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The Political Imagination of Toni Morrison

History is as much a present embodied experience as it is a distant past in Toni Morrison’s “canon of black work.”

Toni Morrison, who passed away on 5 August 2019, replotted the history of the African American experience through her lyrically resonating political novels and non-fiction. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1996. The then American President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Morrison’s avowed intent to “participate in developing a canon of black work” produced critical, if at times controversial, successes such as The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), and Beloved (1987). Her work vividly illustrated the inner lives of her characters from an insider perspective that was in stark contrast to historical accounts of slavery or formulaic slave narratives.

In her novels, she meticulously chronicled the horrors of an excruciating present, detailing horrific scenes of rape, murder, incest, and violence. Morrison grappled with the poetry of trauma that disembodied any positive self-concept for her protagonists other than the one that was reactively shaped by racial violence and self-hatred. Yet, she succeeded in portraying fiercely defiant characters. In many of her novels, motherhood is a powerful site for the black woman in ambiguous, imaginative, and double-edged ways. In Beloved, for instance, Sethe kills her child to prevent her from experiencing a lifetime of slavery, and welcomes her back in the form of a ghost.

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Updated On : 16th Sep, 2019

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