Toni Morrison: Contribution as American Novelist

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      African-American novelist, Toni Morrison (1931-2019) was born in Ohio to a spirituality-oriented family. She attended Harvard in Washington DC and worked as senior editor in a major Washington publishing house and as a distinguished professor as various universities. Morrison’s richly woven fiction has gained her international acclaim. In compelling, large-spirited novels, she traces the complex identities of black people in a universal manner.

      Her early work The Bluest Eye (1970) has a simple premise. A narrator Claudia McTeer, tells the story of a strong-willed young black girl, Pecola Breedlove who survives abusive father who harshly abuses on sexual grounds. Pecola believes that her dark eyes have magically become blue, and that they will make her lovable. But, it is not the truth of the matter. She is driven inward by the norms of the white society to shame and destruction of the self. Claudia, the narrator, finds herself directed outward her to anger against the white society a finding a convenient scapegoat. A focus for anger, for instance, ‘the white baby dolls’ she cuts up and destroys. The novel deconstructs the image of the white society as the site of normality and exposes the realist’s of life in an impoverished African American community. Morrison has said that she was creating her own sense of identity as a writer through this novel. “I was Pecola Claudia, everybody”. The novel is about ‘‘the trauma of racism...the racist and victim, the severe fragmentation of the self.”

      In Sula (1973) she shows a black community evolving and shaping itself with its own cultural sources and elaborate social structure. She rescues it from a kind of historical anonymity. In this novel, she describes the strong friendship of two women. Morrison paints African American women as unique, fully individual characters rather than as stereotypes. Through the lies of two woman characters, Sula Peace and Nel Wright, in turn, she opens up areas of intimate relationships between them. She charts the differences and rifts also between them.

      Morrison’s Song of Soloman ( 1977) sustains her commitment to “names that and meaning’ the evolution of distinctive black identity and community through the habit of language. It follows a Black man, Milkman dead, and his complex relations with his family and community. It is complex tapestry of memory and myth. It tells the story of a young man, Milkman Dead who comes to know himself through return to his origins. He is fascinated by the legends, surrounding his family from the slave times. Through his exploration of the past, he discovers how to live in present. The novel has won several prestigious awards.

      In Tar Baby (1981) Morrison deals with black and white relations. The novel peruses the themes of ancestry and identity, how African Americans come to know themselves. It is done through the contrast of two characters, Jadine Childs, a model and William Green, a wanderer. Attracted to each other, one tries to rescue the other from assimilation, the other from separation. In course of time, the love affair is aborted. Neither changes for the other. Technically, Morrison leaves the novel for open debate.

      Beloved (1987), the most important novel, is an extraordinary mixture of narrative genres - realism, gothic, and African American folklore. The slave narrative internalizes slavery and its consequences. It is the ranching story of a woman who murders her children mercilessly rather than allows them to live as slaves. The novel emphasizes the centrality of the black and in particular, the black female experience. There is involvement of the reader in the exhumation of a secret that is also narrative secret - the emotional intensity of the novel. Jazz (1992) is set in Harlem in 1926. The distinctive mark is the innovative narration of the main story of female narrator about her fallibility. Paradise (1998), set in 1976, describes the intimate contacts between the communities - one a black township and other, the refuge for women, as it circles as far back as 1775. It narrates the history of black women down the times.

      It employs the dream like-techniques of the magical realism in depicting a mysterious figure, who returns to live with the mother who slit her throat. Morrison has suggested that though her novels are consummate works of art they contain political meanings: “I am not interested in indulging in myself in some private exercise of my imagination...yes, work must be political”. In 1993, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature.

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