Toni Morrison: A Teaching and Learning Resource Collection

Overviews of Toni Morrison's Fiction

Below are profiles of Toni Morrison's novels; each link opens to a page that may contain other links, including reception histories and contextual and critical overviews. 

One of the great pleasures of reading all of Morrison's fiction might be the way a reader can begin to see patterns and evolution in the work. Certain sensibilities and ideas are present throughout, and even Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, is impressively mature and complex. Morrison's feminism and her critique of the damage racism does to Black communities are both present in all of her works, often intersectionally. Morrison's interest in invoking the imprint of historical events and trauma on later generations is also widely prevalent. And another nother ubiquitous theme is the importance of naming and being named in African American culture -- both as a sign of the displacement and dispossession many Black Americans have experienced (i.e., having names imposed on them by white people in positions of power), and, when new names are chosen, as a way of claiming ownership of the self. 

Starting with Song of Solomonit may be fair to say that there is a growing interest in a redemptive arc in Morrison's novels. While none of her novels have what might be deemed a "happy ending," the novels after Sula offer some degree of redemptive possibility for their main characters. In Morrison's fourth novel, Tar Baby, Thérèse gives Son the choice of escaping from the trap of internalized anti-Blackness represented by Jadine; in Song of Solomon, Milkman learns the importance of his aunt and the women in his life; in Beloved, Sethe, Denver, and Paul D have a clear path forward to recovery after Beloved disappears, even if they will all have to continue to live with the reality of their traumas. And so on. 

A second pattern that might be observed is Morrison's increasing emphasis on a kind of lyrical abstraction in the novels leading up to, and including, Paradise. After Paradise, however, Morrison moves towards shorter narratives and a kind of stripped down style, with Home, Love, and God Help the Child all much shorter than the novels from the mid-point of her career. (We hope to demonstrate some of this quantitatively on the Maps and Data page.)

(As of November 2022, we have yet to add a profile of Love.)

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