Can't I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison

Can't I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison

Can't I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison

Can't I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison


Taking a close look at all the key male figures in Toni Morrison's eight novels, this book explores Morrison's admitted, but critically neglected, interest in the relationships between African American men and women and the "axes" on which these relationships turn. Most Morrison scholarship deals with her female characters. Can't I Love What I Criticize? offers a response to this imbalance and to Morrison's call for more work on men, who remain, in her words, "outside of that little community value thing."

The book also considers the barriers between black men and women thrown up by their participation in a larger, historically racist culture of competition, ownership, sexual repression, and fixed ideals about physical beauty and romantic love. Black women, Morrison says, bear their crosses "extremely well," and black men, although they have been routinely emasculated by "white men, period," have managed to maintain a feisty "magic" that everybody wants but nobody else has.

Understanding Morrison's treatment of her male characters, says Susan Mayberry, becomes crucial to grasping her success in "countering the damage done by a spectrum of sometimes misguided isms"--including white American feminism. Morrison's version of masculinity suggests that black men have "successfully retained their special vitality in spite of white male resistance" and that "their connections to black women have saved their lives." To single out her men is not to negate the preeminence of her women; rather, it is to recognize the interconnectedness and balance between them.


Toni Morrison’s delight in flouting traditional as well as fashionable bottoms and tops finds her denounced by some politically stylish scholars for not carrying their latest lines. In a 1971 article, which posits “What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” she has already begun to close down this kind of criticism with her usual comically blunt opener: “Well, she’s suspicious of what she calls ‘Ladies’ Lib.’ It’s not just the question of color, but of the color of experience” (15). The essay explains that attempting to find consensus among African American women on any subject is a doomed prospect because they have consistently, and deliberately, defied classification. However, it also surmises that critiques of masculinity and support for feminist issues, viewed by many black women and men alike as a predominantly white “family quarrel,” remain even more elusive because relationships between black men and black women have been historically different from the majority of their white counterparts. Accused of designing female victims, castrating women, and messed-up men, Morrison retorts that black women have borne their crosses “extremely well” and “everybody knows, deep down, that black men were emasculated by white men, period. And that black women didn’t take any part in that” (Stepto 384). Thus, Morrison’s review of masculinity suggests that not only have black men successfully retained their special vitality in spite of white male resistance; their connections to black women have saved their lives.

Because Morrison’s mantra intones Other as integral to Self identity . . .

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