African American literature is the works of many African American authors who can be seen from the early 18th Century such as Phillis Wheatley. These authors prior to worldwide success would designate their writings to narrating their lives in a spiritual aspect. The growth and popularity of the African American Literature brought about the narrating of slavery in the own perspective which was in the early to mid 19th Century. Hereby, great authors like Toni Morrison came into the lime light for the whole world to appreciate works by the African Americans. The issues brought about in the series of book were role of the African Americans and the plights they would face in the midst of being the minority group in the white American society.
Prior to the acknowledgement of African American literature works, the authors would describe their escape from the grip of slavery and the journey towards freedom. However, later works would tackle the harsh racism that was taking a toll on the lives of African Americans as they tried to free themselves from these times. The literature works of this minority group authors focused on the deeper meaning of their role in America. Despite the constitution promoting democracy and equality, the African American people would not receive such treatment (Bio & A&E Television Networks). The works served as means of channeling out the emotions of the majority of the African Americans. One of these great writers who will be the main focus of this paper is Toni Morrison.
Toni Morrison at birth was given the name Chloe Ardelia Wofford. She is an African American novelist popular for her epic themed novels. The brilliant dialogues and the display of characters with a great sense of detail in their descriptions and personalities gave her strong popularity around the world (Gates, Smith et al., pp 984). The major books that helped her win over the audience include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Sula and Beloved. The Beloved helped her into winning worldwide credit through the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, and Nobel Prize later on.
Toni Morison was born in the state of Ohio as the second born of four children to George and Ramah Wofford. As a young girl, Toni would be enthusiastic about reading anything she could get her hands on (Bio & A&E Television Networks). She claims that the authors that would capture her attention and became her personal favorite were Leo Tolstoy and Jane Austen. Additionally, Toni’s father would fuel her passion for reading as he would tell her tales of the experiences that the black community would endure in the past when slavery had not yet been abolished. These stories are the ones that gave Toni a base to her literature works and are evident in most of them.
She described to journalists when she was interviewed by The Guardian back in 2012 that she officially became a believer of the Christian religion and followed the Catholic beliefs since she was the age of 12. After being baptized she was given the name Anthony that brought about her nickname Toni. As she was living in a neighborhood where the African Americans were living amongst the majority of White societies in America, she did not understand that there was a segregation of people in the world on the basis of color (Gates, Smith et al., pp 984). She only realized this when she was a teenager (Dreifus).
She told a reporter of her first time in school when she was in the first grade. She was the only black child in the class however, because she was the only one that could read she was not undermined. She felt superior to her fellow age mates. This was a boost to her moral in learning and writing. Therefore, much of her time was dedicated to studying. Toni graduated from high school in 1949 and did so with honors that enabled her to continue the pursuit of greater knowledge in the University. She attended Howard University where she would study literature with English as her major (Dreifus).
After graduating in 1953, she furthered her education at the University of Cornell where she wrote her thesis on Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Within two years of study she was honored with a Master’s degree after which she began her career as a Lecturer in Texas (Gates, Smith et al., pp 986). However, she later moved back to Howard University where she would teach English. It was here that she met with her future husband and architect who was of Jamaican decent, Harold Morrison (Bio & A&E Television Networks). Within a year after being together they were married and in three years they had a son.
It was after the birth of her son that Morrison joined up with a group of writers in Howard University who would help and motivate her into writing her first novel. It was a short story that incorporated the other tales from the members of the group. During the summer of 1963, Toni decided to leave the university where she had spent a few years and chose to travel with her family across Europe. However, on their return, her husband wanted to move back to Jamaica but Morrison did not want to accompany him and instead chose to move back with her parents in Ohio (Bio & A&E Television Networks). This was despite the fact that she was pregnant with her second child. Her husband moved but she would remain the custodian of their son and in 1964 she gave birth to her second child. After her second’s son’s birth, she moved with them to New York. She became a senior editor of a textbook publishing company and would later work for Random House.
Toni Morrison would have to wait until 1970 when her first novel was to be published. It was titled “The Bluest Eye” which narrated the tale of a young girl of African American decent who had the strange belief that if she would have blue eyes she might escape the hard life that she was facing. Despite having an intriguing storyline and captivating theme, the book did not achieve success in terms of sales (Gates, Smith et al., pp 989). However, the author did not fall in despair. She continued to study the experiences of the African Americans through their varying forms. She then wrote Sula in 1973 that centered on two women who grew up together as she assessed the different aspects of their relationship; good or evil (Gates, Smith et al., pp 993).
After that she wrote another book, Song of Solomon (1977) that became only the second book by an African American to feature in book of the month club. The book takes a look at a man, Milkman Dead, as he searchers to find his decent. As a result she received numerous accolades for this work. At this point, many have now noted that Toni Morrison was destined for greatness and she is then appointed in the National Council on the Arts in 1980. Soon after, she published her fourth book Tar Baby that focused on folktales as were narrated to her by her father and as a result received mixed reaction to the critiquing audience. However it was after six years that she wrote the novel that is credited to be her masterpiece, Beloved. The theme of the book centered on love and supernatural.
The main character in this book would be Sethe who is in the state of Ohio, Cincinnati in the setting of 1873. She has been a slave but managed to escape and lived with her daughter Denver. Baby Suggs is the mother in law who was also living with them until she succumbed strangely to death in the first eight years. Prior to her death, Sethe‘s sons Buglar and Howard fled from their home at tender age of 13. They had the belief that their house was haunted possibly by a ghost of Sethe’s daughter (Dreifus). Paul arrives and tries to bring a sense of reality into the house but he was driven away by the ghost too.
He attempts to make them forget the past and attempts to drive away the spirit. On his first attempt he seems to have succeeded and even manages to make Denver, the youngest of Sethe’s children, to get out of the house. However, when they return, they find a young woman claiming to be Beloved relaxed in front of the house. Paul warns the family that this was a trap but Sethe does not listen to him and she begins to feel compassion for the woman. This begins the driving away of Paul. When he discovers the truth behind Sethe’s segregation from the community Paul runs away from the area and breaks the engagement he had made to Sethe. Soon after, the feeling of reality disappears when he goes away.
Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. "Chloe Anthony Wofford." Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
Dreifus, Claudia. "Chloe Wofford Talks About Toni Morrison". The New York Times, September 11, 1994. Web. <http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/texts/morrison1.html>
Gates, Henry Louis., Smith, Valerie., et al. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (Third Edition) pp 981-995.
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