Category Archives: Toni Morrison
When my Toni isn’t writing novels, she lends her considerable talents to writing librettos for operas. This opera is titled “Margaret Garner” based on the real-life slave woman who killed her daughter rather than allowing her to be taken back into slavery. Toni Morrison based her fictional novel, Beloved, on the life of Margaret Garner. Denyce Graves, a mezzo-soprano, sings lead. Enjoy. ♥
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is my favorite book of all-time. I have read the book many times, and I learn something new about myself and the world each time I re-read it. As a feminist, I think deeply about the ways race and class contour our experiences and understandings of gender oppression. Toni Morrison has written powerfully about race and gender throughout her illustrious career. Her use of Pauline Breedlove to showcase how class privileged white feminism has consistently betrayed Black women is yet another brilliant stroke of her intellectual imagination. On page 120, Pauline is reminiscing on her life, her relationship with her white female employer, and her relationship with her husband. The passage illuminates the doubly fraught position of the Black woman when she is up against both white supremacy and black patriarchy. Pauline reminisces,
“I would have stayed on ‘cepting Cholly come over by where I was working and cut up so. He come there drunk wanting some money. When that white woman seen him, she turned red. She tried to act strong-like, but she was scared bad. Anyway, she told Cholly to get out or she would call the police. I would of gone upside his head, but I don’t want no dealings with the police. So I taken my things and left. I tried to get back, but she didn’t want me no more if I was going to stay with Cholly. She said she would let me stay if I left him. I thought about that. But later on it didn’t seem none too bright for a black woman to leave a black man for a white woman. She didn’t never give me the eleven dollars she owed me, neither. That hurt bad. The gas man had cut the gas off, and I couldn’t cook none. I really begged that woman for my money. I went to see her. She was mad as a wet hen. Kept on telling me I owed her for uniforms and some old broken-down bed she give me. I didn’t know if I owed her or not, but I needed my money. She wouldn’t let up none, neither, even when I give her my word that Cholly wouldn’t come back there no more. Then I got desperate I asked her if she would loan it to me. She was quiet for a spell, and then she told me I shouldn’t let a man take advantage over me. that I should have more respect, and it was my husband’s duty to pay the bills, and if he couldn’t, I should leave and get alimony. All such simple stuff. What was he gone give me alimony on? I seen she didn’t understand that all I needed from her was my eleven dollars to pay the gas man so I could cook. She couldn’t even get that one thing through her thick head. ‘Are you going to leave him, Pauline?’ she kept on saying. I thought she’d give me my money if I said I would, so I said ‘Yes, ma’am’ ‘All right,’ she said. ‘You leave him, and then come back to me to work, and we’ll let bygones be bygones.’ ‘Can I have my money today?’ I said. ‘No’ she said. ‘Only when you leave him. I’m only thinking of you and your future. What good is he, Pauline, what good is he to you?’ How you going to answer a woman like that, who don’t know what a good man is, and say out of one side of her mouth she’s thinking of your future but won’t give you your own money so you can buy you something besides baloney to eat? So I said, ‘No good, ma’am. He ain’t no good to me. But just the same, I think I’d best stay on.’ She got up, and I left.
So much for “sisterhood.”
“Whose house is this?” – Toni Morrison
It is this question that ushers us into the world of Toni Morrison’s tenth novel Home. Like so many of Morrison’s novels, Home is not a singular thing, but a stand-in for many different conceptions. Throughout the novel, Toni Morrison asks us to think about what “home” is, and what it means to be “at home” with ones self.
Home’s plot is relatively simple. Frank Money, a discharged Korean War, returns two an American brimming with racism. He receives an urgent letter telling him that he must return to Georgia to save his sister. We are to join him on his “odyssey” as he returns “home.”
At just 147 pages, I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish that Home were longer. There are many chapters, like the one dedicated to Lenore (the “evil” matriarch) that I wish were longer. After a life changing incident, Lenore is forced “to be content with the company of the person she prized most of all–herself.” Morrison, unlike so many writers, has never apologized for writing women who are beholden only to themselves. She breaks away from the patriarchal tendency to believe that a woman should be someone else’s best thing before she is her own. I could have spent the entire book reading about Lenore, but this is Toni Morrison’s story to tell, and I can’t fault her for not allowing her characters, dynamic as they are, to run off with the story. I wish more would have let her characters soar rather that just appear. They are dynamic, but dimmed a bit. I think you will find Lenore’s chapter to be quite powerful.
As powerful as Lenore’s chapter is, this is the story of Frank Money. It is through his eyes, and as you will find out his defiance, that we are allowed into the “home” that Morrison has constructed. Frank Money is scarred psychologically from his time spent at war. As Money returns to Georgia Morrison imbues his journey with the beautiful social commentary that only she can provide. We are asked to grapple with the consequences of war, the dynamics of intimate relationships, the painful history of medical experimentation upon Blacks, Jim Craw laws as well as customs, and many other issues that are not unique to the 1950s. One of the main issues that Morrison concerns herself with in Home, is what it means to be a man that is “at home” with himself? Is manhood honesty, vulnerability, action, or apathy? Perhaps a mixture of all?
Morrison’s writing is beautiful, but understated. The scope of the novel is small, but the themes are large. This is the Morrison that we know and love, but toned down and more restrained. It’s as if Morrison wrOte the entire novel with “less is more” constantly on her mind.
Overall, Home is a fitting chronicle of a particular period in the Black experience. It serves as an approachable history, one not rendered cold as can often be the case in non-fiction books. There is a shocking revelation at the end of the novel, and it perfectly encapsulates what it means to be “at home” with oneself. The events following this revelation allow the main character to be “at home” with himself. It provides an example to us all of what it means to come home.
We should work hard to not become strangers in our own house. We should strive to not be a house of lies. Frank takes on this challenge. Will you?
Few intellectuals have waged a public battle against white supremacy and patriarchy like Toni Morrison.
I have long been concerned by the number of Black people who believe that reproductive freedom is somehow a threat to Black freedom. There have been various instances of conservative Blacks group who perpetuate the false notion that Black women exercising reproductive freedom is somehow antithetical to Black freedom, and the overall progress of the Black community. What I read within these conservative agendas is the notion that Black women’s reproductive freedom is a threat to Black patriarchy and White supremacy. These two entities conspire to relegate the Black woman’s reproductive freedom to a location of betrayal, simultaneously posing a threat to the control that patriarchal Black men and racists White want to hold over the Black woman and the Black community.
I have long believed that reproductive freedom is one of the primary ways in which we assert ourselves as free people. As the great-grandson of a Black woman who was forced to have an abortion, I have always known, or rather sensed, that there was something important and revolutionary in our ability to control our own bodies. Reproductive freedom is one of the main freedoms on which all other freedoms rest, and without it we are forever vulnerable to the forces of oppression. I speak openly about the fact that Black women’s writing has been one of my primary pathways to feminism and feminist movement. Enter Toni Morrison. In her foreword to Beloved, Toni Morrison outlines the questions that propelled her to write her critically acclaimed work. One paragraph stands out from the others in its articulation of the struggles that Blacks, in particular Black women, have faced within this racist and sexist society.
Toni Morrison writes,
“In the eighties, the debate was still roiling; equal pay, equal treatment, access to professions, schools…. and choice without stigma. To marry or not. To have children or not. Inevitably these thoughts led me to the different history of Black women in this country–a history in which marriage was discouraged, impossible, or illegal; in which birthing children was required, but “having” them, being responsible for them–being, in other words, their parent–was as out of the question as freedom. Assertions of parenthood under conditions peculiar to the logic of institutional enslavement were criminal.”
In one short paragraph, Toni Morrison poignantly articulates many of my own sentiments about the role, and necessity, of reproductive freedom in Black life. The powers who conspire to deny Black women of bodily autonomy don’t want us to remember the not so distant past in which Black women, and Black people, were the victims of their anti-choice institution. Sexist and racist America depends on Black people not understanding the degree to which they were denied reproductive freedom, and why our control of our own bodies, our right to make our own reproductive choices, is one of the most important aspects of any Black freedom movement.
In my mind, there is no question as to whether or not Black women, Black people, or any people should have control over their reproductive decisions. How could I look at the past and ignore the many ways in which this sexist and racist society thwarted Black reproductive freedom? It becomes clear me to me that aiding in the denial of reproductive freedom only furthers the marginalization of Black people. White supremacy and Black patriarchy have long been in cahoots. This becomes clear to me when conservative Whites and conservative Blacks unite in an effort to deny Black women reproductive freedom. Those Black people who are interested in Black freedom must think deeply about the ways in which their participation in the denial of Black reproductive freedom functions to further oppress Black people. Our notions of freedom in a White racist society should begin with our bodies. Reproductive freedom is Black freedom.
Toni Morrison’s forthcoming novel, Home, now has a cover, and it is a beauty! The novel will be released this coming May, and I am super excited!
“An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home—and himself in it—may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he’s hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again. A deeply moving novel about an apparently defeated man finding his manhood—and his home.”