Literary and Critical Theory Toni Morrison
by
Tessa Roynon
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0044

Introduction

Toni Morrison (b. 18 February 1931), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, is the author of eleven novels to date. Born in Lorain, Ohio, to working-class parents, and the first member of her family to graduate from college (Howard University in 1953), it is a striking paradox that her own life in some ways embodies the kind of “American dream” that both her novels and she herself call into question. Her best-known work is Beloved (1987), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, but she is also acclaimed for The Bluest Eye (1970) and Song of Solomon (1977), both regularly taught at high schools in the United States. She has been championed in popular spheres such as Oprah’s Book Club, while at the same time attracting a vast following of scholars, who are drawn to the pertinence of her political engagement, the original beauty of her language and narrative technique, and the rewarding difficulty of novels such as Jazz (1992) and A Mercy (2008). She is also a noted literary critic in her own right, and her study of blackness in classic American literature by white authors, Playing in the Dark (1992), has had a lasting influence on the ways texts of all kinds are analyzed and taught. As this article documents, she is also the author of a number of paradigm-shifting essays, a short story, several pieces for performance (both sole- and co-authored), and numerous children’s books. Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech is itself a masterpiece, outlining her belief in the radical power of literature to challenge the dominant culture. Her novels, which together examine African American history through representations of individual lives that are both psychologically detailed and aesthetically experimental, epitomize that radical power. For this reason (among others), they are also valued as a rich site of theoretical exploration; hers is fiction that “does theory.” It has been translated into around thirty languages, and Morrison is studied across the globe from Japan to France, where she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 2010. Beloved by Barack Obama, in recent years she has become something of a celebrity public intellectual, often called upon to articulate her always-astute analysis of the realities of racial politics in the United States (and across the world). Scholars increasingly acknowledge the significance of her oeuvre as a major cultural intervention, and as a serious, enduring contribution to global intellectual thought.

General Overviews

The works in this section range from brief but useful assessments within larger studies (Hill 2011, Mobley McKenzie 2004) to more in-depth discussions of Morrison’s life, work, and the critical field (e.g., Goulimari 2011). The drawback to any overview of a living author is that it quickly becomes out of date or incomplete. None of the studies discussed here cover the novel God Help the Child (2015), for example. This does not invalidate the usefulness of relatively early studies, however, such as Matus 1998 or Kubitschek 1998. The second of these two contains a detailed summary of each plot, whereas the first, in its comparatively in-depth discussions, assumes prior knowledge of each novel. Roynon 2013 gives an overview of the critical field, which Smith 2012 does not, but Smith’s perspective on African American culture and her discussion of the writing for children is not replicated anywhere else. Terry 2005 invaluably positions the first twenty-five years of scholarship on Morrison within broader theoretical movements.

  • Goulimari, Pelagia. Toni Morrison. New York: Routledge, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Longest, most detailed overview of Morrison’s novels, up to A Mercy, and the key nonfiction. Useful account of Morrison’s life interspersed with its historical context. Includes detailed close readings of key moments in the novels alongside comparison with other writers across the cultural spectrum. Discusses selected criticism thematically and from a range of theoretical perspectives, in relation to each novel. Useful bibliography.

    Find this resource:

  • Hill, Michael. “Toni Morrison and the Post–Civil Rights African American Novel.” In The Cambridge History of the American Novel. Edited by Leonard Cassuto, 1064–1083. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521899079.070Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads Morrison as the preeminent African American novelist since 1970. Eschews comprehensive survey in favor of invaluable analyses of the first five novels in relation to numerous contemporaneous black American novelists and aesthetic/political movements (such as Black Arts). Includes only one sentence on Jazz and nothing on the novels that postdate this.

    Find this resource:

  • Kubitschek, Missy Denn. Toni Morrison: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Standard overview of the first seven novels, including a short but clear discussion of the narrative technique and plot of each novel. Invaluable for its comprehensive list of newspaper and magazine reviews of each novel (from The Bluest Eye to Paradise) on pages 189–192.

    Find this resource:

  • Matus, Jill. Toni Morrison. Contemporary World Writers. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Clear, detailed and highly readable overview of Morrison’s first six novels, with a postscript on Paradise. Chapters present a discussion of themes and technique without any overt summary of the plot. Chronology of Morrison’s life and the bibliography are rigorous and useful up to the year of the book’s publication.

    Find this resource:

  • Mobley McKenzie, Marilyn. “Spaces for Readers: The Novels of Toni Morrison.” In The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel. Edited by Maryemma Graham, 221–232. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521815746.014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview of the novels from The Bluest Eye to Paradise that emphasizes the texts’ insistence on an active, creative role for the reader in the collaborative construction of meaning.

    Find this resource:

  • Roynon, Tessa. The Cambridge Introduction to Toni Morrison. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Clearly written overview of novels from The Bluest Eye to A Mercy, and a discussion of the nonfiction that is extensive relative to comparable works. Includes overview of the main contexts with which Morrison’s work engages, and of the critical field.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Valerie. Toni Morrison: Writing the Moral Imagination. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118326732Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Relatively brief (136 pages) but engaged survey. Around ten pages of commentary on each of the first nine novels (longer on Beloved); five pages as an epilogue on Home. No discrete section on criticism, but footnotes do cite a range of critics, particularly leading African American scholars such as Wall and Fultz. List of further reading.

    Find this resource:

  • Terry, Jennifer. “Reading Toni Morrison Critically.” Literature Compass 2.1 (2005).

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2005.00147.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Succinct overview of critical approaches to Morrison up to the year of this article’s publication, illuminating her position in relation to the shifting parameters of American, African American, postcolonial, and transatlantic studies. Useful for undergraduates and those new to these fields.

    Find this resource:

Primary Texts

Morrison’s eleven novels (to date) are all in print and widely available in paperback. Not included in the annotated citations here (see Essay Collections and Monographs on Single Novels), they are: The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1998), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012) and God Help the Child (2015). Between 2004 and 2014, Vintage published editions of all the novels up to Love featuring somewhat controversial “new forewords” by Morrison herself. In terms of nonfiction, her 1992 work of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is widely available, as is her brilliant introduction to the Oxford edition of Huckleberry Finn (1996). The annotated selection below includes Morrison’s only published short story, “Recitatif,” selected performance pieces in which she worked collaboratively, and her most significant essays. It is essential to note that those essays listed here individually (e.g., “Home,” [1992]) are ones of crucial importance that are not reprinted in What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (Morrison 2008, cited under Essays). Morrison’s books for children (such as Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper (2003) are not listed here but are helpfully discussed in Smith 2012 (cited under General Overviews).

Short Story

“Recitatif,” Morrison’s sole published but very highly regarded short story, first appeared in an important collection called Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, edited by Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka (New York: Morrow, 1983). This is now out of print. Scholarly discussion of the story is relatively rare but can be found in Fultz 2003 (cited under Monographs on Two or More Novels by Morrison in the 2000s), King and Scott 2006 (cited under James Baldwin), and Nicol and Terry 2011 (cited under Special Issues of Journals).

  • Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” In Leaving Home: Stories. Edited by Hazel Rochman and Darlene Z. Campbell, 201–228. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The story’s two young female protagonists, Twyla and Roberta, are different from each other in every way, including their “race,” but, crucially and to great effect, Morrison never specifies these identities. The story is also about gender, memory, and shame, and it anticipates Paradise, in particular, in important ways.

    Find this resource:

Selected Pieces for Performance

Morrison has written lyrics for a range of works. Those not cited here include the little-known musical District Storyville (with music by Sidney Bechet), as well as Honey and Rue, in which the same lyrics were set to different music by André Previn and recorded on his album Honey and Rue. Morrison also wrote a play called Dreaming Emmett in 1983–1984. A response to the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, it was performed in Albany, New York (directed by Gilbert Moses) in 1986, but it was never published and the script is currently not available to the public. Annotated here are Morrison 2004—the libretto for the opera Margaret Garner—which is her best-known collaborative piece for performance, and Morrison and Traoré 2012, which is the script of Desdemona, a performance piece with Rokia Traoré and Peter Sellars, which has played in a range of international locations.

  • Morrison, Toni. Margaret Garner: An Opera in Two Acts. Rev. ed. New York: Associated Music, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Morrison wrote the words (libretto) for a score by Richard Danielpour. Reimagining the life and family of the historical woman who was the inspiration for the infanticidal Sethe in Beloved, it premiered in the Michigan Opera Theatre, Detroit, on 7 May 2005.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Toni, and Rokia Traoré. Desdemona. London: Oberon, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Premiered in Vienna on 15 May 2011. Collaboration between Morrison, who wrote the spoken text, the Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, who wrote the songs (and performed them as Barbary) and theater director Peter Sellars. Stages a conversation between Othello’s wife, Desdemona, and Barbary, who is interpreted (from a line in the “Willow Song” scene of Shakespeare’s play) as both an African slave and Desdemona’s childhood nurse or nanny.

    Find this resource:

Essays

Morrison’s nonfiction is every bit as significant as her fiction. Many of her essays on African American culture and literature and on American politics and society are collected in Morrison 2008. This anthology includes a reprinting of the Nobel Prize acceptance lecture of 1993. Key essays not collected therein are listed separately here: Morrison 1981 examines the relationship between urban life and community in the African American experience; Morrison 1994 is a landmark piece of cultural criticism on the processes of canon formation, which also includes detailed analysis by Morrison of her own early novels; and Morrison 1997, in which she outlines the radical aims and means of her own literary project.

  • Morrison, Toni. “City Limits, Village Values: Concepts of the Neighborhood in Black Fiction.” In Literature and the American Urban Experience: Essays on the City and Literature. Edited by Michael C. Jayne and Ann Chalmers Watts, 35–44. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fascinating essay, not anthologized elsewhere, about black autobiography versus white, and the importance of the ancestor and the neighborhood/community in black culture, and hence in black literature.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” In Within the Circle: An Anthology of African American Literary Criticism from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present. Edited by Angelyn Mitchell, 368–398. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in the Michigan Quarterly Review in 1989. One of Morrison’s most important essays. Combines analysis of her own novels, from The Bluest Eye to Beloved, with incisive, paradigm-shifting observations about canonicity, intertextuality, the work of Martin Bernal, and the relationship between her own work and Greek tragedy.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Toni. “Home.” In The House That Race Built: Black Americans, U.S. Terrain. Edited by Wahneema Lubiano, 3–12. New York: Pantheon, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Essential reading for all those interested in Morrison. Implicitly sets out a manifesto of her project as a writer: to “transform” the racist “house” of dominant American culture into a more accommodating, race-specific but nonracist “home.” Not to be confused with her 2012 novel of the same title, Home.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Toni. What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Edited by Carolyn Denard. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Invaluable collection of some of the most important essays. Includes pieces from 1970s, as well as “Rootedness” (1984) and “The Site of Memory” (1987). Second part contains Morrison’s fascinating reviews/forewords on other writers (e.g., James Baldwin, Henry Dumas). Essential reading for any serious understanding of Morrison at advanced high school level and above.

    Find this resource:

Edited Collections and Forewords

Morrison has been involved in editing anthologies, and in writing introductions and forewords to them, throughout her career. Harris 2009 is particularly noteworthy. This is a collection of historical articles, photographs, songs, slave posters, and so on that Morrison helped to compile as a young editor at Random House, and which left a lasting impression on her, not least for the article “A Visit to the Slave Mother who Killed her Child,” by P. S. Bassett in 1856 (p. 10), the account of Margaret Garner that was the inspiration for Beloved. Van Der Zee, et al. 1978 is an equally interesting project, which contains the photograph and interview that were to become the inspiration for Dorcas in Jazz. In the introductions to the essay collections she edited—Morrison 1992 (on the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy) and Morrison 1997 (on the O.J. Simpson trial)—she went on to display her acuity as a social commentator and public intellectual. Morrison 2009 constitutes her brief but forceful introduction to an anthology on censorship that she also edited.

  • Harris, Middleton, ed. The Black Book. New York: Random House, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First published in 1974, now widely available in its 35th anniversary edition, with a bespoke foreword by Morrison. Essential reading for those interested in the influence of African American material culture on Morrison’s work.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Toni, ed. Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the Construction of Social Reality. New York: Pantheon, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Major cultural critics analyze the workings of language, representation, law, and power in the confirmation of Thomas to the Supreme Court, in 1991, amid Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. Morrison’s introduction illuminates the function of racialized discourse in these processes, as well as the risks of the compromises Thomas made.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Toni, ed. Birth of A Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case. With Claudia Brodsky Lacour. New York: Pantheon, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cultural critics examine the high-profile murder trial of American football player O.J. Simpson in 1995. Morrison’s introduction illuminates the stereotypes of white supremacy and black inferiority that characterized media coverage and legal discourse concerning these events.

    Find this resource:

  • Morrison, Toni, ed. Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word. New York: Harper, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Morrison’s introduction to this collection of anti-censorship essays by distinguished writers is a little-known but important piece, “Peril.” The essay is an impassioned defense of “art” as a response to the “chaos” of the post-9/11 world (p. 3).

    Find this resource:

  • Van Der Zee, James, Owen Dodson, and Camille Billops. The Harlem Book of the Dead. New York: Morgan, 1978.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief but fascinating foreword (1978) by Morrison to this collage of photographs, poems, and an interview on funerary rites of Harlem residents in the 1920s.

    Find this resource:

Interviews

Morrison has given countless interviews throughout her career. She is an expansive and illuminating conversationalist, and the majority of her exchanges with mainstream media, the literary press, and literary scholars are recorded in two anthologies: Taylor-Guthrie 1994 and Denard 2008. The former ranges from 1974 until 1992, just after the publication of Jazz; the latter gathers previously uncollected pieces from 1977 until 2005. Two further highly significant interviews—with the black British intellectual Paul Gilroy in 1993, and with the African American New Yorker journalist Hilton Als in 2003—are listed here, as they are not reprinted in the anthologies (see Gilroy 1993 and Als 2003).

  • Als, Hilton. “Ghosts in the Attic.” New Yorker, 27 October 2003: 62–75.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A landmark interview in the New Yorker “Profiles” series, in which Morrison reflects on her life and work. Not reprinted anywhere else.

    Find this resource:

  • Denard, Carolyn, ed. Toni Morrison: Conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes Morrison’s reflections on Faulkner in 1985. Key interviews with Salman Rushdie (from 1992), A. J. Verdelle (1998) and two with Michael Silverblatt (1998 and 2004). Highlights include the much-cited “A Bench by the Road” (1988), the Paris Review interview with Elisa Schappell (1993), and the landmark “Blacks, Modernism and the American South” discussion with Denard herself (1998).

    Find this resource:

  • Gilroy, Paul. “Living Memory: An Interview with Toni Morrison.” In Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Cultures. By Paul Gilroy, 175–182. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historic discussion, primarily of Beloved; also contains some of Morrison’s most significant comments on modernism.

    Find this resource:

  • Taylor-Guthrie, Danille, ed. Conversations with Toni Morrison. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highlights of this first collection include conversations with Robert Stepto (1976), Nellie McKay (1983), and Gloria Naylor (1988). Very useful index.

    Find this resource:

Critical Studies

The critical field on Morrison is vast and potentially overwhelming. The MLA Bibliography records around 2,000 published items on this author. The material annotated and listed here has been selected on the grounds of its quality, its influence and endurance, and its originality. The selection begins with work that addresses two or more texts by Morrison, moves on to discussions of single texts, and then, after describing the four key journal special issues, turns to comparative work on Morrison and other authors. Articles that predominantly adopt a clear thematic approach such as “motherhood” or “African presences” are arranged under those headings, but other listed material, categorized differently, may well share these thematic concerns. Also included are some analyses of disparate aspects of Morrison studies, such as reflections on teaching her work or discussions of the nature of her critical reception.

Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts, 1980s and 1990s

The first essay collection on Toni Morrison’s fiction was the still definitive McKay 1988. It was notable and is still invaluable for reprinting many of the key early articles, published in journals and hard to locate, that set the benchmark for rigorous and politicized scholarship on Morrison. Bloom 1990 feels somewhat hastily assembled and without rationale by comparison, although many of its component essays are useful, and it helpfully reprints the essay “Unspeakable Things Unspoken” (Morrison 1994, cited under Essays). Gates and Appiah 1993 is very substantial. It reprints many reviews alongside critical essays that, as in McKay 1988, appeared earlier as seminal journal articles. There follow a series of “post-Nobel” anthologies, indicative of Morrison’s newfound status as a major novelist. Peterson 1997 contains (along with reprints) some landmark pieces published for the first time. Middleton 1997 is commendable for its eclectic range and for airing perspectives that sometimes directly oppose each other, and its essays for the most part avoid the critical sentimentalism or deference to Morrison’s own views expressed in interviews that sometimes plagues this field. Peach 1998 includes short excerpts from some significant monographs of the decade that precedes it, as well as a meticulous guide to further reading.

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Toni Morrison. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful reprints of key early essays by Davis (on “self and society”); Spillers (on Sula); and Miner 1990. Replicates the brilliant McDowell essay (on Sula) in McKay 1988. Mobley on Beloved (not a reprint) is a clear overview of that novel, ideal for those encountering it for the first time.

    Find this resource:

  • Gates, Henry Louis, and K. A. Appiah, eds. Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A 450-page volume of fifteen reprinted essays on the first five novels, prefaced by all the major mainstream media reviews of the first six. A very useful go-to resource for key articles by from Awkward (on The Bluest Eye), Christian (on the first two novels), Hirsch (on Beloved), Spillers (replicating Bloom 1990), and Willis on “funk.” Includes four interviews.

    Find this resource:

  • McKay, Nellie, ed. Critical Essays on Toni Morrison. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first critical anthology on Morrison. Predates Beloved and therefore contains precious in-depth studies (mostly reprinted from journals) of the four earlier texts. Highlights include Traylor on Tar Baby and Fabre on Song of Solomon. Reprints eight hard-to-find reviews of the first four novels. Not to be confused with Andrews and McKay 1999 (cited under Essay Collections and Monographs on Single Novels: Beloved).

    Find this resource:

  • Middleton, David, ed. Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. New York: Garland, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A goldmine for those in search of a one-volume cross-section of contrasting readings. Essays are diverse in approach but consistently rigorous, well written, and meticulous. Substantial (over three hundred pages), containing fifteen essays (two or three on each novel from The Bluest Eye to Jazz), twelve of which are reprinted from journals. Reprints Cowart 1997 (cited under William Faulkner). Essays by Powell and by Gillespie and Kubitschek on Sula are highlights, as are the three essays on Jazz, by Lewis, Barnes, and Mayberry.

    Find this resource:

  • Peach, Linden. Toni Morrison: Contemporary Critical Essays. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sometimes overlooked because it is confused with Peach’s sole-authored overview of a similar title, Toni Morrison. All are reprints of sections from books (useful for this) or new versions of old material in previous articles, and some are replicated in other collections (e.g., Rushdy on Beloved, also in Andrews and McKay 1999 [cited under Essay Collections and Monographs on Single Novels: Beloved]). Contains extensive and meticulous list of further reading, which benefits from Peach’s overview (pp. 194–206).

    Find this resource:

  • Peterson, Nancy, ed. Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Primarily reprints of essays in Peterson 1993 (cited under Special Issues of Journals), with two essays published in later issues of the same journal. Essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in Morrison. Includes Peterson herself on the “reconstruction of African-American history” (p. 201). Reprints the Nobel lecture and has a useful (relatively early) bibliography.

    Find this resource:

Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2000

As the volume of articles published on Morrison has increased, there have been fewer anthologies published that cover more than one novel. Those discussed here for the most part either focus on a theme—Conner 2000 on the relationship between politics and aesthetics in the oeuvre, or Stave 2006 on intertextualities with the Bible—or on a number of specific novels, as in Fultz 2013 on Paradise, Love, and A Mercy. Only Tally 2007 aims (by definition as a Cambridge Companion) to present an overview of a range of approaches to the complete oeuvre, as many collections of the previous decades do. Montgomery 2013 takes A Mercy as its focus, discussing other texts’ relationship with that one.

  • Conner, Marc C., ed. The Aesthetics of Toni Morrison: Speaking the Unspeakable. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highly significant anthology that both resolves and develops the contested relationship between the aesthetic and the political. The eight essays argue that different aesthetic elements of Morrison’s writing are integral to her political project. Contributors include Barbara Johnson and Michael Wood. Introduction invaluably surveys the aesthetics/politics question in African American literature as a whole.

    Find this resource:

  • Fultz, Lucille P. Toni Morrison: Paradise, Love, A Mercy. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fresh, incisive collection on three of Morrison’s later and less-discussed novels, edited by a leading Morrison scholar. The tripartite structure devotes three chapters to each novel in turn. Highlights include Denard’s and Beavers’s essays on Love, and Conner’s on A Mercy.

    Find this resource:

  • Montgomery, Maxine L. Contested Boundaries: New Critical Essays on the Fiction of Toni Morrison. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An arresting anthology taking the unusual and productive approach of focusing on the relationship between A Mercy and other novels in the oeuvre, in particular (but not exclusively) with Beloved on the themes of the slave narrative and motherhood.

    Find this resource:

  • Stave, Shirley A., ed. Toni Morrison and the Bible: Contested Intertextualities. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An anthology of eleven chapters that, in Stave’s words, “interrogate and dissect Morrison’s use of the Bible, question her theological positioning, and even contest her range of source material” (p. 1). Highlights are by Jessee on “syncretic spirituality” in the trilogy (Beloved, Jazz, Paradise), and by Terry on “creolisation and candomblé” in Paradise.

    Find this resource:

  • Tally, Justine, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Toni Morrison. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection primarily by an international group of scholars rather than by US-based African Americanists. One exception to this is Cheryl Wall, whose essay, titled “Toni Morrison, Editor and Teacher,” covers ground untouched elsewhere in the critical field. Chronology interestingly collates Morrison’s life events with key events in her novels.

    Find this resource:

Monographs on Two or More Morrison Texts in the 1980s

The first monograph to appear exclusively on Morrison was Holloway and Demetrakapoulos 1987. To some extent, the three monographs of the 1980s (these include Jones and Vinson 1985 and Otten 1989) are of interest more for what they reveal about the history of Morrison scholarship and its tentative, collaborative, and/or slender beginnings than for the insights they contain. Each nonetheless contains readings of value and, as with McKay 1988 (cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts, 1980s and 1990s), the first two listed here predate Beloved and thus constitute a detailed focus on the earlier work. Both are indicative of the prevailing culture of identity-based politics of the late 1980s. Otten 1989, by contrast, anticipates Stave 2006 (cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2000) in its paradigmatic focus on the importance of the book of Genesis in Morrison’s writing.

  • Holloway, Karla, and Stephanie Demetrakapoulos. New Dimensions of Spirituality: A Biracial and Bicultural Reading of the Novels of Toni Morrison. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Appealing collaboration in that a series of paired essays constitutes the seven parts of this book. Essentially humanist in its approach, it focuses on the first four novels (as its early publication date dictates). The first and last chapters exemplify early considerations of Morrison’s position within existing literary traditions, both African diasporic and European.

    Find this resource:

  • Jones, Bessie, and Audrey Vinson. The World of Toni Morrison. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These nine chapters, examining the first four novels, are replete with a sense of the pre-Nobel, pre-Beloved Morrison as a relatively unstudied phenomenon. Contains two thought-provoking essays exclusively on Pilate. Includes a fascinating interview from 1981 (reprinted in Taylor-Guthrie 1994, cited under Interviews).

    Find this resource:

  • Otten, Terry. The Crime of Innocence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A slim but significant early monograph, discussing each novel in turn, from The Bluest Eye to Beloved. Argues that the Fall in the biblical book of Genesis is central in every novel, suggesting that the idea of felix culpa is an essential rite of passage when good and evil are themselves unstable concepts.

    Find this resource:

Monographs on Two or More Morrison Texts in the 1990s

By the 1990s, monographs on Morrison were appearing thick and fast, adopting a range of contrasting approaches and exploring contrasting themes. Two books published at the start of the decade—Harris 1991 and Rigney 1991—share a commitment to positioning Morrison within an exclusive and/or exceptional black aesthetics and politics. Harris focuses on Morrison’s deployment of African American folklore, while Rigney’s central concern is the novelist’s articulation of a black feminist perspective. Mori 1999 extends this focus in an exploration of Morrison and womanism. Heinze 1993, by contrast, shares much with Page 1995; indebted to post-structuralist theory and to Bakhtin, these two books explore how Morrison critiques the contradictions of dominant American culture while upholding not an exclusively black but a culturally hybrid conception of African American agency in its place. Rice 1998 is different yet again, illuminating Morrison’s ambivalent intertextual relationship with canonical white American writers, while Grewal 1998 is a pioneer in placing Morrison within a theorized postcolonial framework.

  • Grewal, Gurleen. Circles of Sorrow, Lines of Struggle: The Novels of Toni Morrison. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Informed by Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “minority literature,” this is a sophisticated postcolonial study of Morrison’s first six novels. Grewal combines this approach with black literary history, feminist theory, and trauma theory, emphasizing the transformative effects of mourning. Links well with Schreiber 2010 (cited under Monographs on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2010). Each chapter makes useful connections across the oeuvre.

    Find this resource:

  • Harris, Trudier. Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Landmark study, by a major scholar in African American studies, of the embeddedness of Morrison’s first five novels in African American folklore. Devotes a detailed chapter to each novel. The illuminated black folkloric and literary intertexts within Morrison’s writing emphasize the oral tradition. Some readers may perceive oversimplifications about European cultural allusions.

    Find this resource:

  • Heinze, Denise. The Dilemma of “Double Consciousness”: Toni Morrison’s Novels. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Adopting a thematic approach to all the novels from The Bluest Eye to Jazz, plus nonfiction. In four parts: the Morrison Aesthetic; Mothers and Fathers; Social Dialectic; and the Metaphysics of the Supernatural. Argues that Morrison’s own double-consciousness as both a canonical and minority writer gives her a Bakhtinian double-voicedness that destabilizes national ideology.

    Find this resource:

  • Mori, Aoi. Toni Morrison and Womanist Discourse. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This 150-page monograph by a distinguished Japanese scholar exemplifies widespread scholarly interest in Morrison in Japan. Reads the first six novels through Alice Walker’s “womanist” concept and its critique of mainstream US cultures. Accessibly written, and of most interest to undergraduates studying feminism, gender, and African American woman’s intellectual traditions.

    Find this resource:

  • Page, Philip. Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison’s Novels. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deconstructive reading of the first six novels, deploying the concept of “dangerous freedom” as a risky but potentially productive predicament shared by Morrison’s protagonists and her narrative form. Illuminates how Morrison’s themes of fusion and fragmentation (those also at the heart of post-structuralism) explore the contradictions defining American and African American culture.

    Find this resource:

  • Rice, Herbert William. Toni Morrison and the American Tradition: A Rhetorical Reading. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Counterpoint to readings such as Rigney 1991. Focuses on Morrison’s conflicted dialogue with the canonical Euro-American literary tradition from Emerson to Faulkner, including Melville, Thoreau, and T. S. Eliot. Illuminates her negotiations of belonging and apartness to/from this tradition. Slim and highly readable, and suitable for undergraduates seeking divergent approaches to this author.

    Find this resource:

  • Rigney, Barbara Hill. The Voices of Toni Morrison. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated and theoretically informed discussion of the first five novels. Argues for Morrison’s enactment of a specific black feminist aesthetic. The thematic four chapters examine language and signification; self and identity; history, myth, and magic; and desire and the erotic.

    Find this resource:

Monographs on Two or More Novels by Morrison in the 2000s

The monographs of this decade are for the most part characterized by their sophistication and complexity. Bouson 2000, Fultz 2003, and Heinert 2009 adopt differing approaches in their readings of race and the effects of racism in the oeuvre. Mbalia 2004 is by a pioneer in Marxist readings of Morrison, while Simpson 2007, with a focus on black language, develops the perspectives of Harris 1991 and Rigney 1991 (both cited under Monographs on Two or More Morrison Texts in the 1990s). Mayberry 2007 is valuable for its unusual and productive focus on masculinity in Morrison, while Ferguson 2007 constitutes, through its close readings of politicized aesthetics, a high-level overview of the oeuvre.

  • Bouson, J. Brooks. Quiet as It’s Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deploys psychoanalytic and psychiatric theories of shame and trauma to illuminate the representations of race and the effects of racism and intraracial shaming in the first seven novels, devoting one chapter to each. Closely reads passages in which Morrison explores that which is uncomfortable and discomforting. Thematic overlap with Schreiber 2010 (cited under Monographs on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2010).

    Find this resource:

  • Ferguson, Rebecca. Rewriting Black Identities: Transition and Exchange in the Novels of Toni Morrison. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed, rigorous, and clearly written monograph comprising chapters on each of the first eight novels. Focuses on Morrison’s concern with the multiplicity of African American identities, selfhood, and experience. Organizing themes are Morrison’s representations of historical transition or change, and her commitment to interconnectedness.

    Find this resource:

  • Fultz, Lucille. Toni Morrison: Playing with Difference. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A slim but highly accomplished and significant post-structuralist reading of Morrison’s first six novels, as well as of her one story, “Recitatif.” Here “playing” (derived in part from Morrison’s own Playing in the Dark) means both “staging” and “critiquing” (p. 18). Chapters focus on a series of key textual moments in which Morrison “signs difference” (p. 18).

    Find this resource:

  • Heinert, Jennifer Lee Jordan. Narrative Conventions and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated mediation between readings of Morrison exclusively as a critique of mainstream American tradition readings that situate her within it. Focuses on the relationship between genre, narrative conventions, and discourses of race. Centering on The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, Jazz, and Beloved creates an intricate level of discussion. Thematic overlap with Conner 2000 (cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2000) on aesthetics/politics.

    Find this resource:

  • Mayberry, Susan Neal. Can’t I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The only book-length study on this rich and important approach to Morrison. Interprets the first eight novels alongside sociological and psychological theories of black masculinity; examines black male resistance to white power in the oeuvre as well as Morrison’s depictions of the role of black masculinity in tempering exclusionary feminism.

    Find this resource:

  • Mbalia, Dorothea Drummond. Toni Morrison’s Developing Class Consciousness. Rev. ed. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful as the earliest Marxist and/or class-focused reading of Morrison. Devotes a chapter to each of the first eight novels, arguing that the author’s materialist/anti-capitalist consciousness evolves with each publication. Lacks nuance in places.

    Find this resource:

  • Simpson, Ritashona. Black Looks and Black Acts: The Language of Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye and Beloved. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Published doctoral dissertation on Morrison’s language. Building on bell hooks’s concept of “black looks,” it examines how Morrison’s language functions as black, despite its eschewal of “eye dialect” or nonstandard grammar and spelling. Exceptional level of detail and close scrutiny render it invaluable to readers interested in “black English” and a black aesthetic.

    Find this resource:

Monographs on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2010

Monographs of this decade are characterized by boldness and rigor, and by a willingness to position Morrison as combining elements such as black/African and white/European traditions that were previously perceived as incompatible binaries. Baillie 2013 exemplifies this perfectly. The emphasis during these years shifts slightly onto Morrison’s contribution to broad intellectual movements and concepts. For example, Duvall 2010 uses Morrison to rethink modernism and postmodernism as much as vice versa, while Christiansë 2012 uses Morrison to rethink language and poetics. Schreiber 2010 combines a range of theoretical approaches to argue that the Morrisonian oeuvre posits the restorative, healing power of conceptions of “home” on those suffering from ongoing trauma caused by slavery. Finally, Mueller 2013 is a substantial advanced study of Morrison’s reformulations of the past, often overlooked by US-based scholars due to its publication in Germany. To miss Mueller’s work is to miss, among other things, its provocative, closing discussion of Morrison’s ambivalent position within literary and intellectual culture.

  • Baillie, Justine. Toni Morrison and Literary Tradition: The Invention of an Aesthetic. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Meticulously theorized reading of the novels from The Bluest Eye to Home, arguing that the work constructs an aesthetic that is simultaneously “black,” in dialogue with “Western” tradition, and always and already political. Useful to advanced undergraduates and beyond; sets out many of the theoretical contexts in which Morrison’s corpus operates.

    Find this resource:

  • Christiansë, Yvette. Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thematic in approach and theoretically rigorous, examines all the novels up to and including Home in its concern with Morrison’s focus on the nature of writing, language, and communication.

    Find this resource:

  • Duvall, John. The Identifying Fictions of Toni Morrison: Modernist Authenticity and Postmodern Blackness. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Morrison’s novels (up to and including A Mercy) constitute an opposition between a modernist concern with authenticity and postmodern fictional practices. Interprets the fiction in terms of Morrison’s own biography and self-fashioning. Chapter 2, on The Bluest Eye and Ralph Ellison, and chapter 5, on rape in Tar Baby, are particularly original and significant.

    Find this resource:

  • Mueller, Stefanie. The Presence of the Past in the Novels of Toni Morrison. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitatsverlag Winter GmbH Heidelberg, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Developed from doctoral dissertation; suitable for graduate students and advanced scholars. Informed by Bourdieu and Elias, expounds an original argument about the presence of the past that “survives and actualizes itself in [Morrison’s] protagonists’ social environment as well as in their minds and actions” (p. 9). Focuses primarily on four novels: Paradise, Love, A Mercy, and Beloved.

    Find this resource:

  • Schreiber, Evelyn. Race, Trauma, and Home in the Novels of Toni Morrison. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deploys neuroscientific and psychoanalytical theories to illuminate the ongoing personal and communal trauma of slavery, arguing that conceptions of “home” are instrumental in the recovery of subjectivity and selfhood.

    Find this resource:

Articles and Chapters on Two or More Morrison Texts

The selection here indicates the diversity of approaches to pairing Morrison’s novels across the decades. Christian 1980 is the starting point for those interested in the history of the reception of Morrison. Nicholls 1996 constitutes Morrison criticism in an important theoretical context: Nicholls writes as one of sixteen major intellectuals conducting psychoanalytical readings of a range of thinkers and topics. Rice 1999 exemplifies one scholar transferring the paradigm of another (in this case, of Susan Willis on Sula) to enact new readings of new texts. Rice examines the verbal models that mirror patterns in jazz and blues, and also explores the political effects of Morrison’s widespread “Signifyin(g),” as defined by Gates, in the unusual pairing of Tar Baby and The Bluest Eye. Cutter 2000 asks a rarely heard question—is Beloved really the ghost of the baby Sethe killed? And Peterson 2001 brings the author’s vast knowledge and profound understanding of Morrison to explore the trilogy and The Black Book (Harris 2009, cited under Edited Collections and Forewords) in the context of contemporary women writers’ reconstructions of historical memory.

  • Christian, Barbara. “The Contemporary Fables of Toni Morrison.” In Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892–1976. By Barbara Christian, 137–179. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1980.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Earliest published scholarly discussion of Morrison. Chapter focuses on The Bluest Eye and Sula within a groundbreaking book on black American women writers from Frances Ellen Watkins Harper to Alice Walker. Accomplished and detailed introductory overview, written with the tone of someone explaining something new or for the first time.

    Find this resource:

  • Cutter, Martha J. “The Story Must Go On: The Fantastic, Narration, and Intertextuality in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Jazz.” African American Review 34.1 (2000): 61–75.

    DOI: 10.2307/2901184Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deploys post-structuralist and reader-response theory to argue that the intertextual relationship between Beloved and Jazz “is a story that resists closure through its very awareness of a reader’s need for closure” (p. 62). Examines how Jazz challenges the reader’s assumption that Beloved is indeed the ghost that Denver and Sethe believe her to be.

    Find this resource:

  • Nicholls, Peter. “The Belated Postmodern: History, Phantoms and Toni Morrison.” In Psychoanalytical Criticism: A Reader. Edited by Sue Vice, 50–74. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Connects Beloved and Jazz with Playing in the Dark through a psychoanalytical reading of history and haunting in these texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Peterson, Nancy. “Toni Morrison and the Desire for a ‘Genuine Black History Book.’” In Against Amnesia: Contemporary Women Writers and the Crises of Historical Memory. By Nancy Peterson, 51–97. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Innovative, sophisticated and very well-informed discussion of Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise in relation to The Black Book (Harris 2009, cited under Edited Collections and Forewords), focusing on themes of historical recovery and collective memory.

    Find this resource:

  • Rice, Alan. “Erupting Funk: The Political Style of Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and The Bluest Eye.” In Post-Colonial Literatures: Expanding the Canon. Edited by Deborah L. Madsen, 133–147. London: Pluto, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Builds on Willis’s theorization of “funk” (see Gates and Appiah 1993, cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts, 1980s and 1990s) to enact an illuminating close reading of jazz and blues in these two rarely paired novels. Published here for the first time. Exemplary analysis of the politics of Morrison’s form; suitable for undergraduate level and above.

    Find this resource:

Essay Collections and Monographs on Single Novels

The novels that have given rise to essay collections and monographs with an exclusive single-novel focus are: Song of Solomon, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, and A Mercy. The selection here examines work on these novels in that order, which is their order of publication.

Song of Solomon

In Smith 1995, each of the five gem-like essays, written by a leading scholars of the 1990s, was specially commissioned. By contrast, Furman 2003 (also very useful) consists entirely of reprints of articles on Song of Solomon that previously appeared in journals. It therefore constitutes a useful overview of key approaches to this novel, if not already encountered elsewhere.

  • Furman, Jan, ed. Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon: A Casebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highlights of this collection of reprints include the essays by Awkward (on Song of Solomon), Duvall (on Song of Solomon and Go Down, Moses) and Wilentz 2003 (cited under West African Traditions). Also reprints the Paris Review interview of 1993 (also in Denard 2008, cited under Interviews).

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Valerie, ed. New Essays on Song of Solomon. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The five brilliant essays in this slim volume are by Smith (introduction), Middleton (on oral memory), Mobley (on call and response/ dialogic structure), Hirsch (on themes of paternity and its relationship to other familial relationships), and Lubiano (on the novel as a politicized postmodern text). Useful selected bibliography on this novel and its African American literary contexts.

    Find this resource:

Beloved

Andrews and McKay 1999 is in many ways the definitive essay collection on Beloved. Very strong on historical context, it reprints Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s poem “The Slave Mother” (first published in 1857) about Margaret Garner, while Samuel J. May discusses the woman who was the historical inspiration for Sethe in the second chapter. Solomon 1998 is an excellent complement to Andrews and McKay 1999 as a reliable port of call for solid 1990s scholarship on Beloved. Of its fifteen essays, only one (by Harris) is replicated in the later collection (Andrews and McKay 1999). Among the monographs, Marks 2002 is a clearly written and unconventional reading, focusing on what the author calls its “sites of the apotropaic” in the novel—that is to say, on its “gestures aimed at warding off, or resisting, a danger, a threat or an imperative” (p. 2). Tally 2009 enacts a kind of literary and intellectual archaeology, arguing for acknowledgement of key foundations to or influences on Beloved. These influences in turn illuminate Morrison’s engagement with broad intellectual questions of the 20th century: “questions of ‘ontology,’” “the linguistic turn,” and the “production of history” (p. xiv). Implicitly emphasizes Morrison’s position as a global intellectual as well as novelist. Finally, Plasa 2000 is an extraordinarily useful guide to and resource book for the novel.

  • Andrews, William, and Nellie McKay, eds. Toni Morrison’s Beloved: A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wide range of approaches. Six essays (by Askeland, Harris, Henderson, Holloway, Krumholz, and Rushdy) reprinted from journals and/or their authors’ original books, making this an economical first port of call. Fabulous “conversation” between Christian, McDowell, and McKay is printed here for the first time, as is Pérez-Torres on postmodernism in the novel.

    Find this resource:

  • Marks, Kathleen. Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the Apotropaic Imagination. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First chapter lays out historical context of the “apotropaic” in the Greeks, Freud, and Woolf, among others. Next three chapters focus on Sethe, the character of Beloved, and the clearing, respectively. The fourth chapter focuses on memory, and the final one reads Jazz and Paradise in light of this interpretation of Beloved.

    Find this resource:

  • Plasa, Carl, ed. Toni Morrison, Beloved: A Reader’s Guide to the Essential Criticism. Duxford, UK: Icon 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reprints and comments on key contemporaneous reviews of Beloved, as well as the eyewitness account of the Margaret Garner incident by P. S. Bassett (also in The Black Book [Harris 2009, cited under Edited Collections and Forewords]). Synthesizes Morrison’s relevant nonfiction with snippets from slave narratives. Survey of scholarship (up to 2000). Useful for high school teachers and students, and beyond.

    Find this resource:

  • Solomon, Barbara. Critical Essays on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. New York: G.K. Hall, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part I is an invaluable collection of ten contemporaneous reviews of Beloved (probably the most comprehensive collation available). Part II includes twelve reprinted essays prefaced by Morrison’s own words on Beloved’s opening, reprinted from Morrison 1994 (cited under Essays). Part III comprises four original essays.

    Find this resource:

  • Tally, Justine. Toni Morrison’s Beloved: Origins. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of influences/pretexts to Beloved, engaging Foucault throughout. Ranges widely—for example, across Egyptian and Greek mythology and culture—demonstrating the novel’s “palimpsest”-like nature. Bold and rigorous; useful for graduate students and scholars.

    Find this resource:

Jazz

Tally 2001 is, somewhat surprisingly, the only book to date to focus exclusively on Jazz. There is surely scope for an edited anthology on this rich and much-discussed novel.

  • Tally, Justine. The Story of Jazz: Toni Morrison’s Dialogic Imagination. Hamburg: LIT Verlag, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A Bakhtinian reading, understanding jazz music as a metaphor for language. Sets out its theoretical hypothesis about storytelling, the dialogic and carnival in the first part, and performing close reading of each chapter in turn in the second. Makes rigorous use of prior scholarship on the novel.

    Find this resource:

Paradise

Tally 1999 is the only book to date to focus exclusively on Paradise.

  • Tally, Justine. Paradise Reconsidered: Toni Morrison’s (Hi)stories and Truths. Hamburg: LIT Verlag, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This ninety-page study interprets the novel in terms of its thematic connections to the rest of the oeuvre, particularly to Beloved and Jazz, on the themes of memory, story, and history. Context for discussion is theoretical debates about the production of history and the production of knowledge.

    Find this resource:

A Mercy

Stave and Tally 2011 is, to date, the only book exclusively on A Mercy. See also Fultz 2013 (cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2000) and Nicol and Terry 2011 (cited under Special Issues of Journals) for additional excellent scholarship on this novel; note there is no replication between these three sources. Stave and Tally 2011 is a strong and wide-ranging collection, comprising eight chapters by established Morrison scholars, not previously published elsewhere.

  • Stave, Shirley A., and Justine Tally, eds. Toni Morrison’s A Mercy: Critical Approaches. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part I is on “Racially Constructed Space” (which takes primarily an ecocritical approach), Part II on “Intertextual Resonances,” and Part III on “Psychological Explorations.” Essays are, for the most part, accessibly written but sophisticated in argument. An essential starting point suited to readers at all levels of interest in the novel and the author.

    Find this resource:

Articles and Chapters on Single Novels

While every novel has attracted exclusive focus in articles and/or book chapters, those listed here are selected because they are not reprinted in any of the key anthologies, such as Bloom 1990, Gates and Appiah 1993, McKay 1988, or Middleton 1997 (all cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts, 1980s and 1990s). So for important essays on Sula, for example, it is necessary to consult those anthologies. The anthologies should also be the first port of call for early scholarship on all of Morrison’s earlier novels. In the list here, there are, in general, more entries for the later novels, as far less material on these has been reprinted in anthologies. The list here is arranged by novel, grouped in order of the novels’ publication.

The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby

The selected articles here represent rich materials in journals that either postdate or slipped under the radar of the major anthologizing projects on Morrison. They are chosen for their unconventional thematic approaches: Long 2013 explores “Midwesternism” in The Bluest Eye; Benston 1991 illuminates a black identity hiding beneath classical allusions in Song of Solomon, and Elia 2003 examines the retention of Islam in the same novel. Walter 1993 examines the revisionary dialogue with The Tempest in Tar Baby.

  • Benston, Kimberly W. “Re-Weaving the ‘Ulysses Scene’: Enchantment, Post-Oedipal Identity, and the Buried Text of Blackness in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” In Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text. Edited by Hortense Spillers, 87–109. New York: Routledge, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Combines a psychoanalytic approach with analysis of classical allusiveness in the text and its relationship with Ellison’s Invisible Man. Argues that Morrison creates a “communal protagonist” through which the “Ulysses scene” of the search for a buried name, identity, or “text of blackness” is re-weaved and performed.

    Find this resource:

  • Elia, Nada. “‘Kum Buba Yali Kum Buba Tambe, Ameen, Ameen, Ameen.’ Did Some Flying Africans Bow to Allah?” Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters 26.1 (2003): 182–202.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2003.0009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fascinating excavation of history of the retention of Islamic religious and cultural practices among the 19th-century African diaspora. Resonates in Morrison’s myth of the flying African, in a fusion with Igbo traditions. Discussion includes other novels as well, such as Alex Haley’s Roots.

    Find this resource:

  • Long, Lisa A. “A New Midwesternism in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.” Twentieth-Century Literature 59.1 (2013): 104–125.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fresh assessment of this novel and implicitly of the Morrisonian oeuvre. Argues that attention to the specificities of Morrison’s regional formations yields a new Midwesternism, and that her attention to ethnic identities in the region rejects “traditional, colonialist notions of the Midwest” (p. 105). Builds on both regional studies and prior scholarship on this text.

    Find this resource:

  • Walter, Malin LaVon. “Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby: Re-Figuring the Colonizer’s Aesthetics.” In Cross-Cultural Performances: Differences in Women’s Re-Visions of Shakespeare. Edited by Marianne Novy, 137–149. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Persuasive reading of this novel, arguing that Morrison’s exploration of aesthetics in the novel constitute “a corrective counterpoint to Shakespeare’s Tempest” (p. 137). Balanced and informed by recent theories of Shakespearean adaptation, set within a context of wider postcolonial responses to the play.

    Find this resource:

Beloved

Beloved has attracted more critical attention than any other Morrison novel. As the selection here shows (e.g., Bhabha 2003, Mohanty 1993) this is in part due to its richness as a site of theoretical exploration, whether about sociology, ethics, the postcolonial condition, or other areas of interest. Ferguson 1998 is a very clear exegesis of the central themes, narrative technique, and complex ideas within Beloved. Raynaud 1999 is an invaluable close reading, informed by Kristeva’s concept of “abjection,” of the infamous (because difficult) “Middle Passage” sections of the text. The discussion of Beloved in Bhabha 2003 is not extensive, but it is of huge import in the depth and breadth of its claims, and it is indicative of Morrison’s role in accounts and reassessments of evolving cultural history. While Henderson 1991 combines historiography with psychoanalysis, Mohanty 1993 (on theories of identity) and Phelan 2009 (on rhetorical theory) exemplify the capacity of Morrison’s fiction itself to do theoretical work. Ryan 1998 (on Baby Suggs as preacher and spiritual healer) and Stone 2002 (on ethics and aesthetics) both appear in unusual (not conventionally literary critical) contexts, and are therefore little-known and undervalued readings of great worth. Dubey 1999 makes the original and striking point that, unlike the slave narratives, Beloved expresses skepticism about whether print literacy is the best way to assert slaves’ humanity. See also Hirsch 1994 (cited under Motherhood).

  • Bhabha, Homi. “The World and the Home.” In Close Reading: The Reader. Edited by Frank Lentricchia and Andrew DuBois, 366–387. Durham, NH: Duke University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bhabha’s famous essay on the unheimlich, or “unhomely,” in postcolonial fiction, and the process of the “worlding” of literature, begins and ends with consideration of Beloved. First published as an article in Social Text in 1992, it has been reprinted in many places.

    Find this resource:

  • Dubey, Madhu. “The Politics of Genre in Beloved.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 32.2 (1999): 187–206.

    DOI: 10.2307/1346222Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the implications of Morrison’s paradoxical wariness—within Beloved and in her public discourse—about print culture and the power of both literacy and literature. Explores the relationship between this skepticism and Morrison’s disenchantment with the practice of American democracy and with the politics of modernity as a whole.

    Find this resource:

  • Ferguson, Rebecca. “History, Memory and Language in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” In Contemporary Women Writers: Gender, Class, Ethnicity. Edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora, 154–174. London and New York: Longman, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ideal first stop for able undergraduate students, and/or those needing encouragement in comprehending the more sophisticated elements of the novel. Focuses on Morrison’s concept of “rememory” as embodied storytelling. Draws on Bakhtin in its exploration of Morrison reconciling postmodernism with specific politics and history.

    Find this resource:

  • Henderson, Mae G. “Toni Morrison’s Beloved: Re-Membering the Body as Historical Text.” In Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text. Edited by Hortense Spillers, 40–61. New York: Routledge, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links historiography and psychoanalysis, informed by Morrison’s own statements in “The Site of Memory” essay (see Morrison 2008, cited under Essays) and by Ricoeur. Explores the process of re-memory in recreating history, undoing processes of dismemberment, and reconstituting the interiority of individuals of African descent in the 19th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Mohanty, Satya P. “The Epistemic Status of Cultural Identity: On Beloved and the Postcolonial Condition.” Cultural Critique 24 (1993): 41–80.

    DOI: 10.2307/1354129Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sociological essay on theories of identity. Reads Beloved closely, in its central section, in order to illuminate that text’s concern with “the relationships between personal experience, social meanings, and cultural identities” (p. 42).

    Find this resource:

  • Phelan, James. “The Beginning of Beloved: A Rhetorical Approach.” In Narrative Beginnings: Theories and Practices. Edited by Brian Richardson, 195–212. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Deploys rhetorical theory to perform an extended reading of the first “chapter” of Beloved (up to Denver eating the bread). Exemplifies the usefulness of Morrison’s writing to narratology. Argues that Morrison’s writing both yields riches and remains indeterminate in a rhetorical approach.

    Find this resource:

  • Raynaud, Claudine. “The Poetics of Abjection in Beloved.” In Black Imagination and the Middle Passage. Edited by Maria Diedrich, et al., 70–85. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Makes useful and illuminating links between the difficult “Middle Passage” section of the novel (read very closely), other relevant reference points within the text, Morrison’s own observations, and other scholars’ work. Invaluable to students and teachers needing illumination of this section.

    Find this resource:

  • Ryan, Judylyn S. “Spirituality and/as Ideology in Black Women’s Literature: The Preaching of Maria W. Steward and Baby Suggs, Holy.” In Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity. Edited by Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Pamela J. Walker, 267–287. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares the fictional character to the 19th-century public speaker, preacher, and activist Maria W. Stewart. Invaluable contextualization within an overview of African American syncretized religion and the role of women within this. Evidences Morrison’s importance within theology, history, and women’s studies.

    Find this resource:

  • Stone, Marjorie. “Between Ethics and Anguish: Feminist Ethics, Feminist Aesthetics, and Representations of Infanticide in ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’ and Beloved.” In Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries. Edited by Dorota Glowacka and Stephen Boos, 131–158. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Valuable comparison of Beloved with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem of 1848. Informed by the fields of ethics and aesthetics. Discussion takes in Hiram Powers’s “The Greek Slave” and the subsequent Punch cartoon. Excellent complement to Conner 2000 (cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2000) on aesthetics, and Ryan 1998 or Brickhouse 2012 (cited under Articles and Chapters on Single Novels: A Mercy and Home) on Morrison and 19th-century culture.

    Find this resource:

Jazz

The selection here indicates the eclectic diversity that characterizes readings of this novel. Ginsburg and Rimmon-Kenan 1999 is a narratological reading that critiques the absolutism of Barthes’s “Death of the Author” concept through arguing for Morrison’s creation of “author-versions,” defined as a series of changed and always-evolving relationships between “author, narrators, character, and readers” that reformulate authority and knowledge (p. 66). Conner 2000 is an original and persuasive reading of Jazz as a romance or quest, drawing attention to its interplay with Shakespeare’s late romance play The Winter’s Tale. Hardack 1995 is one of many explorations of the importance of jazz in Jazz (see also Rice 2000, cited under Music, on this topic); this importance is somewhat controversially refuted in Munton 1997. Pryse 2008, meanwhile, discusses the novel’s representation of reading itself as a site of therapy and restoration.

  • Conner, Marc. “Wild Women and Graceful Girls: Toni Morrison’s Winter’s Tale.” In Nature, Woman, and the Art of Politics. Edited by Eduardo A. Velásquez, 341–369. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminates the intertextual relationship (suggested in part by the name Dorcas), in terms of suffering followed by restoration and reconciliation, with Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, and with the romance genre. Emphasizes the restorative role of music. Analysis of narrator informed by Benjamin, Nietzsche, and others.

    Find this resource:

  • Ginsburg, Ruth, and Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan. “Is There a Life after Death? Theorizing Authors and Reading Jazz.” In Narratologies: New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis. Edited by David Herman, 66–87. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Useful abstract at the beginning. The first four parts of the chapter outline the theory of “author-versions” and the critique of Barthes; the fifth is a close reading of Jazz itself. Useful for those interested in Morrison’s role within literary theory; suitable for advanced undergraduates and beyond.

    Find this resource:

  • Hardack, Richard. “‘A Music Seeking Its Words’: Double-Timing and Double-Consciousness in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” Callaloo 18.2 (1995): 451–471.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.1995.0056Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Intricately argued close reading. Argues that “Dionysian” jazz music functions as a kind of double-consciousness in the text (p. 8), but that in exploring self-determination and its limits, Morrison “recontextualizes the use of violence to oppose violence, fragmentation to transcend fragmentation, and double-consciousness to undo double-consciousness” (p. 7).

    Find this resource:

  • Munton, Alan. “Misreading Morrison, Mishearing Jazz: A Response to Toni Morrison’s Jazz Critics.” Journal of American Studies 31.2 (1997): 235–251.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0021875897005653Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provocative refutation of the many scholars on the primacy of jazz paradigms in this novel. Objects to the way these prior critics ignore structure, harmony, and melody. Suggests this focus falsely privileges an ideology of authenticity and Afrocentric readings of both jazz and Morrison’s fiction.

    Find this resource:

  • Pryse, Marjorie. “Signifyin(g) on Reparations in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” American Literature 80.3 (2008): 583–609.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-2008-023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A multidisciplinary approach deploying Freud, Klein, and Derrida, and also Gates’s theory of “Signifyin(g),” to illuminate the ways in which the novel advances reading itself as “a site within which to work through ‘paranoid’ feelings and to arrive at reparation” (p. 583). Useful as a detailed focus on the role of the narrator in this text, which is often one subject among many.

    Find this resource:

Paradise

The selection here combines two highly accomplished conventional interpretations of the text (Dalsgård 2001 and Jessee 2006) with two highly unconventional readings (Atieh 2009 and Osucha 2015). Dalsgård 2001 is a clearly written and thorough exegesis of Morrison’s explorations of both American and African American exceptionalist ideology. Jessee 2006 excavates the history of 19th-century all-black towns in Oklahoma and illuminates the novel’s interplay with that history. Atieh 2009 persuasively argues for an intertextual relationship between the innovative and self-adapting frame narrative in the novel and the same kind of frame narrative in Alf Layla Wa Laylah (The Arabian Nights). Osucha 2015, meanwhile, brilliantly argues that Paradise critiques both the notorious Moynihan Report of 1965 and the subsequent Supreme Court decision, Griswold v. Connecticut.

  • Atieh, Majda R. “Another Night, Another Story: The Frame Narrative in Toni Morrison’s Paradise and Alf Layla Wa Laylah [The Arabian Nights].” In Contemporary African American Fiction: New Critical Essays. Edited by Dana A. Williams, 119–135. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This comparison with the story cycle The Arabian Nights constitutes a little-known but wonderfully fresh approach to and context in which to read the novel. Welcome and unusual for its focus on the form and technique of Paradise, which have attracted little attention.

    Find this resource:

  • Dalsgård, Katrine. “The One All-Black Town Worth the Pain: (African) American Exceptionalism, Historical Narration, and the Critique of Nationhood in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” African American Review 35.2 (2001): 233–248.

    DOI: 10.2307/2903255Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Definitively explains Morrison’s exploration of flawed concepts of exceptional nationhood or group identity based on exclusion. Ideal for undergraduates seeking an explanation of one of this novel’s central thematic concerns. Posits the convent not as a binary opposite to Ruby, but as an alternative, “transitional” social reality (p. 243).

    Find this resource:

  • Jessee, Sharon. “The Contrapuntal Historiography of Toni Morrison’s Paradise: Unpacking the Legacies of the Kansas and Oklahoma All-Black Towns.” American Studies 47.1 (2006): 81–112.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminating excavation of the relationship between Paradise and the documented history of all-black towns founded in the 19th century, such as Nicodemus, Kansas, Langston City in Oklahoma Territory, and Boley in Indian Territory. Discusses why Morrison situates her own story in the 1970s.

    Find this resource:

  • Osucha, Eden. “Race and The Regulation of Intimacy in the Moynihan Report, the Griswold Decision, and Morrison’s Paradise.” American Literary History 27.2 (2015): 256–284.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajv013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A rigorous, original reading of Paradise as critique of the Moynihan Report of 1965, and of the subsequent Supreme Court decision, Griswold v. Connecticut. Argues that the novel’s explorations of the relationship between whiteness and privacy, the sexual politics of nationhood, and the meanings of home constitute “a forceful rejoinder to the report’s legacies” (p. 257).

    Find this resource:

Love

The three articles here indicate the role of Morrison’s fiction in theory and in intellectual thought, rather than vice versa. Mellard 2009 both adopts and critiques a psychoanalytical perspective in a discussion of narcissistic identification in the text. Wyatt 2008 examines the relationship between narrative displacements and temporal disorientation in the text. Wallace 2014 argues that Love plays an important role in recent debates about postmodernism, ethics, and racial politics.

  • Mellard, James M. “Families Make the Best Enemies: Paradoxes of Narcissistic Identification in Toni Morrison’s Love.” African American Review 43.3 (2009): 699–712.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2009.0087Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A psychoanalytical reading, informed by Freud and Lacan, and also, unusually, Žižek, exploring the novel’s concern with the psychological phenomenon of identification. Takes account of skepticism regarding the validity of psychoanalytical approaches in the field of African American studies.

    Find this resource:

  • Wallace, Cynthia R. “L as Language: Love and Ethics.” African American Review 47.2–3 (2014): 375–390.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2014.0045Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminates the ways that Love engages with debates about the “ethical turn” and racial politics in recent literary and cultural theory. Links close readings of the novel with Morrison’s nonfiction, and with prior scholarly interpretations of this text.

    Find this resource:

  • Wyatt, Jean. “Time and the Reader: Ethical Effects of Nachträglichkeit in Toni Morrison’s Love.” Narrative 16.2 (2008): 193–221.

    DOI: 10.1353/nar.0.0005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A psychoanalytical reading that illuminates the relationship between the time lag characterizing readers’ understanding of the novel’s key events and themes and the Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit (afterwardness).

    Find this resource:

A Mercy and Home

Much of the best scholarship on A Mercy is collected in Stave and Tally 2011 (cited under Essay Collections and Monographs on Single Novels: A Mercy), Fultz 2013 (cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2000) and Nicol and Terry 2011 (cited under Special Issues of Journals). In the additional selection here, Roynon 2011 argues for the importance of the intertextual dialogue with John Milton in the novel, while Wyatt shows that, as with all of Morrison’s novels, this text interestingly rewards psychoanalytical readings. Brickhouse 2012 is included here for the surprising and persuasive nature of its thesis. Indicative of Morrison’s contribution to intellectual history, in this case to the evolving conceptualization of American studies and American literature, it argues that A Mercy meditates significantly on 19th-century American literary history, and on our (mis)readings therein. Terry 2014 combines postcolonial with ecocritical perspectives in the author’s focus on the multiple configurations of landscape, mapping, and the environment in this same text. On Home, Darda 2015 is included here for the originality of its approach in situating the novel, and implicitly its author, alongside other literary responses to the Korean War, including Ha Jin’s novel War Trash, Philip Roth’s Indignation, and Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered.

  • Brickhouse, Anna. “Transatlantic vs Hemispheric: Toni Morrison’s Long Nineteenth Century.” In The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Edited by Russ Castronovo, 137–162. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brilliant counterintuitive argument. Reads A Mercy as a “reconceptualising of nineteenth-century American writing.” References Beloved, Paradise, Jazz, and Playing in the Dark, although regrettably does not make use of prior scholarship on Morrison and/or A Mercy.

    Find this resource:

  • Darda, Joseph. “The Literary Afterlife of the Korean War.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 87.1 (2015): 79–105.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-2865199Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Home alongside three other recent American novels that excavate the neglected memory of the Korean War. Illuminates the relationship between the legacy of this war and the war on terror in Morrison’s text. The last ten pages focus exclusively on Home, and Morrison is referenced throughout the argument.

    Find this resource:

  • Roynon, Tessa. “Her Dark Materials: John Milton, Toni Morrison, and Concepts of ‘Dominion’ in A Mercy.” African American Review 44.4 (2011): 593–606.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2011.0054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the complex engagement with John Milton’s Paradise Lost in this novel’s representations of order and chaos, reason and desire, and the divine and the human, and in its deployments of the heavily invested term “dominion.”

    Find this resource:

  • Terry, Jennifer. “‘Breathing the Air of a World So New’: Rewriting the Landscape of America in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy.” Journal of American Studies 48.1 (2014): 127–145.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0021875813000686Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the ways in which Morrison critiques and reconfigures narratives about landscape, the environment, “wilderness,” and the “New World” itself. Analyzes the ways in which Morrison’s multiple and often conflicting mappings reveal conceptions of space and place specific to colonial, African American, and Native American perspectives.

    Find this resource:

  • Wyatt, Jean. “Failed Messages, Maternal Loss, and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy.” Modern Fiction Studies 58.1 (2012): 128–151.

    DOI: 10.1353/mfs.2012.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A psychoanalytic reading of the novel, informed by Jean Laplanche. Focuses on enigmatic or failed messages between Florens’s mother and her daughter, and on the traumatic effects of the early separation.

    Find this resource:

Articles and Chapters on Performance Pieces

There is, to date, little published analysis of Morrison’s collaborative works for performance. In the pair selected here, Kitts 2014 finds Desdemona ripe for interpretation and discussion, while Kodat is troubled by many aspects of the opera Margaret Garner.

  • Kitts, Lenore. “The Sound of Change: A Musical Transit through the Wounded Modernity of Desdemona.” In Toni Morrison: Memory and Meaning. Edited by Adrienne Lanier Seward and Justine Tally, 255–268. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first scholarly analysis of the performance piece Desdemona. Outlines the nature of the work and its genesis. Explores its postcolonial and feminist concerns, its themes of naming, and its cross-cultural dialogue. Includes material from interviews with the singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, and discusses the rise of Islamic extremist violence in her homeland of Mali.

    Find this resource:

  • Kodat, Catherine Gunter. “Margaret Garner and the Second Tear.” American Quarterly 60.1 (2008): 159–171.

    DOI: 10.1353/aq.2008.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rigorous critique of the opera (score by Richard Danielpour, premiere 2005) for which Morrison wrote the libretto. While giving an invaluable account of the creation and production history of the opera, Kodat argues that it is an “unfortunate” project, “thoughtless . . . in its approach to the central ethical problem of ventriloquizing its subject” (p. 161).

    Find this resource:

Scholarship that Compares Morrison with Other Authors

Comparative work on Morrison really took off in the late 1990s, with William Faulkner clearly emerging as the author to whom she is most frequently compared. The material listed here is grouped by the author(s) Morrison is paired with: James Baldwin and then William Faulkner, together with a section on a host of other authors (Edwidge Danticat, Ralph Ellison, Wilson Harris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Margaret Walker, Virginia Woolf, and numerous other African American and Caribbean writers).

James Baldwin

King and Scott 2006 is a landmark in comparative Morrison scholarship. A substantial anthology (280 dense pages), it contains fourteen essays by different scholars, each making a direct comparison between aspects of Morrison’s and Baldwin’s work. It is essential reading for anyone interested in this pairing. King’s introduction is an invaluable overview of the personal and literary relationship between the two writers, and of its significance. James 2013 is a sophisticated and original comparison of Baldwin’s Another Country with Morrison’s Jazz. It is invaluable to any consideration of the urban and/or modernism in Morrison.

  • James, David. “‘Seeing Beneath the Formlessness’: James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Restorative Urbanism.” In Utopianism, Modernism, and Literature in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Alice Reeve-Tucker and Nathan Waddell, 168–181. New York and Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that in representing New York City, both authors reject radical reconfigurations of the urban environment, constructing glimpses of utopia instead through the quotidian. Close readings demonstrate how they “extend the conversation between modernist aesthetics and urban literary utopias into the post-war era” (p.171).

    Find this resource:

  • King, Lovalerie, and Lynn Orilla Scott, eds. James Baldwin and Toni Morrison: Comparative Critical and Theoretical Essays. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contributors include veterans of the field such as Trudier Harris and Keith Byerman, as well as younger experts. The broad scope includes consideration of “Sonny’s Blues” and “Recitatif” (Harris) or the nonfiction (Richard Schur). All essays are published here for the first time.

    Find this resource:

William Faulkner

Weinstein 1996 is the earliest monograph on Morrison and Faulkner. It is organized thematically, discussing concepts such as “mammies and mothers,” “slavery,” “manhood,” “fathering,” and “miscegenation” (p. x). Cowart 1997 continues to cause controversy in its compelling questioning of Morrison’s statement that she is “not like” Faulkner or Joyce. Kolmerten, et al. 1997 is the “go to” and definitive essay collection on the now much-discussed dialogues between these two authors. McKee 1999 unusually positions Morrison and Faulkner alongside Henry James in an examination of racial constructions. Like Schreiber 2001, which is a Lacanian reading of the authors, McKee deals with the writers separately in sequential sections, rather than in direct pairings. Dussere 2003 is a concise monograph that builds on prior scholarship comparing Faulkner and Morrison to advance a relatively little-explored angle on the relationship: economic themes and figures (such as the concepts of debt and repayment, exchange and accounting, property and the market) in the history of slavery. Hamblin and Rieger 2013 is a neglected collection of essays arising from a conference at Southwest Missouri State University in October 2010.

  • Cowart, David. “Faulkner and Joyce in Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” In Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. Edited by David Middleton, 95–108. New York: Garland, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Controversially claims that studies of black literature overemphasize “black” and underemphasize literariness, but is insightful and persuasive on the formal and thematic commonalities between Morrison, Faulkner, and Joyce. Originally published in 1990.

    Find this resource:

  • Dussere, Erik. Balancing the Books: Faulkner, Morrison, and the Economies of Slavery. New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contains some striking and original comparisons in the four chapters—for example, of Intruder in the Dust, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby in chapter 3.

    Find this resource:

  • Hamblin, Robert W., and Christopher Rieger, eds. Faulkner and Morrison. Cape Girardeau: Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sixteen chapters with contributions by longstanding Faulkner /Morrison scholars such as Duvall and Towner, but also important newcomers such as Jincai Yang, who writes on “Toni Morrison’s Critical Reception in China.”

    Find this resource:

  • Kolmerten, Carol A., Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant Wittenberg, eds. Unflinching Gaze: Faulkner and Morrison Re-envisioned. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fifteen chapters (covering texts up to and including Jazz) perform brilliant close readings of a range of pairings and themes. Duvall’s introductory essay, “The Anxiety of Faulknerian Influence,” is essential reading for anyone interested in the risks and benefits of this comparative approach to Morrison.

    Find this resource:

  • McKee, Patricia. Producing American Races: Henry James, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The final two chapters in this sophisticated comparative work examine Sula and Jazz, respectively, closely analyzing their formation of black identities—primarily through oral and aural media. Suitable for advanced undergraduates and beyond.

    Find this resource:

  • Schreiber, Evelyn. Subversive Voices: Eroticizing the Other in William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Taking a Lacanian approach, the last four chapters discuss The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and Paradise, while the first three treat Faulkner.

    Find this resource:

  • Weinstein, Philip. What Else but Love? The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Clearly written and persuasively argued, with an appealing thematic structure. Organizing themes include how the legacies of slavery shape contrasting meanings of “Americanness.” Accessible to undergraduates and beyond, despite a high level of detailed close reading.

    Find this resource:

Comparisons of Morrison with Other Authors (Books)

Book-length studies positioning Morrison in a comparative context began to appear around 2000. Williams 2000 is a monograph that discusses the artist as outsider in Morrison and Virginia Woolf (for other comparisons of Morrison and Woolf, see Christian in Peterson 1997, cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts, 1980s and 1990s, and Duvall 2010, cited under Monographs on Two or More Morrison Texts since 2010. In an unexpected pairing, Patell 2001 compares the critique of liberal ideology in Morrison and Pynchon. Developed from a doctoral thesis, it holds both writers in play throughout its four extensive, sometimes dense, but readable chapters, and is illuminating on the position of Morrison within American thought, literature, and postmodernism. In a slightly later monograph, meanwhile, Durrant 2004 positions Morrison in a postcolonial context alongside Coetzee and Wilson Harris. In long chapters on Coetzee, Harrison, and Morrison, Durrant posits that together these authors argue for the creation of a collective community. Wall 2005 includes extensive discussion of Morrison, comparing her to Lorde and to Naylor, in a brilliant reassessment of African American women’s writing. Russell 2006 pairs Morrison with Willa Cather in a five-chapter discussion of their shared thematics of gendered and racialized space, while McClure 2007 positions Morrison within a tradition of postsecular fiction writers, including Pynchon, DeLillo, Momaday, Silko, Erdrich, and Ondaatje. Terry 2013 situates Morrison within an innovative paradigm of African American and Caribbean writers. This is a very important context in which to consider Morrison, and the book is therefore invaluable to those with an advanced interest in the field and Morrison’s position within it. Finally, Fishkin, et al. 2013 is an anthology that includes essays pairing Morrison with Margaret Walker and with Edwidge Danticat.

  • Durrant, Sam. Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning: J. M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris, and Toni Morrison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on a PhD thesis; valuable for its transnational comparison of “three modes of bearing witness to histories of racial oppression” (p. 1). Introduction places Morrison within postcolonial and black diasporic theoretical paradigms. The Morrison chapter, informed by psychoanalytical approaches, focuses on Beloved and The Bluest Eye.

    Find this resource:

  • Fishkin, Benjamin Hart, Adaku T. Ankumah, Festus Fru Ndeh, and Bill F. Ndi, eds. Outward Evil Inward Battle: Human Memory in Literature. Bamenda, Cameroon: Langaa RPCIG, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Included in this anthology from a West African press are two unusual comparative essays on Morrison: Eleanor Blount’s on Morrison and Margaret Walker; and Rhonda Collier’s on Tar Baby and Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994).

    Find this resource:

  • McClure, John A. Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Devotes one of its five chapters to a discussion of faith, spirituality, and religious practice in Beloved and Paradise, arguing that Morrison is one of several novelists whose work constitutes a resurgent interest in the religious. Draws out commonalities between Paradise and many of the central themes in Cornel West’s Race Matters (1993).

    Find this resource:

  • Patell, Cyrus R. K. Negative Liberties: Morrison, Pynchon, and the Problem of Liberal Ideology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822380672Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies Morrison and Pynchon as sharing an ambivalent critique of liberal ideology, in particular that characterizing Emersonian individualism, as well as the continuities and discontinuities of that philosophy in the Reagan era. Useful to graduate students and academics.

    Find this resource:

  • Russell, Danielle. Between the Angle and the Curve: Mapping Gender, Race, Space, and Identity in Willa Cather and Toni Morrison. New York and London: Routledge, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Enacts comparative close readings of descriptions of place (textual landscapes) in several novels by both authors, illuminating these descriptions’ significance in terms of race and gender identities. Makes compelling links between nonfiction and fiction.

    Find this resource:

  • Terry, Jennifer. “Shuttles in the Rocking Loom”: Mapping the Black Diaspora in African American and Caribbean fiction. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rigorous and wide-ranging comparative study of a huge range of black diasporic novelists and theorists. There are only about thirty pages of discussion exclusively on Morrison, but these are embedded in a sophisticated argument about the relationship between the representation of symbolic geographies and black diaspora identity/cultural formation.

    Find this resource:

  • Wall, Cheryl. Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Definitive study of the field that deploys paradigms from the blues in order to develop an understanding of the relationship between lineage and literary tradition in Lucille Clifton, Gayl Jones, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison (featured in three of the chapters), Gloria Naylor, and Alice Walker.

    Find this resource:

  • Williams, Lisa. The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Builds on the fact that Morrison’s M.A. thesis at Cornell was on Faulkner and Woolf. Pairs three novels in turn—The Bluest Eye, Sula and Beloved—with novels by Woolf in exploring the theme of the artist.

    Find this resource:

Comparisons of Morrison with Other Authors (Articles and Chapter)

Placing Morrison in comparative context much earlier than most, Stryz 2000 (reprinted from an issue of Genre in 1991) compares Beloved with Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In a different kind of comparison with a 19th-century novel, Russell 2009 amplifies the significance for postcolonial studies of Gilbert and Gubar’s landmark 1979 text The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination through detailed illumination of the “startling parallels” between Bronte’s and Morrison’s novels, with an emphasis on domestic spaces (for example, between the Red Room and the Keeping Room). While Parrish 1997 is a surprisingly rare comparison of Morrison with Charles Johnson, Schur 2005 is an unusual discussion of Morrison and Philip Roth, focusing on the trilogies of both that examine the American experience. Schur’s particular focus is on American Pastoral and Paradise. Vint 2007 situates Beloved in an Afrofuturist context through comparison with Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

  • Parrish, Timothy. “Imagining Slavery: Toni Morrison and Charles Johnson.” Studies in American Fiction 25.1 (1997): 81–100.

    DOI: 10.1353/saf.1997.0003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares Beloved with Johnson’s Oxherding Tale (1982), arguing through close reading that while Morrison’s and Johnson’s representations of slavery contrast in some obvious ways, they also have more in common than might immediately meet the eye.

    Find this resource:

  • Russell, Danielle. “Revisiting the Attic: Recognizing the Shared Spaces of Jane Eyre and Beloved.” In Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years. Edited by Annette R. Federico, 127–148. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Unusual and useful for bringing Morrison’s Playing in the Dark into the discussion as an invaluable and persuasive bridge between Gilbert and Gubar’s study and the intertextual workings of Beloved and Bronte’s novel.

    Find this resource:

  • Schur, Richard. “Dream or Nightmare? Roth, Morrison, and America.” Philip Roth Studies 1.1 (2005): 19–36.

    DOI: 10.3200/PRSS.1.1.19-36Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads Roth’s American Pastoral and Morrison’s Paradise against each other within the framework of recent conflicts between African Americans and Jews. Suggests that Roth depicts contemporary America as a nightmare, while Morrison sees it as a yet-to-be-fulfilled dream.

    Find this resource:

  • Stryz, Jan. “The Other Ghost in Beloved: The Specter of The Scarlet Letter.” In The New Romanticism: A Collection of Critical Essays. Edited by Eberhard Alsen, 137–158. New York: Garland, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Positioned within a careful consideration of the politics of different intertextual placements and assessments of Morrison. Includes detailed close readings alongside claims for broad thematic dialogue. Particular comparison of the texts’ treatment of the romance genre.

    Find this resource:

  • Vint, Sherryl. “‘Only by Experience”: Embodiment and the Limitations of Realism in Neo-Slave Narratives.” Science Fiction Studies 34.2 (2007): 241–261.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Comparison between Beloved and Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979), reading both in an Afrofuturist /speculative context. Useful but unusual perspective on Morrison, by a leading figure in this field.

    Find this resource:

Special Issues of Journals

Peterson 1993 is a special double issue on the theme of “Canonizing Toni Morrison.” Many of its essays are reprinted in Peterson 1997 (cited under Essay Collections on Two or More Morrison Texts, 1980s and 1990s). Peterson and Duvall 2006 includes an invaluable list of abstracts in its online table of contents. The articles in Ho 2006 are written by a range of international scholars, many from China. Nicol and Terry 2011 is an essential reference point for those in search of recent sophisticated readings of Morrison’s later work.

  • Ho, Wen-ching, ed. Special Issue: Toni Morrison. EurAmerica 36.4 (2006).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Articles are written in English; their abstracts are in Chinese. Includes Chia-yen Ku on Toni Morrison’s books for children.

    Find this resource:

  • Nicol, Kathryn, and Jennifer Terry, eds. Special Issue: Toni Morrison: New Directions. MELUS 36.2 (2011).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Of the nine essays, three address Paradise, three are on A Mercy, one looks at Beloved, one examines the Aesop adaptations, and one is on “Recitatif.” The most cited is Babb’s outstanding reading of A Mercy in relation to Early American texts. Also contains ten reviews of recent books on Morrison.

    Find this resource:

  • Peterson, Nancy J., ed. Special Issue: Canonizing Toni Morrison. Modern Fiction Studies 39.3–4 (1993).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thirteen essays. Includes Christian on Woolf and Morrison, Moreland’s comparison of Beloved and Twain, and Woidat on Beloved and Hawthorne. Then four grouped under the theme of “nihilism,” three on Beloved, and two on “the vitality of language.” Contains bibliographical materials at the end.

    Find this resource:

  • Peterson, Nancy J, and John Duvall, eds. Special Issue: On Incendiary Art, The Moral Imagination, and Toni Morrison. Modern Fiction Studies 52.2 (2006).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Eleven essays in three parts: “Reaching toward Paradise,” “Negotiating Gender and Justice in Morrison,” and the highlight, “Music and Memory.” In addition to Kitts 2006 (cited under Music), this volume includes Schreiber on the ideological freighting of blues and jazz in Jazz, and Fallon on the allegory of memory in Margaret Garner.

    Find this resource:

Thematic Studies

For the most part, it is difficult to organize the scholarship along thematic lines, as so much of it treats several themes at once. Material listed in this thematic section centers closely on one specific idea, and the themes are arranged alphabetically: West African Traditions, Classical (Greek and Roman) Traditions, Disability, Motherhood, Music, and Native American Culture. There is also a list of “Miscellaneous Topics.”

West African Traditions

Lewis 1990 is notable as an early exploration of the range of allusions to West African cultural practice in Sula, anticipating later oeuvre-wide studies of the topic. Wilentz also discusses African traditions in Sula in Earle and McKay 1997 (cited under Analysis of and Materials for Teaching Toni Morrison). Wilentz 2003 argues that an “Afrocentric discourse” is central in Song of Solomon (p. 138). Jennings 2008, a detailed and highly scholarly monograph, is the definitive study of the presence and reformulations of African diasporic traditions in the oeuvre up to and including Paradise. In contrast to the thematic structure of Jennings’s work, Zauditu-Selassie 2009 approaches the subject through an eight-chapter study that addresses African spirituality in each novel from The Bluest Eye to Love. The works listed here share a commitment to emphasizing Morrison’s aesthetic and politics as specifically “black,” to which her deployment of African traditions is central, and which diminishes the importance of European cultural references in her work.

  • Jennings, La Vinia Delois. Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated thematic structure: discusses bandoki (witches), kanda (living elders), and banganga (the specialists) in turn. Essential reading for advanced undergraduates and beyond.

    Find this resource:

  • Lewis, Vashti Crutcher. “African Tradition in Toni Morrison’s Sula.” In Wild Women in the Whirlwind: Afro-American Culture and the Contemporary Literary Renaissance. Edited by Joanne Braxton and Andrée Nicola McLaughlin, 316–325. London: Serpent’s Tale, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lewis uses the presence of references to West African culture and traditions to assert an (implicitly exclusive) black, non-European context in which to interpret Morrison. The anthology in which the essay is placed is invaluable for a sense of Morrison’s position in the 1970s and early 1980s.

    Find this resource:

  • Wilentz, Gay. “Civilizations Underneath: African Heritage as Cultural Discourse in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” In Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon: A Casebook. Edited by Jan Furman, 137–165. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the oral tradition, breastfeeding, naming, and the myth of flying Africans.

    Find this resource:

  • Zauditu-Selassie, K. African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813033280.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives an overview of a very wide range of African presences—mythical resonances, allusions to cosmologies, religious practices, and so on—in the first eight of Morrison’s texts. Themes include (among others) ancestral presences and the relationship between communal and individual identities.

    Find this resource:

Classical (Greek and Roman) Traditions

At first glance, studies of the Greek and Roman tradition in Morrison’s work appear to directly oppose, or be in binary opposition to, studies that emphasize the primacy of West African traditions in her work (such as Wilentz 2003 or Jennings 2008, both cited under West African Traditions). Miner 1990, on The Bluest Eye, is a pioneering work in illuminating the classical allusiveness in Morrison’s work. Walters 2007 builds on work by classicists such as Patrice Rankine, whose book on classical allusiveness in Ralph Ellison, Ulysses in Black (2006), which includes some discussion of Song of Solomon, became a foundational text in the field of black classicism. Walters positions Morrison in a genealogy of African American women writers who engage with Greek and Roman tradition. Roynon 2013 is the first monograph devoted exclusively to Morrison’s classicism, and (like Tally 2009, cited under Essay Collections and Monographs on Single Novels: Beloved) it suggests ways in which classical and African traditions are syncretized rather than juxtaposed in the oeuvre. See also Benston 1991 (cited under Articles and Chapters on Single Novels: The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby) on this subject.

  • Miner, Madonne. “Lady No Longer Sings the Blues: Rape, Madness, and Silence in The Bluest Eye.” In Toni Morrison. Edited by Harold Bloom, 85–99. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1985. A pioneering work in reading classical allusions in Morrison’s work, the essay illuminates the echoes of Philomela in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the Persephone myth in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in the depictions of Pecola’s rape and silence.

    Find this resource:

  • Roynon, Tessa. Toni Morrison and the Classical Tradition: Transforming American Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199698684.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thematic reading of Morrison’s ambivalent engagement with the classical tradition in all her novels up to and including Home (2012). Argues that Morrison’s conflicted, often African-inflected classicism is fundamental to her radical revisions of American history.

    Find this resource:

  • Walters, Tracey L. African American Literature and the Classicist Tradition: Black Women Writers from Wheatley to Morrison. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230608870Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The fourth chapter discusses Morrison’s deconstruction and reconstruction of classical and cultural myth in Song of Solomon, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye.

    Find this resource:

Disability

Morrison’s work is of growing interest within disability studies. Thomson 1997 is an unusual reading that examines how Morrison (considered alongside Audre Lorde and Ann Petry) renders oppression without reinscribing it, and how her representations of disability transcend the limitations of the black history that the narrative of self-authenticates. Quayson 2007 is similarly striking for its originality. Quayson’s chapter on Morrison, in his interdisciplinary and cross-cultural monograph on a range of authors, argues that within her novels (he discusses The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and Paradise) disability is a “polyvalent fulcrum” that both radiates multiple meanings and encourages multiple shifts in perspective by both characters and readers (p. 87).

  • Quayson, Ato. “Toni Morrison: Disability, Ambiguity, and Perspectival Modulations.” In Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation. By Ato Quayson, 86–114. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Close readings focus on four characters: Consolata (in Paradise), Eva Peace (in Sula), and Sethe and Baby Suggs (in Beloved). Useful for its illumination of differences as well as similarities between representations of disability (and the effects of these) in the three chosen texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Thomson, Rosemary Garland. “Disabled Women as Powerful Women in Petry, Morrison, and Lorde: Revising Black Female Subjectivity.” In The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability. Edited by David T. Mitchell and Sharon S. Snyder, 240–266. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces a genealogy of the disabled figure in Morrison’s first five novels, in the context of a shift from a modernist to postmodernist mode.

    Find this resource:

Motherhood

The four studies listed here stand out among the many on this theme in Morrison. Fultz 1996 is a relatively early essay from a leading scholar in Morrison studies, and is notable for its unusual choice of texts in relation to mothers and daughters. Hirsch 1994 is primarily a sociological reading. It builds on the psychoanalytical discussion of Beloved begun in Hirsch’s earlier work, The Mother/Daughter Plot (1989). Eckard 2002 devotes a chapter each to representations of motherhood in The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved, prior to six further chapters on the other two authors that are Eckard’s subject. O’Reilly 2004, developed from a doctoral dissertation and the first monograph in this field, is, like Hirsch, informed by sociology as much as literary criticism. Contextualizing the novels within theories of black motherhood, O’Reilly argues that “Morrison portrays motherhood . . . as a political enterprise” (p. x).

  • Eckard, Paula Gallant. Maternal Body and Voice in Toni Morrison, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Lee Smith. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses specifically on representations of the maternal voice and body (as opposed to the disembodied psyche, for example). Implicitly argues that black and white women (depicted across the three chosen authors) are linked by their experiences of motherhood.

    Find this resource:

  • Fultz, Lucille. “To Make Herself: Mother-Daughter Conflicts in Toni Morrison’s Sula and Tar Baby.” In Women of Color: Mother-Daughter Relationships in 20th-Century Literature. Edited by Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, 228–244. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes detailed analysis of the relationships between Eva, Hannah, and Sula, and reads the Jadine/Ondine relationship in terms of Patricia Hill Collins’s concept of the “othermother” (p. 237). Clearly and accessibly written, and not as theorized as many approaches to this topic. Ideal for first-year undergraduates.

    Find this resource:

  • Hirsch, Marianne. “Maternity and Rememory: Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” In Representations of Motherhood. Edited by Donna Bassin, Margaret Honey, and Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, 92–110. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminates the ways in which Beloved tests matriarchal power through an African American mother herself examining maternal subjectivity. Discusses the slave family as implicitly critiquing and rejecting the Oedipal model of the family.

    Find this resource:

  • O’Reilly, Andrea. Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reading Morrison as a “maternal theorist” (p. xi), this rigorous but substantial monograph (around 180 pages of text, but in a very small font) is organized thematically, across differing combinations of the first six novels.

    Find this resource:

Music

The selection here is at once representative and unrepresentative of the field, in which it is jazz music in Jazz that provokes the most critical discussion, followed by allusiveness to various African American musical traditions in Beloved. Each study here brings a highly specific focus to bear on the subject. In Boutry 2000 the section on Morrison is small—only five pages, on Jazz—but the context in terms of the history and cultural genealogy of the blues is fresh and illuminating. Kitts 2006 is an in-depth analysis of musical forms in Beloved by a musicologist who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the subject. The “Works Cited” for this article is a goldmine for those researching Morrison and the context of African American music, especially jazz. Rice 2000 surveys the crucial role of jazz music in The Bluest Eye, Sula, Beloved, and Jazz, with a particular and perhaps surprising but persuasive focus on the central two, Sula and Beloved. He argues that Shango (the Yoruba god of thunder), not Orpheus, is the most useful paradigm for understanding the processes of music in the oeuvre (p. 167).

  • Boutry, Katherine. “Black and Blue: The Female Body of Blues Writing in Jean Toomer, Toni Morrison, and Gayl Jones.” In Black Orpheus: Music in African American Fiction from the Harlem Renaissance to Toni Morrison. Edited by Saadi A. Simawe, 91–118. New York: Garland, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Jazz (usually discussed in terms of jazz, not the blues) is here compared with Toomer’s Cane and Jones’s Corregidora, and the essay is a focused contribution on the relationship between African American literature and the blues across the 20th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Kitts, Lenore. “Toni Morrison and ‘Sis Joe’: The Musical Heritage of Paul D.” Modern Fiction Studies 52.2 (2006): 495–523.

    DOI: 10.1353/mfs.2006.0050Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illuminates the breadth and depth of Morrison’s sometimes-hidden engagement with slave music in Beloved, focusing unusually on the role of the work song in the articulations of Paul D.

    Find this resource:

  • Rice, Alan J. “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing: Jazz’s Many Uses for Toni Morrison.” In Black Orpheus: Music in African American Fiction from the Harlem Renaissance to Toni Morrison. Edited by Saadi A. Simawe, 153–180. New York: Garland, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Distinguished by building on and combining critical theory, existing scholarship on Morrison, and key texts on the subject of jazz and historical jazz musicians in its analysis of four novels. Invaluable overview for, for example, undergraduates writing an extended essay on this subject.

    Find this resource:

Native American Culture

Native American culture was a neglected aspect of Morrison’s writing until well into the first decade of the 21st century. Both publications listed here predate A Mercy and its central Native American character, Lina, which suggests more work in this area may be forthcoming. Kennedy 2006 surveys the relationship between Native Americans and African Americans in Morrison’s work as a critique of European dominance. Kennedy discusses three novels in the historical order and Native historical contexts of their time settings: first Beloved, then Song of Solomon, then Paradise. Smith 2008 focuses on the same three novels but makes closer comparisons between them, holding them all in play. It is also more ecocritical in approach.

  • Kennedy, Virginia. “Native Americans, African Americans, and the Space That Is America: Indian Presence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison.” In Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country. Edited by Tiya Miles and Sharon P. Holland, 196–217. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Builds on the work of William Loren Katz on the relationship between African Americans and Native Americans. Clearly written, with detailed close readings.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Claire Lindsey. “Indigenous ‘Rememory’: Cultural Hybridity and the Nature of Resistance in the Novels of Toni Morrison.” In Indians, Environment, and Identity on the Borders of American Literature: From Faulkner and Morrison to Walker and Silko. By Lindsey Claire Smith, 75–107. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion in this chapter focuses on interactions between African Americans and Native Americans in Morrison’s work, alongside the same in the other authors mentioned in the book’s title. Ecocritical in its overall impulse.

    Find this resource:

Miscellaneous Topics

Five disparate subjects are covered here: the theme of photography in Morrison’s work, Morrison’s reading of Willa Cather; the intellectual traditions of which Playing in the Dark is a part, the forewords to her novels that she published in the Vintage editions, and the effects of the canonization of Morrison. Todd 1992 is a provocative essay that asks uncomfortable questions about whether or not the canonization of Morrison in the wake of Beloved is primarily an act of appropriation informed by political correctness. Mobley 2000 is a rare, brief, but incisive discussion of Morrison’s interpretation of Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl in Playing in the Dark. Bow 2008 examines the widespread significance and broad intellectual context of the same literary-critical work. Hall 2011 is an unconventional interdisciplinary analysis that analyzes Morrison’s career-long writing about photography. Roynon 2014 questions the value of the didactic forewords that accompany eight of Morrison’s novels in Vintage editions published from 2005 onward.

  • Bow, Leslie. “Playing in the Dark and the Ghosts in the Machine.” American Literary History 20.3 (2008): 556–565.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajn026Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Engages critically with this literary-critical text, discussing its theoretical ancestry in thinkers such as Edward Said, the reasons for its particular influence within race studies, and its relevance for Asian American studies.

    Find this resource:

  • Hall, Alice. “Foreign Bodies: Portraiture and Photography in the Works of Toni Morrison.” Interdisciplinary Humanities 28.2 (2011): 56–66.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the racial, cultural, and generic differences in relation to visual representation in Morrison’s work.

    Find this resource:

  • Mobley, Marylin Mobley. “‘The Dangerous Journey’: Toni Morrison’s Reading of Sapphira and the Slave Girl.” In Willa Cather’s Southern Connections: New Essays on Cather and the South. Edited by Ann Romines, 83–89. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Elucidates the wider cultural and political implications of Morrison’s approach, yielding new insights about both Morrison and Cather in the process. Janis Stout’s essay in the same collection also discusses Morrison’s critical perspective on Cather.

    Find this resource:

  • Roynon, Tessa. “Lobbying the Reader: Toni Morrison’s Recent Forewords to Her Novels.” European Journal of American Culture 33.2 (2014): 85–96.

    DOI: 10.1386/ejac.33.2.85_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Takes issue with Morrison’s attempts, in her forewords to the Vintage editions of eight of the novels published from 2005 onward, to control her own reception and the interpretation of her texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Todd, Richard. “Toni Morrison and Canonicity: Acceptance or Appropriation?” In Rewriting the Dream: Reflections on the Changing American Literary Canon. Edited by W. M. Verhoeven, 43–59. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Invaluable for those interested in the pre- and post-Beloved reception of Morrison, as well as canon studies. Suggests that readings that canonize the novel tend to censor or distort it—for example, through comparisons to “Western” texts. Invaluable for those interested in the reception of Morrison as well as canon studies.

    Find this resource:

On Adaptations of Morrison’s Work for Screen and Stage

Wardi 2005 and Conner 2007 discuss the 1998 film version of Beloved, directed by Jonathan Demme. Conner’s account, which includes detailed and nuanced analysis of many scenes, is more favorable than Wardi’s. Wardi’s analysis takes account of the many reviews of the film, both positive and negative. It argues that Morrison’s language is untranslatable to the screen. Young and Prince 2012 analyzes Lydia Diamond’s adaptation of The Bluest Eye into a stage play that premiered with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2005.

  • Conner, Marc C. “The Specter of History: Filming Memory in Beloved.” In Twentieth-Century American Fiction on Screen. Edited by R. Barton Palmer, 202–217. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Balanced and well-informed discussion of the film, attentive to its attempts to replicate or respond to features of the novel, such as its preoccupation with color or its emphasis on the central theme of matrilineal heritage.

    Find this resource:

  • Wardi, Anissa Janine. “Freak Shows, Spectacles, and Carnivals: Reading Jonathan Demme’s Beloved.” African American Review 39.4 (2005): 513–526.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sophisticated analysis of the film that attributes its failure to the untranslatable nature of Morrison’s language to the screen, and to Demme’s overemphasis on the carnival, freakery, and horror.

    Find this resource:

  • Young, Harvey, and Jocelyn Prince. “Adapting The Bluest Eye for the Stage.” African American Review 45.1–2 (2012): 143–155.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2012.0020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the effects of Lydia Diamond’s changes to the novel in creating the play (premiered in 2005)—for example, the comparatively diminished effects of racism in the stage version of the text.

    Find this resource:

Analysis of and Materials for Teaching Toni Morrison

Earle and McKay 1997 takes an unusual but fruitful approach to the author. The brief (eighteen-page) Part I is a now somewhat outdated overview of resources available to teachers of Morrison’s novels. The much longer Part II consists of reflections on teaching different novels and overviews of different contextual approaches. Carlacio 2007 can be used as an invaluable supplement to or updating of Earle and McKay 1997 on approaches to teaching Morrison’s work and its key theoretical dilemmas. Ferrier 2010 comprises fascinating and fresh reflections on (and advice about) teaching The Bluest Eye at the University of Queensland, in a region of Australia characterized at different times as both the “Deep North” (implicitly “redneck”) and the “Red North” (socialist).

  • Carlacio, Jami L. The Fiction of Toni Morrison: Reading and Writing on Race, Culture, and Identity. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizes pedagogical approaches that encourage critical analysis of broad and current academic debates on critical race theory, whiteness, and other topics. Includes novel-specific and thematic approaches.

    Find this resource:

  • Earle, Kathryn, and Nellie McKay. Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison. New York: Modern Languages Association, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Many of these essays on suggested teaching approaches themselves constitute significant theoretical readings of the oeuvre (up to Jazz). Highlights include Wilentz on African traditions in Sula, and Earle on the difficulty of teaching The Bluest Eye.

    Find this resource:

  • Ferrier, Carole. “Teaching African American Women’s Writing in Australia: Reading Toni Morrison in the Deep North.” In Teaching African American Women’s Writing. Edited by Gina Wisker, 137–157. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137086471_9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion is set in the wider context of teaching African American literature alongside Aboriginal writing in Australia. Invaluable to those interested in the global politics and reception of Morrison’s oeuvre, in addition to teaching.

    Find this resource:

Festschrifts/Tributes/Retrospective

Gillespie 2012 is a collection devised to mark the fortieth anniversary of the publication of The Bluest Eye (in 2010). An important and eclectic anthology, it combines personal tributes (including by Nikki Giovanni or Farah Jasmine Griffin) with innovative approaches such as an analysis of photographs of Morrison by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Seward and Tally 2014 was developed from the Festschrift that was presented to Morrison at the Library of Congress on her eightieth birthday (18 February 2011). This collection combines critical essays by major Morrison scholars with creative work by Rita Dove and Sonia Sanchez.

Reference Works and Bibliographies

Middleton 1987 is a meticulous bibliography, comprising detailed annotations of Morrison’s first four novels, nonfiction, and the critical reception up to the publication of Beloved in 1987. The website of the official the Toni Morrison Society hosts an online bibliography. Beaulieu 2003 is an alphabetical reference guide to Morrison’s work (including nonfiction) and its characters, themes, and aspects of narrative technique, up to and including Paradise. Around fifty contributors wrote the articles, creating a high level of expertise and specialism. Relevant historical entries are also included, such as “Margaret Garner.” Gillespie 2008 is also a reference work, with alphabetical contents and similar to Beaulieu, but due to its later date it encompasses more biographical material and covers the novel Love.

back to top