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10 great articles and essays by toni morrison, articles/essays, the site of memory, nobel lecture, rediscovering black history, unspeakable things unspoken, no place for self-pity, no room for feary, can we find paradise on earth, cooking out, what the black woman thinks about women’s lib, on to disneyland and the real unreality, unemcumbered imagination, 15 great essays about writing.
The Source of Self-Regard
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Essay Winners Announced
12 Writers Powerfully Capture Ms. Morrison’s Enduring Legacy February 17, 2021
Community Foundation of Lorain County is proud to announce the 2021 Toni Morrison Scholars. Honoring the Nobel Prize-winning late author and Lorain County native, the Community Foundation received more than 80 essay submissions from local elementary through college student writers.
“It is a joy and privilege for the Community Foundation to host this essay contest for Lorain County youth,” said Brittany Lovett, Marketing and Communications Officer at the Community Foundation. “Toni Morrison is our hometown hero who challenged and inspired people worldwide to share their unique experiences. It’s our honor to connect the younger generation to her captivating stories while encouraging them to create their own.”
The 2021 winners are:
The writing prompt for this year’s contest “ The Site of Memory ”, based on Morrison’s storytelling that paints vivid pictures of the people, places, family, and the familiar details of everyday people’s extraordinary lives. Students received the prompt to reflect on how people and places have informed and sustained them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Established in 2020, the Lorain County Toni Morrison Essay Contest for Young People sought to harness the energy, creativity, and initiative of Ms. Morrison. In December 2020, Ohio proclaimed her birthday, February 18 th , as Toni Morrison Day to honor the award-winning author, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
To honor the late Nobel Prize winner, Today All Day, an extension of the TODAY Show hosted “ A Celebration of Toni Morrison, ” which featured eight of the 2020 Toni Morrison essay contest winners. The program is available on Today All Day, Today.com , or YouTube.
The essay contest is a collaborative effort between the African American Community Fund, Community Foundation, Lorain Historical Society, Lorain Public Library System, Lorain County Alliance of Black School Educators, Lorain County Urban League, Lorain County Section of National Council of Negro Women.
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Toni Morrison's powerful writing won her the Nobel Prize. These are 20 of her best books, according to Goodreads members.
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- Toni Morrison (1913-2019) was an influential author, professor, and Nobel Prize winner.
- We used Goodreads to rank her most popular novels, essays, and children's books.
- Toni Morrison's most popular books are " Beloved " and " The Bluest Eye ."
Toni Morrison was a distinguished novelist and essayist who highlighted the generational consequences of racism in the United States through her fictional works and literary criticisms.
Celebrated for her profound work towards equality in literature, Toni Morrison wrote 11 novels, 10 children's books, and dozens of essays that earned her numerous awards and accolades (including the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature) as she explored the experiences of Black women in America.
To rank Toni Morrison's essay collections, novels, and other works by popularity, we turned to Goodreads members. On Goodreads, over 125 million users rate and review their favorite books and share how Toni Morrison's legacy continues to impact them.
Whether you're looking to experience Toni Morrison's poetic fiction or explore a searing literary criticism, here are the most popular Toni Morrison books, as ranked by Goodreads members.
The 20 best Toni Morrison books, ranked by Goodreads members:
20. "the nobel lecture in literature, 1993".
Available at Amazon, $2.95
This short read is the speech Toni Morrison gave in 1993 as she received the Nobel Prize in Literature for her ability to "give life to an essential aspect of American reality" "in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import." For an even more powerful experience, you can listen to Toni Morrison deliver her speech here .
19. "Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $10.35
" Burn This Book " is an anthology edited by Toni Morrison that also includes a short but brilliant essay about the power of writing and the threat of censorship. Each writer in this collection is a " PEN " writer or a poet, essayist, or novelist who defends the freedom of expression through literature as a human right.
Available at Amazon, $39.75
This play by Toni Morrison recreates the story of Desdemona, the heroine from Shakespeare's " Othello ." Morrison brings the female characters from "Othello" to life in a stunning literary and dramatic form, including the previously silenced voice of Desdemona's African nurse, Barbary.
17. "The Big Box"
Available at Amazon, $45
" The Big Box " was Toni Morrison's first picture book written with her son, Slade Morrison. It is about three children who don't fit adults' expectations and are sent to live in big boxes with locks on the door when the adults decide they can't handle their own freedom.
16. "Remember: The Journey to School Integration"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop , $19.99
Combined with historical photographs that captured school desegregation in America, Toni Morrison tells a fictional story about the emotions and dialogue of the children in the pictures. Published on the 50th anniversary of the "Brown vs. Board of Education" trial, this historical read paired with Morrison's emotional touch is a powerful revival of history.
Preorder available at Amazon and Bookshop from $14.72
" Recitatif " was Toni Morrison's first published short story which premiered in the now out-of-circulation " Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women " in 1983. This emotional story is about Twyla and Roberta, two young girls who meet at an orphanage and bond over their unique situation.
14. "The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $15.29
This collection comprises some of Toni Morrison's essays, speeches, and prayers over 40 eventful and transformative years. From the emotional eulogy she delivered at James Baldwin's funeral to a meditative commentary about her early publications, " The Source of Self-Regard " is a necessary read for any Toni Morrison reader looking to understand the author in a deeper and more profound way.
13. "The Origin of Others"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $17.30
" The Origin of Others " is a collection of Toni Morrison's reflections upon the themes of race, belonging, and identity through her work. Seeking answers to complex questions about racial "othering" in society, Morrison turns to great works of literature as well as her own in these extremely personal and meditative essays.
12. "Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $11.99
These essays serve as a focused literary criticism of "Africanist" presence within American literature. By analyzing some of the most revered writers in American literature, Toni Morrison demonstrates how whiteness and major themes of freedom depend upon the Black population while simultaneously silencing the Black narrative.
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $13.49
" Love " is the non-linear story of several Black women over three generations and their relationships to the late Bill Cosey. As the women — from Bill's daughter to his mistress — tell their stories, a larger image emerges to explain the hatred between them.
10. "Tar Baby"
" Tar Baby " is about the tempestuous love affair between Jadine and Son, two Black Americans from very different worlds who meet in the Caribbean and return to the US, struggling to find a safe home together. Full of complicated relationships, beautifully descriptive settings, and an abundance of striking lyricism, Toni Morrison continues to captivate readers with her memorable writing in this novel.
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $9.17
Frank Money is a Black man returning home from the Korean War, searching for a new sense of identity after a series of traumatic experiences in the Army. Thrust back into a racist and segregated community, Frank must relive early memories and overcome mental challenges n order to find himself and his home.
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $12.76
The final book of the " Beloved " trilogy opens with a scene of horrific violence in a small, all-Black town in Oklahoma called Ruby. Grand and tragic, this novel chronicles the creation of Ruby and the strife with another town that lies 17 miles away.
7. "God Help the Child"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $9.97
" God Help the Child " was Toni Morrison's final published novel before her passing in 2019 and her only novel to be set in the present. The story follows a Black woman who calls herself Bride and examines the brutal ways in which childhood trauma can shape the life of an adult.
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $12.99
" Jazz " is a historical fiction novel that takes place mostly in 1920s Harlem where Joe Trace is a middle-aged beauty product salesman. When Joe shoots his teenage lover to death and his wife attacks the girl's corpse, a story of love and obsession develops in this lyrical novel enriched with the perspectives of multiple narrators.
5. "A Mercy"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $14.54
Set during the slave trade in the 1680s, this historical fiction novel is about a young girl named Florens who is given to a man in Maryland to pay off a debt. Rejected by her own mother, Florens seeks motherly and romantic love in this story that reveals the roots of racism through a glimpse at early slavery.
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $12.59
In this 1975 National Book Award finalist, Nel and Sula are two women whose complex relationship both brings them together and pushes them apart over the course of 20 years. Nel chose to stay in her hometown to raise a family, while Sula escaped to the city for college. " Sula " is an intense read as the women experience racism, explore their sexuality, and grow up in very different ways.
3. "Song of Solomon"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $13.99
" Song of Solomon " is a historical fiction novel that follows Macon "Milkman" Dead III through his life, beginning with a traumatic event that spurred his birth. In this profound and complex work, readers are introduced to Macon's life through a full cast of unique characters and Macon's tumultuous coming-of-age experiences.
2. "The Bluest Eye"
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $9.43
" The Bluest Eye " was Toni Morrison's first novel, a historical fiction story first published in 1970. It is about a young African-American girl named Pecola growing up during the Great Depression who prays for her eyes to turn blue so she will be loved like the blond, blue-eyed children in America.
Available at Amazon and Bookshop from $9.29
With over 355,000 ratings, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the most popular Toni Morrison book, according to Goodreads reviewers. The story follows Sethe, who escaped slavery 18 years ago yet cannot escape the horrible memories of her early life as she's haunted by the past and the ghost of her baby.
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10 Reasons to Attend Concordia University River Forest, Illinois (cuis.edu)
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Research Topics About Beloved
- Toni Morrison & Hard Time,
- Beloved by Toni Morrison Is an Example of Unity in Emancipating Oneself From the Past
- What Postcolonial Sensitivity Does “Beloved” by Toni Morrison Reflect?
- Morrison’s Beloved : Formerly Enslaved People’s Psychological Emancipation
- Sethe and Beloved’s Relationship in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- The Grotesque and Sexuality in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- In Toni Morrison’s Beloved , Slavery and Social Criticism Are Discussed.
- The Four Main Narrative Perspectives in Toni Morrison’s Book Beloved
- The Novel and Film Versions of Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the Furies Construct
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : The History and Legacy of Slavery
- The Interpretive Options Available to Readers of Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : The Maternal Ferocity and Judgement of Sethe
- The Mother-Daughter Relationship in Toni Morrison’s Beloved .
- Beloved by Tony Morrison’s Description of the Enslaved People in the American Civil War
- In Morrison’s Beloved , the Slave Ship Always Comes Back Around
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : A Woman’s Struggles and Trials
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : Misuse of Language
- Not a Story to Be Told by Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- Symbolism in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- Beloved by Toni Morrison: The Impact of Slavery on Family Ties
Beloved Essay Titles
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved Explores Understanding and the Supernatural.
- White and Black Culture in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- African Cosmology With Beloved by Morrison
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : The Haunting Past of America
- The Unification of the Supernatural and Emancipation from the Past in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved and American Experience With Slavery
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : Contemporary African American Storytelling
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : Suppression and African American Slavery
- The Mother-Daughter Relationship and Infanticide in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : A Character Study
- The Basic Prerequisites for the Existence of a Prosperous Life in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- The American Slave Psyche as Presented in Toni Morrison’s Beloved : Myths, Ghosts, and Other Things
- In Toni Morrison’s Beloved , the Author Confronts the Past, Lives in the Present, and Relishes the Future.
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : Deaths and Their Consequences
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved Explores Family Dynamics, Mother-Daughter Relationships, and Psychological Effects.
- Denver’s Search for a Past Connection in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : How the Past Influences the Present
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved : Sethe’s Reasons for Murdering Her Baby
- In Toni Morrison’s Beloved , Subjectivity Is Constructed.
- Toni Morrison’s Beloved Justifies the Murder of the Sethe Children
- Beloved : A Story of Placed and Crossed Boundaries
Beloved Essay Questions
- This Is Not a Story to Pass On: What Does Morrison Mean?
- How Is Mother Love Depicted in Beloved ?
- What Happens at the End of Beloved ?
- Why Are Schools Still Teaching Beloved ?
- How Do Characters in Beloved Describe Their Views?
- What Is Beloved’s Legacy, Both at the Novel’s Conclusion and Outside Its Purview?
- What Postcolonial Sensitivity Is Reflected in Toni Morrison’s Beloved ?
- What Do the Components and Consequences of Beloved’s Structure Mean?
- How Does Toni Morrison’s “Beloved Past “Affect the Present?
- What Is on Your Beloved’s Neck?
- How Is Beloved Organized Musically, Composatorily, or Symphonically?
- What Does Milk Mean in Beloved ?
- How Does Toni Morrison’s Beloved Present Motherhood?
- In Beloved , What Message Is Toni Morrison Attempting to Convey About White People?
- In Beloved , How Is Love Evaluated and Defined?
- What Does Beloved ‘s” Sucking Iron” Mean?
- Who Is Beloved? What Does She Represent?
- In Beloved , What Do the Earrings Mean?
- Why Was Denver Named Denver? Which Amy? How Does She Contribute to the Story of “Beloved”?
- How Do the Many Colors Affect Baby Suggs in Beloved and What Do They Mean?
- How Does the Work Affect Growth and Change Themes?
- What Is the Main Idea of Toni Morrison’s Beloved ?
- Why Does Morrison Tell Sethe’s Story in This Specific Way?
- What Is Sethe’s Life’s in Beloved Purpose?
- How Does Love in Beloved Destruct?
- What Kind of Relationship Did Sethe Have With Her Mother?
- How Does Beloved Aid Denver in Developing Its Own Identity?
- What Does the Circle With a Cross Mean in Beloved ?
- Beloved Drinks So Much Water, Why?
- What Does the Recurring Phrase It Was Not a Story to Pass On Mean in the Final Chapter of Beloved ?
Behaviorism Essay Topics
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The Black women’s group that helped launch Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and a new vanguard
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The Sisterhood: How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture
By Courtney Thorsson Columbia University Press: 296 pages, $29 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org , whose fees support independent bookstores.
In 2004, as a graduate student, Courtney Thorsson learned about a snapshot taken of some of the greatest American writers. No, no one captured Phillip Roth , Saul Bellow and John Updike hobnobbing with the Jonathans . The writers in question included Toni Morrison , June Jordan , Alice Walker and Ntozake Shange . This was an intimate image of friends at the end of a Brooklyn party where they had dined on gumbo and sipped Champagne. Each smile glows with pride, openness and joy. It was the first gathering of the Sisterhood.
Unwilling to leave this photograph in the archive, Thorsson, now an associate professor of English at the University of Oregon, decided to exhume the story behind the image. Her new book, “ The Sisterhood ,” dives into the sociocultural discourse of the 1970s in order to trace the trajectory of authors who transformed and elevated American literature in the decades that followed. Unfortunately, in a broad attempt to stress her message of the power of community, rather than let the figures and their work speak for themselves, Thorsson frames the book as a thesis in search of evidence.
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The Sisterhood was a collective of Black female writers who met monthly at the homes of its members in New York City to collaborate and commiserate over their cultural work. First convened by Jordan and Walker, it quickly and organically grew outward, drawing together women of all ages and experience. While the group evoked the emotional echoes of a consciousness-raising session, it was an ambitious, professional project as well. Members collected dues, helped one another place their stories and showcase their work and even contemplated establishing a business and a periodical. Yet it was a short-lived endeavor. From 1977-78, this dream team of Black female writers pulsed with hope and drive.
The fortifying spirit of this brain trust is mind-blowing to imagine. When I mentioned this story to friends, one said, “This sounds like the premise of a movie.” And it does: seasoned professionals finding energy in the enthusiasm of young upstarts, who are themselves eager to step out of the secretarial pool and into the front windows of bookstores across America. More than 45 years later, the greatest gift of learning about this group is a bittersweet knowledge that its members so deeply appreciated one another. Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they faltered, but they shared it all together.
Perhaps it was too good to last; this fleeting collective came together during a turbulent time in American history and served as the crucible of a renaissance in African American literature. In the decade that followed, Black women stepped into the spotlight of American fiction with works including Walker’s “ The Color Purple ,” Morrison’s “ Beloved ,” Jordan’s “ Passion ,” Audre Lorde ’s “Sister Outsider” and many, many others. Walker, Morrison and critic Margo Jefferson received Pulitzer Prizes. Other accolades include the National Book Award and yes, in time, Morrison’s Nobel .
Such greatness can flourish without the encouragement, shared resources and emotional labor of one’s peers. But if not for their connections and support as a group, would as many of these women have succeeded despite the obstacles presented by racism, sexism, classism and homophobia? Thorsson recognizes extraordinary personal achievements, but her book is a testament to the power of the collective.
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Starting with such great characters, one could take this book in multiple directions. Instinctively, I assumed this would be a group biography, a carefully embroidered portrait of a cultural moment and its relevance. Thorsson, however, lays it plain: “This is not a group biography, but I do seek to capture these Black women writers at a pivotal time in their intellectual lives.”
Nevertheless, several figures stand out: Morrison, Jordan, Walker, Shange and Lorde. In the face of these legends, the secondary characters fall into the shadows. While I respect Thorsson’s urge to eschew the biography format in order to speak to the collective work, I wonder at the editorial decision to occupy the murky middle of general nonfiction when you have such vibrant individuals at hand.
Thorsson excels at drawing connections among the members and elaborating on their efforts, but she does so by telling and not showing them. She writes, for example, that Walker and Jordan “exchanged letters about personal and professional matters for years before they established the group and were united by what Cheryl Walls calls ‘their lifelong quest for a redemptive art and politics.’” Why not quote the letters, or at least describe them directly?
As it stands, the reader longs for more stories, more anecdotes, more retellings of events from the members’ point of view. Instead, the book is mired in repetitive and academic assertions of her thesis: that the cumulative impact of various groups (not only the Sisterhood, but also the Black Arts Movement and other Black organizations) endowed writers with the strategies and focus to change American culture. Grounded in this perspective, Thorsson balks at what she considers exceptionalism, but why not celebrate both the individual achievements and the collective legacy? In parsing her own struggle, Thorsson loses momentum.
Meanwhile, she makes her own tenuous assumptions. For just one example, she ascribes the motivation behind a 1988 open letter protesting the lack of major accolades for Morrison to a collective decision “that there could only be one highly successful Black writer at the time.” This is a reductive interpretation based on scant evidence, and it contradicts Thorsson’s argument for collective success.
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At the end of her introduction, Thorsson notes that she is a white scholar of Black literature. “It is my responsibility … to use the privilege of my whiteness, institutional affiliations, and skills as a literary scholar to get as many people as possible to read, reread, and better understand as many books as possible by Black writers.” Her hope is that the book may “help us understand their remarkable achievement, the costs of their work, and the labor that remains to be done.”
As a white critic writing about these same Black women, perhaps I too should make clear my limited perspective. But when you’re elevating a forgotten moment in history, you should acknowledge but wear lightly your self-conscious intention to impose predetermined ideas about it.
Whatever my qualms with her style and editorial decisions, I remain grateful to Thorsson for bringing to light the Sisterhood’s existence and collective work. Rather than wish for a different book, one rich in research but elevated through narrative and voice, I’d encourage others to go back and reread (or read for the first time) the great works of the Sisterhood with an eye for their attention to kinship and collaboration, as well as to individual glory.
LeBlanc is a writer and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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Helen Marcus, Prolific Photographer of the Famous, Dies at 97
One of the few women at the top of her field in book and magazine publishing, she was also a champion of her fellow professionals.
By Sam Roberts
Helen Marcus, a late-blooming photographer whose evocative black-and-white portraits of literary figures and film and television personalities graced book jackets and magazine covers for decades, died on Oct. 1 at her home in Manhattan. She was 97.
Her death was confirmed by her sister, Irene Feuerstein.
Ms. Marcus’s photographs were disseminated in a wide variety of venues. Some were seen in annual corporate reports, and one was the model for an etching on a Swedish postage stamp honoring the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. She also became a champion of her fellow professionals.
Her fame as a photographer, and her leadership role as a defender of her profession on issues of copyright and credit, were all the more notable because the field at the time was so overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Ms. Marcus founded the New York chapter of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (later the American Society of Media Photographers) in 1982 and served as its national president from 1985 to 1990. From 1998 to 2007, she was president of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund , an organization, named for the celebrated photojournalist, that was established in 1979 to help independent photographers complete their projects.
Responding to a profile in The New York Times crediting George Lois , the Madison Avenue art director, with designing striking covers for Esquire magazine, Ms. Marcus complained, in a letter to the editor in 2008, that the article did not adequately acknowledge Carl Fischer , the photographer whose images loomed large in many of those designs.
“It is akin to publishing pictures of the Sistine Chapel and mentioning the pope who paid for them,” she wrote, “but not the painter.”
Helen Mae Marcus was born on Oct. 28, 1925, in Manhattan. Her mother, Augusta (Hittleman) Marcus, an immigrant from Russia, was a homemaker. Her father, Joseph, owned several shoe stores.
She graduated from A.B. Davis High School in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and economics from Smith College in 1946.
In addition to her sister, she is survived by a brother, Carl. Another brother, Bernard, died before her.
After working with the theater director Hal Prince, Ms. Marcus was an associate producer and a producer from 1955 to 1974 at Goodson-Todman Productions, the company that developed popular television game shows like “To Tell the Truth” and “What’s My Line?”
“Her hobby was photography, and she became so skilled that she finally abandoned television for a career as a professional,” Ira Skutch, a director who shared an office with Ms. Marcus at Goodson-Todman, wrote in “I Remember Television: A Memoir” (1989).
Once Ms. Marcus became a full-time photographer, her work appeared in Time, Forbes, Gourmet and other magazines, and in The New York Times. Her photographs are included in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery and the International Center of Photography.
She was among the first Americans invited to China in the late 1970s, in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. She taught at the Parsons School of Design, the School of Visual Arts and the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Ms. Marcus, who studied with Philippe Halsman , a Life magazine photographer, became known, like him, for her vivid portraits. Among her subjects were the authors Mary Higgins Clark, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe; the actors Kitty Carlisle and Cliff Robertson; and the talk-show host Merv Griffin.
In 1977, Toni Morrison was said to have been dissatisfied with the author photograph on the jacket for one of her early books and was seeking another photographer for her next one. Her publisher’s publicist enlisted Ms. Marcus, who invited Ms. Morrison to her spacious apartment and shot four rolls of film of the author sitting at the dining room table.
When Ms. Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and Swedish postal officials decided to honor her with a stamp, she suggested that they contact Ms. Marcus. Her photograph inspired an etching , which appeared on the stamp (with Ms. Marcus’s credit).
“It’s probably the most reproduced photograph I ever made,” Ms. Marcus said in an interview with New Letters magazine in 2007.
She offered a different kind of superlative for the novelist Jerzy Kosinski , whom she photographed in his apartment above Carnegie Hall. During that session, she said, she “felt real vibes coming from him, and exchanging with you more than anybody I ever experienced.”
He was, Ms. Marcus added, “probably the sexiest person I ever photographed.”
An earlier version of this obituary misstated when Ms. Marcus was among the Americans invited to China. It was the late 1970s, not the early 1970s.
How we handle corrections
Sam Roberts , an obituaries reporter, was previously The Times’s urban affairs correspondent and is the host of “The New York Times Close Up,” a weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV. More about Sam Roberts
81+ Beloved Essay Topics and Essay Questions You Need to Know
Oct 13, 2023
Oct 13, 2023 | Topics
Delving into the multifaceted narrative of Toni Morrison’s renowned novel “Beloved,” this article serves as a comprehensive guide to essential “Beloved” essay topics and thought-provoking questions. Seamlessly blending the complexities of Sethe’s haunting past, the repercussions of slavery’s legacy, Denver’s resilience, and the profound influence of Baby Suggs’ motherhood, the analysis aims to unravel the intricate layers of haunting memories, maternal bonds, and the enduring repercussions of Margaret Garner’s tragic history.
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“Beloved” Toni Morrison Topics – Analytical
- Impact of Slavery on Identity: A Character Analysis
- Motherhood and Sacrifice: Exploring Sethe’s Maternal Journey
- The Symbolism of the Haunting Presence in “Beloved”
- Post-Civil War America in “Beloved”: Historical Context and Themes
- An Exploration of Sethe’s Psychological Trauma and Its Manifestations
- The Significance of Baby Suggs’ Character in the Novel
- Unraveling the Theme of Memory and Rememory in “Beloved”
- Redefining Freedom and Self-Ownership in the Novel
- Community and Isolation: Denver’s Struggle for Belonging
- Love and Resilience Amidst Adversity: A Comparative Analysis
- Intergenerational Trauma and Its Impact on the Characters
- The Supernatural Element in “Beloved” and Its Symbolic Significance
- Morrison’s Narrative Style and Literary Techniques in “Beloved”
- The Role of Color and Imagery in Conveying Themes and Emotions
- Reclaiming Identity: Sethe’s Journey to Self-Redemption
- Exploring the Concept of Home in “Beloved” and Its Emotional Significance
- Mother-Daughter Relationships and Their Significance in the Novel
- An Analysis of Paul D’s Character and His Role in Sethe’s Life
- Guilt, Remorse, and Atonement: The Theme of Redemption in “Beloved”
- Morrison’s Critique of Racial Injustice and Historical Erasure.
- Unveiling Historical Tragedy: Analyzing the Parallels Between ‘Beloved’ and the Story of Margaret Garner
“Beloved” Essay Topics: Compare and Contrast
- Motherhood in “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon”: A Comparative Study
- Sethe and Hagar: A Contrast of Mother-Daughter Relationships in Morrison’s Novels
- The Theme of Memory in “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye”: A Comparative Analysis
- Paul D and Milkman: A Comparative Exploration of Masculinity and Identity
- The Significance of Place and Setting in “Beloved” and “Sula”
- Community Dynamics in “Beloved” and “Jazz”: A Comparative Perspective
- Female Friendships in “Beloved” and “Paradise”: A Comparative Examination
- Redemption and Forgiveness in “Beloved” and “A Mercy”: A Comparative Analysis
- The Impact of Historical Trauma in “Beloved” and “Home”: A Comparative Study
- Slavery’s Legacy in “Beloved” and “The Song of Solomon”: A Comparative Exploration
- The Theme of Ghosts and Haunting in “Beloved” and “Jazz”
- Beloved and Sula: A Comparative Analysis of the Female Protagonists’ Journeys
- The Role of Love and Sacrifice in “Beloved” and “God Help the Child”
- The Representation of Freedom in “Beloved” and “Paradise”: A Comparative Study
- Toni Morrison’s Treatment of Race and Racism in “Beloved” and “Tar Baby”
- Family Dynamics and Relationships in “Beloved” and “Home”: A Comparative Study
- Self-Redemption and Personal Growth in “Beloved” and “Jazz”
- The Themes of Isolation and Loneliness in “Beloved” and “A Mercy”
- The Impact of Supernatural Elements in “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon”
- The Influence of Cultural Heritage and Tradition in “Beloved” and “Sula”
Essay Topics “Beloved” Toni Morrison: Literary Devices
- The Symbolism of the Ghost in “Beloved” and Its Narrative Significance
- An Analysis of Morrison’s Use of Stream of Consciousness in “Beloved”
- The Role of Flashbacks in Developing the Narrative Structure of the Novel
- Morrison’s Depiction of Magical Realism in “Beloved” and Its Impact on the Story
- The Significance of Motifs of Water and Baptism in “Beloved”
- The Use of Metaphor and Allegory in Depicting Sethe’s Journey
- Analyzing Morrison’s Employment of Foreshadowing in “Beloved”
- The Influence of Diction and Language on Character Development in the Novel
- The Role of Allusion and Intertextuality in “Beloved” and Its Literary Context
- An Examination of Morrison’s Utilization of Symbolic Names in the Novel
- The Use of Irony and Satire in Conveying Themes of Oppression and Resilience
- Morrison’s Exploration of the Supernatural and Its Function in the Narrative
- The Significance of Parallelism and Repetition in Emphasizing Key Themes
- The Role of Imagery and Descriptive Language in Creating Atmosphere and Mood
- An Analysis of the Narrative Voice and Point of View in “Beloved”
- Morrison’s Treatment of Time and Chronology in Crafting the Novel’s Structure
- The Function of Personification and Anthropomorphism in Portraying Emotions
- The Use of Juxtaposition and Contrast in Highlighting Key Character Traits
- Morrison’s Exploration of Rhythm and Sound Patterns in “Beloved”
- The Depiction of Violence and Trauma through Symbolic Imagery in the Novel.
Study Help Essay Questions on Beloved
- How does the theme of motherhood contribute to the development of characters like Sethe and Baby Suggs in “Beloved”?
- What is the significance of the character Beloved in the novel, and how does she serve as a symbol of the haunting effects of slavery?
- Analyze the role of community and isolation in the lives of characters such as Denver and Paul D in “Beloved.”
- How does Toni Morrison employ the theme of memory and memory to convey the lasting impact of slavery on the characters’ lives?
- Discuss the symbolism of the ghost and its impact on the narrative’s portrayal of the character’s internal struggles and external conflicts.
- In what ways does the historical context of post-Civil War America shape the events and themes of “Beloved” by Toni Morrison?
- How does the author use the motif of water and baptism to convey themes of redemption and transformation in the novel?
- Analyze the role of supernatural elements in “Beloved” and their function in the characters’ psychological journeys and self-discovery.
- Discuss the portrayal of slavery’s legacy and its impact on identity and relationships in the lives of characters such as Sethe and Paul D.
- How does the novel depict the theme of freedom and self-ownership in the context of the characters’ struggles and desires for autonomy?
- Analyze the role of color and imagery in “Beloved” and its significance in conveying themes, emotions, and the character’s inner turmoil.
- Discuss the portrayal of the female experience and relationships in the novel, focusing on characters like Sethe, Baby Suggs, and Beloved.
- How does the theme of guilt, remorse, and atonement shape the characters’ actions and decisions throughout the narrative?
- Analyze the significance of the character Paul D and his role in Sethe’s life and the broader themes of love and resilience in the novel.
- Discuss the themes of isolation and loneliness as experienced by characters such as Sethe, Denver, and Paul D and their impact on the narrative’s development.
- How does the author use motifs of animals and nature to convey deeper meanings and emotions within the storyline of “Beloved”?
- Analyze the role of community dynamics and relationships in the lives of characters such as Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid, and Ella in “Beloved.”
- Discuss the significance of the theme of love and sacrifice in the context of the characters’ relationships, choices, and emotional journeys throughout the novel.
- How does Toni Morrison use the narrative style and literary techniques to convey the psychological struggles and complexities of the characters in “Beloved”?
- Analyze the themes of trauma and resilience in the novel, focusing on how characters like Sethe, Denver, and Paul D navigate the lingering effects of their past experiences.
Get Help With Your Beloved Essay Paper.
For unparalleled assistance with your “Beloved” essay paper, look no further than Essay Freelance Writers. Renowned for their expertise in delivering top-notch literary analyses, their team of professionals is well-versed in the intricate themes and nuances of Toni Morrison’s work. With a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the novel’s complexities, they ensure your essay is crafted with precision and clarity. By clicking the ORDER NOW button above, you can access their unparalleled services and benefit from their expert guidance, ensuring your “Beloved” essay shines in its depth and insight—trust Essay Freelance Writers to provide the exceptional assistance you need for your literary analysis.
What are the themes in Beloved?
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison encompasses themes of slavery’s impact on identity, the trauma of the past haunting the present, the complexities of motherhood, and the search for freedom and self-ownership.
What are some good essay topics?
Some engaging essay topics for “Beloved” could include exploring the psychological effects of slavery on characters like Sethe and Denver, analyzing the significance of the character of Baby Suggs, and delving into the symbolic representation of the haunting presence of the past.
How do you start a love essay?
To begin a love essay, consider introducing the topic with a relatable anecdote, a thought-provoking quote from “Beloved,” or a brief exploration of the themes of love and sacrifice portrayed in the novel, setting the tone for an insightful analysis.
What is the setting of the Beloved essay?
The setting of the essay “Beloved” by Toni Morrison typically revolves around the post-Civil War era in Ohio, focusing on the haunting effects of slavery, the struggles of characters like Sethe and Denver, and the legacy of Margaret Garner’s tragic past.
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Discovering Toni Morrison
Toni morrison: sites of memory.
- Who Was Toni Morrison?
- They've Got Game: The Children's Books of Toni & Slade Morrison
- Morrison in the Press
- Exhibitions & Events at Princeton
- How to Visit
- Discovering and Accessing the Toni Morrison Papers
Firestone Library Milberg Gallery, February 22 - June 4, 2023
In 2016, Princeton University announced the opening of the Toni Morrison Papers. Comprised of manuscript drafts, editorial notes, correspondence, speeches, photographs, and research material, the collection registers the importance of the archive within Morrison’s decades-long career. In her writing practice, she gathered archival objects like popular photographs, advertisements, newspaper clippings, and historical documents as source material for her novels, essays, and speeches. These were the sites from which she began to “reconstruct the worlds” that her characters dwelled in, worlds that the dominant historical record had neglected or obscured. In this archive we can glimpse her own writing practice, professional interests, and changing creative investments. In its breadth, the collection invites us to consider how history, memory, and the literary imagination relate to one another anew.
Taking inspiration from her 1986 essay “the site of memory,” this exhibition brings together select objects from the toni morrison papers — from early outlines of her first published novel the bluest eye (1970) to the only extant drafts of song of solomon (1977) to hand-drawn maps of ruby, the fictional center of paradise (1998). the exhibition’s materials illuminate how her creative process was a deeply archival one, and spotlights this archive as a site that records unknown aspects of her writing life and practice. rather than offering a career retrospective, the exhibition’s organization challenges notions of chronology and plays with time in much the same way that morrison’s own writing does. the objects are arranged according to six interrelated “sites” that, together, elaborate the crucial place of the archive within morrison’s own dynamic career, and also in black life itself., learn about visiting the exhibition in person on the how to visit page., learn more about the digital restrictions of this collection.
Unless otherwise noted, all items on exhibit are from The Toni Morrison Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library and are the original work of Toni Morrison.
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Topic: Home , Literature , Daughter , Slavery , Love , Family , Women , Paul
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Beloved is a lyrical masterpiece authored by renowned and award-winning American writer, Toni Morrison. American has a long and complicated history. Since its inception, the country has undergone metamorphosis from one epoch to another. Some of these epochsare more significant to an American than others. The Civil War of 1861-1865 was one of the critical ones. The institution of slavery was still prevalent and acceptable within the American society. Moreover, women were viewed as inferior to men and the society held the view that a woman place was in the kitchen. In is in this historical context that Morrison decided to tell a story of an African American slave by the name Sethe and her daughter Denver. Sethe was a slave in Kentucky. She suffered a lot and when the struggle became unbearable, she decided to risk everything but escape the anguish. She was fortunate to fight refuge in the state of Ohio, which was by then a free state. However, fate was not on her side. The legislature of that time had passed a number of draconian and repressive laws that curtailed the freedoms of slaves. In fact, under the Fugitive Slave Act, a slave owner was empowered to go looking for their escaped slaves irrespective whether they went to a free state. Slaves were regarded as property and, therefore, the owner had every right to reclaim their property. Sethe had escaped with her three daughters. When she heard that a posse had arrived at her place of refugee seeking to extradite them back to Kentucky, she decides to take drastic measures to avoid such an eventuality. Her options are limited so she decides to kill her daughters to save them from the misery of slavery. In a rather twisting turn of events Beloved, a woman presumed to be a daughter of Sethe is introduced into the plot after a number of years. Indeed, the book immaculately articulates the historical reality of those unfortunate times. The author is able to synchronize the torturous history with emotions and excellent story telling ability. This is a story of the interior, the point where the blame lies. The author presents the past in a way that forces the reader to examine the present and realize that the ‘self’ had a critical role to play. Morrison’s choice of the story’s plot is perhaps one of the cardinal factors that make the book exceptional. After their escape from slavery, Sethe and Denver built their home in 12 Bluestone, Cincinnati. Years after she successfully killed her daughter, a revenant, which the author makes one believe it to be a ghost of the deceased daughter return to haunt their home. The home has become deserted with time. Halle, the mother of Sethe’s husband died in her bed while her two sons, Buglar and Howard, ran away from home by the tender age of thirteen. Sethe is left alone at the expansive home with only her shy daughter Denver as the only family member she has left. The home is haunted by a ghost of Beloved, which in most cases meant that household things such as utensils were thrown all over the house. Fortunately for Sethe, Paul D one of the people who were slaves with her at Sweet Home arrives at her abode in 124. Her character, diligence and competency are instrumental in trying to figure out the challenges that have faced Sethe’s household. She tries hard to instill a sense of reality and sanity into the household and its occupants. She is determined to ensure that Sethe and her lovely daughter Denver are able to forget the ugly past and focus not only on what the present has to offer, but also what the promise of the future. She is successful, at first, but then a more powerful force her fails miserably and ultimately forces her out of the 124. However, she was able to make Denver come out of the house for the first time in years. Disaster struck on their way back. They fought a pretty young woman who seems docile. However, despite the fact that Paul D is suspicious, Beloved was able to charm her way to the house using the weakest link, Sethe. Soon afterwards, Paul D leaves the household. The household turns another page, a new chapter of their lives is about to begin. It is vital to note that Sethe was regarded as an outcast by the community. This is because when she escaped from the plantation at Sweet Home, her master pursued her to Ohio. He was empowered by the law to reclaim what lawfully belonged to him. Indeed, he invoked the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act in an unsuccessful attempt to take back Sethe and her children to Kentucky. Sethe had grabbed her children and taken them to the toolshed for slaughter. She threatened to kill all her children and herself in protest of attempts to take her back to Sweet Home. She slaughtered her eldest daughter with a saw by the neck. This unfortunate incident forced everyone to agree to let her stay. In the meantime, at 124, things were getting heavy between Beloved and Paul D. Despite the fact that he is cornered and involuntary made to sleep in the shed outside, they become intimate with Beloved. They engage in regular coitus. She becomes extremely influential in his life despite attempts from him to water down her effects on him. Takes of marriage begin gaining currency. While Sethe is extremely elated, his colleagues at work are scared of the relationship. When Sethe finally reveals about her unfortunate incident to Paul D, he is overwhelmed and cannot bear it all. He decides to leave the household. In a rather rhythmic and emotional fashion, the novel gains pace. In riveting manner, the author sets the stage for the climax of the story. Sethe believes that Beloved in her daughter, the one she killed. Out of guilt, she spoils her with all manner of spending. Beloved becomes more irritating and demanding. Her lifestyle destroys Sethe’s life and the pseudo amelioration of her social aspects witnessed during Paul D’s presence. Denver plays a critical role in saving her mother from her self-inflicted trauma. She seeks the support of the black community within the vicinity to help exorcise Beloved. At the same time, she had caught the eye of a certain white man who at one point came to the rescue of her grandmother. She went to the white fellow and asked him for a job. He was as kind to her as she was to her grandmother years before. He had given 124 to her grandmother after she bought her from her owner. He also offered Denver a job. During this epoch, things had really become bad at home. Sethe was obsessed with pleasing an irritant Beloved. When the white man was picking Denver at 124, Sethe saw him and attacked him. The black community came to his rescue. During this commotion, beloved ran away leaving from for Paul D to come back to the household and profess his love for Sethe. The book has significant themes that are critical to the American society. The two most critical themes are the psychological impact of the institution of the slavery and family relations. To begin with the psychological effects of slavery, it is vital to note that their experiences were horrific and extremely traumatizing. In order to survive, most slaves repressed such memories never to be spoken of again. This helped them move on with their lives with a promise of a better future. This tendency to deny the past in what causes the major tribulations facing Sethe, Paul D and her young daughter Denver. They had to look inwards to the self for acceptance of the past which was instrumental in helping them remedy themselves from the psychological torment they experienced. Indeed, being enslaved was so cruel that slaves developed fragmented identities. The slave harbored within the ‘self’ painful memories and events that could not be articulated to the rest of the society. In order to hell one has to relive these events, however, traumatizing. The power is heavily invested in the language through the word. The characters in Morrison’s Beloved have complicated pasts; they all face the conundrum of the unmade self and have tremendous fear to relive their experiences. Indeed, these are some of the critical issues that the author brings to the attention of his audience. For a long time, the institution of slavery has been interrogated in terms of its economic impact, social impact and legal technicalities, but there have been few studies as to the psychological effects on the slaves themselves. History books have been written is a subjective nature and from the white man perspective, Morrison narrative, though a work of friction, attempts to make a critical illustration of this menaces from a different perspective. He presents his works from a slave’s perspective, her families and the challenges she endures. He charts the way into a totally new territory and he is able to bring his audience a nerve-raking must piece that is to insightful and well-though to be a work of friction. Indeed, the theme stipulated in this section best illustrates the challenges that the likes of Margaret Garners and women of her ilk experienced during the epoch of slavery. She was the person who inspired Morrison to tell this kind of story. The other main theme in the narrative is that of family relationships. The author has given more emphasis to the relationship between a mother and her daughters. The story revolves around to main characters. All of them are women with a high likelihood that they arefrom the same family. They include Sethe, Denver and Beloved. Sethe openly displays a passionate maternal characteristic that causes her to go to great extents to protect her daughters in her own way. In order to ensure that her children to not suffer the tribulations of slavery she threatens to kill and actually slaughters one of her daughters. Furthermore, she uses all means possible to hide her youngest daughter Denver from not only the white man, but also the rest of the black community. She is forced to stay indoors for years and she is only fortunate to get some air when Paul D comes to live with them at 124. Sethe fails to realize that Denver had so much to learn from the rest of the community and the world at large, as much as she had to be protected. Indeed, she could only learn how to become a diligent young woman through taking control of her life and interacting with the rest of the community. Slavery creates a situation whereby the child and her parents are separated and thus become emotionally impaired. This is best illustrated by the relationship between Sethe and Beloved. This is because Sethe had suffered immensely while enslaved and the negative effects were beginning to show. However, her relationship with Paul D brings some light and promise into her life. This is briefly interrupted by the arrival of Beloved who takes totally control and attention of the Sethe. She is obsessed with a fact that her daughter has finally returned. Filled with guilt and an unstable conscious she does everything in her power to make up for her mistake. This shows how strong a relationship between a mother and a daughter can become. The baby needs the milk while the mother needs the child. The affection is mutual and if one party is denied the benefits of the mutual relationship, then it becomes a recipe for disaster.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007.
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Morrison's "Peril" (2009): Overview
“Peril" is a short essay by Toni Morrison published in both The Source of Self-Regard (2019) and Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word (2009). The essay is, in general, a vigorous defense of the freedom of expression of writers in various states of unfreedom, whether from totalitarian regimes or threats of violence or intimidation. Here, Morrison writes of three different threats that writers pose. First, writers are a threat to authoritarian regimes, which is why, Morrison suggests, even the most foolish of governments know better than to give “perceptive, dissident writers free range to publish their judgments or follow their creative instincts.” Indeed, she argues that “writers—journalists, essayists, bloggers, poets, playwrights,” serve an important dissident function within the social and political landscapes, for they can “disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, a coma despots call peace”; moreover, writers can “stanch the blood flow of war that hawks and profiteers thrill to” ( Source of Self-Regard, 1).
However, Morrison makes a notable distinction—what she describes as “their,” the oppressors’ peril, and “ours,” which “is of another sort” (2). She defines this second peril by first reminding us of how “unlivable” and “insufferable” life would be without the richness of great artwork and writers’ capabilities, in particular, to “translate…trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination” (2; 4). As such, “the life and work of writers facing peril” demands urgent protection—not only for their sake, but for society’s as well, for “the choking off of a writer’s work, its cruel amputation, is of equal peril to us” (2). One important theme Morrison brings up here is the capacity of writers to engage in naming:
I have been told that there are two human responses to the perception of chaos: naming and violence. When the chaos is simply the unknown, the naming can be accomplished effortlessly--a new species, star, formula, equation, prognosis. there is also mapping, charting, or devising proper nouns for unnamed or stripped-of-names geography, landscape, or population." (2)
The theme of naming will of course be familiar to readers of many Morrison novels, where her characters' often-ad hoc names contain the seeds of the stories of their lives (one thinks of Baby Suggs' chosen name in Beloved , Milkman's search for his family name in Song of Solomon, and many other instances). Because “truth is trouble” for “the warmonger, the torturer, the corporate thief, the political hack, the corrupt justice system,” and a “comatose public”; and, because writers uncircumscribed by the national silencing of their fingers and minds are “trouble for the ignorant bully, the sly racist, and the predators feeding off the world’s resources,” we must recognize, Morrison claims, not only the importance of the dissident capabilities of writers, but what their existence, and, more importantly, what their absence, signifies, foreshadows, warns of (2). As Morrison explains,
The historical suppression of writers is earliest harbinger of the steady peeling away of additional rights and liberties that will follow. The history of persecuted writers is as long as the history of literature itself. And the efforts to censor, starve, regulate, and annihilate us are clear sings that something important has taken place. (2)
This “something,” for Morrison, may cause the “perception of chaos,” to which there are three responses: naming, violence, and stillness (3). Stillness does not have to mean “passivity and dumbfoundedness” or “paralytic fear”; rather, it “can also be art” (3). Morrison emphasizes, then, that the writers who “construct meaning in the face of chaos must be nurtured, protected” (3). In a call-to-arms, Morrison suggests that this protection begin with other writers themselves.
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Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison – review
Spanning five decades, this collection of Morrison’s essays and speeches underscores her rage and linguistic brilliance
T oni Morrison’s Nobel lecture in literature , given on receiving the prize in 1993, opens as a kind of folk tale: “Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise… In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town.”
It goes on to describe how a bird is brought to the old woman that may be dead or alive. The woman, it turns out, is a “practised writer” and the bird is a metaphor for the mutability of language.
This seminal speech, about language as a “measure of our lives”, encapsulates the theme that underpins this collection of speeches, articles and essays, though there is much else about contemporary American life, politics, literature and critical theory too. The pieces span five decades (from 1976 to 2013) and bring together Morrison’s nonfiction works for the first time in the UK. Themes range from mourning the dead of 9/11 to healthcare and paeans to inspirational black figures including Martin Luther King, James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe .
The content on race burns with controlled anger and a deep knowledge of her subject. In A Race in Mind (from a speech to the Newspaper Association of America conference in 1994), she speaks witheringly about press bias, arguing that the lives of black people are reported on as if they were a “special interest” group.
She speaks of the white working classes with prescience too, accusing the media of obfuscating white poverty: “African Americans are still being employed in that way: to disappear the white poor and unify all classes and regions, erasing the real lines of conflict.”
America’s history of enslavement is a persistent theme. Moral Inhabitants is a short, sharp speech from 1976 that examines the language of a national reference book from colonial times to 1957 in which black bodies are logged as commodities. Quotes about the value of black people follow from powerful white men including Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. While their open racism isn’t revelatory, it is repugnant and implicitly reminds us that such rank inhumanity must not be forgotten.
Morrison takes the question of remembrance further in The Slavebody and the Blackbody (2000), in which she recounts the pressure she was put under to move on from, or sublimate, America’s slave past in the 1980s: “In some quarters, [it was] understood not only to be progressive but healthy… The slavebody was dead, wasn’t it? The blackbody was alive, wasn’t it?”
Her writing on language in relation to race is erudite and nuanced. Black enslavement is branded into language, she argues, in which the “codes of racial hierarchy and disdain are deeply embedded”. She suggests that these can be circumnavigated with enough awareness and calls herself a “raced” writer who knew, from the beginning, that “I could not, would not reproduce the master’s voice and its assumptions of the all-knowing law of the white father.”
The dilemmas she grapples with around identity and the pigeonholing of black writers are just as relevant for writers of colour today. In a 2001 essay, she remembers being invited on to a TV show to talk about her work. She asked the interviewer if it was possible to avoid questions around race but he felt that “neither he nor his audience was interested in any aspects of me other than my raced ones”.
This double bind – to be a consciously “raced” writer while feeling confined by the expectation to explain or defend race-related issues – comes up repeatedly: “I had a yearning for an environment in which I could speak and write without every sentence being understood as mere protest or understood as mere advocacy.”
Some pieces are less penetrating than others but all have a rigorous logic and intelligence. Interestingly, many of the spoken addresses retain their power on the page and are exhilarating to read for their rousing rhetoric and idealism. The Individual Artist, about the imperative of creating art at any cost, particularly for the black American community, is deeply moving when seen within the legacy of slavery.
Elsewhere, in a section that’s distinct in tone from the rest of the material, Morrison explores her own fiction, with close textual analyses of several books ( The Bluest Eye , Paradise , Beloved , Tar Baby ). She also advocates rereading canonical works, revealing how stories by Gertrude Stein and Mark Twain contain unconscious racial coding.
The risk of such wide-ranging subject matter is that it ends up skittering across the surface. Here, however, Morrison’s words possess a contemporary resonance, delivering unwavering truths with an intelligent rage that is almost equal to her hope.
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“Recitatif” by Toni Morrison Analysis
Introduction, toni morrison’s personality, topical themes behind recitatif.
One of the primary purposes of literature is to deliver meaningful messages through artful images and plots. While some literary works may have a mostly entertaining function, some pieces prove to be seminal in the broader context of topical issues of society. Toni Morrison is one of the authors whose name will remain in the history of literature due to their immense contribution to societal discussions. Having experienced the direct impact of racial discrimination, she used it as a source of inspiration for her works, among which Recitatif has become the most influential one. Morrison’s knowledge and talent provided insight into the disparities faced by people of color across their lives. Subsequently, Recitatif was on the front line of literature and art, which changed the paradigm of social thought in regards to intercultural relations. The purpose of this essay is to examine the context behind Recitatif and its powerful message sent by Toni Morrison.
In order to acquire an in-depth understanding of the meaning behind Recitatif , a review of Toni Morrison’s personal story may be instrumental. The author of the story was born in 1931 in a regular African American family with a modest income (“Toni Morrison. Biography”). Her parents worked hard to provide their four children with the necessary sustenance and ensure their development. Despite spending her earlier years in a semi-integrated area, Morrison still had to witness and experience the various facets of racial segregation of the middle 20 th -century United States. Historical accounts confirm that discrimination remained a constant threat throughout her childhood and youth (Lee). As Morrison continued to develop her innate talents and enrolled in a university, she toured the American South with a theater troop, becoming acquainted with even worse instances of segregation. The disparities faced by young Morrison determined her future works and the meta-narrative around them.
Toni Morrison became one of the leaders of the progressive literary community, which attempted to draw the public’s attention to the issues regarding systemic racism in the United States. She pursued the academic path, which proved to be instrumental in reshaping the views of the younger generations in relation to the problems rooted in people’s mindsets for centuries (“Toni Morrison. Biography”). From the literary perspective, Morrison always wrote about strong characters of various cultural backgrounds. In her works, the author laid an emphasis on the personalities of these people, each of whom was defined by the traits of their characters instead of the skin color or socioeconomic status. Morrison promoted equality on all levels, and her struggle was recognized by the international community, awarding her a Nobel Prize, as well as the Pulitzer Prize (“Toni Morrison. Biography”). She also emphasized the importance of the liberation of all oppressed groups, drawing similarities between the African American fight for freedom and feminist movements (“Women, Race, and Memory”). The author’s biography and views are reflected in her seminal piece Recitatif .
The plot of the short story revolves around two friends, Twyla and Roberta. Originally, the two of them meet in a state home for children, and their relationship becomes stronger because of the similar circumstances of their lives. Their mothers could not provide for their children, and the girls were sent to the federal institution (Morrison 5). Morrison knew the hardships of children care in modest families, as her own family was never rich. However, she emphasized this aspect in her story, highlighting the fact that many people have more difficult lives than she did. Furthermore, Twyla and Roberta are of different races, but the cultural differences never become the decisive factor in their communication. This principle corresponds to the vision of the author, who always supported the relationships, in which racial identities do not play the leading role as compared to personal qualities (Knoflíčková 23). The plot of Recitatif is advanced not by socially ascribed stereotypes but by the objective circumstances, which can be faced by any person.
The story is divided into encounters, which illustrate how the lives of the characters change over the years. As the plot progresses, the fates of the main characters become highly different, which is reflected in their interaction. Roberta becomes wealthy and marries a computer industry specialist, whereas Twyle lives a regular life with a firefighter (Morrison 20). At some point, the differences in the women’s worldviews in regards to issues, which pertain to both personal and global affairs, become significant. They argue about the concept of racial integration through forced busing, as well the details of their lives at the children’s state home. When they meet again on one Christmas Eve, Twyla and Roberta finally come to an understanding once again and discuss the issues between them. Overall, while the influence of racial differences threads through the plot, it never becomes the decisive factor, leaving the leading role to common personal attributes.
The significance of Recitattif stems from a combination of powerful factors, which determined the story’s background and impact. Toni Morrison wrote a story about vivid characters living their own lives while avoiding common stereotypes. When discussing the story, Knoflíčková states that the author manages to shift the focus of the reader’s attention from the socially ascribed characteristics and prejudices (26). This way, Morrison increased the impact of her message, as the lack of emphasis on cultural differences actually highlighted the false nature of the assumptions behind them. Twyla and Roberta were defined by their thought, actions, and views instead of the external roles expected from them. Accordingly, they acted like human beings with their own fears, hopes, and aspirations. This model has contributed to the credibility of the story, but it can also be extended to personal relationships, in general. Morrison clearly showed that racial stereotypes are highly superficial, and she did so in the most artful manner possible by not devoting attention to them.
Recitatif possesses both social and literary qualities, which made it a seminal piece known today. Its inclusion in the general English curricula is important, as it contributes to the eradication of the invasive “whiteness” of the field. This detrimental concept has two facets, which complement one another. First of all, many non-white authors are ignored by scholars, despite the evident quality of their literature. However, even when their voices are heard, the discussion surrounding their works is determined by the racial identities of the authors (Barnett 27). Therefore, it is possible to state that Morrison’s plot in Recitatif reflects the extended context in which African American literature has existed.
In conclusion, Toni Morrison managed to send a powerful message through her works, among which Recitatif is one of the most important ones. She based her plots and characters on personal inspiration, following decades of struggle against discrimination. Twyla and Roberta reflect the positive model of interpersonal relationships, which are not defined by their racial identities. Recitatif made an invaluable contribution to literary diversity, while also contributing to equality-related issues in the broader context.
“Toni Morrison. Biography.” Biography , 2021. Web.
“Women, Race, and Memory: An Excerpt From Toni Morrison’s New Book, The Source of Self-Regard.” Jezebel , 2019. Web.
Barnett, Timothy. “Reading “Whiteness” in English Studies.” College English , vol. 63, no. 1, 2000, pp. 9-37. Web.
Knoflíčková, Marie. “Racial Identities Revisited: Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif.” Litteraria Pragensia , vol. 21, no. 41, 2011, pp. 22-33.
Lee, Alexander Kerri. “Toni Morrison.” National Women’s History Museum. n.d. Web.
Morrison, Toni. Recitatif . Pons y Cia, 2010.
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Reflections About Toni Morrison
Photo: Michael Norcia/New York Post Archives via Getty Images
PAW asked several Princetonians for their reflections about Toni Morrison. See below for additional links to essays by alumni and faculty.
By Morgan Jerkins ’14
I found out about Toni Morrison’s passing while I was just a few minutes away from my job. I was checking the news on my phone, and when I saw her image within an announcement of her death in New York magazine, I immediately entertained the thought of pivoting my heel to go back home. Not Toni Morrison, I thought. We need her. In a time of heightened white supremacy, domestic terrorist attacks, and gaslighting of our nation’s history, Morrison’s prose has always been a lighthouse in the dead of night. I watched and reviewed the documentary of her life and career in June, and I was floored by how powerful a woman she was in scope and versatility.
In the photo above, students congratulate Morrison after she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Oct. 7, 1993.
Morrison showed the world that black life is full of vibrancy without the white gaze clouded over us. Her unforgettable characters and their stories across the American landscape will stay with us forever. I am thankful, as a black woman of arts and letters, that Morrison and her work existed. I am thankful that Toni Morrison was privileged enough to receive her flowers while she was living, when many, many other black female artists and their lives have been lost to the shadows and are in desperate need of recovering. Even now, I cannot believe she’s gone, but Morrison is never entirely gone. Her prose remains with us, and in a way, has made her immortal.
Morgan Jerkins ’14 is an author, journalist, editor, and professor. Her debut essay collection, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, was published in 2018.
By Jacob Sager Weinstein ’94
In my junior year of Princeton, I took Professor Morrison’s Long Fiction seminar. She was a best-selling author and a Pulitzer Prize winner, and was frequently mentioned as a Nobel candidate. More than that, I had read her books. I knew what she could do as a writer. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.
At least, I was intimidated walking into her classroom. By the time I walked out, she had somehow convinced me that I had the right to sit in a room with her and learn from her, and most improbably of all, to contribute something to our conversation. Decades later, I’m still not sure how she pulled off that particular conjuring trick.
It had something to do with the matter-of-factness with which she talked about her own work. She struggled with opening scenes, she said. She’d start writing a novel and, halfway through, realize she had begun it in the wrong place.
And it had something to do with how she talked about the stories we wrote for her. Of course, she found things to improve. But she also found things to delight in, so that we felt them worth improving.
More than any one thing she said, though, it had to do with the tone she set. She spoke to that roomful of students, decades younger and vastly less skilled than she, as though we were her respected colleagues.
Needless to say, I had not earned that respect with my inept, inexperienced writing. If I had earned it through anything, it could only be my status as a fellow human being. If you’ve read her books, you know Toni Morrison’s endless empathy for our broken, joyful, struggling species. Receiving that empathy first-hand was the best of that semester’s many gifts.
Jacob Sager Weinstein ’94’s most recent book is Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian.
By Kate McQuade ’03
I have few memories of 9/11 that haven’t been replaced by images I’ve seen a thousand times on TV screens. But one memory I’ve held onto is standing in a crowd on Cannon Green, feeling lost and confused at a schoolwide vigil, and listening to Toni Morrison read a poem addressed to the dead of September 11.
I was a junior. The light that day was bright and golden, the sky cloudless — it might have been the cruelly beautiful afternoon of 9/11, but I’m pretty sure the vigil was a few days later. (The facts matter less to me than the feelings I remember; I think anyone who has read Beloved knows that sometimes memories take on a life of their own, that they can end up meaning more than facts.)
What I remember feeling, as Morrison read her poem very slowly and deliberately, was something going calm across the crowd. It wasn’t comfort. Just calmness: a quiet, charged awareness that we were facing a terroristic power whose scope was still beyond us. Mortality, maybe. Hate, maybe. History, maybe. Whatever it was, her words reminded us that speaking up mattered, even — perhaps especially — in the wake of unspeakable loss.
Since Morrison’s passing, I’ve been thinking a lot about what she taught me — as a writer, as a teacher of writing, as a white person living in a country that grants me undue privilege because of my skin. Most of all, she taught me the importance of speaking up. Of addressing not just external evils, but also those seeded among us, in a country where terrorism is just as often domestic and where racially motivated discrimination and violence find enduring roots in a national history that must also be addressed.
She reminded me there on Cannon Green, and many times since in her novels, of the multifaceted power of language: a way to both honor the dead and push against those who threaten the living. There was no better example of who we should all be as Americans.
Kate McQuade ’03 is the author of Tell Me Who We Were, which was published by William Morrow in July.
By Leah Wright Rigueur *09
When I was a graduate student at Princeton University in the early 2000s, one of my most potent memories is of sitting in on Cornel West and Eddie Glaude’s class on the black intellectual tradition; on this day, our guests were Morrison, the actress Phylicia Rashad, and Jay-Z (Shawn Carter). Turning to Carter, West asked the rapper to comment on his musical catalog, his lyrics, and race in America. Jay-Z vigorously shook his head, laughed, and responded: “Why should I talk when Toni Morrison is here? She’s the one who taught me. I need to learn from her.” The room broke out in laughter born from a shared understanding that Morrison was our translator, our teacher, our literary great, our canon.
READ MORE • The Place of the Idea; The Idea of the Place • Rally ’Round the Cannon: The Idea of the Person
Long before I became a professional historian, Morrison put me through a master class in doing history imaginatively, reassuring me that the careful excavation of stories that unapologetically center black life and community was, and still is, a revolutionary act, especially for a black woman in America. “I write what I have recently begun to call village literature,” she once noted. “Fiction that is really for the village, for the tribe. ... I think long and carefully about what my novels ought to do. They should clarify the roles that have become obscured; they ought to identify those things in the past that are useful and those things that are not; and they ought to give nourishment.” Morrison told us to explore that which is foreign, and to wrestle with both the beautiful and the horrifying parts of blackness, and to do it with clarity, love, and empathy. She constantly reminded us that writing us “whole,” in all our intricacies and silences, was a necessary part of freedom. She leaves a legacy of limitless possibility, for our community, our liberation, and for us: “The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined, and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers.”
Leah Wright Rigueur *09 is an associate professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author of The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power . This is an excerpt from an essay that appeared Aug. 9 in The Washington Post.
By Susan Wheeler
By the time I began teaching at 185 Nassau, Toni Morrison, in the hive of her Atelier program, was spared the joys of faculty meetings and so some years passed before I met her. But she had, through her novels, been my teacher — about language, about what needed writing, about language’s “deference to the uncapturability of the life it mourns.”* I had studied the sentences and the images of Sula as though it were a sonnet.
I had lived in Chicago when it elected its first black mayor, Harold Washington, and in a final moment before big-box stores, cellphones, and digital music blanketed every city. For a long while I had wanted to write that moment and, within that fiction, to stay with a voice based in part on the voice of a man who ran a basement record store I had frequented. I am white so there had to be a white narrator, but I didn’t want the man living only in the white character’s racial imagination, and I didn’t want what Skip Gates named the “Magic Negro,” the black character present only to save a white one. If I gave him his own narration — not a counterpart but a life making the white girl and her racial fixation superfluous — I felt it would only be justified if I could write it “perfectly.” And, of course, I couldn’t, so I stalled.
Then Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize, and in her acceptance speech I read, “Make up a story. Narrative is radical — creating us at the very moment it is being created. ... We know you can never do it properly — once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try.”* I pinned this to my desk and hobbled into the morass.
I feared it was done improperly, abysmally, but a decade later, my narrative was done. I still hadn’t met Toni when my publisher sent her the novel’s galleys for her comment; blurbs came in from others and the book went to press. One Saturday morning I ignored a 7 a.m. phone call. It was Toni, calling the number beside the publisher’s — mine — to leave a message: She regretted having taken so long and hoped that the publisher could use her comment, in which she said my “flawless ear ... produced an irresistible work.” I had to listen again to believe it. A decade’s fear lost half its heft in a moment.
In the years following I at last met Toni and spent several occasions both tongue-tied and laughing in her presence: She relished her own considerable humor in a way that upped its delivery. That she was here, at Princeton — an embodied teacher for her students in addition to the way her art teaches the rest of us — still thrills me.
Princeton professor Susan Wheeler is the author of a novel, Record Palace, and six books of poetry.
More Reflections by Alumni and Faculty
Michelle Obama ’85: “We Belong, She Showed Us…” (From The Washington Post )
Troy Patterson ’96: On Morrison’s “Indelible Substance” (From The New Yorker )
Professor Tracy K. Smith: Her “Epic and Poetic” Stories Inspired Writers (From The New York Times )
Moshin Hamid ’93: On the “Honor” of Being One of Morrison’s Students (From The New York Times )
Elena Sheppard ’09: “The Reason I Wanted to be a Writer” (From Yahoo! )
President Eisgruber ’83: “She Revised This University” (From WHYY )
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Why Toni Morrison Left Publishing
Dan sinykin on black editors, white publishers, and beloved.
Commercial book publishing was (and is) unbearably white. In 1971, when Toni Morrison became a trade editor, about 95 percent of the fiction published by the big commercial houses was by white authors. By 2018, that number dropped only to 89 percent. One of the only other black women working as an editor, Marie Brown, started the same year at Doubleday. Black women faced bias along axes of race and gender, making Morrison’s extraordinary accomplishments all the more astonishing. She began her career in publishing as a textbook editor for L. W. Singer in Syracuse, a Random House subsidiary. On a visit a couple years later, Bob Bernstein—observing that “African Americans were not just underrepresented in the business; they were practically nonexistent”—promoted Morrison first to the scholastic division then to trade editor for Random House at the New York City headquarters.
She pointedly acquired black writers for what was an extremely white list. “I wasn’t marching,” she told Hilton Als. “I didn’t go to anything. I didn’t join anything. But I could make sure there was a published record of those who did march and did put themselves on the line.” She was unsentimental and unsparing. For an internal report on a manuscript from Black Panther Huey Newton, she recommended that Random House “delete some of the truly weak essays, edit all” and argued that “the Panthers and their prose should be given the benefit of editing and thus be shown in their best light.” Along with Newton, she published nonfiction by Muhammad Ali and Angela Davis; in terms of fiction and poetry, she published Toni Cade Bambara, Lucille Clifton, Leon Forrest, June Jordan, and Gayl Jones. She managed to make a little headway against the whiteness of the house’s list.
Her situation as a black woman at a very white press, though, was fraught. It was fraught within the house, where she had to contest entrenched white supremacy. It was also fraught outside the house, where her black peers might see her as a sellout. Some did. Morrison published poetry and fiction by Henry Dumas, a black writer who had been murdered by the police in 1968. His poems had circulated in the black press, including Black World , before Morrison published his collection Play Ebony, Play Ivory . Her edition didn’t acknowledge the prior publications. Editors at Black World were displeased. The executive editor wrote to Morrison to say that he was “more than a little offended.” A week later, Morrison received a letter from her friend Carole Parks, a Black World editor. She wrote, “it’s not just that you have given people absolutely no inkling that a Black publication gave Dumas his first national exposure. It’s that you have at the same time added to the myth that Black genius would languish unappreciated were it not for some white liberal or far-sighted individual like yourself.” Parks accused Morrison of being interested in herself and her “already prestigious career.” Morrison responded that she had been deeply hurt. She asked, “Perhaps I should leave white publishers to their own devices?” She said she would miss her friendship with Parks.
In the meantime, Morrison became a star novelist. She published her first novel, The Bluest Eye , with Holt, Rinehart in 1970. When Robert Gottlieb, Knopf editor, learned that the author of The Bluest Eye worked in the same building, he brought her in house and became her editor for the rest of her life. She dedicated her late masterpiece, A Mercy (2008), to him. She published her second novel, Sula , in 1973, writing to her friend James Baldwin for a blurb, which he gave. “I love the quote just as you wrote it,” she replied. “Perfect and unad-copyish.” In the same letter, she lamented that she couldn’t be the one to publish his latest novel, If Beale Street Could Talk . “It is so beautiful that I wanted to cover it, touch it, promote it, be knowledgeable about it—you know become an If Beale Street Could Talk groupie.” After publishing her third novel, Song of Solomon , in 1977, she felt she needed more time to focus on her writing. She began coming into the office one day per week and doing the rest of her work from home.
In her last years as an editor, Morrison helped lead the chorus of those calling to take up arms against conglomeration. In 1981, Morrison delivered the keynote address at the American Writers Congress to an overflow crowd of three thousand. Writers today, she said, “are held in contempt—to be played with when our masters are pleased, to be dismissed when they are not.” She argued that the pomp of the 1970s, the big auctions and the author tours, masked the damage conglomeration had done: “the vitality in the arts which promoters like to talk about is false. Beneath the headlines of blockbusters and bestsellers, underneath the froth of the book fairs, something is terribly wrong.” She preached, she declaimed. The audience erupted frequently in cheers and applause. “The life of the writing community is under attack,” she said, sounding not unlike Stephen King in The Dark Tower . “Editors,” she said, turning to her day job, “are now judged by the profitability of what they acquire rather than by what they acquire, or the way they acquire it. Acceptance of the givenness of the marketplace keeps us in ignorance.” She closed with revolutionary rhetoric. “We are already at the barricades, and if there is one resolution that emerges from this congress, it is that we choose to remain at the barricades.”
She resigned from Random House in 1983. “Leaving was a good idea,” she wrote in the preface to her next novel, Beloved (1987), “The books I had edited were not earning scads of money.” She quietly blamed colleagues who were less than supportive of her list. “My enthusiasm,” she wrote, “shared by some, was muted by others, reflecting the indifferent sales figures.”
She threw herself into Beloved , which would become her greatest success. It was based on a news clipping she’d included in The Black Book (1974), a work of experimental collage. Margaret Garner escaped slavery in 1856 by crossing from Kentucky to Ohio with her four children. When slave catchers caught them, Garner killed her two-year-old and tried to kill the others rather than have them returned to slavery. Morrison transposes Garner’s story onto Sethe, her protagonist, and sets Sethe’s story after emancipation in Sethe’s house, which is haunted by the dead child, known as Beloved. It is a novel about the haunting afterlives of slavery. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, helped Morrison win the Nobel Prize in 1993, and has become the most widely held U.S. novel in libraries and one of the most written-about U.S. novels in scholarly journals. It influenced the priorities of African American literary studies for the coming decades.
By Morrison’s account, Beloved is also about publishing. This is, on its face, a ludicrous claim. The novel is about chain gangs and slave catchers and trauma. It features no editors, no publishing houses. Yet Morrison confesses that publishing is at its center. In the novel’s preface, she writes:
“A few days after my last day of work, sitting in front of my house on the pier jutting out into the Hudson River, I began to feel an edginess instead of the calm I had expected. I ran through my index of problem areas and found nothing new or pressing. I couldn’t fathom what was so unexpectedly troubling on a day that was perfect, watching a river that serene. I had no agenda and couldn’t hear the telephone if it rang. I heard my heart, though, stomping away in my chest like a colt. . . . Then it slapped me: I was happy, free in a way I had never been, ever. It was the oddest sensation. Not ecstasy, not satisfaction, not a surfeit of pleasure or accomplishment. It was a purer delight, a rogue anticipation with certainty. Enter Beloved .”
“I think now it was the shock of liberation that drew my thoughts to what ‘free’ could mean,” she adds. Morrison is saying that leaving Random House enabled her to feel , in her body , a freedom that she could project back onto emancipation from slavery. She describes the first moment of freedom for Sethe’s mother, Baby Suggs, in much the same way. “Something’s the matter,” Baby Suggs thinks. “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?” She sees her hands as her hands. And she feels “a knocking in her chest, and discover[s] something else new: her own heartbeat. Had it been there all along? This pounding thing?” It was the oddest sensation.
Acknowledging the possibility of exaggeration, let’s follow Morrison’s thought. Beloved describes the thrill of freedom, but also insists that freedom is contaminated by the haunting of slavery. Among the degradations that haunt Sethe, she was coerced into complicity with racist writings. A villain named schoolteacher—uncapitalized—dehumanizes Sethe by forcing her to submit to his pupils’ scrutiny as they write down, in parallel, her “human” and “animal” characteristics. Sethe returns to this traumatic event, remembering the observation. She also remembers, and is haunted by, the fact that she made the ink that schoolteacher and his pupils used. “I made the ink,” she says, toward the end of the novel, “He couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t made the ink.”
Beloved is an exquisite work of art, terrifying and beautiful. It does everything. One of the things it does is allegorize the publishing industry for a black woman who worked as an editor at a major house for sixteen years, who fought for black writers in a sea of whiteness, who was more or less accused by other black editors of being a race traitor. Morrison, defending herself to Carole Parks, wrote that she didn’t have a career, she just had work. It is a story of coercion into white supremacy. I made the ink . But it is also a story about the exhilaration of freedom. Morrison ended her preface to Beloved by emphasizing the connection, making sure readers feel the sensation of a heartbeat that is hers and Baby Suggs’s both: “I husband that moment on the pier, the deceptive river, the instant awareness of possibility, the loud heart kicking, the solitude, the danger.”
Dan Sinykin’s Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature is available from Columbia University Press.
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Home (Morrison Novel)
By toni morrison.
- Home (Morrison Novel) Summary
Frank Money is twenty-four years old and a veteran of the Korean War. He receives a mysterious and anonymous note telling him to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, to rescue his sister Cee, urging him to come quickly because if he is tardy Cee might be dead before he gets there. Frank suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and lapses into "episodes" which leave him hospitalized in a mental institution at the beginning of the novel.
Frank and Cee grew up in a sleepy, middle-of-nowhere small town called Lotus, in the state of Georgia. They had a rough childhood; their grandfather's wife, Lenore , was verbally abusive and their hardworking parents were disconnected from them and later died. Lenore hated Cee the most because she was born after the family was evicted from their home in Texas, and thought her inauspicious birth augured future bad behavior.
Frank was always protective of Cee and took the brunt of any anger directed towards both of them; this was to shield her, which was well-meaning but ultimately damaging to Cee, who never learned how to defend herself emotionally or physically. Left to fend for herself, Cee's head was quickly turned by a man named Prince from Atlanta. They married and he took her back to his hometown with him, in a prized motor car they took from Lenore. The car was his pride and joy, far more than his wife, and after only a month of marriage he took the car and left Cee in Atlanta, a city where she knew nobody.
Cee worked as a kitchen hand, but it did not pay well. She found another job as a doctor's assistant, working for Dr. Beauregard Scott . He had a good name, but some things about him were disturbing, such as an over-interest in race science; his bookshelf groaned under the weight of books on the subject. She idolized the doctor and respected him enormously, but she had never had any experience in the medical field before and so did not see the signs of malpractice when they were in front of her. While living with the Scotts, she befriends their housekeeper, Sarah .
After escaping from the institution and getting help from kind pastors, Frank is able to start his trip to rescue Cee. He has a lot of time to think while he travels to Atlanta. He thinks of the woman he was with before this trip— Lily —and how it did not seem to be working out very well for either of them even though they loved each other. He remembers how he couldn't wait to leave Lotus. He remembers how excited he was about going to Korea, but he had not anticipated what seeing action would mean. The deaths of his friends and brothers-in-arms still haunt him. He cannot get the image out of his head of a guard shooting a Korean child in the face after she stroked his crotch.
Frank goes directly to Dr. Beauregard's house when he reaches Atlanta. He finds Cee in terrible shape: she is rail-thin, exhausted, and bleeding from between the legs. Dr. Beauregard was a eugenicist, sterilizing local women and conducting experiments on Cee. Sarah saw how sick Cee was getting, and wrote to her brother, who contacted Frank. Frank takes his sister out of the doctor's house, and then heads back to Lotus. He hasn't been there since he enlisted, but he knows that Miss Ethel Fordham is the only person who can help Cee in this condition. Miss Ethel and the neighborhood women can cure Cee but they won't let Frank see her at all whilst they are doing so.
The ladies nurse Cee back to health. She also learns how to be a little more street-smart than she was when she arrived; as well as healing her body, the women toughen up her mind and her spirit. Dr. Beauregard's experiments have rendered Cee infertile. She has visions all the time, and imagines children smiling up at her as if she is their mother. This causes something in Frank's memory to flip a switch and he is able to finally admit that the guard who shot the Korean girl in the face after she excited him sexually was actually him. This is likely one of the root causes of his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Frank and Cee have always been close, but having to look their truths in the eye brings them even closer. Frank does not feel so restless back in Lotus as he did when he was a teen. In fact, being back seems to comfort him. Cee and Frank want to do something to right the wrongs they feel they have done, and so they seek out the unmarked grave of a man from the town. Lotus had a lot of illicit "fight clubs" and this particular man was killed fighting to the death while men paid money to watch and bet on the winner. They take a quilt that Cee made, and wrap the bones of the dead man in it, creating a coffin for him before burying him once again.
Home (Morrison Novel) Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Home (Morrison Novel) is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Study Guide for Home (Morrison Novel)
Home study guide contains a biography of Toni Morrison, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About Home (Morrison Novel)
- Character List
Essays for Home (Morrison Novel)
Home essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Home by Toni Morrison.
- The Temporal Realities of Imagined Pasts in Home and Yellow Earth
- Dehumanization of the African-American Community: Insights from Home
Lesson Plan for Home (Morrison Novel)
- About the Author
- Study Objectives
- Common Core Standards
- Introduction to Home (Morrison Novel)
- Relationship to Other Books
- Bringing in Technology
- Notes to the Teacher
- Related Links
- Home (Morrison Novel) Bibliography
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