Toni Morrison: Rags to Riches In the mid twentieth century, the Civil Rights Movement influenced African-American writers to express their opinions. Most African-American writers of the time discussed racism in America and social injustice. Some authors sought to teach how the institution of slavery affected those who lived through it and African-Americans who were living at the time. One of these writers was the Toni Morrison, the novelist, who intended to teach people about all aspects of African-American life present and past.
In Beloved like all of her novels, Toni Morrison used vivid language, imagery, and realism to reveal the interior life of slavery and its vestiges which remained in African- American life. Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio to George and Ramah Willis Wofford. She was the second of four children. Her parents influenced her writing because of their contrasting views. Her father had a very pessimistic view of hope for his people; however, her mother had a more positive belief that a person, with effort, could rise above African-Americans' current surroundings (Carmean 1-2). Her parents also influenced her because they were "gifted storytellers who taught their children the value of family history and the vitality of language" (Carmean 2).
Toni Morrison graduated with honors from Lorain High School. She went to Howard University where she majored in English Literature. While at Howard, she changed her name from Chloe to Toni. Toni Morrison went to graduate school at Cornell University.
She earned a Bachelor's degree from Howard and a Master's degree from Cornell. Toni Morrison met Harold Morrison, her husband, at Howard University where he was an architect student. Toni Morrison and Harold Morrison later divorced. Though they had two sons. Their first son was Harold Ford.
Slade Morrison, their second son, helps Toni Morrison in her writing of children's books. Toni Morrison has held many jobs as a writer, teacher, and an editor. As a teacher, she taught general composition and literature classes at Howard University. Some of her students at Howard were Houston Baker and Claude Brown. At Yale University, Toni Morrison taught creative writing and African-American literature. As an editor, she worked as senior editor at Random House in New York City.
She worked her way up to that position from being an editor of textbooks at I. W. Singer Publishing House, a subsidiary of Random House. She has written many novels, plays, essays, and lectures.
Toni Morrison has been recognized for her many novels and contribution to American literature. Her most prestigious awards are the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. She has been nominated for and received the National Book Award for Sula and Beloved. She has received the National Humanities Medal and the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award from the National Organization of Women.
She has also accepted the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Beloved. Toni Morrison is currently working on various projects She is writing the lyrics for an opera composed by Richard Dagelar anticipated to debut in Michigan. She is writing children books with Slade Morrison, her son. She is currently teaching at Princeton University as the Robert F. Goh een Professor of Humanities teaching African- American Studies and creative writing.
Beloved is the book that won Toni Morrison the Pulitzer Prize. The novel is set on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio at 124 Bluestone Road in 1873. The novel is based on the true story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave, who killed her infant child to save her from growing up in slavery (Toni Morrison Uncensored 1). The story depicts the life of Sethe, a former slave on a Kentucky Farm called Sweet Home, who has been a free woman for eighteen years ("Works of Toni Morrison 1). She occupies the house with Denver, her eighteen-year-old daughter, in a house haunted by her baby daughter (Works 1). Her sons abandon her in their teenage years and her mother-in law Baby Suggs is dead (Works 1).
Sethe thinks of a future with Paul D. , another slave from Sweet Home, arrives. Paul D. comes into the house, gets rid of the ghost, and tries to form a family bond with Sethe and Denver (Works 1). The ghost returns to claim her family (Works 1). She comes one afternoon with no memory of her past and presents and says that her name is Beloved (Works 1).
The girl is taken in. She gets Paul D. out of Sethe's room and charms Denver (Works 1). Flashbacks occur and interrupt the present time (Works 1). Sethe and Paul D.
must work through the awful truth that Sethe killed her baby to protect her from slavery (Works 1). Paul D. leaves her, and she sinks into grief and tries to explain to Beloved the reason for her acting as she did (Works 1). Very soon Denver understand the toll Beloved's spirit has taken on Sethe, and she must save her family (Works 1). She gets help from the townspeople, thirty women who come to drive out the spirit of Beloved with their prayers (Works 1).
Paul D. returns to Sethe (Works 1). The central theme of Beloved is the "interior life of slavery" (Johnson 415). Morrison wishes to show that " slavery distorts the most basic of human instincts, like motherhood, and leaves absolutely no room for ' person hood'" (Works 2). Margaret Atwood of the New York Times Book Review says "the slaves are motherless, fatherless, deprived of mates, children, and kin" (Johnson 415). Two other themes of the novel are respect for ancestors and the sense of eternalness that their spirit brings to the lives of the characters and the acceptance of the supernatural as a part of everyday life (Works 2).
Also a theme is that a mother's love, that untouchable expression of love for one's children can be compelling and destructive (Works 2). Another key theme is that " Isolation from family, community, and self can be devastating to the human spirit" (Works 3). Morrison uses many literary techniques in the novel to draw people to the story. Morrison uses irony for " sarcasm and the difference between appearance and reality" (Works 6).
The greatest irony of the story is how Sethe kills her child out of love to prevent the child from suffering the horrors of slavery (Works 6). Morrison uses symbolism with Beloved to convey a message. Morrison wanted Beloved to be a 'mirror' character that would show the inner being of the characters she encountered; with Sethe, she revealed the mother's fears and her hopes surrounding the killing of Beloved (Carmean 85). Beloved is also meant to reveal the actual trial of the Africans who suffered the Middle Passage (Carmean 85). Other techniques and usage applied by Morrison are suspense, flashbacks, foreshadowing, and realism.
Morrison uses suspense to draw the readers into the novel and to have a personal connection with the characters (Works 3). The reasons for a secret child are not known, but through a series of flashbacks and the usage of foreshadowing, the reader slowly understands what happened in the past (Works 3). Morrison uses realism in the novel so that "the novel's realistic tenor brings into focus the kind of life available to black people as both freemen and slaves in the latter half of the 19 th century" (Works 3). The novel incorporates the style of Toni Morrison and her main themes. Morrison in her style uses foreshadowing, realism, narrative voice, language, and dialogue. Morrison uses foreshadowing with nature symbolism to convey the theme of the novel more memorably to the audience (Bakerman 172).
Margo Jefferson of Newsweek claims that Toni Morrison uses realism to catch the reader's focus and attention (Johnson 412). Jennifer U glow of Times Literary Supplement maintains that Toni Morrison's works " employ sophisticated narrative devices, shifting perspectives and resonant images and displays an obvious delight in the potential of language" (Johnson 412). Morrison uses language, dialogue, and realism to show people the truth about African-American life. Jefferson maintains that, "Morrison's style has always moved fluidly between tough-minded realism and lyric descriptiveness. Vivid dialogue, capturing the drama and extravagance of black speech, gives ways to and impressionistic evocations of physical pain or and ironic essay-like analysis of the varieties of religious hypocrisy" (Johnson 412).
Dorothy Lee claims that, " poetic language awakens ours senses as she communicates an often ironic vision with moving imagery" (Johnson 416). Morrison uses her styles to communicate her various themes. The main themes of Morrison's works are racism and racial injustice, African-American life, the difference between black and white culture, community, and the supernatural. Racism and injustice appear in most of her books, and it is said that her novels show the negative side that racism brings about and the positive side that has empowered African-Americans to live and prosper in spite of racism (Mobley 508). African-American life is always a part of her writing, " Toni Morrison's novels reflect her desire to draw on people, places, language, values, cultural traditions that have shaped her own life and that of African American people" (Mobley 510). Susan L.
Blake claims that Morrison's novels show the differences between African-American culture and white beliefs and this difference produces the harmful view of the seduction and disloyalty of African-American people by white people and the optimistic theme of the pursuit of ethnic individuality (Johnson 412). Morrison's life has affected her themes of writing in that two big parts of her early life community spirit and the supernatural influence her later works ("Toni Morrison" 4). Loss, the psychology of the mind, and love are other themes found in Toni Morrison's novels. Jefferson maintains that, " Morrison's books are filled with loss-lost friendship, lost love, lost custom, loss possibilities" (Johnson 412). Love as a theme in her novels is "the effect on the individual of the presence or absence of love-just as they continue to examine relationships between parents and their children" (Bakerman 173).
Lee asserts that of Morrison's novels, every novel shows the acuity of her belief of psychological incentive of women particularly and especially of African-American women, and of the human mind in general (Johnson 416). In Beloved and all of her novels, Toni Morrison utilized dramatic dialect, metaphors, similes, and practicality to reveal the innermost soul of slavery and African- American life. In her early life, Toni Morrison understood the optimistic and pessimistic side of racism on an individual. She gained knowledge of the importance of community and language. In Beloved, Toni Morrison sought to show the reader the interior life of slavery through realism and foreshadowing. In all of her novels, Toni Morrison focused on the interior life of slavery, loss, love, the community, and the supernatural by using realism and vivid language.
" Morrison had cast a new perspectives on the nation's past and even suggests- though makes no promise- that people of strength and courage may be able to achieve a somewhat less destructive future" (Bakerman 173). Works Consulted Bakerman, Jane S. "Toni Morrison." American Women Writers. Taryn Benbow-Pfalz grat. 2 nd ed.
Vol. 3. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2000. 172-174. Carmean, Karen.
Toni Morrison's World of Fiction. Troy, NY: Whitton Publishing Company, 1993. 81-100. Johnson, Anne Janette. "Toni Morrison." Black Contemporary Authors; A Selection from Contemporary Authors. Eds.
Linda Metzger, et al. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Inc. , 1989. 411-416. Mobley, Marilyn Sanders. " Toni Morrison." The Oxford Companion to African American Literature.
Eds. William L. Andrews, Frances Smith, and Trudger Harris. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. 508-510." Toni Morrison." Literature Resource Center. Feb.
2004. Gale Group. 8 Apr. 2004. web Toni Morrison Uncensored. DVD.
Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 2003. "Works of Toni Morrison." Big Chalk Library. Jan 1990. Big Chalk. 8 Apr. 2004.