The late American author, Toni Morrison, made a name for herself in the literary world. She attained this by creating impressive and rounded characters. Yet, most importantly her choice of subject were many of the issues often associated with ‘black’ culture. Her novels are supposed to be read knowing a specific slang that is far more easily understood by Afro-American people who speak it on a colloquial basis.
But even so, her poetic style has taken her novels to many dimensions and many hands throughout her long career in which she has also been awarded with a Pulitzer and a Nobel Award in 1993 for her best known novel “Beloved” which tells the story of former slaves attempting to rebuild their lives as free people and not enslaved to farms as they were in their past.
Upon first reading one of her novels, which was also her first published work, The Bluest Eye, I felt shocked.
Seeing how she described her characters and the actions she was putting them through was extraordinary. However, it was only upon reading Beloved that I really managed to get a grasp of her style. Even though all her work is prose, the writing itself is very lyrical, melodic to the ear. But the situations of the characters could make me feel their pain.
Morrison’s writing allowed me to understand the hardships of, what then was considered as being, ‘second-hand people’ meaning Afro-Americans. As an admirer of Toni Morrison, I took some of her writing and ideas into my own. I especially attempt to recreate her poetic style and the harshness of her characters’ situations. Many of her ideas directly relate to other positive feelings, happiness, freedom, love and so on which she reveals many times throughout her literary discourse.
In “Beloved” we get to see firsthand the many atrocities committed in the darker side of American history.
Despite the poetic style of writing, she does not hide the harsh realities that her characters have been put through. Their personalities are strongly represented by their actions. For example, a mother killed her child instead of allowing the baby to be enslaved. A former slave man who keeps his heart in a “tobacco tin” and constantly represses his memories of his past. A mysterious young woman comes as the embodiment of who the child that may have been, a ghost of the past.
Morrison took her inspiration from the real story of Margaret Garner, but changed the history in the fact that Garner was executed for killing her children, while Sethe, the main character, lives on with the pain and decisions of the past.
Pain is the central theme of the novel.
It is that which shaped the characters to who they really are and continues to haunt them even after many years of being free from slavery. In short, the novel aims to reveal many things that are less known to the public eye than one might initially think when picking up the novel for the first time to step into the shoes of people who suffered physically and psychologically at the hands of their ‘masters’.
In her following novel “Jazz”, Morrison used musical techniques to show how her unreliable narrators and characters improvise to create a complete work, the usage of ‘call-and-response’ style of jazz music allows the characters to view different events with different perspectives. Lastly, there is the novel “Paradise” which centers its action on an all-black town that is peaceful. Morrison uses both colors and the cross as symbols throughout the novel, especially the color green meaning rebirth, freedom, harmony growth. It has the most frequent appearances throughout the entire novel.
While many of her themes deal with violence on a highly significant and personal level, she does not shy away from writing on the theme of love.
Many of her quotes which describe emotions, perspective, beliefs, beauty and many other subjects can be understood and accepted as outright advice from the late author.
“If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” (Song of Solomon)
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” (Beloved)
“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.” (Tar Baby)
“Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” (Jazz)
“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” (Beloved)
“We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom.” (The Bluest Eye)
Why should anyone read her works that stand and will continue to stand the test of time?
Her works offer perspective. Her unique take on the world stands opposing other mainstream works which most often revolve around white individuals. Morrison’s novels brought the black culture to the forefront of contemporary American prose. Thus shedding a new light on the language, beliefs and understanding of the world through the eyes of the oppressed and different. A change of perspective from other classics and even contemporaries of Toni Morrison. The several ideas encapsulated between the pages and between the lines of her poetic style allow any reader to see, feel, breathe and live as someone who suffers from racism, constant hurt and even love.
In each of her novels, Toni Morrison summons the readers and takes them on new paths unlike any other they would’ve encountered before. The traumatic events that are narrated in “Beloved” are striking. The crushing forces of loneliness and oppression in “The Bluest Eye” almost feel real. The portrayal of a man trying to understand in his place in America in Song of Solomon and finally to the two childhood friends who reunite in Sula.
Through her entire literary career, however, Morrison also held creative writing classes from which the following quote provides what I believe to be the best advice a teacher would ever give a student:
“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” (O, The Oprah Magazine, 2003)