Black History Month: Toni Morrison

Firstly, I would like to apologize for my week long hiatus. Now, on to Toni Morrison.

ab-Toni-MorrisonIn my mind, one of the most important contemporary African American writers of today would have to be Toni Morrison. If you’ve yet to read any of her novels, you are both lucky and deprived. I say lucky because you probably aren’t mentally prepared for some of the discomforting subjects you will inevitably be reading. I say deprived because although the novels are typically set in the past and, as a result, may seem implausible, the stories deal with issues we as African Americans have faced in the past and still face today.

Of her ten novels, I’ve read six. My favorite so far is definitely Song of Solomon. My least favorite, A Mercy, however, I feel the reason behind my dislike for A Mercy is that I had to read it for a class and was only given a week to finish it. Now, I don’t care how great or fast a reader you are, no one can read a Toni Morrison novel in a week. Especially if you’re like me, an English major taking four other courses, each with a book and a paper to be completed by the end of the week. Talk about stress! I finished the novel, yes, but I know I missed important details. Toni Morrison has a very poetic writing style. Very sophisticated and complex. It can be a difficult read sometimes. I don’t recommend multitasking. As a writer, I think what frustrated me the most—this frustrated another writer in the class as well—was that she broke so many rules. Changing points of view within a paragraph. Jumping back and forth through time and place without any identifiable transitions. These are things we are told not to do in our fiction writing courses, yet not only did she do them, but she got away with doing them, and they worked in her favor! It made me so mad, but I guess when you’re as accomplished as Toni Morrison is, you can do those kinds of things. Now that I have graduated and am on the job hunt (which means I have A LOT of time on my hands), I can go back and reread A Mercy and her other works, and my opinion of the novels may possibly change.

One of her most notable works is Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Price in 1988. Beloved is a fictional story inspired by the fugitive slave, Margaret Garner, who opted to kill her own daughter than to allow her to be taken back into slavery and suffer the abuse that many slaves, especially enslaved women, endured during that time. It’s an heart-wrenching story that explores the lengths a mother would take to protect her children, how those actions affect everyone else around her, and how, over time, it can eat her up. For those of you who have read the novel, you know what I mean when I say, it can literally eat her alive, almost killing her. The epigraph of the book reads: “Sixty Million and more,” dedicated to the Africans and their descendants who lost their lives thanks to the cruelty of the Atlantic slave trade.

Other novels of hers include The Bluest Eye, which tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl who is raped and impregnated by her father. Before you jump to judge, you may find yourself surprisingly developing sympathy for the father of all people! Song of Solomon explores family heritage, the metaphor of flight and transcending one’s problems, and the injustices that the black community faces every day. There was one passage that talked about the science of race that was so ironic, I wished the creators of the white vs. black dichotomy were still alive to see how ignorant they sounded. When I think of the purpose for the Seven Days terrorist group that Guitar was a part of, it makes we want to go down to Florida and shoot up a truck of teenage white boys because of their “loud music” (Not really. Please don’t call the cops. Read the book instead). I can understand why Song of Solomon was banned in some places, but it is still a must read in my opinion. Jazz and Paradise form parts two and three, respectively, of Morrison’s trilogy on African American history which began with Beloved. Jazz, in it’s structure, mirrors the characteristics of jazz music, and Paradise tells the story of the tension between the leaders of the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma and outcast women living in a convent seventeen miles way. From the very first sentence, this novel will have you puzzling for days to come, who the hell was the white girl?! I recently found Sula hiding behind Kendall Hart Slater’s (From All My Children . . . don’t ask) novel, CHARM! on my mother’s bookshelf. Sula will be the next Toni Morrison novel on my list to read.

I know that there are many subplots within the main plots of her novels that people may miss after the first read. I know that novels aren’t Morrison’s only contribution to the African American literary canon. If you have read her novels or any of her other works, let me know your opinions of them in the comments below, and as always, Happy Black History Month.

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