Critical Insights: Toni Morrison

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Editors: Solomon O. Iyasere, and Marla W. Iyasere
September 2009 · 1 volume · 352 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-622-4
# of Pages: 352
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-623-1
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In-depth critical discussions of her life and works - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.

Few living authors have generated the critical attention that Toni Morrison has. Winner of the Pultizer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Books Critics Circle Award, and the Noble Prize for Literature, Toni Morrison's fiction has not only shaped the landscape of modern American fiction, but it has had a profound effect in shaping the discussion of African American literature, life, and aesthetics.

Edited and introduced by Solomon O. Iyasere and Marla W. Iyasere this volume collects some of the finest pieces of Morrison scholarship to date. Original essays by Jennifer E. Dunn and Susan R. Bowers consider the scholarship surrounding Morrison's body of work and the cultural contexts in which that work was written, respectively. In an essay by leading African American literary scholar Trudier Harris readers will get a sweeping overview of the importance of Morrison's first six novels. Another original essay by Rossitsa Terzieva-Artemis examines the notions of community and identity in works such as Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise. Critic Philip Page contributes two pieces in this volume, the first examines the style and structure of Morrison's works while the second written with Yvonne Atkinson considers the oral tradition exemplified in Morrison's rhetorical tropes. Karen Carmean's essay focuses on Song of Solomon and Milkman Dead's development as a character, while Michael Hogan compares Faulkner and Morrison in his essay on Absalom, Absalom! and Beloved. In Carol E. Henderson's essay, the comparison is made between Morrison's Beloved and James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain. In his close examination of Jazz, Darryl Dickson-Carr looks at the range of narrative voices in the novel, while critics Gurleen Grewal and Malin Walther Pereira focus on Tar Baby as a transitional novel in Morrison's body of work. In this volume's final essays, David Ikard looks at the self-destructive patriarchy found in Paradise and Anissa Janine Wardi examines the use of hands as a way of communicating love as an interconnecting and recurring theme in Morrison's works.

Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index


From "About This Volume"
Toni Morrison has pinpointed the “trauma of racism” as “the severe fragmentation of the self” (Morrison, “Unspeakable” 214), and her works are dedicated to envisioning for African Americans ways of defining and developing identity for themselves, their community, and their literary tradition. As towering and daunting as this tripartite purpose may be, Morrison has achieved even more.Writing within the African American vernacular tradition and creating literature about and for African Americans (for she writes “without the White Gaze”; qtd. in Houston 4), Morrison gifts us with works (novels, essays, a play) that speak to and for all humankind, earning her a global audience as well as international accolades, awards, and ever-expanding critical study.

Essays in this volume provide a clear overview of Toni Morrison and her accomplishments to date, beginning with discussions of Morrison’s life and influence, continuing with articles on the critical contexts of her works, and focusing on critical readings of Morrison’s novels from The Bluest Eye to Love. AMercy appeared late in 2008, as this volume was going to press. If Morrison’s novels are now considered “postmodern” because of their focus on self-actualization as a process continually being refined and renewed, on polyvocal narration, on reader/audience engagement in the narrative process, they are anachronistically so, for these issues and techniques are ones African Americans have struggled with and used since their precipitous and compulsory dive into white American culture in the seventeenth century. As African Americans created so much of what we consider American society— for what shred of America today does not owe at least some portion of its existence to the toil and blood of African Americans, from peanut butter to paper clips, from blues and jazz to rock and roll and hip-hop, from air brakes to open-heart surgery—it should come as no surprise that African Americans anticipated postmodernism before modernism ever occurred. This insight owes also to Toni Morrison, who recognized that “modern life begins with slavery,” that “a long time ago” black people had to address “certain kinds of dissolution, the loss of and the need to reconstruct certain kinds of stability. Certain kinds of madness, deliberately going mad in order, as one of the characters says in the book [Beloved], ‘in order not to lose your mind.’These strategies for survival made the truly modern person” (qtd. in Gilroy 178).

The section of this volume titled “Critical Contexts” opens with Trudier Harris’s essay celebrating Toni Morrison’s designation as 1993 Nobel laureate in literature. Harris sweeps through Morrison’s first six novels with both praise and perspicacity, accurately emphasizing the monumental contributions Morrison has made to the world of letters: “Indeed, Morrison has written a national epic with a twist, firmly rooting black people in the polluted American soil of their slave heritage and transforming that soil to a garden of possibility through the tremendous force of the human will to survive and to thrive. She has thereby reclaimed America for the best of itself.” Aspects of Morrison’s experiences and knowledge that have empowered her to achieve so greatly are highlighted in Susan R. Bowers’s valuable overview of Morrison’s background, giving special attention to the significance of her upbringing in a strong African American community in Lorain, Ohio. Morrison grew up in a family that valued and emphasized reading and in an environment that immersed her in both the black vernacular tradition and the “rich panoply of African American music.” Above all, Morrison’s deep roots in African American culture formed the basis for her “adult love and admiration for black people and her dedication to portraying them more multidimensionally than as victims.” Jennifer E. Dunn assesses the critical response to Morrison’s works, a response that was mixed at first and then flourished, producing a body of scholarship whose massiveness is “astonishing for a living author.”