to know. 

Morrison speaks of the deep silence that follows the old woman's an- 
swer to the children (the tale, after all, usually ends with her reply). The 
children fill this silence with their own pleading, with their desire to know 
and understand how to use language. In Morrison's version of this tale, 
the children eloquently follow the old woman's answer with another 


question. This time there is no trick, only pleading for the wisdom the 
old woman is presumed to have. The children seek the power of language 
not to abuse it, but rather to bring order to the chaos, meaning to the un- 

The children, in fully articulating their question, also articulate the an- 
swer and Morrison's view of how language shapes reality. We know the 
world through the shapes and shades that language provides. The chil- 
dren — metaphors for young artists, writers of color, marginalized peo- 
ples everywhere — come to the old woman longing to know how to use 
language, how to create, how to make meaning of the world around them. 
To this rearticulation of the question, the old woman gives a new answer. 
The children are rewarded for their curiosity, and Morrison shows us 
how language can reshape our knowledge of the world. 

Conseula Francis 

No Mercy Hospital [Song of Solomon) 

Alternate name for Mercy Hospital, a charity hospital in the city's 
northern end. As with Not Doctor Street*, the African American com- 
munity* has renamed this place. This misnomer accurately reflects the 
irony inherent in naming a hospital "Mercy" that refused to admit 
African Americans until 1931. Significantly, Robert Smith* commits 
suicide by jumping from one of the hospital's cupolas while, simulta- 
neously, Ruth Dead* goes into labor (with Milkman*) on the hospital 
steps and is admitted as the hospital's first Black patient. 

Fiona Mills 

Not Doctor Street (Song of Solomon) 

Alternate name for Mains Street, where the only Black doctor in town, 
Dr. Foster, lived and worked. Members of the African American commu- 
nity* referred to the street as "Doctor Street" until city legislators posted 
official signs disclaiming this misnomer. However, the Black community 
still refused to call it Mains Street and, instead, took to calling the street 
"Not Doctor Street." 

Fiona Mills 


124 Bluestone Road [Beloved) 

124 Bluestone Road is the present-moment address of the house provided 
to Baby Suggs* by the Bodwins* when she was released from slavery* 
in 1848. Located on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, it is a twenty-eight- 
day refuge for the newly escaped Sethe Suggs* and her children*, the 
site of a huge celebratory gathering, and the place where Sethe kills her 
daughter. Sethe took over the house — haunted by the dead child's 
ghost — after Baby Suggs died. See also Beloved; Ghost Story, Use of; 
Home; Sweet Home. 

Lovalerie King 

Oprah's Book Club 

When in the fall of 1996 media superstar Oprah Winfrey selected Toni 
Morrison's Song of Solomon* as the second novel to be featured in the 
worldwide reading initiative she called Oprah's Book Club, the then nine- 
teen-year-old text was revitalized. It sold approximately a million copies 
after the telecast. 

Since then, Oprah has chosen two other Morrison novels for dinner 
and an informal causerie, namely, Paradise* (broadcast March 6, 1998) 
and The Bluest Eye* (broadcast May 26, 2000). Oprah also acquired the 
film rights to Beloved*. For ten years Oprah struggled to bring Sethe 
Suggs's story to the silver screen; the film appeared in 1998 with Oprah 


in the starring role and Danny Glover playing Sethe's partner, Paul D 
Garner*. Oprah also has procured the film rights to Paradise. 

What Oprah Winfrey and her book club ultimately did was to thrust 
Toni Morrison and her oeuvre into a wider public domain, a feat neither 
the Pulitzer nor the Nobel Prize managed to do. Certainly the Pulitzer 
and the Nobel are two of the most coveted accolades among the literati. 
These honors signify that one has made a most notable contribution to 
one's field, and that this contribution has served humanity. One's work 
is thereby regarded as distinguished, and the honoree gains recognition 
among his or her peers. However, public recognition generally is limited 
to a small audience. 

Some readers initially interested in reading Morrison deemed her work 
too difficult. Her texts challenge the reading process such that they frus- 
trate some readers, causing them to abandon her work. Morrison's nov- 
els test the lay reader's intellect and make them question their ability to 
follow story line, plot, and character development. Her participation in 
Oprah's Book Club gave the public the opportunity to experience the 
Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate firsthand. Oprah's telecast 
soothed our feelings of reader anxiety and gave us permission to admit 
that Morrison challenges the way we read books. 

During her appearances on Oprah's show, Morrison smiled warmly at 
the audience's reactions to her work. She seemed pleased that readers re- 
acted to her stories with difficulty. She mentioned during the Oprah din- 
ner that it is not her intent to make reading easy, for the writing process 
is very meticulous. Every word on the page is special because it is cho- 
sen exclusively for the one who holds the book; in this way Morrison in- 
vites each reader to participate actively in the reading process. 

Oprah's Book Club introduced to a wide audience stories about African 
Americans that are rich with history*, multilayered, and excruciatingly 
dense. Even the names of the characters are peculiar: Milkman Dead*, 
Guitar Balnes*, Pecola Breedlove*, Cholly Breedlove*, Soaphead 
Church*, Sethe Suggs*, Buglar Suggs*, crawlingalready?, Baby Suggs*, 
Pilate Dead*, schoolteacher*, and Lone DuPres*. These appellations are 
in and of themselves "characters" that serve to embellish the person 
behind the name as well as the narrative within which they move. The 
characters who populate Morrison's novels do strange, sometimes in- 
comprehensible things: a mother and daughter live with a sad ghost; a 
daughter lies naked in the bed with her dead father, his fingers in her 
mouth; an old woman finds comfort lying on her back on a cold kitchen 
floor; a Black girl wishes for blue eyes; and a band of African American 
men invade a convent, carrying shotguns. Weird things happen: trees 
grow breasts and beckon a confused young woman to suckle them; a 
crazed World War I veteran founds and celebrates National Suicide Day*; 
a mother burns her son to death*; a man flies (or does he?); women in a 


convent are "murdered" in cold blood, yet rise from the dead and walk 
among the living; a father, in a drunken stupor, rapes his preadolescent 
daughter in the name of "love." Oprah's Book Club provided an open 
forum for a discussion of Morrison's literary Black community. More- 
over, given Oprah's worldwide viewing audience, Morrison's appearances 
on the show furthered discussion of African American literature on an 
international scale. 

Ever since Oprah Winfrey announced in the fall of 1996 that she 
planned to start America reading, her book club has revolutionized the 
publishing industry. Her monthly selection inspires her studio audience 
and 14 million television viewers to patronize booksellers such as Barnes 
and Noble, Borders Books, Scribner's, and the online bookselling giant; the economic impact on Oprah Book Club authors' sales 
has astounded authors and publishers alike. Oprah's clarion call made the 
talk show a viable medium to promote and sell books. Moreover, Oprah's 
Book Club has rescued obscure and/or struggling authors and given them 
a voice on national television. 

When Toni Morrison appeared on Oprah's show, audiences watched 
and read. Toni Morrison is now a household name, and her participation 
in the Oprah Book Club catapulted her to a level of fame that a Holly- 
wood movie based on a novel could not generate. Certainly, Beloved made 
it to the silver screen; however, it was Morrison's appearances on Oprah's 
show that sent publishers scrambling to reprint her novels and readers 
flocking to buy her books. See also Beloved, Film. 

Kwakiutl L. Dreher 

Oral Tradition 

The African American oral tradition includes folktales, such as the trick- 
ster* tales of Br'er Rabbit, High John de Conquer, and Stagger Lee, and 
other tales of both heroes and common people passed down from gener- 
ation to generation within families and through communal storytelling 
situations. Although the African American oral tradition retains signif- 
icant connections to African oral forms, it is a dynamic and live form of 
cultural expression, not a static collection of tales, and also includes ser- 
mons, toasts, and the lyrics to spirituals, work songs, chants, blues, and 
rap songs. Taken as a whole, the oral tradition is a rich source of cultural 
beliefs and values, and conveys the knowledge that African Americans 
have accumulated for how to survive and endure in America. 

Zora Neale Hurston, a noted African American writer and anthropol- 
ogist, characterizes the oral traditions of African Americans in her short 
essay, "Characteristics of Negro Expression," and in her longer work, 
Mules and Men, in which she records numerous storytelling sessions. 


Hurston emphasizes the presence of audience participation in call and re- 
sponse, an antiphonal form in which the main speaker shares the act of 
storytelling with the audience. Often, oral tales end without a clear res- 
olution and invite the audience to participate in considering the moral 
implications of the tale. Other important structural features of the oral 
tradition include nonlinearity, repetition, and the complex use of 
metaphor and imagery. 

Toni Morrison's writing draws heavily on the African American oral 
tradition, in a variety of ways. We can categorize these connections under 
two main headings: thematic and structural. Morrison makes the oral 
tradition a theme within her tale by incorporating whole tales, by de- 
picting the act of telling stories and preaching sermons, and by explor- 
ing and developing the cultural beliefs that the oral tradition conveys, 
including beliefs about the supernatural. She also structures her novels 
using many of the features of oral tales, including call and response, non- 
linearity, and the jazzlike repetition and improvisation of core images. 
Morrison's work emphasizes the dynamic nature of the oral tradition, 
its emphasis on creation and change; it also needs to be understood as 
being in a creative and dynamic relationship to the oral tradition, rather 
than as reductively incorporating static tales. 

Admittedly, Morrison most obviously uses the oral tradition when she 
incorporates or refers to familiar folktales, such as the Gullah myth of 
flying Africans* in Song of Solomon*, or the classic Br'er Rabbit tale in 
Tar Baby*. While these tales offer Morrison a cultural framework, her 
novels might also be thought of as signifying upon or re-envisioning the 
meaning of these tales. In Song of Solomon, Milkman Dead* must de- 
code what at first appears to be a meaningless children's* jump-rope 
chant in order to learn about his ancestors* and to understand his pres- 
ent situation. This chant tells the story of Milkman's enslaved great- 
grandparents, who produced twenty children before the father, 
Solomon*, flew back to Africa and the mother, Ryna, grieved to death. 
Importantly, in order to decode this tale, Milkman, who has grown up in 
the North, immersed in middle-class culture, must learn to listen well to 
others and to trust their tales; in the process he learns much valuable in- 
formation from the personal stories that he hears from his distant rela- 
tives and others in the community* where his ancestors lived. The final 
scene, in which Milkman is atop the cliff from which his grandfather 
jumped or flew, trusting the air, can be read not only as repeating the spe- 
cific image of flying from the tale, but also as emphasizing the value of 
knowledge transmitted through the air — that is, oral tales. 

Tar Baby at first seems to follow the shape of the classic trickster tale, 
with Son* playing the part of Br'er Rabbit, stealing from the more pow- 
erful Valerian Street*, being trapped by the tar baby in the form of Ja- 
dine*, and finally becoming free by returning to the "briar patch," or 


home field in which he is comfortable. Both Son and the narrator ex- 
plicitly refer to the tar baby tale to emphasize these connections. But as 
Trudier Harris has pointed out, Morrison leaves room for other connec- 
tions as well, which complicate the meaning. Jadine could be read as a 
trickster, or Br'er Rabbit figure, as well, with Son as the tar baby by whom 
she is entrapped; arguably, Jadine is freer at the end of the novel than 
Son, but she also finally dismisses the idea of a briar patch that can pro- 
vide shelter. By allowing these multiple readings, Morrison incorporates 
the ambiguity and amorality of classic trickster tales while preventing a 
reductive connection between her work and the folk tradition. 

In addition to incorporating particular tales, Morrison thematizes the 
oral tradition as a whole within her work, depicting the act of telling sto- 
ries, of preaching sermons, and of signifying as a means of community 
building. By engaging her characters in various acts of storytelling, Mor- 
rison is able to explore the complex function of the oral tradition in 
African American culture. For instance, when Baby Suggs* preaches in 
the woods in Beloved*, Morrison evokes the history of African Ameri- 
can preachers who imbued Christianity with the communal ethos of 
African American folk culture, and dramatizes the interaction between 
sermon and response, showing how the congregation collaborates in 
shaping the message. The complex storytelling sessions involving Den- 
ver Suggs*, Sethe Suggs*, and Beloved* also reveal the ways in which 
the audience calls forth stories and helps to shape them, and they high- 
light the way in which narrating traumatic events can help to give those 
memories meaning for both narrator and audience. In The Bluest Eye*, 
Morrison explores the isolation and loss of cultural resilience that fol- 
lows from this lack of storytelling, as Pecola Breedlove* is overwhelmed 
by the story of white superiority that she internalizes through reading 
books. But Morrison does not simplistically idealize the oral tradition; in 
both Beloved and Sula*, communal storytelling takes the form of gos- 
sip that results in isolation for Sethe and for Sula Peace*, the objects of 
that gossip. 

On another level, Morrison's work is an extension of the oral tradi- 
tion because it explores cultural traditions and beliefs about ancestors, 
the supernatural, and good and evil that stem from that tradition. The 
conjurers who inhabit these novels, such as M'Dear in The Bluest Eye, 
Ajax's* mother in Sula, and Pilate Dead* in Song of Solomon, act as cul- 
tural resources, figures who store the accumulated knowledge of the 
community. As conjurers, they have a store of knowledge about both 
the natural and the supernatural worlds, and can use herbs, roots, and 
other materials to at least partially heal those who have been hurt by 
living in this world, though they have the ability to hurt others as well. 
These conjurers are sometimes accepted and sometimes shunned by the 
larger community, and occupy a position that is neither entirely good 


nor entirely evil. This moral ambiguity is also characteristic of the oral 
tradition; in African American folk belief, good and evil are accepted as 
integrally linked rather than as polar opposites. Thus even when the 
community believes a character like Sula to be evil, they do not try to 
destroy her or run her out of town. In Paradise*, Morrison explores the 
destruction that follows from trying to separate good from evil, to cre- 
ate a paradise by limiting who can belong to the community. 

Morrison's later novels, most notably Beloved and Paradise, allow the 
supernatural a greater role. While critics disagree on how the character 
Beloved should be interpreted — as Sethe's baby daughter's ghost come 
back to life, as the supernatural return of the spirit of a slave from the 
Middle Passage, or simply as a young woman who has escaped from 
being locked up for years by a white man — the characters in the novel 
understand her to be a ghost, and the community as a whole acts on this 
belief in order to exorcise her and save Sethe. They continue the belief 
conveyed through the oral tradition from its African origins, that spir- 
its interact with the living. In Paradise, Mavis Albright*, Gigi (Grace 
Gibson*), Pallas Truelove*, and Seneca* continue to interact with their 
families after they have been shot and their bodies have disappeared, 
and Consolata Sosa* is able to bring Deacon Morgan's* son back to life 
after he has died. Following Africanist spiritual beliefs, the line between 
living and dead is not absolute in these novels. Morrison's development 
of patterns of thought conveyed through the African American oral tra- 
dition challenges Western culture's insistence on sharp distinctions be- 
tween the material and the spiritual worlds, and attempts to draw the 
reader into a worldview that understands both as interactive with and 
integral to the whole. 

While the thematic connections are perhaps easiest to see, the struc- 
tural connections have more recently drawn scholars' interests. Morri- 
son herself discusses the form of her novels as emanating from a type of 
oral storytelling common in kitchens and on porches, in which the par- 
ticipation of the audience is essential to the performance, and she fre- 
quently discusses her work as inviting the reader into the text. Often, 
the reader must actively construct the meaning of the novel by sorting 
through and evaluating information gained from the characters' indi- 
vidual stories. These stories often conflict, not only in perspective but also 
in factual detail, and Morrison rarely provides a neutral omniscient nar- 
rator to help the reader judge which perspective to believe. This happens, 
for example, in Song of Solomon when Macon Dead* and his wife Ruth* 
tell their son Milkman quite different stories of how their marriage dis- 
integrated, and in Beloved, when we learn about Sethe's murder of her 
baby through the perspectives of Baby Suggs, schoolteacher*, and Stamp 
Paid before learning about it from Sethe's perspective. The interior mono- 
logues near the end of Beloved, in which Denver, Sethe, and Beloved each 


speaks her own story, show how multiple first-person stories become in- 
tertwined into a complex harmony of voices, so that the narration offers 
a dialogue rather than a monologue, and meaning is communally con- 
structed from the perspectives of many individuals. In jazz* , Morrison 
creates an omniscient narrator who is not an objective knower but in- 
stead a developing character, who speaks directly to the reader and who 
understands herself to be unreliable, changing the story of Golden Gray*, 
for instance, as the novel progresses and then self-consciously com- 
menting on this fact. 

Through these narrative techniques, Morrison develops narrative as 
always stemming from embodied perspectives, and though her novels 
are written literature, they evoke the storytelling experience of live per- 
formances. By structuring her novels in accord with the oral tradition, 
Morrison critiques the literary tradition of omniscient perspectives that 
leads readers to accept master narratives and the idea that there can be a 
universal perspective on history and reality. See also African Myth, Use 
of; Ancestor; Conjure; Folklore; Ghost Story, Use of; Narrative Voice; 

References: Alma Jean Billingslea-Brown, Crossing Borders Through 
Folklore: African-American Women's Fiction and Art (1999); Trudier 
Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels ofToni Morrison (1991); Mari- 
lyn Sanders Mobley, Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne 
Jewett and Toni Morrison (1991); Maggie Sale, "Call and Response as 
Critical Method: African-American Oral Traditions and Beloved," 
African American Review 26 (Spring 1992); Jeanne Rosier Smith, Writ- 
ing Tricksters: Mythic Gambols in American Ethnic Literature (1997). 

Suzanne Lane 

Oven, The {Paradise) 

Built in Haven, Oklahoma*, in 1890 for communal cooking, the Oven 
became a symbol of the patriarchal community's unity and a testament 
to the fact that none of the community's women ever cooked in a white 
kitchen. After World War II, when the men came back to a failing Haven, 
they decided to disassemble the Oven and rebuild it in Ruby, Oklahoma*. 
For a time, the round, brick Oven served as both a cookplace and a re- 
minder of what Haven stood for; however, after the convenience of mod- 
ern appliances, the Oven ceased to be a functional part of the community 
and began to serve primarily as a hangout for Ruby's youth. Outside of 
Ruby, the Civil Rights era dawns and the Oven again becomes the pri- 
mary but contested site of representation for the community's spirit: 


upon the five-foot-by-two-foot iron plate forged by Deacon Morgan* 
and Steward Morgan's* grandfather are engraved words that divide 
rather than unite the community. Is the motto "Beware the Furrow of 
his Brow," as Esther Morgan claimed from her "finger memory," a mem- 
ory made from passing her fingers over the letters while she was too 
young to read? Or is it "Be the Furrow of His Brow," as the more polit- 
ically active youth in Ruby claim? Although Patricia Best Cato*, the un- 
official town historian, suggests that the youths' interpretation is more 
accurate than the elders suspect (it is others who need to beware his 
power, not those within Ruby), the debate becomes one that encapsulates 
the power struggle between generations: the former is a message of pa- 
triarchy, tradition, patience, and separation; the latter, a message of de- 
mocracy, change, empowerment, and involvement. The Black fist with 
red fingernails painted on the Oven and the tilting of the Oven's foun- 
dation signal the political change that has entered Ruby by the 1970s. 
See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Paradise (1998) 

Paradise is Toni Morrison's seventh novel, the last in a trilogy that in- 
cludes Beloved* and Jazz*, which focuses, respectively, on the three pri- 
mary sociocultural movements or moments in African American U.S. 
history: slavery*/Reconstruction, the Jazz Age/Great Migration*, and 
the Civil Rights/Black Power movement. Paradise is divided into nine 
sections, each bearing the title of a female character in the novel, that 
weave past and present, tale and experience, memory* and supposition 
into a story that gradually unfolds and constructs the complex histori- 
cal, moral, and political life of a small group of people. The novel opens 
in the early morning hours of a July day in 1976 with the murder of a 
girl identified only as white. Nine men, who go unnamed in the begin- 
ning section "Ruby," invade the Convent* and, with loaded guns and 
coiled rope, cautiously tour the rooms to gather evidence of the women's 
unnatural practices. After a short battle with the women, who are armed 
only with common household items, the men finally complete their mis- 
sion: they shoot the remaining four women, one between the eyes and 
the last three running through the early-morning mist in a futile attempt 
at escape. And so the reader opens the story of five haunted and hunted 
women, and of Ruby*, an all-Black town in Oklahoma. 

In 1976, Ruby has a population of 360 and no need for a jail, bus stop, 
cafe, or gas station. The drugstore looks like a regular house and, on ei- 
ther end of the town, the pavement stops just past the last of Ruby's 
buildings. Located ninety miles from the nearest town, Ruby is a closed 

260 PARADISE (1998) 

community, suspicious of "outsiders" and participant in a deal with 
God: no one dies in Ruby. The slaughter at the Convent, located sev- 
enteen miles and a world away from Ruby, is both the end of this 
covenant and the beginning of a new one. Despite its geographic and 
moral separation from the patriarchal Ruby, the lives of the two are 
deeply intertwined, and it is their relationship that becomes the focus 
of the novel. 

The town of Ruby was founded in 1951 by the "fifteen families": Dea- 
con* and Steward Morgan*, William Cato, Ace Flood, Aaron Poole, 
Nathan and Moss DuPres, Arnold Fleetwood, Ossie Beauchamp, Harper 
and Menus Jury, Sargeant Person, John Seawright, Edward Sands, and 
Roger Best. But the history of Ruby begins before its founding. With few 
exceptions, these "new fathers" are descendants of the "nine families" 
(Blackhorse, Morgan, Poole, Fleetwood, Beauchamp, Cato, Flood, and two 
DuPres) who had established the all-Black town of Haven, Oklahoma*, 
in 1890. On an exodus from Louisiana and Mississippi after the over- 
throw of Reconstruction governments, the nine families are rejected by 
the all-Black, but light-skinned, town of Fairly, Oklahoma*, an act dubbed 
"the Disallowing," for being both too poor and too Black. Later desig- 
nated by Patricia Best Cato*, Ruby's unofficial town historian, as "8- 
rock" for the shade of black found deep in coal mines, it was their dark 
skin color that not only caused their rejection at Fairly, but also prevented 
them from finding jobs in the Redemption South and kept them poor. 
The narrative of the Disallowing solidifies the fierce pride of the original 
families, already wounded by the inaccurate white depictions of Black 
political corruption during Reconstruction and establishes an intense dis- 
trust and disapproval of light-skinned Blacks as well as whites. Conse- 
quently, a reverse hierarchy of skin color — from dark to light — governs 
first in Haven and later in Ruby. Illustrating the significance of the re- 
jection, each Christmas, Ruby's schoolchildren reenact a conflation of the 
Disallowing and Christ's birth story, representing their mission as holy 
and their Haven forefathers as martyrs. 

Their sense of difference and ordained purpose is further strengthened 
in the town's consciousness by the narrative of Haven's divine founding. 
Leading the band of 158 wanderers, Zechariah "Big Papa" Morgan chose 
Haven's site based on his religious visions of a traveling man who guided 
them to the spot. After sixteen months of negotiating with and working 
for a family of "state Indians," the group finally purchased the land and 
promptly built a large, round, brick communal Oven. Though its pri- 
mary purpose was to provide food for the community, the Oven also 
served as a symbol (perhaps ironically, due to the associations between 
an oven and the womb) of the patriarchal community's unity and a tes- 
tament to the fact that none of their women ever cooked in a white 
kitchen. The tight-knit, self-sufficient community prospered until the 

PARADISE (1998) 261 

1940s, when the outside world intruded and threatened its traditional, 
exclusionary existence. 

Returning from World War II, Haven's men find the town failing fi- 
nancially and, in their eyes, morally, and they decide to move farther into 
Oklahoma to begin anew as their fathers and grandfathers had done sixty 
years before. The town they establish 240 miles west of Haven remains 
nameless until 1954, when Ruby Morgan (sister of two of the town's 
most prominent men) dies because no (white) hospital will admit her for 
treatment, a reenactment on an individual level of the Disallowing. Thus, 
the town is not only named for a dead woman, the first person buried 
there, but also as a reminder of the racism and segregation its founders 
attempted to escape. Having served their country and come home to in- 
creased white prejudice and racism, the disillusioned men establish Ruby 
out of a protective impulse to isolate themselves; however, their efforts 
are ultimately futile because even in the middle of nowhere, they can- 
not escape the sociopolitical changes sweeping the United States in the 
1960s and 1970s. 

One of the primary struggles in the novel results from the efforts of 
Ruby's youth to resist the repressive and isolationist policies of their 
parents' generation. Encouraged by Reverend Richard Misner*, the 
lately-come and youngest of Ruby's three ministers, the younger gen- 
eration begins by 1970 to take up the Black Power movement as its own. 
Their new political consciousness, one that signals an involvement with 
the world outside Ruby, creates a rift in Ruby's traditional, patriarchal 
social structure, and this growing division manifests itself in an argu- 
ment over the Oven. 

When the new fathers established Ruby, they brought with them and 
rebuilt brick by brick by Oven, Haven's communal and symbolic center. 
Initially, the Oven served as both cook place and reminder of what Haven 
represented; however, as more of Ruby's homes acquire modern appli- 
ances, the Oven ceases to be a functional, unifying part of the commu- 
nity. Instead, it begins to serve primarily as a hangout for Ruby's youth, 
who appropriate the Oven as their own space within the confines of the 
restrictive town politics and morality. When someone paints a Black fist 
with red fingernails on the side of the Oven, the festering derision ex- 
plodes into open division and initiates a disagreement over the words of 
the Oven's "motto," a now-incomplete message engraved on a five-foot- 
by-two-foot iron plate forged by Big Papa Morgan. Ruby's older gener- 
ation, including Big Papa's twin grandsons Deacon and Steward Morgan, 
believe the motto says "Beware the Furrow of his Brow." They base their 
belief on Esther Morgan's ancient "finger memory," made from passing 
her fingers over the letters while she was too young to read, and they 
understand the motto as a warning from God to be moral, obedient to 
tradition, and righteous. The more politically active youth, however, 

262 PARADISE (1998) 

argue (itself an affront to their elders) that the motto reads "Be the Fur- 
row of His Brow," and serves as an empowering instruction to do God's 
work against white racism. Patricia Best Cato believes a compromise: the 
youth's interpretation is more accurate than their elders suspect because 
Haven's founders may have meant the motto as a warning to outsiders, 
both whites and the lighter-skinned Blacks who disallowed them. 

Regardless of the motto's original message, the debate becomes one 
that encapsulates the power struggle between Ruby's generations: the 
first is a message of patriarchy, tradition, patience, and separation, and 
the second a message of democracy, change, empowerment, and in- 
volvement. And it is the tilting of the Oven's foundation near the end of 
the novel that signals the sociopolitical changes and violence that have 
entered Ruby by the mid-1970s. Unable to accept the inevitable chal- 
lenge of the younger generation to their patriarchal authority, however, 
the men of Ruby need someone to blame. Although — or perhaps be- 
cause — many of Ruby's citizens visit the Convent in times of trouble 
(Arnette Fleetwood to self-abort a baby, Menus Jury to suffer through 
the delirium tremens, Billie Delia to escape an abusive mother, Sweetie 
Fleetwood to find a haven from always-sick children), the Convent and 
its women, who live free of patriarchal restrictions, become the scapegoat 
for Ruby's growing turbulence. 

Never an actual convent, the Convent was originally an embezzler's 
mansion, decorated throughout with sexually explicit objects: bathroom 
fixtures, doorknobs, and ashtrays shaped like genitalia; paintings of cop- 
ulating couples or women in positions of subjugation; dark, mysteri- 
ous rooms whose original purposes are now unknown. After having 
thrown one grand orgy in the not-quite-completed mansion, the em- 
bezzler was arrested, and the land was leased to the Catholic Church. 
The Sisters Devoted to Indians and Colored People came to the Con- 
vent in 1925 to establish Christ the King School for Native Girls, also 
known as Sisters of the Sacred Cross School for Arapaho Girls, and 
quickly destroyed, hid, or painted over the sexually explicit decor. By 
1953, demand for the school had dwindled to nothing, and all of the sis- 
ters were reassigned except the aging Mother Mary Agnes (Magna 
Mary*) and her unofficially adopted daughter Consolata Sosa* (Con- 
nie), whom she "stole" from dirty city streets (presumably in Brazil) 
at the age of nine, abandoned and sexually abused. The two women re- 
main at the Convent and sell hot pepper jelly and pies to Ruby's citi- 
zens and occasional travelers. But as early as 1954, still inhabited by 
nuns and not yet seen as a threat by Ruby's men, the Convent shows 
itself as a place of female subversiveness. 

At the age of thirty-nine, a still-beautiful, still-green-eyed Connie has 
a short but intense love affair with Deacon Morgan, a married father of 
two and already one of Ruby's most prominent men at the age of twenty- 

PARADISE (1998) 263 

nine. Deek ends the affair after Connie bites his lip and licks his blood 
while making love; her behavior, he tells himself, is that of an animal. 
But more accurately, he ends the affair because their relationship, en- 
capsulated by that one action, is a threat to Ruby's social structure: Deek 
cannot reconcile his patriarchal life view, his ideals of stability and moral- 
ity, with Connie's deep, unrestrained passion. Unaware that the affair is 
over, however, Deek's wife, Soane*, decides to confront Connie and walks 
the seventeen miles to demand that Connie help her abort her child. Hav- 
ing no intent of actually aborting the child, Soane uses the request as an 
excuse to show herself and her sexual relationship with her husband to 
Connie. Connie refuses to help her and, during the walk back to Ruby, 
Soane loses the child and believes the miscarriage is God's punishment 
for her deceit. More than ten years later Connie and Soane develop an 
unexpected but deep and long-lasting friendship because Connie, using 
her gift for healing, revives Soane's son Scout after he falls asleep at the 
wheel of a truck. The relationship between the two women is one of the 
primary narrative representations of the connections between Ruby and 
the Convent: both women give love to the same man and life to the same 
child. However, the similarities between the women are obscured for 
Ruby's citizens by differences of convention: the one is redeemed in mar- 
riage within the confines of Ruby; the other, a whore unrestrained in a 
never-was Convent that by 1976 is seen as the ultimate threat to the pa- 
triarchal community of Ruby. 

With the arrival of Mavis Albright* in 1968, the Convent begins to 
transform once more, this time into a safe haven for wayward women, 
some on the run from men or the law, some searching for something or 
someone. Regardless of what brings them to the Convent, the women 
stay without financial obligation or moral restriction, and without in- 
tending to. The twenty-seven-year-old fugitive Mavis arrives after acci- 
dentally suffocating her newborn twins by leaving them in the car while 
she ran into the store for some weenies. Believing that her abusive hus- 
band and three surviving children are trying to kill her, Mavis steals her 
husband's Cadillac and begins driving west, picking up hitchhikers to help 
fund the journey, until she finally runs out of both gas and money near 
the Convent. Almost immediately after entering the Convent, Mavis be- 
gins to hear the laughter of Merle and Pearl, her dead twins, and she finds 
herself staying without ever deciding to. Having the aging Connie to look 
after, the ghostly presence of the ever-growing twins, and the aggressive, 
nighttime, sexual dream-visits of a strange man, Mavis lives an uneasy 
mixture of reality and fantasy, but is safe from both her husband and 
the law. 

The second of the Convent women, Gigi (Grace Gibson*), steps off the 
bus in Ruby in 1971 in too-high heels and a too-short skirt, hoping to 
find two trees entwined in love and some unbeatable rhubarb pie. Her 

264 PARADISE (1998) 

boyfriend Mikey, arrested during the Oakland riots, has told her of two 
rocks making love forever in the desert just outside Wish, Arizona, and 
they are to rendezvous there on April 15, after he is paroled. But Gigi, a 
girl really named Grace from Alcorn, Mississippi, finds no lovemaking 
rocks and, on her way to anywhere else, a stranger's tale of two trees that 
might do and a bus bring her to Ruby; the road she walks takes her to 
the Convent the day Magna Mary dies. Finding Connie alone, drunk, and 
almost passed out on the kitchen floor, Gigi misses her ride to Demby 
and remains at the Convent. Fond of sunbathing naked and wearing few 
clothes, Gigi immediately garners the disapproval of the more conserva- 
tive Mavis when she returns with now-unneeded medicine for Magna 
Mary, and her behavior attracts the attention of K.D. (Coffee Smith*), 
only nephew of the important Morgan family. Their two-year, turbulent 
affair ends when the Convent women banish K.D. for beating Gigi, whose 
sexual attention then turns to the childlike twenty-year old Seneca*, who 
arrives at the Convent in 1973. 

Mavis believes that Seneca arrives just in time to save Mavis and Gigi 
from killing each other. Seneca's boyfriend, Eddie Turtle, has been con- 
victed for the hit-and-run death of a child, and Seneca has been unsuc- 
cessfully attempting to get money for his defense from his mother when 
the rich and beautiful Norma Keene Fox finds her in a Wichita bus sta- 
tion. After three weeks of being Fox's "personal assistant" and sexual 
play toy, Seneca is paid five hundred dollars and sent on her way, con- 
fused and afraid to return to Eddie. She is hitching rides to nowhere in 
particular when, from the back of a pickup truck, she sees the weeping, 
uncombed, coatless Sweetie Fleetwood walking down the road through 
an approaching blizzard. Sweetie reminds her of another crying Black 
woman she saw when she was five, just after her mother (whom she 
thought was her sister) abandoned her in their government housing 
apartment, leaving only a scrawled note written in lipstick that she could 
never read, first because she was too young and then because, smeared 
by tears and sweat from being stored in her shoes, it had become un- 
readable. Shipped from one foster home to another after being sexually 
abused by a foster brother, Seneca grows up trying only to please those 
around her. She develops an early association between wounds (usually 
small cuts) and sympathy, and thus regularly cuts herself with a razor, 
making fine, straight "roads" that flood with blood and look surgical in 
their precision. Having no one and no place to go, Seneca stays at the 
Convent, attempting the impossible task of keeping peace between Mavis 
and her new roommate/sexual partner, Gigi, and making the newcomer 
Pallas Truelove* feel at home. 

Pallas, presumably the "white girl" whom Ruby's men shoot first, ar- 
rives at the Convent in 1975, sixteen years old and pregnant. Leaving be- 
hind her father and her senior year of high school, the wealthy Pallas 

PARADISE (1998) 265 

(also called Divine, which is her mother's nickname) runs away with Car- 
los, the high school janitor (who fancies himself a sculptor) to visit her 
estranged artist mother. After a few months of bohemian lifestyle and 
lots of pot, Pallas sees her mother and Carlos making love in the grass 
under the stars. Trying to escape the wounding memory, she wrecks her 
car and is then chased by two men into a swampish lake. Hiding in the 
darkness, only her face above the black water, Pallas hopes the soft fin- 
gers around her legs are harmless bottom grass and friendly fish. After 
the men abandon their search, Pallas, traumatized and unable to talk, 
hitches a ride in a pickup truck with Mexican workers who leave her at 
a church shelter in Demby. However, believing the girl has been sexu- 
ally abused, the Mexican woman in the truck soon returns and takes her 
to the Demby Clinic. Billie Delia Cato*, who works in the clinic, finds 
her in the alley outside, standing over her own vomit, and takes her to 
the Convent, where after several days she begins to speak again. Pallas 
briefly goes home to her father, only to return to the shelter of the Con- 
vent, where in 1976 she delivers a baby boy. 

Thus, in 1975, five haunted women are living at the Convent. The aging 
Connie, now almost blind and living among and from old bottles of wine 
in the cellar, longs for the release of death and an escape from the bick- 
ering, lost women who surround her. However, on one of her occasional 
trips to the garden for fresh air, she encounters a strange young man with 
long, cascading brown hair who asks with a wry smile for a drink, floats 
when he moves, and insists Connie knows him. After the encounters with 
the stranger begin, Connie marshals the women into a new sense of pur- 
pose and life. They clean themselves, shave their heads, begin to work to- 
gether, and listen to Connie's stories of Piedade*, a beautiful singing 
woman who becomes a maternal figure of paradise embodied. Connie in- 
structs the women to paint images of themselves, their pasts, and their 
fears on the basement floor and walls, and begins to lead them in sessions 
of "loud-dreaming" that allow them to exorcise the ghosts that haunt 
them by telling their stories to each other. 

Mavis must come to terms with her guilt over the death of the twins 
and her fear of abusive men. Grace, understanding that she has not ap- 
proved of herself in years, must exorcise the image of a blood-flower 
spreading on a young Black boy's clean white shirt, a memory from 
the Oakland riots. Seneca's "loud-dreaming" allows her to transfer her 
cuts from her own body to her traced image, and to let go of the des- 
olation she felt when she understood her sister/mother was never 
coming back. Pallas releases the hated and haunting vision of her 
mother and Carlos and the memory of entwining tendrils in the dark 
water. When Soane Morgan sees the women again, just before the at- 
tack on the Convent, she recognizes them as women who are no longer 
haunted. Thus, as they dance in the predawn rain of a July day in 1976, 

266 PARADISE (1998) 

letting the clean water wash away their fear and pain, they are holy 

But nine of Ruby's men believe them anything but holy, and gather at 
the Oven to lay their plans: Sergeant Person, looking to control more of 
the Convent land he now has to lease; Arnold and Jeff Fleetwood, want- 
ing someone to blame for the sick Fleetwood children and Arnette's 
never-seen baby; Wisdom Poole, hating the women for their connection 
with Billie Delia, who was loved by two Poole brothers; Harper and 
Menus Jury, needing to eliminate the witnesses to Menus's drying out; 
K.D. (Coffee) Smith, taking revenge on the women who had thrown him 
out; and, leading the pack, Deek and Steward Morgan, one looking for 
explanation and absolution from his guilt, and the other not needing ei- 
ther. Despite their own unspoken personal motives, all the men are look- 
ing for someone to blame for the changes in Ruby. The Convent women, 
unhampered by patriarchal convention, not bound by the laws and tra- 
ditions of Ruby, are the ultimate outsiders, and thus a threat to the com- 
munity the men have worked their entire adult lives to build. As the 
women dance, the men gather their weapons, prepare for battle, and en- 
gage in a ritual of eating rare steak, singed on the fire and washed down 
with liquor. And the people of Ruby? While gathering medicinal herbs 
in the dark before the rains come, Lone DuPres*, Ruby's aging and no- 
longer-needed midwife, overhears the men of Ruby planning their raid 
and attempts to warn the dancing women, who pay her no heed. After 
considerable effort, she is finally able to persuade some of Ruby's re- 
maining citizens to go to the Convent to prevent the violence*. However, 
despite Lone's efforts, the people of Ruby arrive too late, in time only to 
witness the aftermath of the raid. When they get there, the men have in- 
vaded the Convent, and while searching for their prey, they find what 
they knew they would — justification. Strings of baby booties hanging 
above a new but empty crib. An unreadable letter written in smeared 
bloodlike red. Drawings of a mother with fangs, and fish in dark water. 
The men take these things for signs of deviltry rather than the remnants 
of an exorcism of fear, hatred, self-doubt, and trauma*. They have no 
other way to interpret the painted sounds and chalk demons born from 
the women's loud dreaming. Although the women put up a fight with a 
butcher knife, boiling chicken stock, a skillet, a cue stick, an alabaster ash- 
tray, and a gilt picture frame, the men are too many, and as the women 
run through the still-misted grass in an attempt to escape, they are shot 
down by Sargeant, Wisdom, Coffee, Deacon, and Steward. 

But it is Steward Morgan alone who kills the white girl in the first line 
of the novel. Steward loves his wife, his family's history*, the memory* 
of his sister Ruby, his bank, his position in the community, and perhaps 
most of all his idea of what is Right. Rasher than his twin and a hard- 
core race conservative, Steward above all others cannot tolerate the 

PARADISE (1998) 267 

changing youth in Ruby, nor can he accept the menless women at the 
Convent; for him, both are signs of failure, disintegration, and loss of 
control. A man who never forgets anything, Steward remembers how 
close one Convent woman came to ruining his twin brother's life twenty 
two years before. Thus, it is also Steward who shoots Connie in the head 
despite, or perhaps because of, his brother's cautioning hand. During the 
raid, when the unarmed Connie enters the room and addresses a vision 
only she sees, Deek attempts to stop his brother's aiming arm. Although 
Deek is not physically stronger than his twin, he is the morally stronger 
of the two. After Steward murders Connie, a rift opens between the 
brothers. Unlike Steward, Deek begins to understand that the isolated 
and unchanging new "haven" they had attempted to create and tried to 
uphold through patriarchal control and violence was impossible, that they 
had become what their grandfathers hated: those who attack and destroy 
others who are different, for being different. Walking barefoot to Rev- 
erend Misner's house in a reenactment of both his grandfather's 200- 
mile barefoot walk from Louisiana to Mississippi, and the seventeen-mile 
walk to the Convent so many in need of help had made, Deek hopes to 
find what he never before knew to look for. 

Although all five women are shot, when the only mortician in Ruby, 
Roger Best, returns to the Convent, there are no bodies and Mavis's 
Cadillac is missing. Later, when Reverend Richard Misner and Anna 
Flood visit the Convent to see for themselves that the women are gone, 
they see, or rather feel, an opening in the air (he sees a door; she, a win- 
dow) that leads to some other place. Although Misner has no answers to 
the mysteries of the Convent women and the mysterious passageway to 
somewhere else, or to Deacon Morgan's introspective musings, he 
emerges as a spiritual and political hope for Ruby. Misner decides to stay 
in the more-than-ever divided town while giving the eulogy for Save- 
Marie*, the youngest of the Fleetwood children and never a presence in 
the text until her burial. Four months after the raid on the Convent, Save- 
Marie's death (she is the first of Ruby's original descendants to die within 
Ruby's city limits since 1953) symbolizes an end of the "compact" 
between God and the original families of Ruby. When the (now only pre- 
sumably) slaughtered women's bodies disappear, many bicker over com- 
peting versions of the raid, yet some of Ruby's citizens understand that 
God has given Ruby another chance, a new covenant that can be suc- 
cessful only if they are willing to change. Having once taken refuge at 
the Convent, Billie Delia Cato is one of the few who befriended the Con- 
vent women and is the only character who is not puzzled by their dis- 
appearance; she believes the women have left, only to return prepared 
for a battle with Ruby, with men, and with all the forces that haunted 
them. And indeed, the reader does see each of the women again. Mavis 
has a brief, somewhat surreal encounter with her now-grown daughter, 


Sally, in a country inn restaurant before disappearing into the crowd. 
Grace, dressed in a black T-shirt and camouflage pants and packing a gun, 
appears first at a lake, visiting her father, who has received a permanent 
stay of execution, and again helping Seneca clean her bleeding hands in 
a stadium parking lot. Seneca's sister/mother Jean approaches her, mis- 
remembers their old address, and doesn't know for certain that the 
woman is Seneca until they are separated once again. Pallas appears again 
at her mother's, dressed in a long, flowing rose madder and umber skirt, 
sword in hand, baby carried on her chest, and looking for a pair of shoes 
she had left behind. She rides off in a car full of women. The novel closes 
with an image of Consolata, sitting at the ocean's edge with her head in 
Piedade's lap, in Paradise. 

References: Geoffrey Bent, "Less Than Divine: Toni Morrison's Par- 
adise," Southern Review 35: 1 (Winter 1999); Katrine Dalsgard, "The 
One All-Black Town Worth the Pain: (African) American Exceptional- 
ism, Historical Narration, and the Critique of Nationhood in Toni Mor- 
rison's Paradise," African American Review 35: 2 (2001); Kristin Hunt, 
"Paradise Lost: The Destructive Forces of Double Consciousness and 
Boundaries in Toni Morrison's Paradise," in Reading Under the Sign of 
Nature: New Essays in Ecocentrism, ed. John Tallmadge and Henry Har- 
rington (2000); Justin Tally, "Toni Morrison's (Hi)stories and Truths," in 
FORECAAST: Forum for European Contributions to African American 
Studies Lit (1999); Peter Widdowson, "The American Dream Refash- 
ioned: History, Politics and Gender in Toni Morrison's Paradise," Jour- 
nal of American Studies 35: 2 (2001). 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Patsy /Thirty- Mile Woman {Beloved) 

Patsy is Sixo's* lover who lives on a plantation seventeen miles from 
Sweet Home*. Sixo's peers at Sweet Home call her Thirty-Mile Woman 
because Sixo must walk over thirty miles round-trip to see her. Paul D 
Garner* reveals to us Sixo's explanation that he appreciated Patsy's abil- 
ity to take all the pieces of him and give them back in the right order. 
Seen through Sixo's eyes, Patsy is an extraordinary character, but one 
who gets very little narrative space. When Sixo and Paul D are discov- 
ered during the escape attempt, Patsy manages to avoid capture. She is 
pregnant with Sixo's child, to whom Sixo gleefully refers, just before he 
is killed, as Seven-O. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 


Pauls, the (Beloved) 

Paul A, Paul D, and Paul F are all brothers bred (or perhaps manufactured 
is a better word, since no mention is made of their having parents) at 
Sweet Home*. They came to adulthood within the confines of Sweet 
Home. The suggestion is that there must have been Pauls B, C, and E at 
some point. The Pauls' collective perceptions of themselves vis-a-vis the 
world was created, conditioned, and honed under Mr. Garner's* special 
philosophy of slavery. They had been reared to serve perfectly and con- 
tentedly; prior to schoolteacher's* arrival, they were not beaten, they had 
plenty to eat, and Garner even allowed them to use guns for hunting. He 
told them that they were men, and they believed him. Garner's death and 
schoolteacher's new rules turned their "safe" little manufactured world 
upside down. Paul F is sold for the money needed to keep Sweet Home 
afloat, and Paul A is hanged during the collective escape attempt. Paul D 
is sold after a foiled escape attempt. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Peace, Eva (Sula) 

Sula Peace's* grandmother. Eva has only one leg. It is rumored that she 
allowed her missing leg to be cut off by a passing train in order to collect 
insurance money with which to take care of her family after her husband 
BoyBoy abandoned her. Eva has a large, disorderly house over which she 
plays matriarch to a host of tenants and family members. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Peace, Sula (Sula) 

Daughter of Hannah Peace and childhood friend of Nel Wright*. Sula 
grows up in the expansive house of her grandmother, Eva Peace*. Her 
distinguishing physical features include a birthmark shaped like a 
stemmed rose, over one of her eyelids, and a left forefinger slightly 
shorter than it should be as a result of her cutting it off at the tip to scare 
the Irish boys who harass her and Nel on their way home from school. 
Sula is deeply and negatively impacted by three events that happen in 
quick succession at a crucial moment in her life: she overhears her 
mother, Hannah, comment that she loves Sula but does not like her; 
Chicken Little*, a boy from the neighborhood, drowns after Sula acci- 
dentally swings him into a river; and Hannah Peace, her mother, burns 
to death before Sula's eyes while trying to light a yard fire. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 


Piedade [Paradise) 

The mystical, singing Black woman/goddess and safe harbor for Conso- 
lata Sosa* (Connie) both before and after the slaughter at the Convent*. 
In the final year at the Convent, Connie tells the no-longer-haunted 
women about Piedade's beaches and her soothing songs, and it is Piedade 
who nestles Connie's head in the final scene of the novel. In Portuguese, 
the word means "compassion"; Piedade is also a northern area of Rio de 
Janiero, Brazil. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Plato, Use of 

In the "Allegory of the Cave" (Book VII of the Republic), Plato describes 
human beings "living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an en- 
trance a long way up. . . . They've been there since childhood, fixed in the 
same place, with their necks and legs fettered, able to see only in front of 
them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads 
around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them. 
... Do you suppose ... these prisoners see anything of themselves and 
one another besides the shadows that the fire casts on the wall in front 
of them? How could they, if they have to keep their heads motionless 
throughout life?" (514a-b). Plato provides us with an image of ignorant 
humanity trapped in the shadowy depths of illusion. The rare individual 
escapes the limitations of the cave and, through a long, tortuous, intel- 
lectual and emotional journey, discovers a higher realm, a true reality. 
As a result of this enlightenment, however, the freed individual is fre- 
quently misunderstood and outcast by those who prefer to remain in the 
dark cave. In The Bluest Eye*, Toni Morrison underscores Pauline 
Breedlove's* story with Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." Traces of this al- 
legorical imagery can also be found in Morrison's depiction of the sugar- 
brown Mobile girls in the chapter titled "Winter." 

In "Toni Morrison's Allegory of the Cave: Movies, Consumption, and 
Platonic Realism in The Bluest Eye," Thomas Fick suggests that "it is a 
mistake to think of the cinema only as cultural shorthand for twentieth- 
century escapism; its appearance in The Bluest Eye serves to recall an 
older and more intellectually distinguished precursor. The cinema func- 
tions ... precisely like the famous cave in Plato's The Republic" (14). 
Pauline Breedlove finds solace from her world in the movie theater. The 
images she hypnotically watches on the screen take the place of Plato's 
hand-carried objects; a movie projector, the place of his fire; and an au- 
dience, the place of his prisoners. This movie audience willingly looks to 
escape their reality and submerge themselves in Hollywood fantasy. Con- 


versely, Plato's prisoners do not choose to escape into the cave; they are 
unwillingly chained in the darkness from childhood and grow to believe 
in the shadows because they know nothing else. In "Eruptions of Funk: 
Historicizing Toni Morrison," Susan Willis notes that "Polly Breedlove 
lives a form of schizophrenia, where her marginality is constantly con- 
fronted with a world of Hollywood movies, white sheets, and blond chil- 
dren. When at work or at the movies, she separates herself from her own 
kinky hair and decayed tooth" (265). When she is in the dark theater, the 
harshness of Pauline's outside world disappears and she can content her- 
self with the shadows, the illusions — she is no longer flawed. There the 
black-and-white movie images shine through and come together, mak- 
ing a magnificent whole. Whether submerging herself in the falsity of 
cinema or the white world in which she works, Pauline continually looks 
to escape her reality. The shadows on the cave wall, like the images on 
Pauline's movie screen, look very real, and the prisoner is attached to the 
illusion because it constitutes his world — it gives meaning to his exis- 
tence. Once thrust out of that existence, the prisoner's truth, like 
Pauline's, reveals itself. But whereas the freed man embraces his 
newfound reality, Pauline runs back into the cave; she, like the remain- 
ing chained prisoners, hides among the black-and-white images on 
the screen. 

Like Plato's prisoners who know of no other home but the cave and 
its shadows, Morrison's sugar-brown Mobile girls know only of Mobile 
and their shadow-filled existence. Described as hollyhocks whose roots 
are deeply planted in the ground and whose heads can do no more than 
indifferently nod in the wind, these women are fixed in place. Like the 
prisoners who refuse to abandon the cave, the sugar-brown Mobile girls 
prefer to remain deeply rooted in the ground and, as a result, have come 
to accept illusion as reality; change is threatening. These brown-skinned 
women are taught to fight change, emotion, and truth; they are taught 
to fight what Morrison has termed the "funk." These girls look to de- 
stroy the "funk," to battle it until it dies. In Flash of the Spirit, Robert 
Farris Thompson traces the etymology of the word "funk" and notes 
that "the slang term 'funky' in Black communities originally referred 
to strong body odor, and not to 'funk,' meaning fear or panic. The Black 
nuance seems to derive from the Ki-Kongo lu-fuki, 'bad body odor,' and 
is perhaps reinforced by contact with fumet, 'aroma of food and wine,' 
in French Louisiana. But the Ki-Kongo word is closer to the jazz word 
'funky' in form and meaning, as both jazzmen and Bakango use 'funky' 
and lu-fuki to praise persons for the integrity of their art, for having 
'worked out to achieve their aims'" (104). In Platonic terms "funky," or 
"funk," is the "integrity" of one's art. 

Knowledge of reality, according to Plato, is a great intrinsic good. A life 
in which we know the truth about what exists is far superior to one in 


which we remain ignorant of the fundamental realities of the universe. 
For Plato, the achievement of one's aims is to know reality; it is the sin- 
gle most important thing an individual can attain, and without it, the soul 
is lost — like the souls of the chained prisoners, like the souls of the sugar- 
brown Mobile girls, and like the soul of Pauline Breedlove. Like Plato's 
prisoners, these women look to fight the funk, to fight reality all the way 
to the grave because they are secure and comfortable in and with the life 
and world they know — the only life they have known. Change of any 
kind is threatening. Like the freed prisoner who returns to the cave and 
attempts to share his enlightenment with the others, the "Funk" is fought 
against and threatened with death if it dare go near any of them. Morri- 
son's sugar-brown Mobile girls look to destroy the funk in the same way 
the remaining prisoners look to destroy the newly enlightened man. 

There is no figure in The Bluest Eye who ascends from darkness and 
emerges into the light, who finds enlightenment and chooses it over the 
shadows, as one of Plato's prisoners ultimately does. What we do find in 
Pauline Breedlove and the sugar-brown Mobile girls is the same unwill- 
ingness to step outside of the cave that Plato's prisoners display when 
they are given the opportunity, an unwillingness driven by fear and a 
need to exist within a false, albeit familiar, construct because it is easier 
to do so — because it is comfortable and safe — rather than emerge from 
the cave and face the painful light of the sun. See also Bluest Eye, The. 

References: Thomas H. Fick, "Toni Morrison's Allegory of the Cave: 
Movies, Consumption, and Platonic Realism in The Bluest Eye," JMMLA 
22 (1989); Plato, "The Allegory of the Cave," in his Republic, trans. 
G.M.A. Grube (1992); Robert Farris Thompson, Tlash of the Spirit: 
African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy (1984); Susan Willis, 
"Eruptions of Funk: Historicizing Toni Morrison," in Black Literature 
and Literary Theory, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1984). 

Traci M. Klass 

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

In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni 
Morrison focuses her attention on what she calls the Africanist presence 
in American literature, a term she uses to describe the centrality of Black- 
ness (even in texts where African Americans are absent as characters) in 
the literature in which all of the dramas of American national identity* 
have been and continue to be played out. Throughout Playing in the Dark 
Morrison makes the case that Africanism in American literature has po- 


sitioned American identity and the reader of American literature as 
white. To the extent that writers are also readers, whiteness* marks the 
imaginations of American writers and informs the writerly struggle to 
create language that hreaks free of images premised on familiar racial 
narratives. However, the focus of Morrison's critique is not the distorted, 
false representation of people of color. Rather, in her readings of Edgar 
Allan Poe, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and Mark Twain, among 
others, Morrison makes the case that American Africanism is central to 
the narrative strategies that have made possible the invention of a co- 
herent American, white identity. In this hook Morrison is concerned with 
the effects of American Africanism on the minds of white writers and 

Morrison locates the beginning of writing Playing in the Dark in the 
context of questions raised during her three William E. Massey lectures 
at Harvard University, and she dedicates the book to her students at 
Princeton with whom she explored questions about the limits of the 
imaginative act of writing in a society founded on contradictory notions 
of both individual freedom and racial hierarchy. In such a context, what 
can writing mean for an African American writer such as herself? What 
can it mean for writers and readers to take responsibility for their art and 
for the values they use to create and communicate a world through lit- 
erature ? And, finally, what does it mean for a writer to present herself or 
himself as unraced in a racial state ? These are some of the questions Mor- 
rison considers in Playing in the Dark. 

By making visible the Africanist presence in American literature and 
its role in the invention and maintenance of white/American identity, 
Morrison shows how race* is the condition for the very possibility of 
American literature and that race, like gender, needs to be central, rather 
than peripheral, to the study of American literature. Morrison rejects the 
canonical view of American literature and the imagination as unfettered 
by the ideological and material realities of race in the United States, and 
points out some factors that have silenced discussion of race in the crit- 
icism of U.S. literature. One factor is the mainstream American belief 
that bringing up the subject of race is both impolite and racist, as if the 
bodily differences marked as racial differences are themselves horrible 
and unmentionable. The ideological and practical implication of this bar- 
rier is the normalization of whiteness against a demonized Blackness. 

Another important contribution to literary criticism and the under- 
standing of racialization and whiteness in Playing in the Dark is the way 
Morrison directs her critique of American Africanism at the perpetrators 
of racism rather than at its victims. As Morrison contends, when discus- 
sions of race in literature are confined to African American, Native Amer- 
ican, Latin American, and Asian American literatures, critics are able to 
ignore and deny the extent to which the invention of the Africanist 


presence in American literature is really a sustained reflection on the 
fears and desires of the white self. American identity and the identity of 
American literature have been created on the back of the Africanist pres- 
ence, and for Morrison this truth has interestingly complex consequences 
for writers and readers of American literature. 

Morrison's Playing in the Dark appeared in 1992, in the midst of canon 
debates on U.S. college and university campuses. Progressive students 
and faculty in Women's Studies, African American Studies, Lesbian and 
Gay Studies, Latin American Studies, Asian American Studies, Native 
American Studies, and other area studies programs were critiquing the 
Eurocentrism and maleness of the Western literary canon and advocat- 
ing a multicultural curriculum. Conservative faculty and students per- 
ceived multiculturalism as an unjustified politicization of education, an 
education that they argued ought to prioritize texts and values that re- 
flected a "universal," "human" condition. The National Association of 
Scholars opposed multiculturalism and the view that issues of race, gen- 
der, and sexuality* are crucial components of education in a culturally 
diverse world. In 1987 Allan Bloom published The Closing of the Amer- 
ican Mind, in which he argued for the central place of the Western canon 
in education. And in Telling the Truth: A Report on the State of the Hu- 
manities in Higher Education (1992), Lynne Cheney, then chair of the 
National Endowment for the Humanities (1986-1993), claimed that mul- 
ticultural, feminist, and poststructural criticisms of universal truth have 
falsely politicized the humanities. 

In Playing in the Dark, Morrison challenges these criticisms of femi- 
nist and anti-racist influences on the study of literature by pointing out 
that all studies of literature are political. Even denials of the centrality of 
race reflect a cultural hegemony in which "American" and "human" 
mean "white." Morrison acknowledges that some literary critics are 
proud of their ignorance of African American literature. What surprises 
Morrison is that these literary critics remain unconcerned about the pres- 
ence of race in the canonical literature they read and support. Because 
Americans do not live in a world without race, race matters to any seri- 
ous study of American literature and identity. 

Playing in the Dark has profoundly influenced many scholars in femi- 
nist theory, critical race theory, and disability studies. Feminist and critical 
race theorists who seek to understand the narratives of race and gender 
informing the construction of whiteness have benefited from Morrison's 
discussion of the construction of whiteness in American literature. And 
scholars in disability studies have explored parallels between her critique 
of the Africanist presence and their articulation of a "disability presence" 
in literature that constructs normalcy. Undoubtedly, Morrison's Playing 
in the Dark will continue to enrich and complicate our understanding of 
cultural hegemony, American literature, and American identity. In Play- 


ing in the Dark, as in her edited collection Race-ing Justice, En-gendering 
Power (also published in 1992), Morrison demonstrates how narratives of 
race can both obscure and illuminate the realities of race and racism in the 
United States. 

References: Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987); 
Lynne V. Cheney, Telling the Truth: A Report on the State of the Hu- 
manities in Higher Education (1992). 

Kim Q. Hall 

Plum/Ralph {Sula) 

Eva Peace's* youngest child and only son. When he is a child, Eva saves 
his life by removing the hardened stool from his rectum during a bout 
of severe constipation. Later, Eva takes Plum's life by setting him on fire 
after he returns from World War I addicted to heroin. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Prostitutes China, Poland, and Miss Marie 
(The Bluest Eye) 

Outsiders in the community due to their profession, the three prosti- 
tutes who befriend Pecola Breedlove* nevertheless ascend to middle-class 
status as a result of their associations with many of the well-to-do men 
of Lorain, Ohio*. Their apartment is a haven of sorts for Pecola, because 
they accept her for who she is; they are the only people who make her 
feel beautiful and loved. See also Bluest Eye, The. 

Gena Elise Chandler 



In a 1983 interview, Toni Morrison recalled that watching her father dom- 
inate in a racial conflict with another man allowed her to witness pride 
and assertion in such encounters, dynamics that recur throughout her 
work. In both her fiction and her nonfiction, Morrison represents con- 
flict and domination to illustrate how language, power, and race are im- 
plicated with one another in canonical American literature as well as in 
American society at large. 

Morrison forcefully illustrates how race functions as a metaphor 
crucial to American literature and culture. Her work consistently demon- 
strates the difficulty of escaping racially inflected language that perpet- 
uates unspoken messages of racial domination. "Race talk," she suggests, 
has become the gratuitous, pop-culture insertion of racial signs that serve 
no function but to debase Blacks. Following the philosophical work of 
Frantz Fanon, Morrison's writing documents how Black feelings of infe- 
riority result from the values of America's white patriarchal system: a 
system she calls the "master narrative" that perceives Blacks as objects 
of contempt. Many of Morrison's characters, most notably The Bluest 
Eye's* Pecola Breedlove*, embrace this value system along with the con- 
sequent sense of inferiority that stems from dominant racial stereotypes 
and whites' projections of racist shame. 

As Morrison frequently asserts in both her fiction and her nonfiction, 
in order fully to understand and appreciate the canonical literature of 
the United States — from Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne to 

278 RACE 

William Faulkner and herself — one must grasp both the vocabulary and 
the perspective of reading race between the lines. Until relatively re- 
cently, Morrison argues, critics neither had motivations nor developed 
a discourse for interpreting literary racial constructs in widely regarded 
texts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example, Melville's 
use of darkness as a symbol that projected the new country's guilt about 
slavery* in such novels as Benito Cereno and Moby Dick remained 
largely overlooked. Morrison's three-dimensional African American 
characters reflect her keen interest not only in promoting a deeper un- 
derstanding of how race functions in American literature, but also in re- 
claiming through critical language the presence of African Americans 
in the history and culture of the United States. 

Morrison introduces Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary 
Imagination* by describing her response to Marie Cardinal's memoir, 
The Words To Say It, connecting Cardinal's madness, or "possession," 
with the cultural associations of jazz*. In making this connection, Mor- 
rison began to understand how Black artists facilitate discovery or change 
in literature they had not written. Particularly, Morrison explores the re- 
lationship between Cardinal's breakdown and the internalization of so- 
cially constructed attitudes about race. 

The Cardinal vignette introduces three major stages of Morrison's 
interest in race: how Black characters and images function in literature; 
what assumptions underlie such figures; and — the primary focus of 
Playing in the Dark — the sources of Black imagery and their effects on 
our overall literary imagination. In a section titled "black matters," 
Morrison argues, using as a test case Willa Cather's Sapphira and the 
Slave Girl (among others), that the long-standing difficulty of critical 
discourse in recognizing an African American presence in canonical 
American literature reinforces the belief that the fundamental quali- 
ties of U.S. national culture derive from an idea of "Americanness" 
completely free of African and African American culture. And yet, as 
Morrison argues, values such as individualism, struggles with moral- 
ity, and good versus evil emerged directly in response to the African- 
ist presence in the United States: states united superficially through 
the denial of such a presence, which was perceived as threatening to the 
new country's cohesion. 

Finally, by examining the racial vulnerability, exclusion, and hierarchy 
at the root of U.S. literary history and culture, Morrison seeks not only 
to provide a closer look into Blacks' imaginations but also to examine the 
effects of racist ideology on the "masters" of these narratives. In other 
words, Morrison asks, how can the Africanist presence in American lit- 
erature self-reflexively contribute to the national literary imagination? 
Ultimately, she concludes that it would be impossible to extricate African- 
ist characters and histories from what we consider canonical American 

RACE 279 

literature because its ethos depends wholly upon the Africanist presence 
it has for so long denied. 

A precursor to Playing in the Dark, "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: 
The Afro-American Presence in American Literature," first appeared in 
Michigan Quarterly Review in the winter of 1989. Its original title was 
"Canon Fodder" because it seriously engages the canon debates con- 
temporary with its publication. By taking on such debates, Morrison re- 
inforces how the presence of African American literature and awareness 
of its culture both reinvigorate literary scholarship in the United States 
and raise scholarly standards. As Morrison argues, since serious schol- 
arship has begun to move away from denying the African American 
presence in literature, African American writers must increasingly 
recognize themselves as the subjects of their own narratives — both to 
witness and to participate in their own experience — rather than to be 
imagined as objects for scrutiny. Additionally, Morrison asserts, we must 
seriously engage with literature written by and for African Americans 
in order to examine origins and assumptions previously overlooked in 
"raceless" literature. 

Morrison argues that studying African American literature can facil- 
itate a greater understanding not only of literature in general but also of 
sociology. She suggests that undertaking this project requires develop- 
ing a theory of literature accommodating African American literature 
based on its culture, history, and artistic strategies; examining the foun- 
dational nineteenth-century works of the American canon to uncover 
the "unspeakable things unspoken" — how African Americans inspired 
literary choices, language, and structure; and considering both contem- 
porary and noncanonical literature for similar influences, regardless of 
how they are categorized or esteemed by literary critics. 

Morrison finds an example of such "unspeakable things" in Herman 
Melville's Moby Dick, a novel in which Melville illustrates his own 
recognition of the emergence of whiteness* as an ideology in the United 
States. Melville stages this recognition as the battle between the white 
whale (the ideology of race) andAhab, who lost to this ideology a treas- 
ured body part, family*, society, and his place in the world. In other 
words, according to Morrison, Melville's writing is not as interested in 
depicting white people as it is in dramatizing idealized whiteness. 
Through this example, Morrison demonstrates how critical inquiry re- 
veals where and why American literature may insist on its antithesis to 
Blackness, as well as how language reveals what is absent: a presence as- 
sumed not to exist. 

Morrison concludes "Unspeakable Things Unspoken" with an analy- 
sis of her own novels, demonstrating how she uses language — and, in 
turn, how language uses her — to illustrate qualities other than skin color, 
subject matter, and ethnicity that constitute African American writing. 

280 RACE 

She concludes that she utilizes language to demonstrate a particular vul- 
nerability of crucial aspects of African American culture, calling on oth- 
ers to do the same. 

In Playing in the Dark, Morrison explains parenthetically that 
"Recitatif"* — the only short story she has ever written — experimentally 
removes all of the racial codes from a text featuring two characters wholly 
dependent upon racial identity*. By refusing to specify the race of her 
two primary characters, Twyla and Roberta, and simultaneously de- 
scribing them with particular racially identified characteristics such as 
hair texture, clothing choices, body type, diet, musical interests, and po- 
litical investments, Morrison arbitrarily switches racial coding and con- 
sistently tests readers' fundamental assumptions about race. Ultimately, 
"Recitatif" becomes an experiment in language, as Morrison considers 
whether a story can be written without the linguistic short cuts habitu- 
ally employed in American literature to categorize and to stereotype its 

In her afterword to the 1993 edition of The Bluest Eye, Morrison re- 
calls a girl she knew in elementary school who wanted blue eyes, associ- 
ated blue eyes with beauty, and believed that beauty could be performed, 
rather than simply beheld. The Bluest Eye, Morrison explains, is her own 
attempt both to understand how racial self-loathing motivated the young 
girl's wish and to portray the gaze of the "master narrative" underlying 
such self-condemnation. Through Pecola Breedlove, Morrison investi- 
gates how a vulnerable child might internalize and embrace damaging 
racial stereotypes with the potential to destroy her. As she does so, Mor- 
rison's prose is simultaneously race-specific and race-free: using "quiet 
as it's kept" as an insider's phrase to open the novel, for example, Mor- 
rison establishes a sense of inclusion versus exclusion and exposes the 
devastation of racial divisions in 1965-69, the time frame during which 
she wrote the novel. 

Pecola's sense of racial identity and her understanding of what consti- 
tutes beauty emerge powerfully through interactions with characters 
such as Mr. Yakabowski and Maureen Peal. Mr. Yakabowski, the shop 
owner who sells Pecola candy, actually fails to see Pecola for who she is 
even when she stands before him, and betrays to her his disgust with her 
Blackness. Maureen Peal, known as Meringue Pie to the girls who envy 
her, enchants the school and possesses the "thing to fear" — "beauty" by 
her community's standards — yellow skin, brown hair, green eyes, and 
enviable wealth. 

Seeing themselves through white culture crystallized in the "Black e 
mo" chant and the Shirley Temple cup, the Breedloves lose their own 
sense of identity, further positing the inadequacy of white mythology 
for African Americans. Racialized identity and racial construction both 
oppress and disembody these characters, as illustrated through Cholly 

RACE 281 

Breedlove's* emasculation, Pauline Breedlove's* earnestness, Pecola's 
wish, Soaphead Church's* desire to help her, and Geraldine MacTeer's 
obsession with "funk." In The Bluest Eye, whiteness appears not as a 
racial category but as the norm against which all other races are mea- 
sured. In other words, as in Moby Dick, whiteness appears in this text as 
an ideal rather than a race. Only Claudia MacTeer*, it seems, rejects such 
an ideal, hating Shirley Temple, for example, for all that she represents. 

Set in the hills of Medallion, Ohio*, Sula's* Bottom* is a lost com- 
munity of Blacks, the result of a joke a white farmer played on his slave. 
Organizing themselves around local holidays such as National Suicide 
Day*, the people in the Bottom find unity only through excluding the 
two characters brave enough to transgress social norms: Shadrack*, a 
World War I veteran, and Sula Peace*, a biologically Black character who 
chooses "Blackness" as a culture and a way of life. Afraid neither to watch 
her mother's burning to death nor to seduce the husband of her best 
friend, Sula, along with her mother and grandmother, openly question 
loyalty in a community rooted in white values. Sula's best friend, Nel 
Wright*, and Nel's mother, Helene Wright*, on the other hand, are out- 
standing citizens by Medallion's standards: conservative, religious, and 
impeccable. Despite their impeccability, however, they, too, experience 
awkward moments that underscore the racial tensions pervading the 
novel. Traveling south in November 1920, Helene and Nel accidentally 
enter the whites-only section of a train and face public humiliation at the 
hands of an unforgiving conductor. This event permanently marks Nel, 
as she witnesses the inexplicable power of her mother's coquettish, trans- 
gressive smile; she loathes the soldiers' posthumiliation leers; and she 
realizes the defining power of the custard-colored skin concealed beneath 
her mother's dress. 

In "Unspeakable Things Unspoken," Morrison acknowledges that 
while writing Sula, she consciously wrote both for and out of Black cul- 
ture while simultaneously considering the position of white culture. 
Like the domination by Morrison's father during a confrontational racial 
encounter, Morrison's characters consistently reclaim their dignity and 
subtly assert personal authority. Helene's contentious smile, Shadrack's 
narcissistic gaze in the water of a toilet bowl, and Sula's sacrifice of her 
left forefinger all offer models for rejecting white hegemony, facing 
racist bullies, and maintaining a sense of peace. Finally, while visiting 
Sula's grave at the end of the novel, Nel finds written in concrete the 
answer to what Medallion ultimately wished for: the Peace family name 
recorded on each gravestone like a chant, signifying neither people nor 
words, but wishes. 

Set against the backdrop of red, white, and blue, Song of Solomon* be- 
gins with the flying leap of an agent for North Carolina Mutual Life, an 
insurance company owned by and dependent upon Blacks. The agent's 

282 RACE 

flight, like Solomon's* flight before him and Milkman Dead's* flight after 
him, seeks freedom from the impositions and the injustices of racism in 
the United States. 

From the beginning, Song of Solomon establishes racial binaries em- 
bodied by characters at odds with one another. For example, Macon 
Dead*, metaphorically dead from internalizing white racism and mid- 
dle-class shame, opposes his sister Pilate Dead* — a bootlegger and a 
pariah, proud and self-reliant in her appreciation for the past. Similarly, 
Macon's son Milkman represents middle-class assimilation, while his 
friend and foe Guitar Baines* dramatizes lower-class Black nationalism. 
As an activist in the Seven Days* terrorist organization, Guitar advo- 
cates revenge killings as payback for white America's murderous acts, 
prompting a conflict between the two men not resolved until they meet 
in Shalimar, Virginia, during a fruitless race to find gold. 

The Black history that Pilate wears in her earrings and that Milkman 
seeks for himself crucially depends upon oral tradition*: a tradition per- 
petuated by the children* of Shalimar; the truth revealed in the Sugar- 
man song; spirituals promising freedom; and the life stories of the people 
Milkman encounters on his quest. As Milkman travels from north to 
south, facing Circe* and a bobcat hunt in the process, he symbolically 
sheds Western values through his loss of materials and materialism alike. 
Like his graveyard-lover Hagar Dead*, who literally buys into the Anglo 
beauty myth with brand-name accessories and mango, red, and blue 
makeup, Milkman struggles to find not only his roots but also sources of 
love. And just as Hagar's makeup washes away in a downpour, so is Milk- 
man disarmed of the values threatening his identity. Not until he flies off 
of Solomon's Leap* — with the "tar" of Guitar's name echoing in the hills, 
paving the way for Tar Baby"' — can Milkman Dead offer up his life, hav- 
ing rediscovered its meaning and recognized all he is leaving behind. 

As Morrison explains in "Unspeakable Things Unspoken," an interest 
in masking and unmasking drives Tar Baby, as it both underscores and 
explores the gap between the mask and the person who hides beneath it. 
Interested in how characters experience inter- and intraracial tensions, 
as well as class conflicts, Tar Baby traces the failed love affair between Ja- 
dine Childs* and Son*. Raised in the United States, educated in Europe, 
and vacationing on Isle des Chevaliers*, Jadine is a Black woman who 
feels obligated to confess that she hates hoop earrings, does not have to 
straighten her hair, and does not particularly like Charles Mingus. Con- 
flicted by what constitutes whiteness and Blackness, Jadine wants to be 
categorized as neither white nor Black, but as her singular self completely 
separated from the pressures of racial denomination. Associated with Eu- 
ropean beauty standards after posing for a magazine cover, Jadine is 
haunted by the image of a Black woman she sees in the grocery store 
who both represents Black pride and makes her feel inauthentic. 

RACE 283 

Jadine's relationship with Son is dramatized by the contrasting cities 
in which they choose to live: Jadine chooses New York for personal ad- 
vancement and the sophisticated culture of white society, whereas Son 
chooses his hometown, Eloe*, depicted through stereotypes of primi- 
tivism and nature as "pure" Blackness. The masquerade of New York so- 
ciety set off by the purity of Eloe allows Tar Baby to construct whiteness 
as the sign of contamination and difference — a dramatic reversal from 
other canonical American literature. 

Ultimately, the relationship between Jadine and Son fails because of 
class warfare and cultural differences, undercutting the myth* that Black 
men and women experience everything identically because of their 
shared heritage of discrimination, racism, and slavery. Tar Baby explores 
but refuses to resolve the racial and class divisions it depicts. It is unclear 
in the end whether Marie-Therese Foucault* leads Son to an awakening 
or to his death, just as it is unclear how much Jadine gains or gives away 
as she decides to return to Europe. Tar Baby begins with an epigraph from 
1 Corinthians declaring: "there are contentions among you," and ends 
having revealed these contentions without pretending to relieve them. 

As Morrison explains in "Unspeakable Things Unspoken," Beloved* 
begins with the three numbers of a street address, which is surprising in 
a novel about former slaves, who generally owned nothing — certainly 
not property in the aftermath of the Civil War. Beginning in medias res, 
Beloved forces readers to experience the disorientation of the novel's 
characters: slaves who were kidnapped without explanation from one 
place, and delivered in the dark to another. 

Beloved locates the effects of racial categorization and racial tension in 
a very specific historical context: the years of slavery her characters en- 
dured on Sweet Home* plantation as well as their relative freedom later, 
in rural Ohio. Located on the interstices of history* and memory*, 
Beloved apparently lacks both structure and conventional temporal or- 
ganization because traumatic memory exceeds the boundaries of both. 
Circling the subject of slavery, Beloved undermines the racial categories 
dependent upon an understanding of Blacks as animals and property by 
contrasting the animalistic treatment of slaves at Sweet Home with the 
Black community's humanity, exemplified by Baby Suggs's* sermons in 
the clearing and Paul D Garner's* tobacco-tin heart. 

Beloved memorializes a mother's determination to protect her baby 
from a life of slavery and portrays the cultural memory of infanticide* 
with a ghost threatened by extinction through forgetting. As Amy Den- 
ver* forcefully articulates, dead things hurt when coming back to life, es- 
pecially the horrific memories of a baby's death. The infanticide depicted 
in Beloved is based on the story of Margaret Garner*, a woman embraced 
by abolitionists invested in her sentence: if her baby were considered 
human, she would have been tried for murder; however, her baby was 

284 RACE 

considered property, making Garner guilty only of stealing goods. In the 
end, after the community's exorcism of a ravenous baby ghost, the trace 
of this ghost disappears. Yet it is unclear how much of her story is re- 
called, begging the haunting question: How can history be remembered 
if it is not to be passed on? 

Like Jazz's* subject matter, the music* of its title is simultaneously im- 
provisational, sexual, political, and expressive of the tensions between 
private and public, past and present, jazz represents music as a medium 
for conveying Black culture: the experience of its differences and simi- 
larities, and of the complexity of African American identity not other- 
wise portrayed in mass media. In many ways, jazz in this novel operates 
as the central expressive element of Black culture, contributing crucially 
to the production of Black culture and individual identity. 

jazz is set in "the City" of lightness and dark, using chiaroscuro to re- 
veal how whites project their own darkness onto dark background, where 
figures stand out as distinctive because of significant contrasts. This city 
houses the Black public sphere, where double consciousness complicates 
the differences within African American culture, as well as the divisions 
between white and Black culture. Concluding with the image of two peo- 
ple whispering with each other under the covers, jazz illustrates how vi- 
sual media are inadequate for representing African American experience, 
for the musical media of Black cultural expression emphasize original- 
ity over fidelity, as well as the possibility of unity through the cacoph- 
ony and syncopation that jazz embodies. 

Paradise* famously begins with the claim that the white girl in the 
Convent* was shot first, but refuses to reveal the racial identities of the 
women who sought asylum there. Like "Recitatif," written fifteen years 
before, Paradise highlights Morrison's interest in how characters might 
resist racial encoding. By refusing to assign a racial category to the 
women of the Convent, Morrison wanted readers to attempt to identify 
these characters racially until they realized that race is the least reliable 
information for defining or understanding them. 

The "paradise" of Paradise — Ruby, Oklahoma* — depends upon the fan- 
tasy that only a community inhabited by a single race and necessarily ex- 
cluding others can offer peace and prosperity. The events that Paradise 
depicts illustrate how racial prejudice is not a biological requirement, but 
rather serves a social purpose. Through the legacy of Ruby's dark-skinned 
people and the racial discourse of Fairly, Oklahoma's*, rejection of them, 
Morrison shows how this "Disallowing" works to form Ruby's sense of 
its own group identity. As the dark-skinned leaders of Ruby perpetuate 
the rejection of the Fairly people by turning on the light-skinned pariahs 
seeking safety in the Convent, they demonstrate how racial categories are 
implicated by the social factors leading to exclusion and violence*. In Par- 
adise, as in many of Morrison's novels, racial discourse does not function 


to label the physical traits of her characters, hut rather to reveal the so- 
cial forces dependent upon racial encoding to justify exclusion, injustice, 
suffering, and violence. See also Approaches to Morrison's Work: His- 

References: J. Brooks Bouson, Quiet as It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and 
Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison (2000); Patricia McKee, Producing 
American Races: Henry James, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison (1999); 
Timothy B. Powell, "Toni Morrison: The Struggle to Depict the Black 
Figure on the White Page," in Toni Morrison's Fiction: Contemporary 
Criticism, ed. David L. Middleton (2000); Philip M. Weinstein, What Else 
but Love?: The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison (1996). 

Aimee L. Pozorski 

Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on 

Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction 

of Social Reality (1992) 

In July 1991 President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas 
to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Senate confirmation hearings fol- 
lowing his nomination sparked much public controversy about sexual 
harassment and the politics of race* and gender in the United States. At 
first, many African Americans expressed reservations about Thomas's 
nomination. While they supported an African American nominee as a 
replacement for Justice Thurgood Marshall, they were critical of 
Thomas's history* of opposing affirmative action and welfare, an oppo- 
sition that fueled his public attack on the "laziness" of his sister, Emma 
Mae Martin, as a welfare recipient. Many African Americans who had 
fought to secure the benefits of full citizenship for people of color wor- 
ried that Clarence Thomas's presence on the Supreme Court would fur- 
ther erode civil rights victories. 

Nonetheless, these concerns about Thomas's conservative political his- 
tory disappeared from the confirmation process and mainstream media 
commentary when Anita Hill, a professor of law who had worked for 
Thomas in the 1980s, testified that Clarence Thomas had sexually ha- 
rassed her while he was her supervisor. At once media spotlight and pub- 
lic discussion became riveted on the bodies and sexualities* of two 
African Americans, one man and one woman. And as Clarence Thomas's 
qualifications took a back seat to the Senate committee's concerns about 
Anita Hill's credibility, the academic and nonacademic publics became 
embroiled in debate concerning race and gender power. In response to 
Hill's testimony, Thomas portrayed himself as a victim of racism despite 


his long history of denying the persistence of harmful effects of racism 
in the lives of African Americans. In other words, Thomas was critical of 
affirmative action proponents who argued that racism continued to have 
negative effects on opportunities for African Americans; however, dur- 
ing the Senate confirmation process, Thomas made the fact of his Black- 
ness in a racist society an issue for the Senate and public to consider in 
making their judgments about the truth of Hill's accusations and his 
qualifications for the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed Clarence 
Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court in October 1991 by a vote 
of 52-48, but the controversy sparked by the representations of Hill and 
Thomas in the hearing was far from over. 

Toni Morrison's Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power was one of a 
number of publications appearing after Thomas's confirmation hearings. 
It is a Morrison-edited collection of essays by A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., 
Andrew Ross, Manning Marable, Michael Thelwell, Claudia Brodsky La- 
cour, Patricia J. Williams, Gayle Pemberton, Nell Irvin Painter, Carol M. 
Swain, Homi K. Bhabha, Christine Stansell, Nellie Y. McKay, Margaret 
A. Burnham, Wahneema Lubiano, Kendall Thomas, Cornel West, Kim- 
berly Crenshaw, and Paula Giddings. In her introduction Morrison states 
her desire to contribute to a new conversation about race and gender as 
they shape the lives of men and women of all races, and each contribu- 
tor furthers that conversation by focusing on the interrelatedness of race 
and gender in the representation of both Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. 
For Morrison and her contributors, the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas con- 
troversy is yet another text in which Black bodies are the battleground 
for the establishment of white American male identity and the protec- 
tion of white and patriarchal privileges. 

Each essay addresses at least one of the many questions and outrages 
generated by the media spectacle of Thomas's confirmation and what 
many feminists came to understand as Anita Hill's burning at the stake 
(Race-ing Justice 161): How could Catherine MacKinnon, a feminist, 
legal scholar, and lawyer, overlook Thomas's anti-woman and anti-Black 
history in her initial support of him (Race-ing Justice 255)? How could 
so many African Americans support Thomas, given his opposition to 
victories of the Civil Rights struggle such as affirmative action? How 
could Anita Hill's testimony of sexual harassment be dismissed? Why 
couldn't the all-white-male Senate committee understand Hill's delay 
and reluctance to come forward? What does African American support 
for Clarence Thomas indicate about Black leadership (Race-ing Justice 
391)? The essays in Morrison's book show how the answers to these 
questions are found in understanding how dominant narratives of race 
and gender erase Black women's experience of both racism and sexism 
by conceptualizing all Black people as male and all women as white 
(Race-ing Justice 403). 


When racism is conceived as distinct from sexism, Black male con- 
servatives who have consistently opposed efforts to promote the wel- 
fare of a majority of African Americans are, nonetheless, able to win the 
sympathies and support of African Americans, other people of color, and 
anti-racist white people by claiming to be the victims of white racism. 
This is precisely what Clarence Thomas achieved in his infamous de- 
scription of the Senate's questioning of him in response to Hill's charge 
as a "high-tech lynching." Morrison and her contributors convincingly 
argue that Clarence Thomas's confirmation was a setback rather than a 
victory for African Americans, and that Anita Hill was the victim of both 
racism and sexism in Thomas's confirmation hearing. In her introduc- 
tion, Morrison portrays Thomas as a contemporary version of Friday in 
Robinson Crusoe, a man of color who is "rescued" into an adversarial 
culture and repays the debt by killing members of his culture when or- 
dered to do so because he no longer understands the language of his cul- 
ture of origin. 

The essays in Morrison's Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power share 
the view that an articulation of the racial dimensions of sexism and the 
gendered dimensions of racism remained glaringly absent in the media 
focus on Thomas and Hill. Thus, the new conversation to which Morri- 
son hopes to contribute must look to the inextricable connections be- 
tween racism and sexism in the experiences of women of color. Only then 
will the national conversation about race and gender move beyond con- 
ceptualizing the harms of racism and sexism as mutually exclusive. 

There have been many other media spectacles focused on race and gen- 
der since the publication of Morrison's Race-ing Justice, Engendering 
Power in 1992, most notably the OJ. Simpson trial and the intervention 
of the Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election. In the latter, 
Clarence Thomas joined a majority of the Supreme Court in halting a 
recount of Florida votes and proclaiming George W. Bush, the son of for- 
mer President George H.W. Bush, the new president of the United States, 
a move that many claim prevented many African American votes in 
Florida from being counted. Toni Morrison's book on the Clarence 
Thomas/Anita Hill controversy continues to be a useful guide and an 
intelligent voice for understanding the complexities of the 1991 Senate 
confirmation hearing and current media spectacles highlighting the in- 
tersecting dynamics of racism and sexism. See also Masculinity. 

Kim Q. Hall 


"Recitatif," Toni Morrison's only short story, appeared in print in 1983 
as part of Amiri and Amina Baraka's anthology Confirmation. It is an 


experiment in avoiding race* as a means of representing character. The 
story also deals with the issues of individual and family*, and the rela- 
tionship between the past and the present. The title alludes to the musi- 
cal term recitatif, a vocal performance in which a narrative is sung rather 
than spoken. This story is like a musical performance because the plot it- 
self is a "song" that reconstructs the past for the reader. 

"Recitatif" traces the relationship of two women, one Black and one 
white, who meet as children in an orphanage. The characters' names are 
Twyla (the narrator) and Roberta. However, the narrative never reveals 
the race of either character. 

The two girls meet in the early 1960s when they are sent to "St. 
Bonny's" because their mothers are declared unfit. Twyla reveals that her 
mother likes to dance too much, and Roberta claims that her mother is 
sick. Both girls understand that there must be deeper reasons for being 
sent there, but they share an unspoken pledge not to probe further. The 
girls initially respond negatively to each other because of their racial dif- 
ference. However, these concerns fade as they are left to themselves. 
Twyla tells of one visitors' day when both girls' mothers came. Not long 
after that visit, the girls return to their homes. Before they separate, 
Twyla relates in some detail seeing Maggie, one of the orphanage work- 
ers, who appears to be hard of hearing, pushed down by the older chil- 
dren. The incident disturbs her, so much so that it remains part of her 
memory* of the brief time she lived at St. Bonny's. 

Years later, Twyla is waiting tables at a Howard Johnson's when 
Roberta comes in with two men. Twyla describes them as hippies, and 
learns that they are on the way to a Jimi Hendrix concert. Even though 
Twyla and Roberta recognize each other, their conversation is brief. 
Roberta does not want to relive old memories with Twyla, and Twyla feels 
embarrassed by her job. 

After Twyla marries and has children, she meets Roberta once again 
in an A&P in an exclusive neighborhood. Twyla is decidedly working- 
class, but Roberta is financially well-off, having married an IBM execu- 
tive. The meeting is cordial, and the friends enjoy catching up over 
coffee. As they recall their days at St. Bonny's, Twyla mentions remem- 
bering when Maggie fell down. Roberta corrects her and states that the 
older girls pushed Maggie. Roberta accuses Twyla of blocking the bad 
memory, which upsets Twyla, and reminds her of how Roberta snubbed 
her in Howard Johnson's. Roberta brushes it off, blaming it on the racial 
tension of the time. 

The story shifts to the fall of the same year, and Twyla describes the 
racial strife that has come to the town because of forced busing. Her son 
is to be bused across town, but angry mothers are picketing the school. 
Roberta is one of the pickets, and the two women face off over the issue. 
Morrison never makes clear, however, which side of the issue each woman 


takes. Instead, as the conflict goes on, the women's picket signs become 
more personal and take the place of conversation between them. 

Years later, when the children have grown, Twyla and Roberta meet 
again. Again, Roberta brings up the Maggie incident and tells Twyla that 
she really believed Maggie was Black, and that the violence against her 
was racially motivated. Roberta confesses wanting to participate in the as- 
sault, even though she did not. The story ends with Roberta crying with 
frustration that they will never know what really happened to Maggie. 

The frustration Roberta and Twyla experience over the Maggie inci- 
dent parallels the frustration readers experience as they try to determine 
the racial identities of the characters. The narrative continually frustrates 
any attempt to figure out the race of each character, and causes readers 
to examine their own assumptions about race. See also Music. 

Lisa Cade Wieland 


Set against a background that blends a realistic past with supernatural 
elements and folklore*, Toni Morrison's novels can be said to constitute 
an imaginative history of African Americans. They trace events from 
slavery* to the Great Migration*, through a Jazz Age Harlem* and post- 
war Ohio, through the Civil Rights movement to contemporary times. 
Along this sweep of history* readers encounter ghosts, modern-day tar 
babies, flying Africans, and, more commonly, characters left fragmented 
and traumatized by the world around them. Morrison's fiction docu- 
ments these characters' attempts to put their lives back together again, 
to claim a sense of self that they lost or that they never had to begin with. 
Her work, therefore, offers lessons in recovery: the wounded struggle to 
heal, the forgotten seek a voice, discredited ways of knowing and being 
compete for recognition, and neglected stories of the past move toward 
center stage. Recovery may in fact be the most common theme in her 

Morrison frequently discusses her work in terms of recovery. In a 1988 
interview with Christina Davis, she explains that official versions of his- 
tory have erased or distorted the African American experience, so that 
Black people now face the task of setting the record straight by recover- 
ing the stories, the voices, the very presence of African Americans within 
a national consciousness. In "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation," 
Morrison describes how the novel functions as a means of restoring that 
presence by providing the mythological and archetypal stories through 
which cultures define themselves. This process of self-definition, Morri- 
son says, is a form of healing, with contemporary novels serving a pur- 
pose akin to music's* role in the African American community*. 


In Morrison's fiction, then, recovery has several meanings and raises 
several questions. The term refers primarily to the reconstruction of an 
insufficiently acknowledged African American past and its rich traditions 
in myth* and storytelling. Historical recovery, in turn, should foster heal- 
ing: restoring the presence leads to restoring the soul. For characters in 
her novels, however, such healing never comes easily. The past may exist 
as something to recover from more than to revisit; it may be something 
inaccessible, that characters can never truly know or understand, or 
mythic histories may offer insufficient antidotes for real problems in the 
present. Morrison's novels set the terms for recovery and consider its 
limits, reminding readers that easy solutions to life's difficult problems 
rarely exist. Yet recovery is also a necessary, driving force in her work, 
despite the complexities that it presents. Those who remain cut off from 
their pasts or their traumas* find themselves unable to cope with the 
present, especially when their troubles come to haunt them — and they 
usually do — in unexpected ways. 

Critics such as Trudier Harris, Jill Matus, and Nancy J. Peterson have 
examined the role of history and healing in Morrison's fiction, noting 
how she creates narratives that run counter to official histories and tra- 
ditional ways of knowing the past. She tells stories that might otherwise 
go untold, incorporates elements of folklore and myth, and asks readers 
to fill in the gaps of her nonlinear, sometimes ambiguous plots. In doing 
so, Morrison's work reexamines our most fundamental notions about the 
way American history and culture are constructed, and asks whether 
these constructions offer nourishing, sustaining environments in which 
everyone might grow. Whether the past is something that characters 
must recover or recover from in order to heal, it forms an elemental part 
of who they are in the present and where they will go in the future. Their 
struggles offer lessons that all readers might heed. 

In three of Morrison's novels — Beloved*, jazz* , and Paradise* — the 
past is a trauma that characters must recover from, and they rely upon 
violent, but not always successful, means of doing so. Her most poignant 
work, Beloved, recounts the psychological horrors of slavery* that linger 
in the mind long after physical freedom has been obtained. For Sethe 
Suggs*, an escaped slave, those horrors reach their nadir when she mur- 
ders her own baby girl rather than have the child taken back to the plan- 
tation, ironically named Sweet Home*. The daughter's ghost continues 
to haunt Sethe, breaking up her family, driving away the community, 
and eventually leading Sethe to the brink of death* herself. Only when 
the townspeople come together to exorcise Beloved's* ghost can Sethe, 
along with her Sweet Home friend Paul D Garner*, begin the recovery 
process. The novel's ending suggests, however, that while the ghost of 
the past may be forgotten, it is never completely gone, and its potential 
for emotional destruction might be held only temporarily at bay. In ad- 


dition to telling the story of Sethe (one based upon the actual account of 
Margaret Garner*, an escaped slave who similarly murders her child), 
Beloved acts as a meditation on communal healing. Its epigraph men- 
tions the millions of African Americans who were enslaved, and the novel 
also charts the ways in which a culture learns to survive during and after 
a holocaust. One of its primary characters is Baby Suggs*, Sethe's 
mother-in-law, who teaches escaped and freed slaves to love themselves 
through her impromptu sermons in the woods. Both her story and 
Sethe's recall a historical moment that our nation has yet to fully come 
to terms with, suggesting that healing will happen only — if it happens 
at all — when our national ghosts are recognized for what they are and 
for the harm they continue to do. 

Paradise and ]azz take African American history forward, into the 
Great Migration of families from the Reconstruction and Jim Crow 
South, where rights and freedoms enacted by federal law rarely materi- 
alized in fact, to Western and Northern states, where opportunities seem 
endless. While characters in these novels seem to be functioning nor- 
mally and successfully in their new locations, their premigration expe- 
riences continue to boil under the surface, leading them to destructive 
acts. As in Beloved, these novels show what happens when wounds of the 
past go untended rather than heal successfully. In Paradise, inhabitants 
of an Oklahoma town find their refuge from whites unraveling under 
the pressure of class and skin-color prejudice. Town fathers exert an enor- 
mous amount of control, trying to eliminate difference and prevent 
change. They insulate themselves from outsiders, carefully monitor who 
marries whom, and begin to blame a nearby commune of women for any- 
thing that goes wrong. Rather than maintain order, their efforts lead to 
tensions that eventually erupt in a violent outburst at the women's house 
on the outskirts of town. The supernatural also makes an appearance in 
this novel's ambiguous ending: Are the women killed, do they escape, do 
they live on as ghosts, and, most important, does their exorcism in any 
way help preserve Paradise? 

Set during the Harlem Renaissance, Jazz also takes an act of violence 
as its central event. After Joe Trace* murders his much younger lover, 
Dorcas*, his wife Violet* is driven by jealousy to mutilate the girl's 
corpse. Because of past losses — caused in part by the disruption of fam- 
ilies* and turmoil of life occasioned by slavery and events after the Civil 
War — Joe and Violet cannot cope with the possibility of loss in the pres- 
ent. Like Sethe and the townspeople of Paradise, they resort to drastic 
means to prevent further violence* against their souls. The novel ends 
with Violet and Joe returning to Dorcas's picture on the mantle, trying 
to understand where they have been and, by implication, where they 
might go. These three novels, often seen as a trilogy, offer readers 
important history lessons: although recovery as a process is often 


complicated and incomplete, traumatic events of the past must be con- 
fronted if one is to move forward into the future. Attempting to ignore 
or bury problems leads only to their coming back to haunt, sometimes 

The Bluest Eye* and Sula* cover African American experience in mid- 
twentieth-century, where individuals lived farther away from the trau- 
mas of slavery and Reconstruction, but still felt the negative effects of 
social marginalization. In these novels, the past is not as much the prob- 
lem for characters as prevailing cultural norms; however, like Beloved, 
Paradise, and Jazz, they show how individuals and communities can be 
driven to drastic means while attempting to heal. The Bluest Eye, Mor- 
rison's first novel, examines how aesthetic standards derived from white 
culture can be detrimental to Blacks. Because the Breedlove family be- 
lieve themselves to be physically ugly, their lives descend into existen- 
tial ugliness. The mother, Pauline*, rejects her own family in favor of her 
white employer's home and children; the misguided attempts of the fa- 
ther, Cholly*, to compensate for his perceived shortcomings as provider 
result in his raping their daughter Pecola*, and Pecola believes that hav- 
ing blue eyes will deliver her from poverty and abuse. She is a child 
whom no one can save: not the stable, loving MacTeer family who take 
her in, not the prostitutes* who accept her for herself, not Soaphead 
Church*, a minister and pedophile whose attempt to make her believe 
that she has blue eyes finally drives her over the edge of sanity. The novel 
is framed by the voice of Claudia MacTeer*, near in age to Pecola, who 
mourns the loss of the child whom she compares to a flower planted in 
bad soil, and who strives to find meaning in a story that ostensibly 
has none. 

Sula similarly tries to recover the dignity of people who do not seem 
to count within the culture at large. Residents of the Bottom* inhabit 
the rocky hillside land rejected by white people in the valley. They look 
to Sula as a scapegoat for their woes because of her unconventional 
lifestyle, while Sula looks to her friend Nel Wright* for comfort and 
stability. When Sula has an affair with Nel's husband, loses her friend, 
and ultimately dies alone, the Bottom residents are at a loss. Turning 
their attention to Shadrack*, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I, 
they eventually follow him to an ironic and tragic end. In celebration of 
National Suicide Day*, he leads them into a tunnel that collapses, leav- 
ing the town virtually deserted and open again to whites, who decide 
that they prefer hillside homes after all. 

While The Bluest Eye and Sula castigate white culture in general for 
practices and values that traumatize Blacks, Tar Baby* and Song of 
Solomon"' focus on two particular institutions: traditional nuclear 
families and middle-class respectability. Both of these novels, set in con- 
temporary times, bring Morrison's examination of African American ex- 


perience into the present moment and posit recovery of history and myth 
as cure for modern spiritual backruptcy. Tar Baby's Margaret* and Va- 
lerian Street* — white, well-off, and relatively self-sufficient on their 
West Indian plantation — live with their servants Ondine and Sydney 
Childs*, characters described as well-bred Philadelphia Negros. The 
Streets' outward show of success, however, masks a dysfunctional house- 
hold with a history of child abuse at its core. The novel's revelations are 
set in a motion by the return of Jadine Childs*, Ondine and Sydney's 
niece, whom the Streets have helped toward a modeling career, and the 
arrival of Son*, who stows away on Margaret Street's boat but is later 
invited into her family's home*. Son eventually saves himself from these 
characters' superficial respectability through supernatural means: run- 
ning from his obsession with Jadine, he becomes absorbed into the island 
itself, apparently joining the legendary French cavaliers who haunt it. 

Milkman Dead*, in Song of Solomon, experiences a similar fate, and 
his story stands as one of Morrison's clearest statements on the possi- 
bilities for historical and psychic recovery. As Milkman's last name sug- 
gests, he is emotionally and culturally stunted. His family, although 
traditional and successful, is trapped in a cycle of anger and resentment. 
Milkman has no ties to his past or to any person, with the exception of 
his aunt, Pilate Dead*, who lives with her daughter Reba* and her 
granddaughter Hagar*, and whose immediate family offers a spiritu- 
ally nourishing counterpart to Milkman's own. (Similar multigenera- 
tional trios exist in Sula and Beloved, indicating Morrison's belief that 
"traditional" family may be defined differently from the father- 
mother-two-children norm.) Only by seeking out his family's history 
can Milkman grow. He returns to his father's and Pilate's birthplace, 
ostensibly looking for gold, and learns there the story of his great- 
grandfather Solomon*, a legendary figure who escaped slavery by fly- 
ing away. By reconnecting with his roots, Milkman very literally learns 
to stand tall (a limp he has had since childhood mysteriously disap- 
pears), learns how much he loves Pilate, and learns how to under- 
stand — if not to forgive — his parents' shortcomings. The novel's end 
also leaves him presumably learning, like Solomon, how to fly. 

As in several Morrison novels, however, this ending poses problems. 
Is Milkman's flight literal or metaphorical? Does it represent healing or 
escape? Morrison's ambiguity is most likely deliberate. The goal of her 
fiction is not so much to document a character's recovery as to engage 
readers in the process of revising their own understanding of the history, 
myths, and traditions they have been given. They must decide for them- 
selves what happens and, therefore, how to interpret the act. Morrison's 
art is that of the storyteller, who depends upon listener participation to 
create meaning, and who transmits culture in ways often more profound 
than those who delineate our official versions of history. Song of 


Solomon, in fact, is framed by a very real past: the modern Civil Rights 
movement as a background reminds the audience that the struggle to 
claim the voice, and a rightful place in history, is more than a rhetorical 
issue within the pages of a book. The answers that Morrison provides are 
never easy, but the questions she asks are always compelling. See also 
Approaches to Morrison's Work: Historical; Flying Africans, Myth of; 
Ghost Story, Use of; Memory. 

References: Christina Davis, "Interview with Toni Morrison," Presence 
Africaine 145 (1988);Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of 
Toni Morrison (1991); Nancy J. Peterson, '"Say Make Me, Remake Me': 
Toni Morrison and the Reconstruction of African-American History," 
in Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches, ed. Nancy J. 
Peterson (1997). 

Julie Buckner Armstrong 

Rekus (Sula) 

Sula Peace's* father and Hannah Peace's husband. Rekus is a "laughing 
man" who dies when Sula is three years old. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Romantic Tradition 

Toni Morrison's art defies easy classification. One may find her novels 
categorized within several literary contexts at once: the modernism of 
writers such as William Faulkner*, the postmodernism of Thomas Pyn- 
chon, the magical realism* of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Zora Neale 
Hurston's Black vernacular, or Alice Walker's African American femi- 
nism. Compounding this difficulty is Morrison's own disdain of attempts 
to pigeonhole her writing into any canon. Literary critics, nevertheless, 
continue to locate within her richly allusive texts affinities to a variety 
of writers and traditions. Within the past few years, Morrison has been 
examined alongside practitioners of American literary romance, 
Nathaniel Hawthorne in particular, with comparisons made between 
Beloved* and The Scarlet Letter, as well as Song of Solomon* and The 
House of the Seven Gables. Morrison has also emerged as a leading critic 
of the genre; her Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imag- 
ination* examines connections between race* and romance, through 
writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. 


"Romance" is a term that defies easy classification. What critics refer 
to as American literary romance has roots in classical epics and medieval 
quest narratives, where heroes journey through otherworldly landscapes, 
encounter dramatic adventures, and pursue clearly defined goals. Simi- 
lar elements occur in Milkman Dead's* search for gold in Song of 
Solomon. Other related modes include the gothic* fictions and histori- 
cal romances of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, echoes of 
which may be found in Beloved, where the past comes back to haunt the 
present in a very literal way. The romance also shares linguistic and ideo- 
logical roots with the romantic movement, where the tension between 
William Wordsworth's idealism and Lord Byron's skepticism manifests 
itself as a Hawthornian or Melvillian inquiry into what human beings 
can know for certain. Morrison's work participates in this inquiry too, 
constantly calling into question established truths, stereotypes, and con- 
structions of history*. Perhaps the most often quoted definitions of the 
term come from Hawthorne, who opposed his romantic mode of writing 
to the novel's realism in a series of prefaces to his published works. Ro- 
mance, Hawthorne notes, blends the "Actual" and the "Imaginary," al- 
lowing writers to experiment with the "possible" rather than confine 
themselves to the "probable." In other words, writers of romance do not 
attempt to mirror the customs, manners, and codes of a recognizable 
world as much as they work within the realm of symbol, myth*, or 

This definition, as Hawthorne outlines and critic Richard Chase later 
clarifies, would distinguish between a realistic novel of manners by a 
writer such as Jane Austen and works such as Moby Dick and The Scar- 
let Letter. Emily Miller Budick summarizes more recent criticism on this 
topic, which asks whether romance constitutes an evasion of socioeco- 
nomic and political realities or just a different way of examining them. 
The Scarlet Letter, for instance, does not offer readers a glimpse into Pu- 
ritans' daily lives as they might actually have lived them, but it does en- 
gage political questions relevant to both Hawthorne's time and our own: 
What does it mean to be a member of a community* ? How does one de- 
cide what to believe from a range of competing perspectives and inter- 
pretations? What is the relationship of the past to the present? These 
questions concern Toni Morrison, too, and she asks them in each of her 

Song of Solomon closely resembles what Hawthorne would call " 
romance." In this work, Morrison juxtaposes the "actual" world of Milk- 
man Dead to the "imaginary" realm of myth occupied by his great- 
grandfather Solomon*, who supposedly escaped slavery* by flying away. 
Milkman, as his surname implies, is spiritually and emotionally dead, 
with no direction to his life and unable to find a meaningful, nourishing 
connection to his family, his friends, or his past. Partially to escape this 


situation, and partially because he thinks that he may find hidden gold, 
Milkman returns to his father's birthplace, where he learns more about 
his family* history and especially the story of Solomon — a kind of "gold" 
very different from what he expected. Milkman's spiritual guide along 
the way is his aunt Pilate Dead*, who also stretches the limits of the pos- 
sible with her almost magical powers and her mysterious lack of a navel. 
Although Milkman's journey does reveal a certain amount of sociopo- 
litical reality (his family's past is a microcosm of African American his- 
tory from slavery to migration* to the North to a contemporary return 
to roots), the novel is more accurately an imaginative, and skeptical, en- 
gagement with what it means to be both Black and American. Like The 
Scarlet Letter, Song of Solomon explores tensions between the individ- 
ual and the community*, and between competing versions of truth and 

Morrison continues to ask probing questions about America as well 
as its literature in her criticism. Playing in the Dark, a collection of lec- 
tures given at Harvard University, investigates the mostly white, mostly 
male canon of American literature to find recurring examples of what 
she calls the Africanist presence at work. The book's second section, "Ro- 
mancing the Shadow," is particularly important for understanding 
American literary romance. Here, Morrison argues that romance does 
not evade history and reality, but instead offers a very real exploration 
of contradictions inherent in American society. Most obviously, the early 
romancers' investigations of individual free will emerged within the 
context of slavery: classic writers Hawthorne and Melville both com- 
pleted their best work during the 1850s. The romantic tensions between 
guilt and sin, light and dark (as noted by Richard Chase) are revealing, 
too. What might Americans feel guilty of, Morrison asks, and what lies 
behind our best writers' obsession with what Melville called "the power 
of blackness" ? Morrison also asks readers to pay careful attention to the 
ways in which African American characters and the color black itself are 
used to advance plots, create tone, or shape themes, and her reading of 
Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Fym outlines how the African- 
ist presence is often used as an "Other" against which writers define 
such terms as "white," "free," "individual," and "American." 

Since the early nineteenth century, romance has been viewed as a form 
with particular possibilities for America. For Hawthorne, it was a means 
of distinguishing his own, and his nation's, writing from a European lit- 
erature that leaned toward realism. For contemporary critics, Morrison 
included, romance is a means of exploring certain American issues or 
problems. Although her fiction draws its strength from a variety of 
sources in addition to the romantic tradition, she has become increas- 
ingly recognized as one of our foremost practitioners of it. See also Fly- 
ing Africans, Myth of. 


References: Eberhard Alsen, ed., The New Romanticism: A Collection of 
Critical Essays (2000); Emily Miller Budick, Engendering Romance: 
Women Writers and the Hawthorne Tradition, 1850-1990 (1989); 
Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition (1990). 

Julie Buckner Armstrong 

Rose Dear (Jazz) 

Violet Trace's* mother, whose name symbolizes her emotional fragility. 
Deserted first by her mother, who, as a slave, was forced to move to Bal- 
timore with Vera Louise Gray*, then by her husband, whose radical pol- 
itics forced him to abandon his family and move from the South, Rose 
Dear becomes severely depressed. Although rescued by True Belle*, her 
mother, who returns from Virginia to care for her daughter and five 
granddaughters, Rose Dear eventually commits suicide by hurling her- 
self into the recesses of a well, which haunts Violet, now herself sym- 
bolically orphaned. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

Ruby, Oklahoma [Paradise) 

The primary setting of Paradise, Ruby (population of 360 in 1976) is an 
all-Black town in Oklahoma with no need for a jail, bus stop, cafe, or gas 
station. Ruby was founded in 1951 by the "fifteen families," descendants 
of the "nine families" who had established the all-Black town of Haven, 
Oklahoma*, in 1890. Returning from World War II, many of Haven's 
men found the town failing and decided to move farther into Oklahoma 
to begin anew, as their fathers and grandfathers had done sixty years be- 
fore. They established Ruby 240 miles west of Haven and 90 miles from 
the nearest town of Demby, but they brought with them the communal 
center of Haven, the Oven*, and rebuilt it. The new town remained 
nameless until 1954, when Ruby Morgan (sister of two of the town's 
most prominent men) died because no (white) hospital would admit her 
for treatment. Thus the town was named not only for a dead woman, but 
also as a reminder of white racism and segregation. Except for a few peo- 
ple, all of the original citizens of Ruby are coal black, a shade designated 
"8-rock" by Patricia Best Cato*, the unofficial town historian. The orig- 
inal nine families of Haven were also "8-rock," and it was their dark skin 
color that not only prevented them from finding jobs in the South after 
the overthrow of Reconstruction governments but also caused them to 
be rejected by the all-Black but light-skinned town of Fairly, Oklahoma* 


(an act dubbed "the Disallowing"). Consequently, a reverse hierarchy of 
skin color — from dark to light — governs within the city limits. 

When the town begins to struggle with a generational division fostered 
by the Civil Rights movement, symbolized by the tilting foundation of the 
Oven, nine men attack the Convent*, the home of five no-longer haunted 
women that is located seventeen miles outside of Ruby, in July 1976. When 
the (presumably) slaughtered women's bodies disappear, the citizens un- 
derstand that God has given Ruby another chance, a chance that can be 
successful only if they are willing to change. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Ryna's Gulch {Song of Solomon) 

Ravine where the wind sounds like a woman howling. Supposedly the 
howling is that of Ryna, Solomon's* wife, who screamed out loud for 
days after he flew away and left her behind to care for their twenty-one 
children. It is in this valley that Guitar Baines* hides, and shoots and kills 
Pilate Dead*. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Schoolteacher [Beloved) 

Schoolteacher is the name that Sethe Suggs* and her peers bestow upon 
Mr. Garner's* brother, who takes over management of Sweet Home* fol- 
lowing Garner's death. So named because he is constantly taking notes, 
schoolteacher personifies scientific racism, out to prove his belief that 
Blacks are subhuman and that slavery* is their manifest destiny. After 
he took over at Sweet Home, he initiated a series of cruel practices that 
forced the enslaved population to plot a mass exodus. He supervised the 
capture and torture-death of Sixo* during the latter's escape attempt. He 
ordered Sethe's forced "milking" and her subsequent beating; under the 
full force of the Fugitive Slave Law, he tracked Sethe and her children to 
124 Bluestone Road*, creating the circumstances that culminated in 
Sethe's attack on her own children*. In short, schoolteacher's cruel form 
of slavery led ultimately to the total depletion of Sweet Home's enslaved 
population. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Seneca (Paradise) 

A childlike twenty-year-old, Seneca, title character of one of Paradise's 
nine sections, arrives at the Convent* in 1973. Her boyfriend, Eddie Tur- 
tle, has been convicted for the hit-and-run death of a child, and Seneca 
has been unsuccessfully attempting to get money for his defense from 


his mother when the rich and beautiful Norma Keene Fox finds her in a 
Wichita bus station. After three weeks of being Fox's "personal assistant" 
and sexual toy, Seneca is paid $500 and sent on her way, confused and 
afraid to return to Eddie. Hitching rides to nowhere in particular, she sees 
the weeping, uncombed, coatless Sweetie Fleetwood walking down the 
road through an approaching blizzard, and remembers another crying 
Black woman she saw when she was five, just after her mother (whom 
she thought was her sister) abandoned her in their government housing 
apartment, leaving only a scrawled note written in lipstick that she could 
never read, first because she was too young, and then because, smeared 
by tears and sweat from her shoes (where she kept it), it had become un- 
readable. Shipped from one foster home to another after being sexually 
abused by a foster brother, Seneca grows up trying only to please those 
around her. She develops an early association between wounds (usually 
small cuts) and sympathy, and thus regularly cuts herself with a razor, 
making fine, straight "roads" that flood with blood but look surgical in 
their precision. 

Having followed Sweetie to the Convent and having no place else to 
go, Seneca stays, attempting the impossible task of keeping peace between 
Mavis Albright* and her roommate/sexual partner, Gigi (Grace Gibson*). 
Seneca's "loud-dreaming" and ritual painting on the basement floor allow 
her to transfer her cuts from her own body to her traced image. Seneca 
is shot down in the grass while attempting to escape the men of Ruby, 
Oklahoma*, but later appears to the reader in a stadium parking lot with 
a friend (presumably Gigi) rinsing her cut hands with beer. Her sis- 
ter/mother Jean approaches her, misremembers their old address, and 
does not know for certain that the woman is Seneca until they are sep- 
arated once again. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Seven Days, The {Song of Solomon) 

A politically motivated group of African American men who avenge the 
deaths of Blacks killed by whites. Guitar Baines*, Porter, and Robert 
Smith* belong to this group. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 


One of Morrison's many important contributions to African American 
literary history is her groundbreaking treatment of sex and sexuality. 
Morrison was one of the first Black American writers to explore and 


depict sexuality's full spectrum of possibility, its capacity to express 
love, hate, joy, sadness, compassion, lust, and even longing for spiritual 
transcendence. For Morrison, sex is as much a part of life as birth and 
death*, and she treats it the same way that she approaches all aspects 
of human relationships — without sentiment or censure. Although 
many contemporary readers might take this attitude for granted, to 
fully appreciate the significance of Morrison's treatment of this sub- 
ject, we must first locate her work in the larger historical context of 
Black American history*. 

Since the inception of the African American literary tradition in the eigh- 
teenth century, Black authors have always carried the burden of repre- 
senting the race*. Black writers were obliged to present African Americans 
in the best light possible in order to combat racist stereotypes, including 
the belief that peoples of African descent possessed animal-like, uncon- 
trolled libidos. An awareness of this stereotype contributed to a history of 
Black writing that was often quite conservative in its treatment of sexual- 
ity. When writers such as Claude McKay, Nella Larsen, and Langston 
Hughes dared to address sexuality openly during the Harlem Renaissance, 
they were often condemned by Black critics for seeming to pander to and 
perpetuate white racist stereotypes. 

The pressure to produce positive images was as powerful as ever in 
1970 when Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye*, which 
details the psychological disintegration of a little girl after she is raped 
by her father. Morrison knowingly broke the taboo of speaking openly 
about such a dark issue, as she insisted on producing fiction that described 
every aspect of the Black community* — including good and bad experi- 
ences. Morrison presents rape in this work as symptomatic of American 
race relations. Pecola Breedlove's* rape is partly the result of her father, 
Cholly*, having been "raped" by white men when he was a teenager; 
these men surprise Cholly while he is having sex with a girl in the woods, 
and then force him at gunpoint to continue. Morrison tells us that Cholly 
hated the girl who was his sexual partner because she had witnessed his 
failure, and that he later transfers this shame and hatred to Pecola, an- 
other girl whom he cannot protect from the destructive forces of a racist 
American society. Rape has equally devastating effects in Beloved"', es- 
pecially when Sethe Suggs* has her milk stolen by schoolteacher* and 
his nephews*. Halle Suggs*, Sethe's partner, is psychologically destroyed 
after he watches this act from the rafters of the barn; here again Morri- 
son is attuned to the enormous psychic cost borne by Black men who feel 
unable to protect Black women from sexual violation. The threat of rape 
sets the action of Tar Baby" in motion, but here Morrison deliberately 
toys with the myth* of the Black male rapist; the ordered white house- 
hold of L'Arbe de la Croix* is turned upside down when Son*, the pro- 
tagonist, is found sitting in a white woman's closet. 


Overall, however, Morrison sees sexuality in positive terms, as a vital 
means of connecting with oneself and with others. Morrison reserves 
some of her most lyrical passages for her descriptions of lovemaking, 
such as Pauline Breedlove's* memory of better times with Cholly in The 
Bluest Eye. Pauline achieves a prismatic ecstasy — one of June bugs, berry 
juice, lemonade, and rainbows — one of the few moments of pure joy in 
what is otherwise a relentlessly dark novel. 

Some of Morrison's least sympathetic characters are the ones who dis- 
like sex, such as Helene Wright* in Sula* , Geraldine in The Bluest Eye, 
and Jadine* in Tar Baby. Helene is harsh and rigid, and she spends her life 
trying to compensate for her origins as a prostitute's daughter by meeting 
the world with an attitude of severity and domination. Geraldine repre- 
sents a type of African American woman that Morrison describes as ob- 
sessed with controlling the uncontrollable messiness of sexuality, nature, 
and human emotion. Jadine deals with the loss of her mother as a child by 
becoming a cold adult who manipulates men in passionless relationships. 
All of these characters share a capacity for cruelty, snobbery, and racial self- 
loathing. Morrison uses their negative attitude toward sexuality as an 
index to their sense of alienation. 

In stark contrast are Eva*, Hannah*, and Sula Peace* in Sula. All three 
of these women are wholly unashamed of their sexuality. Hannah, Sula's 
mother, has a constant stream of different partners, and Sula inherits her 
mother's free-spirited attitude toward sex. Morrison explicitly links 
Sula's sexual aggressiveness with her lust for life, her desire to do and 
experience everything. However, Morrison also knows that sexual free- 
dom can come with a high price. When Sula returns to her hometown 
after her travels, her irreverent attitude and actions frighten and upset 
the community, who then use her sexual libertinism as an excuse to os- 
tracize her. Morrison makes this point even more clearly in Paradise*, 
where several men from Ruby, Oklahoma*, a small Black community, 
murder a group of unmarried women living together on the outskirts of 
town for (allegedly) torturing children, promiscuity, and lesbianism. The 
citizens of Ruby demonize the Convent* women as a way of dealing with 
the internal strife developing in the community between the different 

In Paradise, Morrison also explores the relationship of sexuality and 
spirituality * — Christianity in particular. The Convent itself was originally 
a Prohibition-era bootlegger's pleasure cove, and its explicitly erotic decor, 
including obscene statuary and phallic door fixtures, survived despite the 
efforts of nuns, who lived there after the original owner abandoned the 
house, to destroy them. The fusion of sexual and spiritual longing is clear- 
est in Consolata Sosa* (Connie), who transfers her all-encompassing love 
of Christ to one of the townsmen, Deacon (Deek) Morgan*. At one point 
she bites his lip, unconsciously performing the rite of the Eucharist on 

SHAME 303 

her lover. Morrison reinforces the connection between sexuality and spir- 
ituality at the novel's end when Consolata introduces the Convent women 
to a female god, Piedade*, a divinity that one critic has compared to the 
female god described in the Gnostic gospels, a god reminiscent of antiq- 
uity's highly sexual fertility gods. 

John Charles 

Shadrack (Sula) 

Shell-shocked African American veteran of World War I who returns 
to the Bottom* to found National Suicide Day*. Shadrack's name is 
taken from the book of Daniel in which three Jews — Shadrack, 
Meschach, and Abednego — are sent to the fiery furnace by King Neb- 
uchadnezzar for refusing to worship the king's gods and, miraculously, 
survive. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Shakespeare, William, Use of 

See Tar Baby (1981). 


"Shame is a multidimensional, multilayered experience," observes shame 
theorist Gershen Kaufman. "While first of all an individual phenome- 
non experienced in some form and to some degree by every person, 
shame is equally a family phenomenon and a cultural phenomenon. It is 
reproduced within families, and each culture has its own distinct sources 
as well as targets of shame" (191). Describing herself as living in "a pres- 
ent that wishes both to exploit and deny the pervasiveness of racism," 
and in a society in which African Americans have had to "bear the brunt 
of everybody else's contempt" (xiv; Angelo 256), Morrison focuses at- 
tention on the ubiquity and complexity of shame — the so-called master 
emotion in the African American experience. In the classic shame sce- 
nario, the individual feels exposed and humiliated — looked at with con- 
tempt for being unworthy, flawed, or dirty — and thus wants to hide or 
disappear in an attempt to protect against feelings of painful exposure. 
At once an interpersonal and intrapsychic experience, shame derives 
from the sufferer's "vicarious experience of the other's scorn," and in- 
deed central to the shame experience is the "self-in-the-eyes-of-the- 
other" (Lewis 15). In her novels, Morrison dramatizes the painful sense 

304 SHAME 

of exposure that accompanies the single shame event, and she also de- 
picts the devastating effect of chronic shame and internalized racism on 
her characters' sense of individual and social identity*, describing their 
socially produced feelings of self-loathing and self-contempt, their feel- 
ings that they are, in some essential way, inferior, defective, and/or dirty. 
Examining the individual, familial, and cultural impact of racial shame, 
Morrison's novels expose to public view the painful collective and pri- 
vate shame suffered by Black Americans in our race-conscious Ameri- 
can society. 

That Black shame derives from the vicarious experience of white 
scorn becomes evident in Beloved's* description of the formative and 
"dirtying" power of racist practices and representations. Despite her 
proud demeanor, Morrison's ex-slave character, Sethe Suggs*, is a 
woman tormented by humiliating memories of schoolteacher's* con- 
temptuous treatment of her. A practitioner of the nineteenth-century 
pseudoscience of race*, schoolteacher asks Sethe and the other Sweet 
Home* slaves questions and takes measurements of them, then writes 
down his observations in his notebook. Viewing the slaves as animal- 
istic — that is, as fundamentally and biologically different from white 
people — schoolteacher is intent, as he makes his inquiries, on docu- 
menting their racial inferiority. 

Although Sethe initially thinks that schoolteacher is a fool, she is hu- 
miliated when she overhears him instructing his nephews* on how to 
describe her as a member of a lower race by listing her human traits on 
one side of the page and her animal traits on the other. The contemptu- 
ous racist discourse of schoolteacher engenders feelings of self-contempt 
in Sethe, who feels dirtied when she is suddenly made aware of school- 
teacher's profound disgust for her race, and when schoolteacher's 
nephews subsequently milk her like an animal, one boy sucking on her 
breast and the other holding her down, while schoolteacher watches and 
records his observations. The fact that Sethe remains distressed by these 
humiliating moments of exposure years later reveals the magnitude of 
the shame she feels on learning of her designated role as the contemptible 
and degraded racial inferior. 

When Sethe slits the throat of her child with a handsaw, she commits 
her act of rough love to keep her children from being dirtied — that is, 
shamed — by whites. Her act grows out of her awareness that whites not 
only can work, kill, or maim the slaves but also can dirty them so much 
that they cannot like themselves anymore or forget who they are. Sethe 
wants to protect her children* from the dehumanizing forces of slavery 
and the dirtying power of racist discourse. While whites might dirty her, 
Sethe determines that they will not dirty her children, the best part of 
her and the part that is clean. And no one, she resolves, will ever list her 
daughter's traits on the animal side of the paper. 

SHAME 305 

If in Beloved Morrison describes how slavery and white contempt dirty 
the slaves, in The Bluest Eye* she depicts the damaging impact of racial 
shame on the lives of the poor and Black Breedloves. Living in a racist 
society that tells them Black is ugly and finding support for their racial 
ugliness in every billboard, movie, and glance, the Breedloves internal- 
ize the contempt directed at them from the shaming gaze of the domi- 
nant white culture and believe that they are, in fact, ugly. The Bluest Eye, 
in its unremitting focus on the self-hatred of the Breedloves, points to 
the pernicious effects of white contempt and internalized racism. And in 
depicting the racial shaming of Pecola Breedlove*, The Bluest Eye dram- 
atizes an extreme form of the shame vulnerability suffered by Black 
Americans in white America. 

Intent on revealing the terrible damage that racial contempt can cause 
in a child, Morrison shows the impact of learned cultural shame on 
Pecola. What Pecola learns from her parents — that, like them, she is 
ugly — is confirmed by the unfriendly gaze and insulting speech of oth- 
ers. In the gaze of the white storeowner, Mr. Yacobowski, for example, 
Pecola senses racial contempt. In his glazed, vacant look — his inability to 
see her — Pecola senses his distaste for her Black skin. Pecola is also 
shamed by a group of Black boys who circle her in the school playground, 
holding her at bay. Their feelings of learned self-hatred and hopelessness 
become expressed in their angry, insulting speech as they dance around 
Pecola, who, for their own sake, they treat with scorn. By humiliating 
Pecola, as the narrative makes clear, the boys express their deep-rooted 
contempt for their own Black identity*. 

In another scene that points to the role of intraracial shaming in the 
construction of a stigmatized racial identity — the encounter between 
Pecola and Geraldine — The Bluest Eye focuses attention on the color- 
caste hierarchy and the link between class and shame within the African 
American community. To a middle-class woman like Geraldine, a lighter- 
skinned "colored" person of order and precision, lower class, dark- 
skinned Blacks like Pecola are dirty and disorderly "niggers." When 
Geraldine looks at Pecola — who has a torn and soiled dress, muddy shoes 
and dirty socks, and matted hair — she feels that children like Pecola are 
everywhere. Dirty, smelly, and disgusting, such children sleep six in a 
bed, their urine mixing together as they wet their beds. Where they live, 
flowers die and tin cans and tires blossom. Like flies, such children hover 
and settle. Openly expressing her contempt, Geraldine uses shaming 
words to reinforce Pecola's feeling that she is a disgusting and worth- 
less human being. 

Feeling utterly flawed and dirty, Pecola defends herself by withdraw- 
ing and hiding; squeezing her eyes shut, she even imagines the physical 
disappearance of her body. Remarking on the connection between shame 
and the wish to hide or disappear, shame theorist Leon Wurmser explains 

306 SHAME 

that the purpose of hiding is "to prevent further exposure and, with that, 
further rejection, but it also atones for the exposure that has already oc- 
curred" (54). "If it is appearance (exposure) that is central in shame, dis- 
appearance is the logical outcome of shame ... ," writes Wurmser (81). 
Rejecting her despised Black identity, Pecola imagines that she can cure 
her ugliness — that is, her racial shame — only if she is miraculously 
granted the same blue eyes that little white girls possess. As Morrison 
describes the racial self-loathing of Pecola, she dramatizes the devastat- 
ing impact of racial contempt on her shame-vulnerable character who 
has so internalized white contempt for her Blackness that she desires blue 
eyes so others will love and accept her. 

In novel after novel Morrison draws attention to the damaging impact 
of white racist practices and learned cultural shame on the collective 
African American experience. Just as Morrison shows how Sethe is "dirt- 
ied" by slavery and schoolteacher's racist discourse and how Pecola feels 
racially flawed because she lives in a culture that views Black as ugly, so 
in Song of Solomon* she shows how the shame-haunted Hagar Dead* 
comes to see herself as a racially spoiled Black underclass woman and how 
the middle-class Milkman Dead* is burdened by the "shit" of inherited 
family and racial shame; in Sula*, how the uninhibited and rebellious 
Sula*, who insists that she likes her own dirt, hides her abiding sense of 
shame under a defiant display of shamelessness; in Tar Baby* , how the 
elitist Jadine* confronts her deep-seated shame anxiety about her racial 
identity in her ultimately failed love relationship with Son*, whom she 
initially sees, through the lens of inherited racist stereotypes, as a racially 
inferior and uncivilized underclass man; and in Paradise*, how the 8-rock 
people of Ruby, Oklahoma*, are shaped by their collective, and humiliat- 
ing, memory* of the Disallowing, the dismissal of their dark-skinned an- 
cestors by light-skinned Blacks, who shunned the 8-rock people because 
they viewed dark skin as a racial "stain." Also investigating the class ten- 
sions and divisions within the African American community, Morrison 
deals with the sensitive issue of the color-caste hierarchy as she repeat- 
edly brings together dark-skinned, lower-class and light-skinned, middle- 
class characters, such as Pecola and Geraldine in The Bluest Eye, Son and 
Jadine in Tar Baby, and Pilate* and Ruth Dead* in Song of Solomon, or 
as, in Paradise, she focuses on the color prejudice of the dark-skinned peo- 
ple of Ruby toward light-skinned Blacks. 

While Morrison is intent on representing Black pride in her novels — 
such as Milkman's discovery of his "golden" racial heritage in the myth 
of the flying Africans* in Song of Solomon, or Violet* and Joe Trace's* 
sense of expansive Black pride and self-ownership as they train-dance 
their way to Black Harlem* in jazz* , or the pride the people of Ruby 
take in their Utopian all-Black town in Paradise — she also shows how 
the humiliated memories and experiences that result from living in a 


racist society reverberate in the lives of her characters. As she stages 
scenes of inter- and intraracial shaming in her novels, Morrison uses her 
fiction to aestheticize — and thus to gain narrative mastery over — the 
painful race matters she describes. An author who has earned the pride 
of place among contemporary American novelists, Morrison explores 
the collective and private shame of African American life in a complex 
art form that conveys, but also aesthetically contains and controls, in- 
tensely painful feelings of racial shame. See also Approaches to Morri- 
son's Work: Psychoanalytic; Trauma. 

References: Bonnie Angelo, "The Pain of Being Black: An Interview with 
Toni Morrison," in Conversations with Toni Morrison, ed. Danielle Tay- 
lor-Guthrie (1994); J. Brooks Bouson, Quiet as It's Kept: Shame, Trauma 
and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison (2000); Gershen Kaufman, 
Shame: The Power of Caring (1980; 3rd ed., rev. and enl., 1992); Helen 
Block Lewis, "Introduction: Shame — the 'Sleeper' in Psychopathology," 
in The Role of Shame in Symptom Tormation, ed. Helen Block Lewis 
(1987); Andrew Morrison, The Culture of Shame (1996); Donald 
Nathanson, Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self 
(1994); Leon Wurmser, The Mask of Shame (1994). 

J. Brooks Bouson 

Singing Bird {Song of Solomon) 

Jake's* wife, mother of Macon Dead* and Pilate Dead*, and Milkman 
Dead's* grandmother. She is part Native American. Her name is the last 
word to cross Jake's lips. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Sixo {Beloved) 

Present only in the memories of Sethe Suggs* and Paul D Garner*, 
Sixo is the most apparent symbol of physical resistance in Beloved. He 
is described as being very dark-skinned and very resistant to the rules 
of slavery*, even the "liberal" rules of Sweet Home* under Mr. Gar- 
ner's* regime. Having been brought to Sweet Home as an adult, Sixo 
provides a stark contrast to the brothers Paul*, because he never ac- 
cepted willingly the premise that he was destined to be a slave. Born 
and raised in Africa, Sixo needed no white man to tell him that he was 
a man. He asserted his humanity in a number of ways, most obviously 
by refusing to use farm animals as sexual surrogates and by resisting 


slavery in numerous ways. He helped Sethe look after her children, es- 
pecially after schoolteacher* increased the demands on her time. He 
walked over thirty miles to visit his lover, Patsy*. Associated with trees 
among which he danced at night, Sixo represents an African ideal of 
manhood. Under New World slavery he was the quintessential rebel, 
and his presence disrupted the smooth operations of the system. Along 
with Halle Suggs*, he planned the escape from Sweet Home. He 
negated certain principles of schoolteacher's scientific racism, and thus 
he was doomed. A powerful, larger-than-life character, Sixo was both 
very strong and very gentle. The story details two major confronta- 
tions between Sixo and schoolteacher. The first ends in Sixo being 
beaten, and the second ends in his being put to death during the 1855 
escape attempt when schoolteacher finally realizes that he will never 
be a willing slave. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 


Although permeating Morrison's novels, the contradictions and horrors 
of slavery are most clearly visible in Beloved"'. This particular text de- 
tails the range of torments that white masters frequently inflicted upon 
their slaves. A selection of such cruelties would include that slaves reg- 
ularly carried weights of up to 100 pounds; picked okra and other crops 
while carrying babies on their backs; and were lashed by young white 
boys, sons and grandsons of the masters. 

Slave children* were perhaps at the greatest disadvantage, for as 
youngsters they had little opportunity to demonstrate proficiency at any 
household task or otherwise endear themselves to their employers. As a 
case in point, Beloved's Baby Suggs* relates how her various owners were 
apt to suddenly take away her children. Two of Baby Suggs's daughters 
vanish so quickly that she cannot even say good-bye to them; further- 
more, she also suffers the disgrace of having one of her sons traded for 
lumber, a human life bartered for building materials. 

Six different men father Baby Suggs's eight children; masters treated 
female slaves as both physical and sexual property. Slave women could be 
taken by white men at any time, and even a female slave's marriage to a 
male slave did not prohibit a white man from taking liberties with her. In 
fact, demanding sexual services of female slaves was such a common oc- 
currence that slaves noted the rare times when they were not ill-used. 
Baby Suggs notes that while she lived at Sweet Home, no one actually 
impregnated her. Mr. and Mrs. Garner*, Baby Suggs also observes, went 
against the norm and never studded (as one would stud an animal) their 
male slaves or bred the female slaves. 


Just the same, slavery was a reality at Sweet Home*, and the Gar- 
ners' plantation was not without its injustices. One example is the ac- 
tual naming of the slaves: Mr. Garner calls Bahy Suggs "Jenny" because 
that was the name on her sales ticket when he bought her. Throughout 
the years Mr. Garner never inquired as to her real name, and Baby 
Suggs answered to Jenny, never knowing why her new owners chose 
to call her that. 

Only when she leaves Sweet Home does Baby Suggs reveal to Mr. Gar- 
ner that she received her name from her husband. Mr. Garner advises 
her to keep her "white" name on account of "Baby Suggs" not being suit- 
able for a mature freed slave woman. This battle over names and nam- 
ing is one that Morrison introduces in Song of Solomon*, when Macon 
(Jake) Dead*, a former slave, gets his name upon registering with the 
rather incompetent Freedman's Bureau. Jake's aversion to slavery passes 
down through his descendants, including the character Milkman*. 

Milkman's interchanges with his friend Guitar Baines* demonstrate 
not only the injustice of whites' naming of slaves, but also the injustice 
of slave status and slave mentality. Milkman claims that Guitar's reac- 
tionary politics emulate those of Malcolm X, who wants white people to 
know that African Americans do not accept their slave names. Guitar, 
though, claims that slave names do not bother him, but slave status does. 
He wants neither to be an actual slave nor to feel as if he were; conse- 
quently, Guitar feels that his random murdering of a white person (in 
response to every random murdering of an African American) is an ac- 
tion that changes his slave status. 

What comprises slave status continues to be of critical interest in Jazz* 
with True Belle*, a slave who becomes a free woman. Because of her po- 
sition as a slave, she observes things, including the fact that her mistress, 
Vera Louise Gray*, becomes pregnant by a slave. True Belle eventually 
leaves her own family* to follow Vera Louise when her parents disown 
her. During this time, white women who gave birth to nonwhite infants 
commonly deposited the children at the Catholic Foundling Hospital; 
Vera Louise kept the child, an act very much against the norm. 

The relationship between Vera Louise's child and the child's father 
sheds light on public thought about slavery. When Vera Louise's child, 
Golden Gray*, confronts his father, Henry Lestory (Hunter's Hunter*), 
who had been unaware that he fathered this son, the two men engage in 
a dialogue about what slavery, race*, and color mean in their society. 
Golden defends his mother's actions, claiming that had Vera announced 
that he was nonwhite, he could have been enslaved. Lestory claims that 
Golden need not necessarily have been a slave, but instead could have 
been raised as a "free nigger." Golden, still ardently defending his 
mother's actions, claims that he wants to be a free man rather than a free 
slave; Hunter answers by stating that all men want to be free. 


Slave status is continually explored in Beloved, where Baby Suggs is 
property and has a price (the property and price of slaves being knowl- 
edge with which another slave, Paul D Garner*, is well familiar); 
accordingly, Mr. Garner will not merely release or free her. Instead, he 
demands that someone buy her, a duty performed by another slave, for 
the only person to make an offer to buy her is her youngest son, Halle*. 

To buy his mother's freedom, Halle works for neighboring plantation 
owners on Sundays for five years. After this period, he has earned enough 
to procure his mother from Mr. Garner. Halle is twenty-five at this time, 
and his mother is sixty. Due to her son's extraordinary sacrifice, Baby 
Suggs has approximately ten years of freedom; however, after leaving 
Sweet Home, she never sees any of her children again. Her freedom 
means abandoning the one child she has known the longest. 

Baby Suggs's freedom, coming at so high a cost, means little to her 
when she looks back upon how she has already suffered as a slave. Baby 
Suggs suspects that the Garners had their own special type of slavery. 
Despite the fact that Mr. Garner listened to his slaves and did not con- 
sider deferring to their opinions to be depriving himself of authority or 
power, he nevertheless treated the slaves as if they were paid labor, teach- 
ing them only what he and his wife wanted known. 

Although Baby Suggs never went hungry and was never cold, and tak- 
ing into consideration that Mr. Garner allowed someone to buy her free- 
dom, she knows that Mr. Garner will keep Halle and will still be renting 
out her son, perhaps even after she dies. She ultimately spends her final 
years unhappy and depressed, despising white people and eventually con- 
fining herself to her bed. 

Life for another female slave, Sethe Suggs*, in Beloved, is more woe- 
ful than that of Baby Suggs. When Sethe informs her mistress, Mrs. 
Garner, that she wishes to marry, the woman smiles and soon laughs. 
Wedding ceremonies were not an option for slaves, and no slaves were 
truly married in the legal sense that white people were wed, a fact that 
Baby Suggs acknowledges to Mr. Garner when she leaves his plantation. 
Though Sethe and Halle ape white conventions by having a type of wed- 
ding, Morrison is careful to show that slavery is an institution which 
not only denies African Americans basic necessities but also continually 
mistreats them. Without Baby Suggs at Sweet Home and upon Mr. Gar- 
ner's death, the slaves suffer much more than they had in years past. 
Mr. Garner is replaced by a white man the slaves call schoolteacher*, 
who brings his two nephews* with him. The nephews, with school- 
teacher's approval, capture the pregnant Sethe and lecherously take her 
milk. In addition, schoolteacher beats her so badly that her back bleeds, 
becoming infected and permanently scarred. 

As terrible as slavery is, Beloved shows that escape from slavery is pos- 
sible. Sethe secretly sends her three children away from Sweet Home and 


she, in the late stages of pregnancy, soon follows. However, her freedom 
is temporary; schoolteacher searches for her and discovers her where- 
abouts. Four horsemen (schoolteacher, a nephew, a slave catcher, and a 
sheriff), representing the four riders of the Apocalypse from the book of 
Revelation, quietly travel to Sethe's home to capture her and her four 

Yet in this pivotal scene in the novel, the men do not get to return 
schoolteacher's "property" to him; schoolteacher's appraisal of Sethe's 
value drops so low that he deems her not even worthy to be a slave. 
The men discover Sethe in a shed, attempting to kill her children so 
they would not have to return to a life of slavery. Weighing the balance 
between watching her children grow up as slaves (as Baby Suggs 
watched her own children grow up as slaves until all but one were sold 
away from her) and, even worse, slaves under schoolteacher's rule at 
Sweet Home, and suffering quick deaths at the hands of their mother, 
Sethe opts for the latter. She succeeds in murdering only her elder 

For the second time, then, schoolteacher loses his slaves, and he now 
has no hopes of reacquisition. Confronted with Sethe's incredible car- 
nage, schoolteacher decides that she and her offspring are ruined, gone 
wild due to the mishandling of his nephews. (Of interest is that he does 
not blame himself and his beating of her.) Schoolteacher relinquishes his 
claims upon her, and Sethe is taken to a rat-infested jail with her younger 
daughter, whom Sethe is still nursing. 

Males as well as females suffered the ills and injustices of slavery. Being 
a slave did not stop Song of Solomon's Macon (Jake) Dead from having 
one of the best farms in Montour County, but being an African Ameri- 
can allowed white people to take his farm and to murder him in front of 
his two children. In Beloved, schoolteacher sells Paul D, another slave at 
Sweet Home, to a man named Brandy wine. After Paul D attempts to kill 
his new owner, Brandywine does not slay the slave; instead, Brandywine 
sells Paul D to work on a chain gang in Alfred, Georgia. 

Morrison's depiction of the life of a slave who works on the chain gang 
is perhaps one of the most fear-inspiring passages in all her oeuvre. The 
slaves dwell in an underground ditch, each man in a box five feet by five 
feet. Three white men are in charge of the forty-six slaves. The daily life 
of the slaves commences when the men wake to a rifle shot; they leave 
their cages only after the white men unlock the cage doors. Upon exit- 
ing their cages, the men chain themselves to each other. While chained, 
the slaves kneel down so that selected slaves may be forced to provide 
oral sex for the guards. Those slaves who attack are shot; after satisfying 
the guards, the slaves then toil for the entire day. 

Just as the guards' treatment of the slaves is appalling, so is the slaves' 
habitation. One day a rainstorm appears and lasts for over a week. The 


ditch, swollen with water, begins to cave in on itself; the slaves, chained 
to each other, narrowly escape from the uncontrollable mud. As a re- 
sult of their escape from death*, the slaves also manage to flee from 
the white men. The runaway slaves later meet some Cherokees who re- 
move the slaves' connecting chain; this action is one that both literally 
and figuratively frees the men. No longer chained to each other by the 
white men's chain, the former slaves gain possession of their own lives 
and freedom. 

Thus, the slave Paul D becomes a free man like those in Morrison's 
later novels. In Paradise"', the future founders of Ruby, Oklahoma*, ex- 
perience difficulty with other African Americans. These future founders, 
like the "Negro homesteaders" with whom they quarrel, are free men 
who were former slaves; nevertheless, the homesteaders think that the 
future founders do not have enough money to reside in communities 
surrounding the Negro homesteaders. As a result of the conflict, this new 
group of African Americans establishes Ruby, believing that for ten gen- 
erations they fought to close the gaps between free versus slave, rich 
against poor, and white against Black. 

Just as these two groups of African Americans experience discord, so 
Ruby's younger generation believes that former slaves would not tell 
African Americans to continually live in fear of God; they impart their dis- 
satisfaction with such a view to the older generations of Ruby. During such 
an exchange, one Morgan brother resents hearing his grandfather being 
labeled an ex-slave, as if that were the summation of his grandfather, who 
was also an ex-lieutenant governor, an ex-banker, and an ex-deacon, among 
other things. However, Beauchamp maintains his conviction that African 
Americans born during slavery were only slaves, any other accomplish- 
ments being void and nil. 

What Beauchamp suggests is that slavery is mentally overwhelming; 
one does oneself a disservice if one attempts to separate an African 
American from his or her history, no matter how insufferable that his- 
tory may be. In the same novel, Patricia Best Cato* asks Richard Mis- 
ner* whether his interest in Africa is due to its not having a history of 
slavery, thereby being the type of fantasy that Beauchamp's comment 
suggests. Misner and Patricia fail to come to an understanding; Misner 
asserts that he desires to rid his community* of slave mentality, while 
Patricia is firm that her past, Misner's past, and indeed her community's 
past, is slavery. 

The history*, fact, folklore*, and fantasy of what is and was slavery 
explode within Morrison's Tar Baby"'. When Son* first looks from the 
boat and sees the land of Dominique, he sees little of the land that 300 
years prior had caused slaves to be struck blind. According to this folk 
history, as retold by Gideon (Yardman), slaves on board a doomed ship 
could not see how or where to swim, and were therefore at the mercy of 


the waters. They floated or swam and ended up on the island along with 
some horses that had survived the waters and come ashore. Some of the 
slaves were only partially blinded, and were later rescued and returned 
to slavery. However, the totally blind slaves somehow hid and produced 
a race of people, no longer slaves, who were also blind. 

In conclusion, Toni Morrison's works depict slavery as a vile institu- 
tion, and her dramatizations of just how evil slavery was, serve as a re- 
minder and as a caution for race relations in today's society. Her readers' 
consideration of slavery enforces an awareness of humankind's some- 
times appalling behavior. See also Beloved; Death; Neo-Slave Narrative; 
Violence; Whiteness. 

William S. Hampl 

Smith, Coffee/K.D. /Kentucky Derby [Paradise) 

K.D. is the son of Ruby Morgan and the "Army buddy" the Morgan 
twins gave their sister to, and the only surviving Morgan child in Ruby, 
Oklahoma*. After impregnating and abandoning Arnette Fleetwood (an 
act unheard of in Ruby), and a two-year, turbulent, abusive affair with 
Gigi (Grace Gibson*) at the Convent*, K.D. marries Arnette in 1974 and 
attempts to assume his role within Ruby as the next generation of Mor- 
gan patriarch. K.D. participates in the attack on the Convent* women. 
See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Smith, Robert {Song of Solomon) 

A North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent and member of the Seven 
Days*. The novel opens with his suicidal leap from No Mercy Hospital*. 
See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Smith, Ruby {Paradise) 

Title character of one of Paradise's nine sections, Ruby, sister of Dea- 
con* and Steward Morgan* and mother of K.D.* is the first member of 
the original nine families to die in the town and the first person buried 
there; thus, she is the source of the town's name. Ruby, already a mother 
and war widow in 1950, grows ill on the trip from Haven, Oklahoma*, 
to the then-unnamed town of Ruby. After improving briefly, her health 
again deteriorates, and in 1953 Deacon and Steward take her first to the 


Demby hospital, then to the Middleton hospital, seeking treatment. Be- 
cause she is Black, she is refused treatment, and dies in the hospital 
waiting room while the nurse tries to contact a veterinarian to examine 
her. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Solomon {Song of Solomon) 

Jake's* father and Milkman Dead's* great-grandfather. He was an African 
slave who literally flew back to Africa, leaving his wife and twenty-one 
children behind in Virginia. He becomes a legendary figure, and young 
children sing a cryptic nursery rhyme about him. See also Flying 
Africans, Myth of; Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Solomon's Leap {Song of Solomon) 

Double-headed rock located on a cliff named after Solomon*, Milkman 
Dead's* great-grandfather, who literally flew back to Africa, leaving his 
wife, Ryna, and twenty-one children behind. Pilate Dead* and Milkman 
return to this place to bury the remains that Pilate has been keeping in 
a sack in her living room. While they are doing so, Guitar Baines* shoots 
and kills Pilate. The novel ends with Milkman's ambiguous leap off this 
cliff, into the arms of Guitar. See also Flying Africans, Myth of; Song of 

Fiona Mills 

Son/William Green {Tar Baby) 

Son is the representation of the authentic Black man in Tar Baby*. 
Closely connected to Black cultural values, he is in complete opposition 
to white cultural values. Son is also associated with nature. While hid- 
ing, his return to nature is symbolized by his dreadlocked hair, his lack 
of ease in New York City, and his ability to cure Valerian Street's* 
plants. Son romanticizes his past and Black culture. Unable to exist in 
the future, through Marie-Therese Foucault's* machinations he joins 
the Black horsemen — effectively returning to live in the past. He is also 
connected to the trickster* figures of Br'er Rabbit and Caliban. See also 
Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

SONG OF SOLOMON (1977) 315 

Song of Solomon (1977) 

Like many of her fictional works, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon is 
infused with mythology and concerns itself with finding and preserving 
a sense of community* within African American life. In a break from 
Morrison's traditional foregrounding of female characters, Song of 
Solomon centers around a male protagonist, Milkman Dead*, and his 
search for identity* as well as a connection to his ancestors* and the 
larger African American community. Not incidentally, Morrison's third 
novel, with its captivating synthesis of the classical Greek myth* of Icarus 
and the African American Gullah myth of flying Africans*, also exem- 
plifies the significance of folklore* in her fiction. 

Song of Solomon opens with the captivating suicidal leap of Robert 
Smith*, a North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent, off the roof of 
No Mercy Hospital* and the simultaneous birth of Milkman Dead, the 
son of Macon Dead Jr.*, a middle-class African American slumlord who 
prevails tyrannically over less fortunate members of the Black commu- 
nity in Morrison's fictional Midwestern town. With her opening line, 
Morrison establishes the novel's main themes of mercy, community, and 
identity for her readers. Mercy and community are particularly impor- 
tant for Morrison in this novel. As she states in her essay "Unspeakable 
Things Unspoken," much of the novel is about the search for mercy — 
something that few, if any, characters exhibit or experience. Not only is 
the white community, as exemplified by its ironically named Mercy Hos- 
pital (referred to as No Mercy Hospital by the Black community for its 
refusal to admit African American patients), incapable of mercy, but 
many members of the Black community, most notably Macon Dead and, 
initially, Milkman himself, engage in similarly unmerciful behaviors. Ac- 
cordingly, Milkman's indoctrination into the African American commu- 
nity is as much about his search for identity as it is about his ability to 
become merciful toward others. 

Throughout Song of Solomon, most palpably via her incorporation of 
the folk song of Solomon*, Milkman's long-lost ancestral grandfather, 
Morrison insists that archetypal folk tales and stories are vital to the 
preservation of the African American community. In this novel, she traces 
the progression of Milkman from a young African American male igno- 
rant of the value of such stories to an enlightened listener who, ulti- 
mately, becomes the bearer of the same stories. Song of Solomon also 
addresses the need for African Americans to know and embrace their an- 
cestral roots and become responsible within their own communities. 
Morrison also emphasizes the importance of basing one's individual iden- 
tity on these larger issues. 

Morrison incorporates a number of classical archetypes in this novel, 
including biblical allusions, Greek mythology, Western quest myths, and 

316 SONG OF SOLOMON (1977) 

traditional African American folktales. Many critics have argued that 
Morrison uses the quintessential archetype of man's quest for self- 
knowledge as the basis of her story. Critic A. Leslie Harris maintains that 
Milkman's development in many ways parallels the phases of the clas- 
sic mythic hero as enumerated by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a 
Thousand Taces. Indeed, Morrison has incorporated some of these ar- 
chetypal elements into her work, thus lending Song of Solomon a cer- 
tain universality. Other critics, such as Linden Peach, point out the book's 
decidedly African ontology, given its adaptation of a traditional Gullah 
folktale about African slaves who, upon arrival in America, flew back to 
Africa and its emphasis on non- Western values. Scholar Linda Krumholz 
concurs with Peach by broadening the list of literary allusions in the 
novel to include comparisons to Mwindo and Kambili stories, both of 
which are African epics. 

These critical interpretations strengthen the contention that Morri- 
son's novel is more than a mere mirroring of the traditional Western 
quest story. Significantly, in Song of Solomon Morrison manipulates clas- 
sic Western myths, specifically that of Icarus and the traditional heroic 
quest, to promote communal responsibility and respect for one's cultural 
heritage within the African American community. This is exemplified by 
her inclusion of the supernatural and African American folklore, her cel- 
ebration and critique of African American male flight, and her emphasis 
on community throughout the novel. More significant than her story's 
resemblance to classical myths is her adaptation of such archetypes, ren- 
dering them uniquely her own while privileging African American val- 
ues and sensibilities over the traditional Western ones depicted in the 
original myths. As such, Morrison uses this novel to preserve African 
American history* and culture. 

Throughout Song of Solomon, Morrison emphasizes the necessity of 
individuals caring for and remaining connected to the African American 
community. Although much of the novel focuses on Milkman's search 
for identity, paralleling the traditional heroic quest, the importance of his 
journey lies not in his creation of a separate, individual identity, but 
rather in his discovery of an undeniable link between his individuality 
and the larger Black community. Here, Morrison's adaptation of the quest 
myth differs markedly from Western privileging of individuality over 
communal responsibility. Her deviation lends itself to non- Western po- 
sitions of interpretation. Song of Solomon does not celebrate Milkman 
as the rugged individualist, as do most epics about heroic quests. Signif- 
icantly, Linda Krumholz contends that it is not until Milkman loses his 
overwhelming self-centeredness, learns about his ancestral heritage, be- 
gins to see his place in relation to his past, and makes amends with those 
in the African American community whom he has hurt that he becomes 
a hero. 

SONG OF SOLOMON (1977) 317 

Violence* and racism are also key elements in this novel, as demon- 
strated by the Seven Days*, a group dedicated to avenging the murders 
of Blacks by whites. For every African American killed at the hands of 
whites, the members of this group ritualistically kill a white person in 
exactly the same manner. The group is so named because each of the 
seven members is responsible for avenging the deaths of African Amer- 
icans who are killed on a specified day of the week. The novel explores 
the explosive effects of rage — a direct result of racism — within the 
African American community and the violence to which it often leads. 
This violence is ultimately self-destructive as evidenced by Robert 
Smith's suicide on the novel's opening page. Since Smith is a member of 
the politically motivated Seven Days, his suicide is emblematic of Black 
rage. Smith's individual frustrations experienced as a Black man living 
in an oppressive, white-dominated culture incite him to end his life. He 
believes that his only recourse in a world in which African Americans 
have no representation in the justice system is suicide. Guitar Baines*, 
Milkman's best friend and also a member of the Seven Days, explains the 
frightening reality of this predicament to the politically oblivious Milk- 
man by contending that the Seven Days exist because of the lack of 
access to legitimate means of justice for African Americans. This reality 
becomes too much for Smith to bear, and he commits suicide believing 
that, as a Black man, he would never experience justice. 

Toni Morrison includes an abundance of references and occurrences 
specific to Black culture in Song of Solomon. Along with her fictional re- 
creation of historical events that irrevocably impacted African Ameri- 
cans, such as the death of Emmett Till, she also focuses intensely on the 
folk element of the Black community. This is most apparent in her in- 
clusion of characters such as Pilate Dead* and Circe*, whose supernatu- 
ral knowledge and folk magic establish them as ancestral figures. These 
women function as preservers of Black culture and serve as spiritual 
guides for the wayward Milkman. Both possess supernatural physical 
characteristics. Pilate has no navel, and Circe, although everyone in town 
presumes she is dead, continues to live in the house in which she worked 
as a servant over fifty years ago, while its walls literally deteriorate 
around her. Both Pilate and Circe practice folk magic, use natural medi- 
cine to heal people, and clairvoyantly predict events in Milkman's life. 
Not coincidentally, Milkman assumes Circe is a witch when he first meets 
her. Nevertheless, Pilate and Circe are instrumental in teaching Milkman 
about his family's* past and enabling him to define himself in relation 
to his heritage. Such figures, the novel suggests, possess monumental 
importance for African Americans living in a Eurocentric society. Mor- 
rison's depiction of Circe and Pilate, both of whom represent the folk 
element of the Black community, as essential in Milkman's journey of 
self-discovery evidence her desire to privilege folk beliefs in her writing. 

318 SONG OF SOLOMON (1977) 

Significantly, Song of Solomon includes the names of familiar charac- 
ters in the Western literary canon. Although Circe and Pilate, whose 
names are found in two of the best-known books in world literature, may 
be familiar to readers, Morrison's characters possess entirely unique char- 
acteristics and personalities that reflect African American sensibilities. In 
this novel, Circe, best known as Odysseus's guide to the underworld, de- 
livers both Macon and Pilate as babies, and hides and protects them after 
their father is brutally murdered. Only years later, when she guides Milk- 
man through the confusing history of his grandparents' past, does she 
parallel her Greek namesake. Morrison's character is nothing like Homer's 
goddess, steeped as she is in Black folk culture, as illustrated by her prac- 
tice of natural healing, apparition-like appearance, and unusual longevity. 
Moreover, Circe, due to her long-suffering position as a servant in a rich 
white household after the end of slavery*, symbolizes the thousands of 
African American women who endured similar hardships. In a similar in- 
stance of co-opting a familiar character's name, Morrison reinvents the 
personality of Pilate, renowned in the Bible as the man who condemned 
Jesus to death. Against Circe's advice, Pilate's father, Macon Dead, Sr., in- 
sists on this name for his baby daughter. Morrison's Pilate, though, is the 
antithesis of Pontius Pilate due to her representation of strength, loyalty 
to one's family, and dedication to the Black community. Unlike the bibli- 
cal Pilate, who was responsible for Christ's death, Morrison's character 
goes to extreme lengths to love and protect her family members, even tak- 
ing a bullet that was intended to kill her nephew, Milkman. 

Many critics have discussed Song of Solomon's similarity to the clas- 
sic mythological archetypes, specifically the quest motif. This is most ap- 
parent in Milkman's journey to his father's Virginia homeland in search 
of a sack of gold hidden by his father years ago. Although Milkman's 
Southern journey resembles larger Western heroic myths, its main pur- 
pose vastly differs from that of journeys undertaken by other protago- 
nists. During his exploration of the South, Milkman uncovers his Black 
heritage. In so doing, he discovers his own identity. His journey is not 
about finding the gold or even about proving his manhood by undergo- 
ing and surviving a perilous solo journey a la Odysseus. Rather, Milk- 
man's journey is about his gradual acquisition of an identity, and its 
emergence and dependence upon his connection to the greater African 
American community. Pilate accompanies Milkman during the latter part 
of his journey, as do other members of the African American commu- 
nity. Milkman's contact with people such as Circe, King Walker, Sweet*, 
and Susan Byrd is crucial, for it enables him to learn about and appreci- 
ate his cultural heritage and, consequently, himself. As always, Morrison 
insists on inextricably linking the individual to the community. Milk- 
man can know himself only when he knows the names and stories of his 
ancestors, which he learns while on his journey. 

SONG OF SOLOMON (1977) 319 

Toni Morrison continues to deviate from the traditional heroic quest 
with Song of Solomon's celebration of feminine rootedness in one's an- 
cestry and communal responsibility. This replaces the traditional glori- 
fication of masculine independence and singularity prevalent in Western 
heroic myths. Although men control the Dead household, throughout 
her novel Morrison emphasizes the inherent stagnation and danger pres- 
ent within a male-dominated household devoid of a sense of its heritage 
and cooperation. It is only women who possess a willingness to preserve 
their cultural roots and, subsequently, the African American community. 
The Dead women illustrate the severe price to be paid for this, since 
Macon's mental and physical abuse has reduced the female members of 
his family to lifeless beings with no sense of themselves. For instance, 
Macon's wife, Ruth Dead*, is a timid shell of a woman who relies on the 
presence of a water stain on her dining room table to assure her of her 
own existence. She has allowed herself to be dominated by her husband 
and has, in turn, ignored her daughters in favor of doting on her only 
son, Milkman. Her unnatural attachment to Milkman is manifested in 
her insistence on nursing him beyond his fourth birthday. Similarly, 
Macon's daughters, First Corinthians Dead* and Magdalena Dead*, live 
as though scared of their own shadows, their growth stunted by his dom- 
ination. Milkman follows his father's example and has little to do with 
his sisters and his mother. Unfortunately, neither sister progresses be- 
yond her frightened temperament to stand up to the Dead men who de- 
mean and ignore them. 

Milkman's abhorrent treatment of his sisters and Ruth exemplifies his 
behavior toward women in general. Consequently, he must overcome 
this type of selfish behavior in order to understand his cultural roots and 
establish a connection with the African American community. He views 
women as objects to be used and discarded once they are no longer worth- 
while. His nineteen-year relationship with Hagar Dead*, his cousin, 
exemplifies his self-centeredness. When she demands a more mature, 
committed relationship from him, he writes her off with a casual Christ- 
mas card. Initially, he even regards Pilate, who later becomes his mentor, 
in this manner as he robs her house in the middle of the night without 
the slightest hint of remorse. His behavior toward women symbolizes 
his self-centeredness and disregard for the larger community that sur- 
rounds him. Throughout Song of Solomon, Morrison insists upon the 
need for Milkman to correct his former transgressions against women 
and embrace their instruction in order to successfully complete his quest 
for self-identity. Consequently, Milkman must depend on the guidance 
of Circe and Pilate in order to uncover his ancestral roots and construct 
his identity in relation to the larger African American community. 

Given the dichotomy that Morrison establishes between Macon and 
Pilate, Milkman becomes caught between their contradictory lifestyles. 

320 SONG OF SOLOMON (1977) 

Macon represents the achievement of individual desires to the detri- 
ment of the surrounding community, while Pilate embodies individual 
responsibility to the community. Macon's behavior as a slumlord epit- 
omizes his lack of concern for the Black community as well as his all- 
consuming desire to attain the respect of the white middle class. He has 
no empathy for the hardships that his Black tenants face while con- 
tending with prejudice and discrimination, and instead concerns him- 
self only with taking their money. He has removed himself completely 
from the African American community and rejected their cultural val- 
ues in his haste to assimilate into the white middle class. Over the course 
of the novel, though, Milkman's choice becomes clear as he gradually 
rejects Macon's selfish lifestyle centered on ownership in favor of Pi- 
late's unwavering attachment to her heritage that she literally carries 
around with her in a sack. 

Toni Morrison's additional intention of rendering her writing political 
in Song of Solomon is most apparent in the scenes that take place in the 
barbershop. Here, history and fiction intersect. Unlike Macon, the men 
who hang out at the barbershop truly have their finger on the pulse of 
the Black community. Their experiences as Black men living in a white 
society lend undeniable wisdom to their words of advice. These men wit- 
ness and experience racial injustice on a daily basis and engage in heated 
debates concerning race* politics within the seclusion of the barbershop. 
For instance, Railroad Tommy cautions Milkman not to bother trying to 
integrate into white society, which directly contradicts Macon's vain at- 
tempts to do so. He wisely understands that to try and do so will only 
bring heartbreak. It is better to entrench oneself in the Black community 
and seek support and understanding there. In keeping with the political 
nature of the barbershop conversation, Morrison includes a remarkably 
realistic discussion about the actual 1956 murder of Emmett Till in her 
novel. News of Till's death instantaneously triggers memories of similar 
experiences of injustice in each of the men in the barbershop. The death 
of Till provides a common link between them since they have all experi- 
enced racial injustice. Milkman, on the other hand, due to his political and 
social ignorance, does not share this bond and remains isolated from them. 
In comparison to the Seven Days and the men in the barbershop, Milk- 
man is pathetically out of touch with the Black community. 

Morrison's incorporation of the supernatural and folklore into Song 
of Solomon is also a political act. Through her use of signifying, Morri- 
son creates an alternative way of naming and knowing that privileges 
African American values. Morrison's insistence on the authenticity of 
supernatural events, beginning on page 1 with Mr. Smith's failed attempt 
to fly across Lake Superior, including Pilate's lack of a navel, and ending 
with Milkman's ambiguous life-affirming leap, forces readers to suspend 
their disbelief and accept as fact that which the Western world, with its 

SONG OF SOLOMON (1977) 321 

basis in empiricism and rationality, considers to be untrue. In so doing, 
she promotes and gives credibility to a unique way of knowing that is 
primarily African American. She offers an alternative to Western indi- 
vidualistic ideologies by rewriting the typical heroic quest myth. As such, 
she insists that those ideologies do not work for African Americans. 

Although Morrison's novel begins with Milkman's complete isolation 
from the Black community, Song of Solomon ends with his open embrace 
of an African American heritage, as illustrated by his final leap away from 
the body of his spiritual guide and mentor, Pilate, into the arms of Gui- 
tar, his communal brother. By the end of the novel, Milkman has come 
full circle in his appreciation of the stories he has been told concerning his 
family's legacy. He no longer floats blindly through life, oblivious to 
everything and everyone around him. His journey to his ancestral home- 
land has enabled him to understand the importance of the names of peo- 
ple, places, and things, and to connect them back to himself. Now he truly 
understands the significance of knowing one's heritage. Milkman has also 
come to understand the crucial support that his family, both living and 
dead, give him. He now understands that, although he may be physically 
unaccompanied, he is never truly alone because of his inextricable link to 
his family and the African American community. Thus, his journey has 
made him cognizant of the integral part that his ancestry plays in the con- 
struction of his individual identity. 

Morrison demonstrates this through his transition from a passive lis- 
tener to the stories of his family's past to an active bearer of important 
historic information as he relates the stories he has heard about his 
grandparents to his aunt Pilate at the end of the novel. He has become 
like Circe, Susan Byrd, Reverend Cooper, and, of course, Pilate in his abil- 
ity to preserve his cultural heritage in the stories that he now possesses 
and can pass on. Consequently, Milkman's journey, sparked as it was by 
an individual desire, is ultimately about a young man's alienation from 
and reimmersion into the African American community, and his accep- 
tance of his responsibility to respect and preserve his heritage. See also 
African Myth, Use of; Dead, Reba; Jake; Myth; Not Doctor Street; Ryna's 
Gulch; Singing Bird; Solomon's Leap. 

References: A. Leslie Harris, "Myth as Structure in Toni Morrison's Song 
of Solomon," MELUS 7: 3 (1980); Linda Krumholz, "Dead Teachers: Rit- 
uals of Manhood and Rituals of Reading in Song of Solomon," Modern 
Fiction Studies 39: 3-4 (1993); Catherine Carr Lee, "The South in Toni 
Morrison's Song of Solomon: Initiation, Healing and Home," Studies in 
the Literary Imagination 31: 2 (1998). 

Fiona Mills 


Sosa, Consolata/Connie (Paradise) 

In 1925, at age nine, the homeless Consolata, title character of one of Par- 
adise's nine sections, was "stolen" from the streets of (presumably) Brazil 
by Mother Mary Agnes (Mary Magna*) and taken to Oklahoma to live 
with the Sisters at the Christ the King School for Native Girls, known 
locally as the Convent*. At the age of thirty-nine, Connie meets Deacon 
(Deek) Morgan*, age twenty-nine and one of the most prominent men 
in Ruby, Oklahoma*. After their short but intense love affair, the mar- 
ried Deek abruptly ends the relationship. Shortly afterward the school 
closes, but Connie and Mary Magna continue to live alone at the Con- 
vent and sell hot pepper jelly to travelers and Ruby's citizens. After sav- 
ing the life of Deek's son Scout by "stepping into" him, Connie becomes 
lifelong friends with Soane Morgan*, Deek's wife. Connie's life changes 
again when Mary Magna dies in 1971, by which time wayward women 
have started making their home at the Convent. By 1975, an aging and 
almost sightless Connie longs for the release of death* and an escape 
from the bickering, lost women who surround her — until she sees a 
strange young man with long, cascading, brown hair in the garden. After 
their encounters begin, Connie starts to tell the women of Piedade*, a 
beautiful singing woman, a maternal figure of paradise embodied, and 
leads the women in sessions of "loud-dreaming" that allow them to ex- 
orcise the ghosts that haunt them. During the attack on the Convent by 
nine of Ruby's men, Connie is shot in the head by Deek's twin brother, 
Steward*. Although Soane and Lone DuPres* both see her dead, Con- 
nie's body disappears with the rest of the Convent women. We see her 
once more in the novel, sitting at the ocean's edge with her head in 
Piedade's lap. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

South, Influence of 

The influence of the South on Toni Morrison's fiction comes from the 
history* and literature of the region as well as Morrison's own heritage. 
The daughter of Southern parents, Morrison heard their stories of South- 
ern racism. Morrison's fiction bears traces of the historical contexts of 
the shadow of slavery* in the postbellum South: the Great Migration* 
north, the return south, and the consequent preservation of Black town- 
ships. More profound in her novels is the intricate reworking of the lit- 
erature of the American South. Although she is noted for her literary 
kinship with William Faulkner*, Morrison's oeuvre stretches beyond 
Faulkner's vision of the South to reveal an African American perspective 
not fully defined in other works of Southern fiction. 


The child of a Georgia-born father and an Alabama-born mother, but 
born and raised in Lorain, Ohio*, Morrison inherited two distinct views 
on the South. Her mother left the South and never returned, while her 
father made frequent visits from Ohio. Both parents told stories of the 
South, yet it was the disparity of her mother's hatred of the place and 
her father's tolerance of it that kept Morrison's attention. Upon her own 
visit to the South, Morrison found both her mother's and father's visions 
of the South to be accurate, and those visions helped seed her imagination 
to better communicate the historical realities of the place. While the set- 
tings of Morrison's novels are not in the geographic region generally ac- 
cepted as the South, their settings border that region which history 
records as the focal point of many of the African American conflicts in 
American history. Even the Southern view of slavery contrasts with the 
more progressive, but also problematic, Northern view. The agrarian 
mode of existence is also central in the South of the literary imagination, 
and stems from the history of the South. These elements, as well as the 
primary movement of African Americans in the twentieth century from 
the South to the North in the Great Migration, are recognized in Mor- 
rison's fiction. Moreover, the challenge of African Americans in the post- 
slavery South appears in Paradise*. While none of Morrison's novels is 
meant to be a work of historical fiction, the narrative trajectories of her 
works bear traces of historical shifts in populations and attitudes about 
the meaning of place. 

The central historical experience of African Americans in the South 
most specifically influences Morrison's trilogy Beloved*, jazz* , and Par- 
adise. Beloved's chronicle of slavery and freedom begins the historical sur- 
vey by showing the brutality of slavery as an institution in pre-Civil War 
Kentucky. One subtext oijazz is the diaspora from the South to the North 
and the period historically centered on the Harlem* Renaissance. The 
third work, Paradise, explores the other side of the exodus by focusing on 
those African Americans who remained in the South and claimed terri- 
tory and land as their own, separate from the white society that had en- 
slaved them. Although Paradise may be an interrogation of the exclusive 
idea of Utopian societies, the patriarchy governing the town of Ruby, Ok- 
lahoma*, is strongly reminiscent of the patriarchal literary South created 
by the Fugitive Group of poets from Vanderbilt University. 

Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, and Donald 
Davidson, the Fugitive Group's most prominent literary members, went 
on to become the central figures in the publication of the Agrarian Move- 
ment's Utopian manifesto, I'll Take My Stand, in 1930. The Fugitives used 
their poetry and prose to create an ideal vision of a South that was mov- 
ing away from its historically agarian heritage to become a more indus- 
trialized region. Like the men of Ruby, the Fugitive Group sought to 
propagate a Utopian vision of the South in order to maintain the vision 


of history they embraced. The consequent Southern literature of the 
early twentieth century echoes this rural, gothic* setting, and only later 
did critics begin to separate the geographic reality of the South from the 
literary ideal created by the Fugitives. Paradise follows the same pattern 
of exploding Utopian misconceptions by showing the problematic results 
of imposing an unachievable ideal onto a town. 

Toni Morrison's fiction also shows the influence of Zora Neale 
Hurston's fictional and anthropological works, which chronicle the all- 
Black township of Eatonville, Florida. In addition to her model of an all- 
Black township, Hurston's records and those of other scholars preserve 
the Southern, African American vernacular and the intricately woven 
folklore*, songs, and beliefs brought from Africa and adapted to fit the 
situation and setting of slavery in the South. These influences, as well as 
many of the call-and-response patterns indicative of secret slave com- 
munications adopted by the African American Protestant churches, are 
present in Morrison's novels such as Song of Solomon* and Tar Baby*. 

While a number of critics write about the relationship of the literature 
of Toni Morrison to that of William Faulkner, there is far more in the 
history of Southern literature to illustrate an influence of the South upon 
Morrison. Her African American literary ancestors* and peers Ralph El- 
lison, Richard Wright, Ernest Gaines, and Alice Walker, as well as her lit- 
erary heirs such as Randall Kenan, all expand the place of African Amer- 
icans in a Southern setting. In opposition to the early works of modern 
Southern literature, Morrison's focus on the African American gives 
voice to a marginal group of people and fills out the experience of an oth- 
erwise predominantly white historical and literary South. See also 

References: Carol A. Kolmerten, Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant 
Wittenberg, eds., Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-Envi- 
sioned (1997); "Toni Morrison and the American South." Studies in the 
Literary Imagination 31: 2 (Fall 1998); Twelve Southerners, I'll Take My 
Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1977; orig. pub. 1930). 

F. Gregory Stewart 


Christian allusions, symbols, and images permeate much of the fiction of 
Toni Morrison. Many of these references are obvious and conventional: 
characters bearing biblical names, forthright discussions of humanity's 
relationship to God, characters wrestling with the consequences of sin 
and guilt and searching for redemption, the role of the church, and reli- 


gious practices in the daily life of the community*. But as with just about 
any theme or other fictional element with which Morrison works, she 
takes these conventional references and molds them into surprising and 
more complex forms. While she does draw heavily from the language, 
history*, and practices of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, she 
complicates and enhances that tradition by incorporating sources from 
other cultures, including most notably religious practices and folklore* 
traditions associated with Africa. 

In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination* , Mor- 
rison argues that scholars of American culture have for too long failed to 
recognize the influence of African cultures on the development of the 
unique practices and beliefs by which the United States has come to be 
identified. She argues that any investigation of American culture that does 
not take into account the pervasive influence of African traditions is fun- 
damentally flawed because of its denial of what must be regarded as an 
inextricable element of the American experience. A superficial reading of 
Morrison would suggest that she is interested in this African influence 
because her fiction deals primarily with the lives of African Americans. A 
closer examination of her work, however, reveals that she develops these 
characters within the larger framework of American culture, investigat- 
ing their capacity for surviving in a complex society that oversimplifies 
itself by marginalizing that which makes it complex. Gazing intensely 
into the heart of American history, Morrison cannot overlook the atroc- 
ities and injustices perpetrated upon African Americans by a culture ob- 
sessed with racial oppression and separation, but for her, the stories of her 
characters involve much more than their battles with the clearly visible 
demons of racism. Much of the difficulty of their journey hides behind 
more subtle guises, in the customs of their own communities that have 
become infused with the destructive elements of the dominant white so- 
ciety, leading them to doubt or even forget the traditions that sustained 
their ancestors*. 

While Morrison demonstrates that these guises can take many forms, 
including sexism, predatory business practices, and fashion trends, the 
guise that dominates much of her first novel, The Bluest Eye*, and to 
which she returns time and time again, is that of Christianity, especially 
as it is practiced within the white, European tradition. Pauline Breedlove* 
of The Bluest Eye is perhaps the best example within Morrison's fiction 
of an African American character searching for solace within the tradi- 
tions of the white community. Pauline pulls away from the Christian 
church of her childhood and its African-inspired rhythms and rituals to 
a church that fulfills her desire to be like the white movie stars she em- 
ulates. Both her name and her religious evolution suggest the influence 
of the teachings of St. Paul upon her beliefs, teachings that have often 
been manipulated by the dominant forces within white culture, from 


slave masters to segregationists, to uphold the status quo. Instead of 
focusing on the current needs of her community, and specifically her fam- 
ily*, Pauline is more interested in the promises of an afterlife and the es- 
cape it offers from the drudgery of her earthly existence. Consequently, 
she lacks the compassion or the common sense to deal adequately with 
the crises ripping apart her family. She sees Christ as a judge of the sins 
of fallen humanity, exemplified by Cholly*, her self-destructive husband. 
She feels nothing but contempt for Cholly and relishes the thought that 
some day he will have to pay for his many transgressions. According to 
Pauline, Christianity is not about the possibility of redemption or the 
building of a community; it is all about the self, the individual soul, im- 
prisoned within a flawed body, that is trying to rise above the filth which 
threatens to drag it back to earth. 

Pauline's movement toward a Pauline-based theology and its focus on 
the self proves to be especially destructive for her daughter, Pecola*.With 
her mother modeling the roles she has drawn from the dominant white 
culture, Pecola, who suffers from a wholly inadequate sense of self, is left 
without any significant knowledge of her African American heritage. And 
when she looks to the cultural practices favored by her mother, she is 
consistently met with indifference, from the blank stare of Mr. Ya- 
cobowski to the uncaring eyes of the Anglicized Jesus hanging in Geral- 
dine's home. Ultimately she falls victim to Soaphead Church*, whose 
loathing of the physical world transcends even her mother's. Though 
they never appear together in the text, Pauline and Soaphead unwittingly 
become the dual catalysts that ignite Pecola's self-destruction. While their 
belief in transcendence offers them a sense of self-worth and power, it is 
necessarily limited by its isolation of the self from the physical world. 
Such a belief system cannot sustain a family, much less a community, es- 
pecially one that historically has been marginalized. 

This transcendent model, based primarily upon the traditions of Eu- 
ropean Christianity, proves to be woefully inadequate for most of 
Morrison's African American characters. The community is a central, 
unifying element in much of her fiction, and a community must nec- 
essarily look to the physical in order to understand what ultimately 
holds it together. Much can be made of community spirit and pride 
and other abstractions, but without the unity brought about by the 
daily struggle to provide the physical necessities of life, a community 
would lack any practical basis for holding itself together. It is within 
this physical community that Morrison's characters primarily find 
their redemption and their salvation, not through the isolated actions 
of a transcendent self. 

In The Bluest Eye, Cholly, a character seemingly beyond redemption 
because of his sexual abuse of his daughter, understands that love can- 
not be transcendent, that it must be present in the actions of the guardian, 


friend, or lover. He does not find solace in escape, but rather through an 
embracing of the real, a stance modeled for him by his Aunt Jimmy and 
Blue Jack. Thus even his abuse of Pecola can be seen, as Morrison's nar- 
rator suggests, as a manifestation of his love for her and his desire to re- 
connect her to the physical world. The Bottom* community in Sula* is 
also representative of the redemptive possibilities within the physical 
community, as are the various communities encountered by Milkman 
Dead* in his journey to uncover his heritage. In Beloved* , Sethe Suggs* 
and Paul D Garner* understandably try to transcend their horrific past, 
and at times find themselves isolated from each other and from their 
communities, but it is only their coming together and their sharing of 
their shared past that allows them to move forward. 

Even though Morrison often places transcendence and physicality at 
odds in her fiction, she also finds inventive and intriguing ways to pull 
them together. Ghosts or spirits, prevalent in Song of Solomon*, 
Beloved, and Paradise*, are associated with the transcendent, but Mor- 
rison deftly connects them to the physical, moving beyond the popular 
notion of ghosts as otherworldly and ethereal entities, and presenting 
them as apparently material beings. The ghost of Beloved*, for exam- 
ple, is gluttonous in her desire for the physical, gorging herself on food 
and satisfying her sexual urges with Paul D. Morrison also employs 
names of characters and places that suggest a blending of the transcen- 
dent and the physical. In Song of Solomon, there are three generations 
of men named Dead, of whom one is actually dead, though he also ap- 
pears as a ghost who exhibits physical qualities. In Tar Baby*, the Ca- 
ribbean estate of Valerian Street* is known as L'Arbe de la Croix*, a 
name directly pointing to the material substance upon which Christ was 
crucified but which also, in some Christian traditions, has come to sym- 
bolize the transcendence of Christ over the physical boundaries of 
human existence. 

As the Christian cross suggests, the crux of Christianity lies in this 
meeting of the transcendent and the physical, in the birth of a transcen- 
dent and infinite God into a physical and finite human body. However, 
as Morrison reveals through her fiction, the Christian traditions of the 
West, frequently invested with large doses of Platonic philosophy, have 
tended to view the transcendent as primary and the physical as an infe- 
rior representation, forever to be relegated to the realm of the undesir- 
able. Given her aversion to such thinking, Morrison must look outside 
these Western traditions to find a way to reconnect the transcendent to 
the physical. And it is within the rich folk and religious traditions of 
African and African American cultures that she finds the essential re- 
sources for this task. 

Many of Morrison's allusions to African and African American folk- 
lore are quite obvious, such as the myth of the flying Africans* in Song 


of Solomon and the title of Tar Baby and its numerous references to 
the Br'er Rabbit folktale. These explicit references certainly add sig- 
nificant layers of meaning to her texts and connect her stories to tra- 
ditions that transcend the boundaries of her settings. It is in her less 
explicit allusions, however, that we find some of Morrison's most in- 
triguing reflections on the complex roots of African American culture. 
One such reference, presented unforgettably in Sula* , is her discussion 
of the fourth face of God. Playing off the Western Christian notion of 
the Trinity, Morrison suggests that God has a fourth face, one that ac- 
counts for the existence of evil and suffering in a universe ruled by a 
supposedly omnipotent and benevolent deity. This idea reflects a theo- 
logical position prevalent within numerous African religious and folk 
traditions. Within orthodox Western Christianity, theologians for cen- 
turies have developed tortured arguments to explain away the appar- 
ent paradox of the existence of evil in the face of an all-powerful and 
good God, and have been reluctant to compromise the belief in God's 
sovereignty in any way. But this has not been the case in many African 
traditions, where there seems to have been a greater willingness to ac- 
cept the idea of God's fallibility. And numerous African folktales depict 
God as a thoroughly humanized, and at times almost comical, character. 

In contrast to the judgmental Pauline Breedlove, several of Morrison's 
characters, reflecting this belief in God's fourth face, do not see evil and 
sin as something to be sequestered and ultimately destroyed. The char- 
acters in Morrison's fiction who manage to find their way productively 
through whatever wretched maze life has constructed, do so not by ig- 
noring or by attempting to eliminate evil but through improvisation and 
endurance. Morrison's concept of the fourth face suggests that neither 
the nature of God nor the direction of life is ascertainable or under- 
standable. It does not, however, condone a passive acceptance of pain and 
injustice. Sethe in Beloved perhaps best exemplifies this attitude of en- 
durance in spite of overwhelming suffering. She continues to battle her 
inner and outer demons, not in hopes of some day finding relief in a 
blessed afterlife but simply because she has come to expect so little from 
her fellow humans or her God. One might characterize her stance as an 
updated version of stoicism, but unlike the practitioners of this philoso- 
phy, she lacks any confidence in an ordered universe. Given so little with 
which to work, Sethe manages to piece together a remarkable testament 
to her stamina and wisdom. Within this most impoverished of charac- 
ters, dehumanized in ways almost beyond our comprehension, we find a 
philosophy of life as complex as the incomprehensible world with which 
she struggles. 

This philosophy of life rests upon a foundation somewhat akin to the 
Christian doctrine of original sin: the crime of innocence. Morrison ex- 
plicitly discusses this phenomenon in Tar Baby, but she introduces it 


into much of her fiction, including most notably The Bluest Eye, Sula, 
and Beloved. Morrison characterizes innocence as a crime because it pro- 
hibits one from beginning the process of grappling with the vagaries of 
life, including problems created by injustice and oppression, and those 
inexplicable difficulties which can be attributed to God's fourth face. 
Consequently, Morrison's characters do not fall from a state of inno- 
cence but rise above it, thereby recognizing that life offers no promises 
of an otherworldly peace, just a maze of perpetual challenges that will 
test strength and endurance and character. See also African Myth, Use 
of; Ghost Story, Use of. 

References: Allen Alexander, "The Fourth Face: The Image of God in Toni 
Morrison's The Bluest Eye," African American Review 32 (1998); Deb- 
orah Guth, "'Wonder What God Had in Mind': Beloved's Dialogue with 
Christianity," journal of Narrative Technique 24: 2 (1994); Lauren Lepow, 
"Paradise Lost and Found: Dualism and Edenic Myth in Toni Morrison's 
Tar Baby," Contemporary Literature 28: 3 (1987); Vashti Crutcher Lewis, 
"African Tradition in Toni Morrison's Sula," Phylon 48: 1 (1987); Terry 
Otten, The Crime of Innocence in the Tiction of Toni Morrison (1989). 

R. Allen Alexander, Jr. 

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Influence of 

When Toni Morrison's novel Beloved* was published in 1987, author 
Margaret Atwood was among the first to connect it to Uncle Tom's Cabin, 
written by Harriet Beecher Stowe more than century earlier. In her re- 
view for the New York Times, Atwood asserts that Sethe Suggs's* quest 
to get herself, her milk, and her unborn babe across the Ohio River to 
freedom "makes the ice-floe scene in Uncle Tom's Cabin look like a stroll 
around the block." Since then, comparison of the two novels has inter- 
ested many students of Morrison. The originality of Morrison's best- 
known and most respected novel has never been in question. Rather, 
commentary has been focused on appreciating the ways Morrison's novel 
"talks back" to Stowe's. 

Most critics praise Morrison's revision of Stowe's perspective. For in- 
stance, some, like Lauren Berlant, praise Morrison's nonsentimental 
treatment of slavery's* legacy. Others, like Harryette Mullen, value her 
authentic Black position. And still others, such as Lori Askeland and John 
N. Duvall, appreciate her dismantling of patriarchal authority. However, 
many critics, Nancy Armstrong and Cynthia Griffin Wolff among them, 
are also fascinated with the similar sensibility impelling these two nov- 
els by women of different race* and time. 


Certainly a general point of interest among critics is the degree of par- 
allel between Uncle Tom's Cabin and Beloved. For instance, they share 
common settings. Sethe flees from Sweet Home* in Kentucky, and her 
passage to freedom in Cincinnati, Ohio, is across the Ohio River. Simi- 
larly, Eliza flees from the Shelby Plantation in Kentucky and crosses the 
river to find refuge at the Byrds' home in Ohio. In both cases the danger 
of the Ohio River crossing emblemizes all the dangers faced by desper- 
ate runaway slaves. 

Some critics focus on the larger similarity: their treatment of slavery 
as inherently evil. For instance, both make this point by having the slaves 
belong to benign masters, whose unanticipated changes in fortune dras- 
tically alter the slaves' lives. Mr. Shelby faces bankruptcy, so he must sell 
Tom and Eliza's son Harry; Mr. Garner* dies suddenly, so schoolteacher* 
takes control of the Sweet Home "men" and Sethe. Also, in both stories 
the evil of slavery is linked to patriarchy by having caring white women 
who are nevertheless powerless to stop the abuse of slaves; Mrs. Shelby 
is too ignorant of finances, and Mrs. Garner is too sickly. Both authors 
show that everyone — be they white or Black, master or slave — is vic- 
timized by slavery. And further, they equally demonstrate the absolute 
individual need for connection — to family* and to community* — which 
is denied to slaves. 

The parallel given the most attention, however, is between Stowe's 
Eliza and Morrison's Sethe, both mothers who flee to save their children 
from slavery. Rather than see her toddler son sold, Eliza flees across the 
Ohio ice floes with him in her arms. Pregnant and with milk-laden 
breasts for her crawlingalready? baby, Sethe flees, giving birth to Den- 
ver Suggs* on the Ohio before crossing. 

Interestingly, when we consider not just Sethe's crossing but her des- 
perate act of infanticide* as well, we see analogues to other female 
slaves in Stowe's novel. In order to communicate the horrifying inhu- 
manity of slavery, Stowe depicts women suffering a variety of outrages. 
Perhaps most noteworthy is Cassy, whose desire to avenge a life of sex- 
ual enslavement and the loss of two children transcends any moral 
compunction. Her story combines the horrors suffered by Sethe and 
Beloved*. And then there is Emmeline, the fifteen-year-old slave 
bought to replace Cassy in concubinage. The tale that inspires these two 
to retreat to the attic to "haunt" Legree also echoes Beloved's story. An- 
other minor character reinforces the desperation of Eliza and Cassy. 
Lucy is a slave being transported on the same riverboat as Tom. When 
her child is secreted from her in the night, she commits suicide. The 
aged alcoholic Prue, who drinks to forget her painful past, also provides 
a variation on this theme. Stowe provided numerous archetypes for 
Morrison to work with, and the real atrocities of slavery provided 
Stowe's archetypes. 


While one can note that Morrison is revising Stowe to some degree, 
one must also note the fact that hoth writers were overtly employing fac- 
tual incidents. Stowe set the precedent of documentation when she pub- 
lished her Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, providing factual analogues for the 
horrific events that occur to her characters. And Morrison continued the 
tradition, documenting the horrendous account of Margaret Garner*, an 
escaped slave who killed one of her children* in an attempt to kill all 
rather than see them returned to slavery. Morrison has discussed Gar- 
ner's tragic story as the inspiration for Beloved. But she has also made it 
very clear that she did not desire historic accuracy as much as a catalyst 
for her imagination. 

Critics have been somewhat at odds about the significance of the sim- 
ilarities between the real woman, Stowe's women, and Morrison's 
women, primarily because the chronology foils easy connection. Stowe's 
story, with all its prefiguration of Morrison's, was written four years be- 
fore the infanticide of Margaret Garner, which we know prefigured 
Beloved. So while both women used real incidents and while Morrison's 
echoes of Stowe seem clear, we cannot establish a direct chain from Gar- 
ner to Stowe to Morrison. However, perhaps the linkage between these 
two novels and history is not one slave woman's aberrant experience. It 
is the unspeakable experiences suffered by multitudes of women — 
women like Margaret Garner; like Eliza, Cassy, Emmeline, Lucy, and 
Prue; like Sethe and Beloved. What both Harriet Beecher Stowe's and 
Toni Morrison's uses of factual material show us is that slavery is an 
abomination, impelling other abominable acts and the burden of their 

References: Nancy Armstrong, "Why Daughters Die: The Racial 
Logic of American Sentimentalism," Yale Journal of Criticism 7: 2 
(1994); Lori Askeland, "Remodeling the Model Home in Uncle Tom's 
Cabin and Beloved," American Literature 64: 4 (1992); Margaret At- 
wood, "Haunted by Their Nightmares" (review of Beloved, by Toni 
Morrison), New York Times Book Review (September 13, 1987); 
Eileen T. Bender, "Repossessing Uncle Tom 's Cabin: Toni Morrison's 
Beloved," in Cultural Power/ Cultural Literacy, ed. Bonnie Braendlin 
(1991); Lauren Berlant, "Poor Eliza," American Literature 70 (1998); 
John N. Duvall, "Authentic Ghost Stories: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Ab- 
salom, Absalom! and Beloved," The Taulkner Journal 4: 1-2 (1988); 
Harryette Mullen, "Runaway Tongue: Resistant Orality in Uncle 
Tom's Cabin, Our Nig, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and 
Beloved," in The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender and Senti- 
mentality in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Shirley Samuels 
(1992); Angelita Reyes, "Using History as Artifact to Situate 


Beloved's Unknown Woman: Margaret Garner," in Approaches to 
Teaching Toni Morrison, ed. Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle 
(1997); Cynthia Griffin Wolff, "'Margaret Garner': A Cincinnati 
Story," in Discovering Difference: Contemporary Essays in Ameri- 
can Culture, ed. Christoph K. Lohmann (1993). 

Jane Atteridge Rose 

Street, Margaret [Tar Baby) 

Wife of Philadelphia candy king Valerian Street* and mother of Michael. 
Margaret's secret abuse of Michael as a child is revealed during the time 
frame of the novel. See also Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Street, Valerian {Tar Baby) 

Philadelphia candy king who retires to the Isle des Chevaliers* and im- 
ports his entire household to the island. He is incredibly selfish and capri- 
cious — a Prospero-like character who seeks to control nature and 
humanity. Valerian does not realize that his actions have consequences 
for himself or for others. His sense of entitlement and power are shaken 
when he finds out that his wife Margaret* abused their only son. See 
also Tar Baby. 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Suggs, Baby (Beloved) 

Baby Suggs, also called Grandma Baby, is the spiritual center of Morri- 
son's Beloved. She was mother to Halle Suggs*, mother-in-law to Sethe 
Suggs*, and grandmother to Howard and Buglar*, and Denver Suggs*, 
and the child known as Beloved*. Sexually exploited under slavery*, she 
had given birth to eight or nine children over the years, but she arrived 
at the Garners'* plantation in Kentucky (Sweet Home*) in 1838 with 
Halle, the only child she had been allowed to keep. When Halle purchased 
his mother's freedom after having hired out his time off on Sundays, 
Baby Suggs moved into a house on the outskirts of Cincinnati provided 
to her by the abolitionist brother and sister Quakers, the Bodwins*.This 
would eventually become 124 Bluestone Road*. When Sethe managed 
to free herself and her children from slavery in 1855, they joined Baby 
Suggs, who had become a spiritual leader and preacher; then Baby wit- 
nessed an event that finally crushed her seemingly indomitable spirit — 


her daughter-in-law driven to infanticide*, her precious grandchild put 
to death at the hands of its mother. Though her physical body fails in 
1865, she remains in the memories of those who knew her; she is the 
ancestor* who provides the spiritual impetus that Denver needs at a crit- 
ical moment in 1875. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Suggs, Denver {Beloved) 

Denver is the fourth child and second daughter of Sethe* and Halle 
Suggs*. Named for the young white woman, Amy Denver*, who came 
to Sethe's aid during her escape, Denver represents the future for the free 
Black community*. When the novel opens, eighteen-year-old Denver is 
living a stunted, stifling, reclusive existence with her mother and the 
ghost of her slightly older sister in the house at 124 Bluestone Road*. 
Her brothers have run off, and Baby Suggs* is dead. She is not happy 
when Paul D Garner* arrives. Denver has long since given up going to 
school, after being driven from the school yard amid taunts about her 
mother's horrendous deed and subsequent incarceration. She is a little 
strange from having lived such a sheltered life. Though she was born free, 
literally on the Ohio River, she suffers indirectly from the trauma* of 
slavery*. She is the first to recognize Beloved* as her sister returned from 
the dead. A naturally bright young woman, she also recognizes that the 
demanding ghost will never be satisfied, and thus takes the initial step 
that results in the successful communal exorcism of the greedy ghost. 
Denver represents the future. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Suggs, Halle {Beloved) 

Halle Suggs is the only one of her children that Baby Suggs* was allowed 
to keep. With his mother, he goes to live at Sweet Home* in 1838. In 
1848, he earns enough money to purchase her freedom, effectively buy- 
ing a wife, because his mother's replacement is Sethe Suggs*; a year after 
her arrival, Sethe chooses him from among the available young men en- 
slaved at Sweet Home. Along with Sixo*, Halle plans the collective es- 
cape from Sweet Home. Possessed of a sensitive and generous nature, 
Halle is not prepared to deal with the worst that slavery* has to offer, 
and he is completely undone when he witnesses the brutal "milking" of 
his wife at the hands of schoolteacher's* nephews*. He is lost forever to 
those who long for his presence — his children*, his mother, his wife, and 
his friends. The last word we have on Halle comes from Paul D Garner* 


when he arrives at 124 Bluestone Road* in 1873. He had last seen Halle 
back in 1855, sitting on the stoop, smearing clabber all over himself. See 
also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Suggs, Howard and Buglar {Beloved) 

Howard and Buglar are the two oldest children of Sethe* and Halle 
Suggs* . Tired of living with the constant anxiety of wondering what their 
resident ghost will do next, they flee 124 Bluestone Road* in 1864. At 
age thirteen, they had lived for almost ten years with the knowledge that 
their mother tried to kill them. In 1875, they are still absent and silent. 
See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

Suggs, Sethe {Beloved) 

Sethe Suggs is the traumatized protagonist of Morrison's fifth novel, 
Beloved*. In the present moment of the story (1873-1875 Ohio), 
Sethe's past comes to haunt her in the form of the daughter (now a 
young adult) whom she killed some twenty years before. In 1848, thir- 
teen-year-old Sethe had arrived at the Garners'* plantation in 
Kentucky (Sweet Home*) as a replacement for Baby Suggs*, whose 
freedom had been purchased by the man who would become Sethe's 
husband and the father of her four children. After giving birth to her 
fourth child during her escape to freedom, Sethe experiences full free- 
dom for the first time in her life. Twenty-eight days later, school- 
teacher*, whose brutality had precipitated the full-scale escape among 
the enslaved population of Sweet Home, arrives to carry Sethe and her 
children* back into slavery. Sethe's unsuccessful attempt to thwart 
schoolteacher's efforts by killing her children and committing suicide 
ends in one child's death and Sethe's incarceration. When she is released 
from jail, she returns to the house at 124 Bluestone Road*, determined 
to endure life in stoic fashion, even after it becomes obvious in 1864 
that the house is haunted by the ghost of her dead daughter. A visit 
from Paul D Garner*, an old friend from the Sweet Home days, sets 
into motion a series of life-shattering and transforming events, in- 
cluding the return of her daughter from the dead. The ghost wants to 
consume Sethe, and once Sethe recognizes her daughter, she is willing 
to submit totally. See also Beloved. 

Lovalerie King 

SULA (1973) 335 

Sula (1973) 

Sula, Toni Morrison's second novel, was published in 1973. Its epigraph, 
"Nobody knew my rose of the world but me. ... I had too much glory. 
They don't want glory like that in nobody's heart," is taken from Ten- 
nessee Williams's The Rose Tattoo and refers to the stem-and-rose- 
shaped birthmark of the novel's main character, Sula Mae Peace*. The 
epigraph also foreshadows the animosity she will encounter from the in- 
habitants of the Bottom*, the African American neighborhood in Medal- 
lion, Ohio*, in which Sula grows up alongside her best friend, Nel 

Sula begins with an elegiac evocation of the Bottom, describing the 
manner in which neighborhood landmarks are being cleared away to ac- 
commodate suburban development, and explaining the origins of the 
Bottom's name as a "nigger joke." According to the narrator, the Bottom 
was given its name by a white farmer who promised his slave a piece of 
bottom land in exchange for the performance of some difficult chores. 
After the chores were completed, the farmer thought better of the deal 
and deceived the slave into thinking that the difficult-to-farm, hilly part 
of his property was the bottom land the slave had been promised, since, 
from God's perspective, it was the bottom of heaven. 

The first chapter of the novel follows Shadrack*, a shell-shocked 
twenty-two-year old African American veteran of World War I. Morri- 
son uses the single yet devastatingly effective image of a soldier whose 
body continues running after his face and head have been shot off to il- 
lustrate the trauma* of Shadrack's wartime experience. This trauma will 
manifest itself in a number of ways when Shadrack returns home. While 
recuperating in a Veterans Hospital, Shadrack begins to hallucinate that 
his hands expand to enormous proportions. When a male nurse attempts 
to feed Shadrack, Shadrack attacks him and is placed in a straitjacket. 
Rather than continue his treatment, the hospital releases him on his own 
recognizance with $217, a suit of clothes, and some discharge papers. As 
is the case with many mentally ill people today, it is not long before 
Shadrack is reinstitutionalized — this time in jail. In what could be read 
as an ironic revision of Professor Woodridge's dictum in Ralph Ellison's 
Invisible Man to not waste time on the uncreated conscience of one's 
race*, but rather focus on the uncreated features of one's face, Shadrack, 
while jailed, discovers the features of his face in the light reflected off the 
water of a jail cell toilet bowl. After he is released, Shadrack returns to 
Medallion and, in an attempt to forge some sort of order out of the death 
and chaos he has experienced, decrees January 3 of each year National 
Suicide Day*. 

In a novel named after its ostensible protagonist, it may seem strange 
that so much time is devoted to the tribulations of a World War I 

336 SULA (1973) 

veteran. Some critics, however, have suggested that Shadrack's World 
War I experience is symbolic of the historical experience of African 
Americans vis-a-vis Western culture in general. For her part, Morrison 
says she needed a familiar madness to serve as a foil for Sula's eccen- 

Even the following chapter, "1920," does not focus on Sula, but on Nel 
Wright, Sula's soon-to-be best friend, as she travels to New Orleans to 
attend her great-grandmother's funeral. Nel travels with her mother, He- 
lene Wright*, a light-complexioned Creole woman from New Orleans. 
Helene's grandmother, Cecile, raised her, because she did not want her 
growing up in the brothel where her mother worked as a prostitute. 
When Helene was old enough, she married Wiley Wright*, a ship's cook, 
and escaped what she viewed as her shameful past by going to live with 
her husband in Medallion. In Medallion, she made a new life for herself 
by joining the most conservative church in town and becoming a re- 
spected mother and housewife. If it were up to her, Helene would never 
return to the place of her upbringing, but she feels compelled to do so 
when she learns that her grandmother is ill. 

Prior to this trip, Nel's identification with her mother is complete. But 
when she sees her mother capitulate to a racist train conductor by smil- 
ing at his verbal abuse, a fissure opens up in their relationship and Nel, 
for the first time, is led to contemplate her own selfhood. Interestingly, 
the novel suggests that Nel's relationship with Sula, to whom we are fi- 
nally introduced, is both the result of Nel's newfound independence and 
a substitute for its greater development. 

Morrison spends time on Sula's family* background in the next chap- 
ter, but beyond a mention of the early and unintentional education she 
receives about sexual matters by observing Hannah, her pleasantly 
promiscuous mother, Sula is noticeably absent. Instead, Morrison intro- 
duces us to a host of lesser characters — BoyBoy, Tar Baby*, Plum*, and 
the Deweys*. It is as if because Sula, the central character, has no center, 
Morrison's narrative is forced to expand outward in imitation of the cir- 
cles of sorrow that play such an important role in the novel's conclusion. 
Following this line of thought, perhaps, the Bottom itself is Sula's rich- 
est character, and Eva Peace's* house is, if not its center, at least a hub of 
its activity. 

Another hub of the Bottom's activity is Carpenter's Road, the small 
business sector of the Bottom where Edna Finch's Mellow House, the 
Time and a Half Pool Hall, Reba's Grill, the Elmira Theater, and Irene's 
Palace of Cosmetology are located. It is also the part of town where men, 
young and old, congregate to spend time in each other's company and 
flirt with the women who pass by. Here Sula and Nel seek and find con- 
firmation of their budding sexuality*. The stares they receive from the 
men on Carpenter's Road are among the incidents that mark the young 

SULA (1973) 337 

girls' coming of age. The other events include a confrontation with a 
group of Irish boys whom Sula scares away by cutting off a fingertip, 
Sula's overhearing her mother say that she loves her but does not like 
her, and a small boy, Chicken Little*, slipping out of Sula's hands into a 
river and drowning. Although Sula is the person most directly involved 
in these events, she is not the only one upon whom they have an impact. 
Unfortunately, the ambiguity between the roles of spectator and partic- 
ipant is lost on Nel, and she grows up thinking that these events have 
little or no bearing on who she has become. The closeness of Sula and 
Nel's relationship and the interrelatedness of their destinies have led 
some critics to suggest that the novel has a dual protagonist, Sula/Nel. 
Morrison has commented that if Sula and Nel were a single person, they 
would be complete. Their incompleteness is demonstrated by their fail- 
ure to accept responsibility for Chicken Little's death. Later, as if mir- 
roring Nel's passive interest in the dying Chicken Little, Sula watches 
from her grandmother's back porch as her mother burns to death while 
trying to light a fire in the yard. 

It is hard to say whether the dream that Eva Peace has of a wedding 
ceremony in which the bride is attired in a red gown is, as she interprets 
it later, a foretelling of Hannah's death or of Nel's wedding. Nel's wed- 
ding represents a death for Nel and for Nel's relationship with Sula. In 
Sula's eyes, Nel is the closest thing she has to an other and a self, and al- 
though she does an excellent job of disguising her pain, Sula is hurt by 
Nel's decision to marry, viewing it as a kind of betrayal. Jude Greene*, 
Nel's groom, asks Nel to marry him not out of love, but out of rage at 
his inability to secure a job building the New River Road and a determi- 
nation to take on what he perceives to be the role of a man in society. The 
narrator suggests that Jude also wants somebody to care about his pain. 
After the ceremony, Nel watches Sula leave the church with just the hint 
of a strut and take the main road out of town, not to be seen again for 
ten years. 

When Sula returns to the Bottom, she is accompanied by a plague of 
robins, and everything she does seems calculated to shock. She sends her 
grandmother to a nursing home for indigent white women, she sleeps 
with Nel's husband, and she wounds the egos of the men in town by ter- 
minating her short-lived affairs with them without offering any suitable 
explanation for her loss of interest. Soon rumors begin circulating that 
Sula sleeps with white men; that she pushed Teapot, a five-year-old boy, 
down her front steps; that she caused Mr. Finley to choke on a chicken 
bone; that she does not look her age; that she had no childhood diseases; 
that mosquitoes refuse to land on her; and that the mentally ill Shadrack 
treats her with an inordinate amount of respect. In short, the neighbor- 
hood brands Sula a witch and makes her the scapegoat for its ills and mis- 
fortunes. Ironically, this has a positive effect on the residents of the 

338 SULA (1973) 

Bottom, in that it causes them to band together against the perceived 
threat in their midst. 

The only inhabitant of the Bottom who accepts Sula, at least for a time, 
is Ajax*, and this is partly because Sula reminds him of his conjure* 
woman mother. Ajax and Sula become lovers, and each time Ajax visits 
Sula, he brings her a gift. Ajax differs from the other lovers Sula has had 
because he listens to her and is not threatened by her intelligence and 
strength. Uncharacteristically, Sula begins to feel possessive toward him. 
One day when Ajax comes to visit Sula, he sees that she is wearing a 
green ribbon in her hair and has cleaned the house in preparation for his 
visit. Taking these as signs that she is going to ask for a more serious 
commitment from him, he ends their relationship. 

A year later, Sula falls ill and is bedridden. Nel, still hurt by what she 
views as Sula's betrayal, goes to check on her. After she gets Sula some 
medicine from the drugstore, they enter into a conversation about the 
way that Sula is living and has lived her life. Finally, Nel gets up the 
courage to ask Sula why she "took" her husband, Jude, if they were 
friends. Sula replies that she did not kill him; she just had sex with him, 
and she cannot understand why Nel could not just get over it if they were 
such good friends. As Nel leaves, Sula asks her how she knows which one 
of them is the good one, and suggests that maybe she has been a better 
friend to Nel than Nel has been to her. Shortly afterward, Sula dies. 

Many critics have commented upon the small amount of space Sula 
takes up in a novel that bears her name. We do not meet her until the 
end of the third chapter (the second, if you take the first section to be a 
prologue), and she dies two chapters before the end of the novel. Morri- 
son says that she had Sula die before the novel's close because she wanted 
readers to miss her. 

The residents of the Bottom are far from missing Sula. If anything, 
they are jubilant at the news of her death*, and seem to have expecta- 
tions of it ushering in a new era for the neighborhood. They are sup- 
ported in their belief by several developments: the announcement of a 
tunnel-construction project that they hope will employ Black workers, 
the relocation of Eva Peace from the ramshackle house to which Sula 
had sent her to a more upscale nursing home, and the downpour of 
freezing rain that coats the Bottom with a layer of beautiful silver ice. 
However, it is not long before the positive moral effect that Sula had 
over the inhabitants of the Bottom loses its strength, and people begin 
to return to their selfish and mean-spirited ways. Life in the Bottom 
takes such a sour turn after Sula's death that when Shadrack comes 
through the neighborhood on January 3, tolling his bell for the com- 
mencement of National Suicide Day, the townspeople, for the first time 
ever, join him in his celebration. But things get out of hand when they 
come face-to-face with the tunnel at which the men had hoped to find 

SULA (1973) 339 

work. The tunnel becomes a symbol of all the dashed hopes of the pre- 
vious year, and the people begin to destroy it with great vigor. In a re- 
versal of the biblical story of the parting of the Red Sea, the walls of the 
tunnel collapse and the townspeople are drowned in torrents of freez- 
ing water that pour in from the river. 

The last chapter of the novel is told from Nel's point of view. It takes 
up the elegiac tone of the novel's opening section, contrasting what the 
Bottom used to be with the historical change of "1965," the year of the 
Watts Rebellion and the beginning of the Black Power movement (sym- 
bolized by the "new look" the young people are said to have). Nel is a 
member of a church circle that goes around visiting seniors. At the time 
of narration, it is Nel's turn to visit the nursing homes. The last home 
she visits is Sunnydale, Eva Peace's new residence. Eva is senile now, and 
her comments are composed of both sense and nonsense. When she asks 
Nel about her role in the drowning of Chicken Little, Nel is shaken, and 
tells Eva that she is confusing her with Sula. Eva replies that there was 
never any difference between the two of them and suggests that, at the 
very least, Nel is complicit for having watched. 

After leaving Eva, Nel goes to the colored part of the cemetery in 
Beechnut Park, where Sula is buried, and is overtaken by memories of 
her once best friend. Upon leaving the cemetery, Nel has an epiphany. 
She realizes that for many years she thought she had been missing Jude, 
when in actuality it was Sula she missed. Nel also realizes for the first 
time in her adult life that the girlhood friendship between her and Sula 
had been the most important relationship in her life. 

Although Morrison's novel is named Sula, in many ways it is Nel who 
embodies the traits of a traditional protagonist. Nel's realization at the 
novel's end signals the possibility of change. At the very least, it has al- 
ready led her to an awareness of the porous boundaries between good 
and evil, and to an understanding that good is always complicated and 
contaminated by evil's presence. 

This is the meaning that Sula's life has for Nel, and the reason why 
readers are not always able to instantly identify with Sula. By present- 
ing us with a character who lacks many, if not most, of the attributes we 
have come to expect of heroes (wisdom, self-awareness, generosity, and 
willingness to sacrifice herself for the greater good of the community*), 
Morrison causes us to question what a Black woman hero coming of age 
in the 1930s and 1940s might look like. The question is not too different 
from the one raised by Harriet Jacobs about Black women's sexuality in 
the nineteenth century. In both cases, the answers are complicated and 
differ from what we might expect. And yet Sula is not entirely lacking 
in heroic attributes — she is fearless, has a great sense of adventure, and 
is willing to risk public censure in order to live her life the way she sees 
fit. While our society praises men for these attributes, they are often 


considered troubling in women. Sula, the book and the character, does 
an excellent job of challenging this double standard. See also Rekus. 

References: Rita A. Bergenholtz, "Toni Morrison's Sula: A Satire on 
Binary Thinking," African American Review 30: 1 (1996); Maggie Gale- 
house, "'New World Woman': Toni Morrison's Sula," Papers on Lan- 
guage and Literature 35: 4 (1999); Phillip Novak, "'Circles and Circles of 
Sorrow': In the Wake of Morrison's Sula," PMLA 114: 2 (1999); Mau- 
reen T Reddy, "The Tripled Plot and Center of Sula," Black American 
Literature Forum 22: 1 (1988); Karen F. Stein, "Toni Morrison's Sula: A 
Black Woman's Epic," Black American Literature Forum 18: 4 (1984). 

Douglas Taylor 

Supernatural, Use of 

See Ghost Story, Use of. 

Sweet (Song of Solomon) 

A prostitute with whom Milkman Dead* has an affair while in Virginia. 
Their affair is significant in that it is the first time Milkman gives of him- 
self to another person. See also Song of Solomon. 

Fiona Mills 

Sweet Home (Beloved) 

The role played by Sweet Home, the Kentucky plantation where 
Beloved's Sethe Suggs* meets her husband and has the first three of her 
four children*, is central to understanding the events that later occur at 
124 Bluestone Road*. Long before Sethe kills her young daughter, meets 
the incarnation of that daughter in the figure of Beloved*, and loses her 
sanity, she arrives at Sweet Home a naive young girl. A beautiful place 
owned by the benevolent Garner* family*, Sweet Home represents a sort 
of Eden for Sethe. There she experiences love and knows protection for 
the first time. There she bears her first three children and creates a life 
with her husband. It is at Sweet Home that Sethe first discovers who she 
is. Yet it is also at Sweet Home that that identity* is destroyed forever. 
The paradoxical nature of Sweet Home, a place where beauty and ug- 
liness, good and evil, coexist uneasily underscores the central moral ques- 
tion of the novel: Are Sethe's actions to be condoned or condemned? By 


highlighting both the wonderful and the terrible aspects of Sweet Home, 
Morrison demonstrates both the complex forces that go into the making 
of Sethe's psyche and the impossibility of easy answers. 

As a young woman, Sethe believes in the goodness of human nature. 
She believes that the male slaves at Sweet Home really are men, as Mr. 
Garner claims. After Mr. Garner's death* and schoolteacher's* arrival, 
however, Sethe learns to doubt her own senses. Schoolteacher, a man 
trusted by Mrs. Garner to oversee the farm, teaches his nephews* that 
Sethe and her children are animals, and are to be treated as such. On 
Sethe's final day at Sweet Home, as she is trying desperately to find her 
husband, Halle*, so they can flee together, schoolteacher beats her so 
badly that he carves a scar in the shape of a tree on her back, and then 
watches as his nephew nurses her. This scar, an indirect reference to the 
tree in the Genesis story of Eden, reminds Sethe not only of the evil done 
to her at Sweet Home but also of the paradise she previously considered 
it. Sethe loses more than her innocence at Sweet Home; she also loses 
the sense of security she needs to survive emotionally. 

Full appreciation of Sethe's actions cannot occur without an examina- 
tion of both the evil wrought at Sweet Home and the seductive grip it 
continues to exert over the lives of its former slaves. Despite everything 
that has happened to them, Sethe and Paul D Garner* cannot forget the 
terrible beauty of the place and the sense of belonging it gave them. The 
interaction between the yearning for their lost innocence and the re- 
pugnance that this longing gives them constitutes the novel's core. See 
also Approaches to Morrison's Work: Ecocritical; Beloved; Slavery. 

Elizabeth Ely Tolman 

Tar Baby (1981) 

Morrison's fourth novel, Tar Baby, is often considered one of her most 
problematic and controversial works. Its controversy stems from the 
rather wide and complex web of aesthetic and thematic issues that Mor- 
rison explores. Not only does she comment on relationships between 
Blacks and whites, men and women, parents and children*, the urban and 
rural, and between class groups, but she also exposes the sometimes dif- 
ficult and complicated relationships between Black men and women. This 
complex allegorical novel spent four months on the New York Times best- 
seller list and solidified Morrison's reputation as a masterful novelist. 
Overflowing with her now legendary lush language and imagery, Tar 
Baby dramatizes the multiple dilemmas of identity*, feminism, and the 
tangled connections between history* and the present. 

Tar Baby is Morrison's first novel located outside Ohio; set in 
contemporary society, it is her first to feature white characters. The cen- 
tral narrative concern of the novel is the romance of Son* and Jadine 
Childs*. Son, a young Black drifter, escapes from a commercial fishing 
boat and ends up hiding in the luxurious vacation home, L'Arbe de la 
Croix*, belonging to retired Philadelphia candy king Valerian Street*. 
After Son is discovered hiding in Margaret Street's* closet, rather than 
call the police, Valerian capriciously invites him to stay. The invitation 
upsets the small community* at the house, including Sydney and On- 
dine Childs*, the butler and cook, and their niece, the beautiful Black 
model Jadine, who has joined them on the island for a respite. Son's 

344 TAR BABY (1981) 

presence exacerbates the already delicate balance of power in the Street 
household and finally reveals the instability of its foundation. Son and 
Jadine's relationship eventually fails, succumbing to the very different 
perspectives each has about life, Blackness, and relationships. The novel's 
fantastic ending and the reordering of the power relationship at L'Arbe 
de la Croix raise more questions than answers. 

Morrison uses a number of aesthetic tools to convey her message of 
the inherent complexity of all relationships. Primary among these is the 
novel's use of the allegorical form that allows for an engagement with 
large abstract issues. For example, Morrison stages the symbolic battle 
for the definition of Black American society through the characters of 
Son and Jadine. Seen from this perspective, Son represents a version of 
Blackness that opposes white cultural and capitalistic values, and is 
connected to nature and the historical Black South*; Jadine personifies a 
contemporary Blackness that has embraced feminism and white cultural 
values, is not connected to the past (Jadine is an orphan), and is more con- 
cerned with succeeding according to the rules of capitalistic society. 
The failure of their relationship can be interpreted to mean that Black 
American society is in trouble because of these differences, or that Black 
American society should not be interpreted as essentially monolithic. Al- 
though Morrison raises and engages both of these possibilities, the nar- 
rative thrust of the novel seems to agree with the first interpretation and 
censures the last. We see this most clearly in the allegorical conclusion 
of the novel, where Jadine returns to what the novel has classified as her 
inauthentic life of independence and material success in Paris, while Son 
achieves union with the authentic Black past personified by the blind 

In addition to allegory, Morrison uses magical realism* and fantasy to 
great effect. The use of fantasy is articulated in the novel's setting on a 
Caribbean island. Indeed, the most dazzling scenes are those that linger 
over the sheer hallucinatory effect of life in the tropics. As Jadine points 
out, islands exaggerate things; the sun and the landscape conspire to fa- 
cilitate feelings and actions of excess. This excess makes the setting of the 
novel operate as a character, just as the people in the novel do. This is 
conveyed most spectacularly in the descriptions of the daisy trees, which 
move around and are as much concerned with the relationships between 
the characters as we are. Butterflies, ants, copperhead snakes, and fish are 
also important participants in and viewers of the dramas unfolding be- 
fore them on the island. Even the very earth of the island has agency, as 
it pushes out its covering of handmade Mexican tiles, asserting its desire 
for freedom. More than mere personification, Morrison acknowledges 
that nothing is as simple or straightforward as it seems. Take, for exam- 
ple, her treatment of the myth* of the blind horsemen. For Valerian, the 
blind horsemen are French chevaliers — upright in spotless uniforms, rid- 

TAR BABY {1981) 345 

ing in formation across the hills, backed by the sparklingly clear and strict 
Napoleonic Code. For Son, the horsemen are barefoot and blind escaped 
slaves, tired and exhausted from their long years of riding. These dis- 
tinctions highlight their very different perspectives and places within the 
chain of power and history. 

Morrison enhances this ambivalence by incorporating aesthetic influ- 
ences from a variety of sources. At the center of the novel is the folk 
image of the Tar Baby, popularly derived from one of Joel Chandler Har- 
ris's Uncle Remus tales, "Tar Baby" (1879). The Uncle Remus tales have 
been interpreted as allegories of slave life, with Br'er Rabbit represent- 
ing the Black slave and Br'er Fox the white master. In the Harris story, 
Br'er Fox, to catch Br'er Rabbit, constructs a human figure made out of 
sticky tar or pitch, a tar baby. When he encounters the tar baby along the 
road, Br'er Rabbit ends up hitting it because he thinks it has disrespected 
him. The more he struggles, the faster he is stuck. Because he is a trick- 
ster* figure, Br'er Rabbit is able to maneuver his escape and run away, 
lickety-split, lickety-split. Son makes this same sound when Marie- 
Therese Foucault* maneuvers his escape from Jadine. 

Consequently, many read Jadine as the tar baby and Son as Br'er 
Rabbit. Like Uncle Remus's tar baby, Jadine was constructed by white 
society and ends up trapping Br'er Rabbit/Son. The fact that Jadine is im- 
mersed in tar after their picnic on the beach — the first time it becomes 
clear that Son is desirable — would seem to be unambiguous evidence that 
Jadine is the tar baby. However, if we consider that for Morrison, the tar 
baby also represents the ability of the Black woman to hold her com- 
munity together, then viewing Jadine as such becomes more complicated, 
for she does not hold her community together. Other than Son, Sydney, 
and Ondine, she has very little interaction with the Black community. In 
addition, Jadine "abandons" the Black community at the end of the novel 
to return to Paris. Also, after she falls in the tar, she struggles mightily 
to escape its blackness, and after she does escape, she makes sure that she 
has cleaned every bit of it from her body. Finally, it is important to con- 
sider that the trickster figure itself is often an ambivalent character — it 
triumphs through deception that can be innocent or evil. Br'er Rabbit is 
caught by the tar baby because he believes he is superior to it, just as Son 
falls in love with Jadine because he thinks he can teach her the right way 
to be Black by forcing his dreams of Eloe* into hers. 

Morrison does not confine herself to using African American cultural 
references but casts a wide net. Most spectacularly, Tar Baby incorpo- 
rates elements of Shakespeare's play The Tempest and is concerned with 
similar questions regarding colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, and 
power. Like Prospero, Valerian has created an island paradise for himself 
by manipulating nature and people. Not only does Valerian control ev- 
erything on the island, but everyone in the household of L'Arbe de la 

346 TAR BABY (1981) 

Croix is in his debt; he monetarily supports his wife, employs Sydney 
and Ondine, has paid for Jadine's schooling and continues to support her 
monetarily, and, because he invited Son to stay rather than call the po- 
lice and has arranged for him to get a visa, Son is also in his debt. Fur- 
ther, like Prospero he is surprised when everyone revolts against his 
caprice and control. Although the meteorological storm in the novel does 
not happen on the island, it mirrors the emotional storm that sweeps 
through L'Arbe, exposing Margaret's secret abuse of her son, Michael. 
The storm changes everything, cleansing so that all secrets are exposed. 
Additionally, Son, like Caliban, is portrayed as a child of nature. He saves 
Valerian's plants and helps them grow. Jadine, like Ariel, is formed by 
white cultural values and exists, uncomfortably, in between. In the end, 
like Prospero, Valerian is weakened. By incorporating or alluding to The 
Tempest, Morrison calls attention to the breadth of her influences. A truly 
American writer, Morrison incorporates influences from Black and white 

In addition to these aesthetic issues, the novel explores related thematic 
issues such as the state of the Black community and definitions of Black- 
ness. Written in the late 1970s, during the rise in numbers of the Black mid- 
dle class, Tar Baby has been called a cautionary tale about contemporary 
Black life. In her attainment of feminist independence and material success, 
Jadine has divorced herself from the bedrock of essential and authentic 
Blackness. However, inasmuch as Morrison comments on the dangers of 
contemporary Black aspirations of "making it," the novel also negatively 
comments on those who would "romanticize" the Black experience through 
Son's character. On the run for eight years, his memories of Eloe and New 
York City sustain him in his absence from them. However, as becomes clear 
when he returns, these memories are not borne out by the reality. New York 
has become a city full of crying Black women, and Black men who walk on 
tiptoe willfully ignore the cries of Black women. Eloe is not the romantic, 
essential, unquestionable bedrock of Black culture. As Jadine points out, Eloe 
may be an all-Black town, but whites who live elsewhere run it. Son ro- 
manticizes Eloe, until Jadine's photos provide a contradictory image of Eloe 
as slow, stupid, and backward. 

Through exchanges like these, Morrison uses the relationship of Son 
and Jadine to engage with the issue of class in the Black community. 
Blacks are supposed to be a cohesive community. Situating the novel 
outside of the familiar U.S. borders allows Morrison to explore cultural 
divisions that do, in fact, exist. She includes Blacks from diverse back- 
grounds and experiences: Jadine, the orphaned "new" Black woman 
without connections to history; Son, the authentic Southern Black man; 
Sydney and Ondine, middle-class, striving Philadelphia Negroes; and 
the Caribbean natives, Marie-Therese and Gideon. These differences 
raise questions about the nature of Blackness and whether it is essen- 

TAR BABY (1981) 347 

tial and inborn or something one must learn, as Gideon says of Jadine 
that she has to choose Blackness. Although Morrison seems to be in- 
terested in interrogating the myth of the cohesion of the Black com- 
munity — of all of the Black characters, Jadine is the only one to argue 
for a new definition of Blackness that does not rely on dualistic think- 
ing and white opposition — Son's redemption and Jadine's banishment 
reinscribe the notion of a singular, authentic Blackness. 

In addition to these concerns with race and class, like Morrison's ear- 
lier novels Tar Baby is also concerned with relationships and love. Of the 
three couples in the novel, one is a success, another is failing but ends well, 
and the last fails. Relationships fail in the novel when differences are fore- 
grounded and neither party is willing to compromise. Sydney and On- 
dine's successful relationship is based on mutual acceptance and trust, 
compromise and fluidity. They come from similar backgrounds, have sim- 
ilar goals, interests, and perspectives about each other, the world, and what 
it means to be Black. Neither has more power or control in the relation- 
ship. On the other hand, Valerian's marriage to Margaret begins to fail 
because of his excessively patronizing attitude toward her. Valerian has 
all the power and control in their early relationship because Margaret 
comes from a lower class. He does not see her perspective, nor does he see 
her as an equal. Furthermore, Margaret does not see herself as Valerian's 
equal, but rather as his trophy. She thinks that Valerian married her only 
for her looks, and now she must do all she can to retain them. The power 
dynamic within their relationship changes when Valerian has to relin- 
quish control over his island paradise and the community at L'Arbe de la 
Croix, becoming physically dependent on Margaret. At this point Mar- 
garet realizes that she makes important contributions to their relation- 
ship other than her beauty. Finally, like Valerian and Margaret, Jadine and 
Son are from two different class groups. This seems unimportant at first, 
since they are both Black, but slowly it begins to undermine their rela- 
tionship. Despite their racial similarities, they turn out to have very dif- 
ferent ideas about relationships, the world, gender roles, race*, and each 
other. Neither is willing or able to compromise or agree on anything. The 
relationship fails, and both are at fault because neither is willing to relin- 
quish control or to consider the other's perspective as valid. 

As a novel, Tar Baby has an epic feel — not in length but in structure, 
influences, and thematic concern. Morrison relies on dialogue and im- 
agery to convey her message, and incorporates a wide variety of cul- 
tural influences and references. Just as Milton stages his battle for good 
and evil in Paradise, Morrison stages a battle for Blackness on a colo- 
nial island paradise. In the end the novel seems to shy away from the 
potential of epic, which raises large and abstract questions and leaves 
them answerable only by the reader, by seeking solace in safety. In Tar 
Baby Morrison asks the question "What is Blackness?" and answers 


conclusively, shutting the door on any other possibility, that only those 
with true and authentic properties shall know. See also Approaches to 
Morrison's Work: Postcolonial; Isle des Chevaliers. 

References: Krishnamoorthy Aithal, "'Getting Out of One's Skin and 
Being the Only One Inside': Toni Morrison's Tar Baby," American Stud- 
ies International 34: 2 (1996); Madelyn Jablon, "Tar Baby: Philosophiz- 
ing Blackness," in Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison, 
ed. Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle (1997); Dorothea Drummond 
Mbalia, "Tar Baby: A Reflection of Morrison's Developed Class Con- 
sciousness," in Toni Morrison, ed. Linden Peach (1997); Marilyn Sanders 
Mobley, "Narrative Dilemma: Jadine as Cultural Orphan in Tar Baby," 
in Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, ed. Henry Louis 
Gates, Jr., and K. Anthony Appiah (1993); Malin LaVon Walther, "Toni 
Morrison's Tar Baby: Re-Figuring the Colonizer's Aesthetics," in Cross 
Cultural Performances: Differences in Women's Re-Visions of Shake- 
speare, ed. Marianne Novy (1993). 

Nicole N.Aljoe 

Tar Baby {Sula) 

Very light-complexioned, possibly white, tenant of Eva Peace*. The peo- 
ple of the Bottom* originally refer to him as "Pretty Johnny." Eva gives 
him the nickname "Tar Baby" out of fun and meanness. Tar Baby is from 
the hill country and has a beautiful singing voice, which he sometimes 
uses at Wednesday-night prayer meetings to sing what seems to be his 
favorite song, "In the Sweet By-and-By." The residents of the Bottom 
have little respect for him, because he spends most of his time trying to 
drink himself to death with cheap wine. See also Sula. 

Douglas Taylor 

Trace, Joe (Jazz) 

It is Joe's murder of Dorcas Manfred*, the teenager with whom he car- 
ries on an adulterous relationship, that precipitates the narrative that is 
Jazz. Born to an unidentified forest-dwelling woman, simply called 
Wild*, who rejects him after his birth, Joe longs for the adoring femi- 
nine gaze lost at birth. As a result, he attempts to regain unconditional 
maternal love in Dorcas's arms, shooting her when she demands her in- 
dependence, taunting and humiliating him in the process. Through his 
nonsexual bonding with Felice*, Dorcas's friend who becomes a surro- 


gate daughter, he learns to freely give and receive affection, further deep- 
ening his own bond with and appreciation for Violet*, his wife. After hav- 
ing spent a lifetime continually reinventing himself in order to survive 
as a Black man in a hostile environment, Joe is able to grow into his own 
adulthood and emotional maturity. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 

Trace, Violet (Jazz) 

When Violet discovers the identity of the dead girl with whom her hus- 
band, Joe Trace*, had been carrying on an affair, she attends the funeral 
in order to slash the dead girl's face with a knife. Apprehended in the 
process of attempting to assault the corpse, she is thrown out of the 
church. When she returns home, she releases her pampered birds that 
parrot loving endearments, forcing them to fend for themselves in the 
harsh winter snow. So ends her own parroting of normalcy. When Vio- 
let reemerges, her search for the power behind Dorcas Manfred's* mys- 
tique begins, and she questions everyone about the murdered girl. 
Finally ending in the home of Alice Manfred*, Dorcas's bourgeois, grief- 
stricken aunt, the quest forces Violet to confront the demons in her own 
past. This includes the suicide of Rose Dear*, her mother; Violet's own 
rejection of motherhood*; and her current maternal longing, which 
hides her dissatisfaction with herself. Fundamental to this is the ghost 
of Golden Gray*, the blond, mulatto child for whom her grandmother 
cared and who becomes the standard of beauty against which it is im- 
possible to compete. Dorcas becomes the reincarnation of Golden, and 
Joe's infidelity symbolizes the fact that both have rejected their black- 
ness for an alien model. However, through Alice's friendship, honesty, 
and laughter, Violet confronts the pain of her past. In choosing laugh- 
ter — her grandmother's model for survival, which is ultimately more 
complex and freeing than tears — she allows herself to move on from 
anger and victimization. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 


"The ordinary response to atrocities," writes trauma specialist and psy- 
chiatrist Judith Herman, "is to banish them from consciousness. Certain 
violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the 
meaning of the word unspeakable" (1). As Toni Morrison incorporates 
troubling scenes of violence* and death* in her art, she reveals that, as 
trauma theorists have shown, trauma can result not only from a single 


encounter with life-threatening violence but also from a prolonged ex- 
posure to physical danger or abuse. Exploring the catastrophic historical 
traumas suffered by African Americans, Morrison represents the un- 
speakable horrors of slavery* in works like Beloved*, and the terrors of 
the postslavery years and of racist and urban violence in works like Song 
of Solomon*, Jazz*, and Paradise*. She also depicts, in novel after novel, 
the trauma of defective or abusive parenting or relationships and the 
Black-on-Black violence that exists within the African American com- 
munity* in her jarring descriptions of child and spousal abuse, incest and 
infanticide*, self-mutilation and self immolation, suicide, and murder. 

Persistently and insistently, Morrison focuses on inter- and intraracial 
violence in her fiction, even at the risk of alienating some of her readers. 
In her first novel, The Bluest Eye*, Morrison describes the progressive 
traumatization of Pecola Breedlove*, who is rejected and physically 
abused by her mother and raped by her alcoholic and unpredictably vi- 
olent father. Ultimately damaged beyond repair, Pecola ends up living in 
the dissociated world of the severely traumatized individual, where she 
converses with her alter identity*, her only "friend." Directing attention 
to the traumas of African American life in Sula* , Morrison describes a 
world where whites are equated with the uncontrollable evils of life and 
where Black survival may come at the terrible cost of self-mutilation. 
From the opening account of Shadrack's* traumatic war experiences 
through depictions of Eva Peace's* and Sula Peace's* self-mutilation, 
Eva's setting fire to her son, Plum*, Chicken Little's* drowing, Hannah's 
fiery self-immolation, and the mass drowning of many members of the 
Bottom* community, Sula calls attention to the unexpected violence of 
African American life in scenes that evoke the dissociated world of the 
trauma victim — jarringly violent but also highly visual scenes that re- 
call the "sensory and iconic forms of memory*" associated with trauma, 
memories that focus on "fragmentary sensation, on image without 
context" (Herman 39, 38). 

In Song of Solomon, the search for African American roots leads to the 
recovery* of painful family* memories of white supremacist persecution 
and violence. Central to the family and cultural heritage of the Dead fam- 
ily is the traumatic and formative story of how Macon* and Pilate Dead*, 
as adolescents, witnessed the murder of their father, an emancipated slave, 
who was killed by the white men who stole his land. Imitating the racist 
violence perpetrated by whites against African Americans, Milkman 
Dead's* friend, Guitar Baines*, is a member of a terrorist organization 
that carries out revenge killings against whites. In a troubling scene of 
Black-on-Black violence, a deranged Guitar hunts down Milkman, intent 
on killing him, and he kills Pilate, who is presented as a wise woman of 
the folk and a natural healer. Despite the positive rhetoric of the closure, 
which describes Milkman's epiphanic moment of racial flight and pride 


in his Black roots, the fact that Milkman leaps into the waiting arms of 
Guitar suggests that this moment of heroic flight can also be read as a 
suicidal and nihilistic gesture. 

If Song of Solomon looks back in part to the traumatic legacy of slav- 
ery, Beloved bears witness, in a sustained and unrelenting way, to the 
horrors of the slave experience. In dramatizing the humiliations and trau- 
mas the slaves were forced to endure at the hands of their white oppres- 
sors, Morrison describes, with almost clinical precision, the effects of 
trauma on her ex-slave character, Sethe Suggs*, who remains haunted 
by her traumatic "rememories" — that is, her uncontrolled remembering 
and reliving of the emotionally painful experiences she suffered as a 
slave. In describing Sethe's diminished life, a life plagued by haunting 
rememories that become concretized in the ghost, Beloved presents what 
Judith Herman calls the "dialectic of trauma," the oscillation of "oppos- 
ing psychological states" — those of intrusion and constriction — which is 
"perhaps the most characteristic feature of the post-traumatic syn- 
dromes." In the aftermath of a traumatic experience, the individual "finds 
herself caught between the extremes of amnesia or of reliving the 
trauma, between floods of intense, overwhelming feeling and arid states 
of no feeling at all" (47). Because of the constant interruptions of the 
trauma, Herman explains, the traumatized individual is unable to resume 
the usual course of her life, and what would normally be a safe environ- 
ment may end up feeling dangerous because the trauma survivor cannot 
know for certain that she will not confront some reminder of the trauma. 

Caught up in the dialectic of trauma, Sethe lives a constricted life as 
she attempts to avoid reminders of and forget her past as a slave, and 
reestablish some control over her inner life. But Sethe's troubled past 
returns to haunt her in the form of the ghost of her dead daughter, the 
crawlingalready? baby Sethe killed by slitting her throat with a hand- 
saw to prevent the slave catchers from returning her to slavery. The un- 
predictable intrusions of the ghost convey not only the experience of 
intrusive memory — an "abnormal form of memory, which breaks spon- 
taneously into consciousness" — but also the "involuntariness," the 
"driven, tenacious" and "'daemonic' quality" of traumatic reenactments 
in intrusive phenomena (Herman 37, 41). Sethe's haunted house, like 
the psychic world inhabited by the trauma victim, is a dangerous and 
unsafe place where there is a loss of predictability and control. 

When Paul D Garner* finds his way to 124 Bluestone Road*, he seem- 
ingly ousts the ghostly presence from Sethe's trauma-haunted house. 
But the past is not so easily forgotten, and thus Beloved*, the embodi- 
ment of the ghost and the rememoried past, comes to life. Returning from 
the dead as a physically traumatized and emotionally abandoned child in 
an adult body, Beloved recalls descriptions of abused children* with her 
expressionless and empty eyes, her failed memory, and her disintegration 


anxiety — she fears that she will fly apart and end up in pieces. Beloved, 
who "disremembers" everything, initially reminds Paul D of the home- 
less, dazed ex-slaves he saw wandering the roads after the end of the Civil 
War. Beloved also represents the sexually abused slave woman, for both 
Sethe and Stamp Paid think that perhaps Beloved has escaped from the 
clutches of a white rapist, and Beloved herself describes her sexual abuse 
by white men, who called her "beloved" in the dark and "bitch" in the 
daylight. She also comes to embody the collective suffering and psychic 
woundedness of those who survived the torments of the slave ships, only 
to be victimized by slavery. 

Pointing to the terrible emotional costs of slavery's disruption of the 
mother-child bond, Beloved is a greedy ghost that needs a lot of love, and 
as the murdered child magically returned from the dead, she is desper- 
ately needy for Sethe's love and attention. When Sethe identifies Beloved 
as her dead but resurrected daughter, she thinks she can lay down her 
burdened past and live in peace. Instead, Sethe becomes involved in a 
deadly battle as she finds herself obsessing on and literally being taken 
over by the past. Wanting to make up for the past, Sethe strives to sat- 
isfy the insatiable Beloved, and the more Beloved takes, the more Sethe 
tries to justify the past. In a repeated drama, Sethe attempts to make 
amends for the infanticide and Beloved makes her pay for what she has 
done. Overtaken by the past, Sethe begins to waste away. 

Illustrating the potentially healing communality of those who have sur- 
vived a common traumatic experience, Beloved describes how thirty 
women from the community gather at 124 Bluestone Road and drive out 
Beloved with their shout-song. One of the unaccounted-for victims of slav- 
ery, Beloved is intentionally forgotten like a bad dream, for remembering 
her seems unwise. Beloved's story is not one to "pass on," the narrative 
insists. Yet, as critics have often commented, this repeated injunction is 
profoundly ironic, given the fact that in Beloved, Morrison has "passed 
on" the story of slavery and memorialized the lives of the forgotten 
"beloveds" unrecorded in history but living and lingering in the African 
American collective memory and cultural imagination. 

Continuing in Jazz and Paradise the fictional reconstruction of the 
African American historical and cultural legacy that she began in 
Beloved, Morrison tells the story of the migration* of the ex-slaves to 
Black Harlem* in Jazz and to Oklahoma in Paradise. Both novels look to 
a traumatic past of white persecution, as Morrison describes the escape 
of Jazz's Joe Trace* from his hometown in Virginia, which is burned to 
the ground by whites, or the desire of the 8-rock people in Paradise to 
live in a separatist community where they are safe from the random and 
organized violence of whites that swirls around them. Yet even as both 
novels describe the trauma of white racist violence, they also are centered 
around disturbing scenes of Black-on-Black violence. In Jazz, Morrison 


tells the story of the fifty-year-old Joe Trace's murder of his eighteen- 
year-old lover, Dorcas Manfred*, while in Paradise she describes the vi- 
olent massacre of five women by nine Black men — men who imitate the 
white man they think they have outfoxed by demonizing and scape- 
goating those they find unworthy and different. 

Intent on staging scenes of inter- and intraracial violence in her novels, 
Morrison seems driven to speak the unspeakable. If Morrison deliberately 
evokes the oral quality of gossip through her use of narrative fragments 
in the repeated but constantly interrupted telling of her characters' sto- 
ries, she also is an author caught up in the desire to tell and not tell, which 
typifies our culture's approach to trauma and also recalls the way trauma 
victims tell their stories. In Beloved, for example, the narrative tells and 
retells in a circuitous way the story of the infanticide just as Sethe circles 
around the subject when she tries to explain to Paul D why she killed her 
infant daughter. The opening passage of Jazz, which is meant to jolt read- 
ers, describes Joe's murder of Dorcas, and then the unfolding narrative cir- 
cles around this central act of violence, looking into the trauma-ridden 
pasts of the characters in an attempt to explain why the murder happened. 
In a similar way, Paradise opens with a dramatic description of a horrific 
crime — the attack on the Convent* women by nine men of Ruby, Okla- 
homa* — and then the narrative slowly and circuitously spirals around 
this violent event in an attempt to make sense of the present by looking 
at the past lives of both victims and perpetrators. 

If in Morrison's novels we find evidence of the desire to bear witness 
to the trauma that exists in the lives of African Americans, in Morrison's 
insistent aestheticizing of violence we also find evidence of her desire to 
artistically repair the racial wounds she has exposed. Counteracting de- 
pictions of white oppression and Black violence, Morrison's novels dram- 
atize the potentially healing power of the sense of safety and connection 
offered by the African American community and by what Morrison calls 
the African American ancestors*: wise and benevolent elder figures like 
Pilate in Song of Solomon, Baby Suggs* in Beloved, and Lone DuPres* 
in Paradise. Morrison, then, seems intent on effecting a cultural cure 
through her art. Yet the tenuousness of that cure is revealed not only by 
her repeated depictions of the intergenerational transmission of victim- 
ization but also by her constant restagings of scenes of violence in each 
successive novel as she confronts in her fiction the historical legacy of 
slavery and the painful collective and private traumas suffered by Black 
Americans in the race-divided American society. See also Approaches to 
Morrison's Work: Psychoanalytical; History; Race; Shame; Whiteness. 

References: J. Brooks Bouson, Quiet as It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and 
Race in the Novels ofToni Morrison (2000); Judith Herman, Trauma and 


Recovery (1992); Jill Matus, Toni Morrison (1998); Naomi Morgenstern, 
"Mother's Milk and Sister's Blood: Trauma and the Neoslave Narrative," 
Differences: A Journal of Teminist Cultural Studies 8: 2 (1996); Laurie 
Vickroy, "Beloved and Shoah: Witnessing the Unspeakable," The Com- 
paratist 22 (1998). 

J. Brooks Bouson 


Toni Morrison is highly skilled in the use of trickster figures and a mas- 
ter trickster herself. As a character in a story, the trickster is a complex 
literary figure most often found in ethnic literature, a figure whose 
shape is most often determined by its cultural context. However, the 
trickster can also be the author who, as the storyteller, may purposely 
outwit or mislead the reader in order to create a specific, final narra- 
tive effect. 

In folklore* the trickster figure is usually an animal such as a rabbit, 
coyote, or monkey, that represents an underling and uses its skill and cun- 
ning to outwit a superior — that is, a smaller, often weaker creature best- 
ing a larger, more powerful adversary. Tricksters are also found in mythic 
belief systems such as the Greek and Roman versions of the tale of 
Prometheus, who steals fire from Mount Olympus to save humankind, 
and Hermes, who was born of a deception and is the gatekeeper and guide 
to the Underworld. The most common trait among trickster figures is that 
each is a model of nonconformity used to outwit, disrupt, or comment on 
conformity and the agents of conformity. The kind of verbal labyrinth 
created by the trickster figure, both as character and as storyteller, is a pri- 
mary, cultural defense against such racial and human problems as have 
been inflicted on African Americans since the first event of slavery*. 

Trickster figures tend to fall under two categories: the folkloric char- 
acter, such as Anansi, Br'er Rabbit, and Iktuma, and the trickster as re- 
ligious deity, including Hermes, Loki, and Esu. As a folkloric hero, the 
trickster manipulates the nature of the world either for personal gain or 
for magnanimous reasons. As a god, the trickster dwells comfortably in 
a realm between concepts, categories, and rigid dogma as the embodi- 
ment of individuality, satire, parody, irony, indeterminacy, magic, am- 
biguity, sexuality*, chance, uncertainty, and contrasting dualities, such 
as disruption and reconciliation, betrayal and loyalty, closure and dis- 
closure, encasement and rupture, represented as a single figure (Gates 
6). Every trickster, regardless of any type of distinction, exposes norms, 
ideology, and categorization as static, and therefore flawed, arbitrary 
human constructs. 


Practically, the trickster deity is the most powerful among the god fig- 
ures. She rules communication so much that, for example, in the Fon re- 
ligion of West Africa, none of the gods can communicate without Legba 
acting as interpreter. It is said that Esu Elegbara (Esu), the trickster deity 
of the Yoruba, carries a calabash full of ase, the substance the supreme 
deity used to create the universe. African trickster tales were brought to 
the United States by slaves, who were separated from family*, forbidden 
to speak their own languages, compelled to do hard labor, and kept illit- 
erate. In the African archetypal pattern, the trickster manipulates the 
larger animals not only to obtain food or to survive, but also to satisfy 
other fundamental human cravings: power, status, wealth, and sexual 
prowess. Also common in African tradition, the trickster often proves to 
be as cruel and merciless as his or her opponent is. These tales became a 
way for an oppressed people to express and endure their pain. Although 
the stories were recounted out of sorrow and pain, they transcended the 
environment and turned many an unbearable day or event into one of 
smiles, chuckles, and, sometimes, laughter. In this way, the slave became 
the trickster who confounded the oppressor. These same methods were 
also translated into real-world actions when slaves began escaping and 
used various trickster maneuvers to convey information about the route 
of the Underground Railroad that often led slaves to freedom in North- 
ern states and Canada. For decades, these myriad stories were the medium 
in which African Americans instinctively sought protection and reas- 
surance from a hostile world and uncertain life. 

The works of Toni Morrison reflect more than her mastery of folk- 
loric figures, most especially that of the trickster; her stories also exhibit 
her ultimate skill of author as trickster. In an important critical study, 
Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, Trudier Harris dis- 
cusses Morrison's novels as a series of reversals, inversions, and sub- 
versions of well-known folktales and the rhetorical strategies of the folk 
narrative. According to Harris, in The Bluest Eye* Morrison inverts the 
lesson of "The Ugly Duckling"; in Sula* she subverts the traditional 
fairytale structure; in Song of Solomon* she reverses the Odyssean 
journey; in Tar Baby* she subverts the tales of "Snow White" and 
"Sleeping Beauty"; and in Beloved* she reverses and undermines the 
traditional ghost story*. In Writing Tricksters, an equally important crit- 
ical text on the subject of tricksters in ethnic literatures, Jeanne Rosier 
Smith observes that for Morrison, "the trickster offers a way to chal- 
lenge traditional versions of African American female identity and imag- 
ine new alternatives" (29). 

However, perhaps more important is the fact that Morrison does not 
simply blur the common designs of certain story patterns; instead, she 
continues to confound and confuse — in true trickster fashion — the 


familiar narrative models by replacing the European American arche- 
types with African and African American folkloric paradigms. In doing 
so, Morrison completes a perfect act of duplicity and becomes the ulti- 
mate author-as-trickster-figure. 

The Morrison novel that most obviously incorporates the trickster fig- 
ure is Tar Baby. The title alone compels a comparison with the famous 
folktale of the same name, a story that features Br'er Rabbit first as trick- 
ster, then as victim, and finally, depending on the cultural version, as the 
one who escapes or who is eaten. Son* is Morrison's adaptation of Br'er 
Rabbit in Tar Baby, but she makes more subtle uses of the tale as well. 
It is necessary to note that the ending of the white American version of 
the Tar Baby* story differs significantly from that of the African Amer- 
ican. In the popular version of the slave's tale, Br'er Rabbit becomes com- 
pletely stuck to the tar baby built by the animals he has attempted to 
trick and, at the very least, is totally at their mercy, whereas he is clearly 
able to free himself and escape in the white version. The Tar Baby tale 
influences the psychology of the narrative structure of Morrison's novel 
and becomes the central trope as certain of the characters confront per- 
sonal versions of the "tar baby" as psychic traps. 

In addition, the motif of "masks" is an important thread in the figura- 
tive fabric of many African American stories, including Tar Baby. Masks, 
emotional and psychological, function as variations of the trickster de- 
vice. Morrison explains that a "mask sometimes exists when Black peo- 
ple talk to white people" (Ruas 218). A smile or laughter acts as a veil 
that allows white people to see or hear the respect and acquiescence they 
expect from Black people and masks the true, private feelings of rage, 
hate, and scorn felt by the Black people for the whites — in turn, the Black 
people become trickster figures, masking their true feelings and desires. 
However, in the end, one point Morrison makes about this "masking" is 
that it turns on the trickster by privileging the expectations of the whites 
over the voices of the Blacks, thereby tricking the trickster. On the other 
hand, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., points out the "multiplicity of meanings" 
encoded in African American folklore (19). Such reverberation of mean- 
ing allows Morrison to question not only the "family" arrangements at 
work in the household of Margaret* and Valerian Street* but also the 
values taught to Jadine Childs* that deny her the cultural roots she seeks. 
Usually the silence that accompanies such masking does not challenge 
cultural domination, but rather helps to perpetuate it. However, in 
African American folklore the mask, a sign of the trickster, is considered 
a subversive strategy that enables survival at the same time that it cri- 
tiques structures of domination. Moreover, the trickster figure generally 
has a mental agility that most often eases his passage through many a 
treacherous and dangerous world, usually in spite of, as well as at the ex- 
pense of, the more powerful, dominant adversary. In Tar Baby, Morri- 


son's inversion of the elements of masking demonstrates how the use of 
masks can fool the trickster and, rather than protecting the wearer, be- 
come a harrier. 

Other tales that circulated during the time of slavery and the century 
that followed focused on the myth of flying Africans*. Such stories re- 
count the belief that native-born Africans brought to the colonies had a 
special power, a secret word that, when uttered, allowed them to lift them- 
selves from the burden of slavery and fly home to Africa. Later, African 
Americans came to view this tale as an allegory suggesting that although 
they are bound by shackles of bigotry and inequality, their spirits can 
never be enslaved by the dominant culture. Achieving such freedom is 
truly a trickster's coup. In Song of Solomon, Morrison elaborately blends 
the folktale of the flying people with the contemporary, ongoing, African 
American quest for cultural identity, made more difficult for Black chil- 
dren* because their fathers are so often absent — having "flown away" 
from the family. During the decades of slavery, the concept of family* 
was virtually nonexistent for the Africans and their descendants. The 
men were merely sires and the women breeders of more slaves. How- 
ever, Morrison presents the modern flight of Black fathers as strong, ad- 
venturous events; for although the fathers may fly away, they leave their 
children with the need to remember, to sing, and to continue the story — 
family roots are defined by memories, songs, and oral history. This reaf- 
firmation of history* in Song of Solomon and its connection to the pres- 
ent is an example of Morrison the author as trickster, signifying on the 
reader's assumptions and expectations, turning an apparent negative into 
a positive model. 

In The Bluest Eye, the trick is on Pecola Breedlove*, a young Black girl 
whose acceptance of the dominant culture's definition of ideal beauty — 
blue-eyed, blond, "Barbie" — is what destroys her. In this novel, Pecola, 
the Ugly Duckling — dark-eyed, brown child — does NOT grow up to be 
a lovely, white swan. 

With Sula, Morrison has created a main character whose "complete 
disregard for societal values, suggests her affinities to the trickster" 
(Smith 115). Ironically, Sula's* social role is clearest at the time of her 
death*; the friction she caused served as adhesive, keeping the commu- 
nity* together. Jeanne Rosier Smith notes, "The community's response 
to Sula highlights the anarchic trickster's crucial role in maintaining a 
system of social relations. ... Without Sula's scorn to 'rub up against,' 
even motherhood* becomes meaningless" (117). 

Beloved is one novel seldom mentioned in discussions of the trickster 
tradition and Toni Morrison, but not because it does not contain such el- 
ements. This novel is arguably the most powerful and complex of Mor- 
rison's works: it portrays social injustice, corruption, guilt, despair, secret 
sin, alienation, and retribution — all underscored by a chorus of timeless 


voices. The trickster motif is everywhere, subtly applied, as if a curtain 
of gauze though which the reader views the narrative events. Trudier 
Harris declares, "In her amorality, Beloved* shares kinship with some of 
the tricksters of tradition — ever guided by personal desires. . . . Such fig- 
ures are recognizable by the power they wield. . . . With her supernatu- 
ral dimension, Beloved has no obvious limits" (160-61). 

In the African American literary tradition, it is the female trickster, 
more often than the male, who employs linguistic trickery and ironic 
layering of meanings, as well as the one who articulates and subverts 
prevailing models of femininity, family, and community. A fundamen- 
tal element of Morrison's style is her strong trickster aesthetic, which 
she augments with a powerful sense of what it means to be African 
American. Toni Morrison weaves details, memory, dreams, history, and 
tropes into stories so rich in texture that identifying a single thread is 
an impossible task. Behind the mask of the author, deep within the fab- 
ric of her complex narratives, we find Toni Morrison, storyteller and 
trickster extraordinaire. See also African Myth, Use of; Conjure; Ghost 
Story, Use of; Narrative Voice; Oral Tradition. 

References: Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifying Monkey (1998); 
Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison (1991); 
Charles Ruas, Conversations with American Writers (1985); Jeanne 
Rosier Smith, Writing Tricksters: Mythic Gambols in American Ethnic 
Literature (1997). 

Cynthia Whitney Hallett 

True Belle (Jazz) 

Violet Trace's* maternal grandmother. A slave deeded to Vera Louise 
Gray* when the latter is expelled from Virginia for her taboo pregnancy 
with a Black child, True Belle is forced to desert her own family and live 
in Baltimore. There she functions as the primary caretaker of Golden 
Gray*, becoming his first true love (which reveals the complexity of the 
bonds between white children and their Black caretakers). Although 
Golden is emotionally bound to True Belle, she will always remain a pos- 
session for him, fundamentally tied to providing for his many needs. On 
the other hand, True Belle, in her adoration of Golden, performs a dis- 
service to her own kin by bringing tales of the mixed-race child to the 
rural Violet, who becomes enamored and forever measures herself 
against his privilege. See also Jazz. 

Caroline Brown 


Truelove, Pallas/Divine (Paradise) 

Title character of one of Paradise's nine sections, and presumably the 
white girl whom the men of Ruby, Oklahoma*, shoot first when they 
raid the Convent*, Pallas arrives at the Convent in 1975, sixteen years 
old and pregnant. Leaving behind her father and her senior year of high 
school, the wealthy Pallas ("Divine" is her mother's nickname) runs away 
with Carlos, the high school janitor (who is "really" a sculptor), to visit 
her artist mother, whom she hasn't seen in years. After a few months of 
bohemian lifestyle and lots of pot, Pallas sees her mother and Carlos mak- 
ing love in the grass under the stars. Trying to escape the memory*, she 
wrecks her car and is chased by two men into a swampish lake. Hiding 
in the darkness, only her face above the black water, Pallas hopes the soft 
fingers around her legs are only bottom grass and friendly fish. After es- 
caping the men, a mute, dirty, traumatized Pallas hitches a ride in a pickup 
truck. Believing the girl has been "bothered," the Mexican woman in the 
truck takes her to the Demby clinic, where Billie Delia Cato* finds her 
in the alley, standing over her own vomit. Billie Delia takes her to the 
Convent. After some months, Pallas briefly goes home to her father, only 
to return to the Convent. Delivered of a baby boy, Pallas's "loud-dream- 
ing" allows her to exorcise the hated and haunting vision of her mother 
and Carlos, and to rid herself of the memory of entwining tendrils in the 
dark water. Although Dovey Morgan* and Lone DuPres* both confirm 
that Pallas is dead after the attack on the Convent, her body disappears 
with the others. However, we see her again at her mother's, dressed in a 
long, flowing rose madder-and-umber skirt, sword in hand, baby carried 
on her chest, looking for a pair of shoes she had left behind. She rides off 
in a car full of women. See also Paradise. 

Julie Cary Nerad 

Twain, Mark, Influence of 

Since its inception, American literature has dealt with themes of jour- 
ney, search for identity*, and ascertainment of one's place in society. 
Mark Twain (1835-1910) in particular made these themes his own, ex- 
ploring them in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Tragedy 
of Pudd'nhead Wilson, as well as in his short story "A True Story." Like- 
wise, Toni Morrison's fiction embraces these thematic structures. Song 
of Solomon* , Beloved* , Jazz*, and Paradise* all include transformative 
journeys in which characters, and subsequently the readers, search for 
identity. Both authors consciously propel their readers toward what is 
often an unwelcome confrontation with the impact of racism on Amer- 
ican society. 


In Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn we have two journeys 
running parallel — Huck's and Jim's — that take us along on their search 
for freedom and a final sense of identity. While Huck seeks to leave his 
abusive father behind, he in fact finds himself on a trek of discovering 
who he truly is, as well as something even more profound. Along the 
way, Huck's journey takes us toward a greater understanding of the is- 
sues characterizing the antebellum South*, issues that eventually tore 
the country apart in the Civil War. Jim, who shortly after the novel be- 
gins makes the perilous decision to run away rather than remain a slave, 
initiates a journey to freedom, a quest that in the novel's latter portion 
shifts from the literal desire for individual freedom to that of the free- 
dom of choice and identity. 

These characters take readers along on their journey of discovery and 
revelation so that we can appreciate the sensitivity, the dilemma, and the 
crisis of identity that they themselves experience. Twain takes us on their 
journeys to compel us to confront the wound of race* and lack of iden- 
tity from which America still suffers. He tackles this theme again and 
boldly moves on to the forbidden issue of miscegenation in The Tragedy 
of Pudd'nhead Wilson. Once again Twain's primary character is a slave, 
not a runaway like Jim, but a slave mother named Roxana, or Roxy. When 
confronted with the threat of being separated from her son, Chambers, 
after both of them are sold down the river at the whim of her master — 
and with no opportunity to express herself and certainly no choice — 
Roxy, like many other enslaved mothers, elects to kill herself and her son 
in order to become free of the abhorrent reality of being enslaved. 

While preparing for the murder/suicide, Roxy devises another plan 
that essentially undermines the South's entire mythology of slavery*, 
intelligence, and environment. Roxy switches the identity of her natu- 
ral son with that of her master's child, effectively undercutting estab- 
lished notions of prejudice, conviction, and convention. 

In both of these novels by Twain, the audience is left with more ques- 
tions than answers. Although race is a key theme in each of the works, 
it is not the overriding one. The pervasive theme, underscored by the 
journey motif, is one of identity and relevance — self-worth in an Amer- 
ican society that values neither for some individuals. 

Like Twain, Morrison strives to engage her characters and her readers 
with issues that they (and we) would much rather avoid. Her narratives 
allow us to work ourselves into the fiction so that we can understand the 
characters and the situations in which they find themselves. With Twain's 
and Morrison's characters, what we can be certain of is that the journey 
has had a profound impact on them as well as on those around them. But 
as to the ultimate impact or long-lasting effect of the journey, we cannot 
be certain. And more important, we are left with the question, Are we 
supposed to have this satisfaction at the conclusion of the novels ? As with 


Twain's Huck, Jim, and Roxy, so Morrison's Milkman Dead* in Song of 
Solomon, Sethe Suggs* in Beloved, Violet Trace* in Jazz, and the women 
as well as the inhabitants of Haven, Oklahoma*, in Paradise all are 
searching for identity and relevance. Each of them is on a quest that is 
most definitely still in progress as the novels conclude. 

Milkman searches for two answers — his identity as a man and his iden- 
tity as an African American male. He needs to understand himself in the 
larger society of men and women, as well as in the society of African 
American men. And as with Twain's Roxy, Morrison compels her audi- 
ence to identify, or consubstantiate, with Milkman and his dilemma. 

Similarly, Sethe's journey in Beloved begins before the novel starts 
and continues beyond its conclusion. We are literally riveted to every 
page, every image, every word and thought that Sethe, another enslaved 
mother, utters, for her literal and psychological wandering represents the 
journey motif at its most effective. Like Twain's Roxy, Sethe seeks free- 
dom for herself and her children*. And like Roxy, Sethe's angst and rage 
against the degradation of the institution itself, as well as the race per- 
petuating that prejudice, emerges clearly. 

What Twain and Morrison do so well with this motif is to engage the 
imaginations and emotions of the audience fully and completely. A sim- 
ilar reading experience based on the journey motif develops in Jazz and 
Paradise. As the characters are left to wrestle with profound issues, so are 
we. Sensitive topics such as race, identity, relevance, and self-worth reel 
in our minds, and will not simply vanish when the reading experience 
ends; these issues, though they are fundamental, remain troublesome. 

No African American man or woman in other popular fictional works 
by white authors in Twain's time was given voice or presence — much less 
identity and relevance. With Huck Finn, Twain portrays a man who seeks 
freedom to be visible, to unite with his family, and simply to be. In Pud- 
d'nhead Wilson we see a woman seeking ultimate freedom for herself 
and her son who realizes along the way that mother love alone cannot 
guarantee a happy ending. In each case these characters exercise their 
right to voice themselves regardless of the consequences, even to the ex- 
tent that they employ what might be identified as the rhetoric of silence 
which many persons of color adopt as a means of actually exerting voice 
and controlling a rather tenuous situation. 

Like Twain, Morrison renders characters who are essentially margin- 
alized by a country that refuses to allow them voice, presence, and place. 
Whereas Twain's setting places his characters directly within slavery, 
Morrison's characters should be beyond these issues and themes, but they 
are not. Like their Twain counterparts, Morrison's Milkman, Sethe, Vi- 
olet, and the characters of Paradise have all suffered marginalization and 
invisibility at the hands of a society that would rather not have them. 
They must make their own meaning and find their own voices in spite 


of their social and racial position. As with the journey motif, all of these 
individuals are still in the process of asserting their voices as the novels 
conclude, and the readers are left with the task of continuing the dia- 
logue, regardless of the obvious discomfort. 

What Twain and Morrison bring to American fiction that few other 
American authors do is the compulsion to look again at characters, their 
values, and the situations they encounter as we revise the way in which 
we read and understand fiction, particularly American fiction. We are 
fundamentally transformed by the reading experience and likely will 
never be the same again, as we are not meant to be. Great fiction com- 
pels us to act upon what we read, and both Twain and Morrison capture 
voices that we do not hear enough in situations we would rather not con- 
front, even now. 

Jocelyn A. Chadwick-Joshua 



Violence in Toni Morrison's works serves a dual function: on the one hand 
it can lead to knowledge of self in a historical context, and on the other 
hand to self-annihilation. While those who escape violation and trespass 
celebrate integrity and dignity, those who commit violent acts, whether 
intentionally or not, often have internalized the lessons of racist hatred 
too well and have appropriated white ideals of beauty, community*, 
worth, and love. The trope of violence that informs Black life from the 
antebellum period well into the twentieth century is counterbalanced by 
dreams and folklore*; dreams foreshadow violence and suggest the moral 
complexity that underlines those who commit violent acts, and folklore 
serves to undermine white realism with the traditions and myths* of 
Black culture. The tension between fleeing the past and taking flight to- 
ward, literally and figuratively, the future has roots in Toni Morrison's 
earliest full-length work, The Bluest Eye*, and is developed in subsequent 

Written from the point of view of nine-to-twelve-year-old Claudia 
MacTeer*, whose voice alternates between that of adolescent and that of 
grown woman, The Bluest Eye challenges the Dick and Jane fable learned 
in childhood readers, to the detriment of Black children in rural Ohio in 
the 1930s. Claudia comes to renounce the lies perpetrated in these read- 
ers because her parents have instructed her in their deception and in- 
stilled in her a sense of self-worth, pride, and the value of Black life and 
culture. The young Pecola Breedlove*, who counters Claudia, learns an 


entirely different and violent message. From her mother, Pauline 
Breedlove*, Pecola cultivates a disdain for herself because she is not 
white, and from her father, Cholly Breedlove*, who rapes her, she learns 
the unspoken lesson that the Black female body is to blame for the ways 
that it is violated. Pecola's desire for blue eyes, which leads to madness, 
is framed as a destructive message of the espousing of white ideals and 
the subsequent inability to comprehend that these ideals are achieved 
through Black powerlessness and racist attitudes, which have a histori- 
cal root. 

Violence and violation of the Black female body are mirrored in folk- 
lore, and Claudia remembers 1941, the year that Pecola's incestuous child 
is stillborn, as the year the marigolds would not bloom. Not only do vi- 
olence and premonition occur in the strange phenomena of Nature, but 
names and naming prove ominous. Pecola's surname is Breedlove, sig- 
naling an irony that she is born into a family which breeds something 
other than love, namely, a violent contempt for Black beauty and Black 
life. Counter to the Breedlove family is the MacTeer family, whose chil- 
dren*, Claudia and Frieda*, have the protective love of their parents to 
caution against sexual trespass. As a result they learn to value their own 
beauty and to rage against Maureen Peal, the light-skinned girl of afflu- 
ent parents who shows up at school with new clothes and money in her 
pocket. They rage against her not because of who she is but because of 
the white values she represents. 

The theme of violence as a current that runs through Black female re- 
lationships — between mother and daughter, sisters, and friends — is fur- 
ther developed in Sula*. Sula Peace* is the daughter of a free-loving 
mother, Hannah, and the granddaughter of Eva Peace*, a woman who is 
believed to have lain down on railroad tracks after her husband deserted 
her, sacrificing a leg for insurance money. This narrative largely focuses 
on the intimate relationship between girlhood friends, Sula and Nel 
Wright*. Much as their households differ — Sula's mother is free in her 
sexuality, while Nel's mother is prim, proper, and repressed — the child- 
hood friends differ. Yet without the other, each is incomplete. 

Violence and dream are embedded in Sula in ways that comment on 
the struggle for self-actualization in a climate of racial hatred that exiles 
Blacks to the Bottom* and complicates their interpersonal relationships. 
The hills of Medallion, Ohio*, are nicknamed the Bottom because a white 
landholder, wishing to occupy the fertile Ohio valley, man's duped an il- 
literate former slave into believing the rocky hillside was the Bottom of 
Heaven, the space closer to God, and hence better land for cultivating. 
Yet nothing will grow here. The men, who can find no self-sufficiency in 
the land and no work in the town, tend to flee the Bottom. Economic dis- 
enfranchisement wreaks havoc on Black households, and the violence 
done is apparent in the absence of men within the family unit. In fact, 


Nel's husband, Jude Greene*, deserts her following Sula's return to the 
Bottom after a ten-year absence, which coincides with the couple's wed- 
ding anniversary. When Sula takes Jude to bed, not because she has de- 
signs on him but because she can, her friendship with Nel is severed. But 
Sula is unapologetic. In her long exodus from the Bottom, and in her free 
and easy sexuality that parallels her mother's, she has learned lessons 
about intimate relationships that are lost on Nel. What she finds through 
education and city life is that no matter where she goes, the position of 
Black men and women is riddled with the violence of racist hatred. Men 
and women are everywhere the same, but friendship between women, 
she learns too late, cannot be easily duplicated or repaired. 

When Sula, the woman with the rose birthmark that stems above her 
eye — a marking that Morrison borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's 
short story "The Birthmark," in which the main character meets a fate 
that Sula's parallels — dies, the Bottom's inhabitants breathe a sigh of 
relief. Her death*, much like her life, proves ominous. Her passing, 
which follows a hard winter of starvation, is followed by National Sui- 
cide Day*, a holiday established by Shadrack*, a World War I veteran 
who has gone AWOL. On one particular day of the year, Shadrack 
marches through the streets with a cowbell, inviting Bottom folks to kill 
themselves because it is easier than living in a world that disdains Black- 
ness. When the Bottom folks finally parade behind Shadrack, their join- 
ing him is as much mockery as it is relief from the pall Sula has cast 
over the community, for Sula is the pariah in their midst and her pass- 
ing leaves them with no ominous force by which to gauge their own 
conduct and construct their own lives. He leads them down to the white 
valley and to the entrance of the tunnel whose construction, begun in 
1927, was rapidly abandoned. Abandoned, this project failed both to pro- 
vide Blacks with work as builders and to connect the Bottom to com- 
merce in the nearby areas. When the tunnel suddenly collapses in a 
quick January thaw, the inhabitants meet painful death through suffo- 
cation. On this violent note of irony and ineffectualness, the figurative 
made manifest, the novel ends. 

Shadrack cannot predict the deaths of so many Bottom people, yet he 
has witnessed violence and death from the beginning. He has done so 
both in the war and in his bearing silent testimony to Nel and Sula's 
drowning of Chicken Little* when the women were young girls. Baiting 
the stammering Chicken Little with the promise of vision, Sula lures him 
to the river's edge, swings him around, and, losing her grip mid-flight, 
releases him into the muddy water that soon swallows him. Whereas 
Sula has protected Nel in the past (saving them both from the taunts of 
the Irish boys who block their direct path homeward from school by cut- 
ting off the tip of her finger), now Nel "covers" for Sula. She encourages 
Sula to confront Shadrack with what he saw, but his answer of "always" 


suggests he has seen everything and nothing at the same time. And so 
the secrecy, begun by witnessing violence in girlhood, begins. 

As in Morrison's other works, violence breeds violence. Chicken Lit- 
tle's death is followed by Eva's burning of her heroin-addicted son Plum*, 
whom she rescued at birth by sacrificing her last bit of lard, lovingly but 
violently shoving it up his anus, to pull from him the hard stools of his 
constipation. Later she throws herself from her third-story window when 
she sees Hannah, her daughter whose dress caught fire while she was 
canning, twitching to her death. What Eva cannot comprehend is that 
Sula watched her own mother dance and burn, fascinated by motion, 
much as she was in Chicken Little's drowning. Yet no one character 
clearly perpetrates evil here. Instead, blame and responsibility must be 
understood as a consequence of the post- World War II era in which many 
claims were made on behalf of equality but few were fulfilled. 

Much as Sula throws into relief the nature and origin of friendship, 
kinship, and physical relationships, and argues for violence as both inti- 
macy and rupture, Morrison's third novel, Song of Solomon"', explores 
the tension of violence that unites and divides friends, lovers, and fam- 
ily* members. Here, violence threatens to reveal the ugliness behind the 
poorly knit divides between Blacks who have property and money, those 
who do not, and the whites who render them nameless, or literally mis- 
name them. Again, an unlikely friendship is at the core of the novel, this 
time between two men, Guitar Baines* and Milkman Dead*. Both are 
present (Milkman in utero) at the death of Mr. Robert Smith*, a low- 
level Black insurance agent who collects policy premiums and who yearns 
to sprout wings and fly. That Mr. Smith believes himself capable of such 
flight is sheer lunacy. However, as Morrison urges, we must focus on the 
desire rather than its improbable actualization. When Mr. Smith throws 
himself off the cupola of No Mercy hospital*, where Blacks are not al- 
lowed entry, Guitar watches. From this opening moment of violent self- 
destruction, the novel is full of distraction and tension. 

A violence in misreading others' actions informs the text, perpetuating 
further trespass and urging secrecy that does no good. For instance, in cul- 
tivating his future father-in-law's favor, the man who courts Milkman's 
mother, Macon Dead*, misreads his importance as a man of property. His 
wife's father accepts Macon as suitor only because his daughter's own af- 
fection toward him seems out of proportion. When Macon Dead finds his 
wife, Ruth, naked, or in what she later argues is a "slip" (pun intended), 
sucking the fingers of her dead father, his desire for his wife, which has 
root more in his infatuation with middle-class standards, becomes disgust 
with her as a body. And when Milkman learns that his name was given 
to him by his father's lackey, Freddie, who steals up to the family window 
one day and observes Ruth nursing Milkman far past infancy, he, too, be- 
gins to wish his mother ill. 


Violence occurs in this novel both within the family — the suggested 
violence of incest and trespass, of bodies revealed and concealed at inap- 
propriate moments — and within the community. Milkman falls in love 
with Hagar Dead*, but he cares little that the woman he beds is his 
cousin. Yet, in the ordering of nature that concurs with cultural concepts 
of appropriate sexual behavior, no good can come of this relationship. 
When the thwarted Hagar tries to kill Milkman because he has forsaken 
her, we read not only the violence of trespassing against natural order 
but also the pain that ensues when intimacy sours, love abandons, and 
worlds divided, clash. The parting of lovers, cousin to cousin, mirrors the 
rupture between sister and brother, Pilate Dead* and Macon. Death takes 
on a force and presence here: Macon wishes his sister Pilate, who is an 
embarrassment to him because she takes no stock in material possessions 
and disgraces his "name" by living vicariously, dead; Ruth wishes her 
son's cousin dead; and Pilate protects both granddaughter and nephew 
from the complicated wrath of others' murderous intentions, to which 
she herself is not immune. The violence of self-interest clashes with 
preservation of the community, and this violence is further played out 
in the friendship between Black males, Milkman and his friend Guitar. 

When Guitar joins the Seven Days*, a group that avenges whites' ran- 
dom violence against Blacks by acting out in kind, Milkman stalls in af- 
firming his friend's actions. Milkman, whose disdain of Hagar, it can be 
argued, urged her own death, proves mute on the point of noninvoked 
hatred, or murder for the sake of murder. That Hagar despises him be- 
cause he rejected her, and therefore wants to kill him, he can understand, 
but that Guitar would blindly buy into a militant Black ideology with- 
out weighing actions and deeds, cause and consequence, he cannot. What 
Morrison confronts here is the espousing of ideology without thinking 
through the consequence of belief. From her vantage point, the Black 
Power movement of the 1960s gave rise to a certain militant separatist 
agenda that had h