Toni Morrison's Fiction

Toni Morrison's Fiction

Toni Morrison's Fiction

Toni Morrison's Fiction


In this revised introduction to Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison's novels, Jan Furman extends and updates her critical commentary. New chapters on four novels following the publication of Jazz in 1992 continue Furman's explorations of Morrison's themes and narrative strategies. In all Furman surveys ten works that include the trilogy novels, a short story, and a book of criticism to identify Morrison's recurrent concern with the destructive tensions that define human experience: the clash of gender and authority, the individual and community, race and national identity, culture and authenticity, and the self and other. As Furman demonstrates, Morrison more often than not renders meaning for characters and readers through an unflinching inquiry, if not resolution, of these enduring conflicts. She is not interested in tidy solutions. Enlightened self-love, knowledge, and struggle, even without the promise of salvation, are the moral measure of Morrison's characters, fiction, and literary imagination. Tracing Morrison's developing art and her career as a public intellectual, Furman examines the novels in order of publication. She also decodes their collective narrative chronology, which begins in the late seventeenth century and ends in the late twentieth century, as Morrison delineates three hundred years of African American experience. In Furman's view Morrison tells new and difficult stories of old, familiar histories such as the making of Colonial America and the racing of American society. In the final chapters Furman pays particular attention to form, noting Morrison's continuing practice of the kind of "deep" novelistic structure that transcends plot and imparts much of a novel's meaning. Furman demonstrates, through her helpful analyses, how engaging such innovations can be.


Since the publication of Toni Morrison’s Fiction in 1996, Morrison has written four novels. These novels, primarily, are the focus of this revised commentary. Discussion of earlier books is largely unchanged, and four new chapters offer readings of the texts and multiple contexts. That is not to suggest that there is not a correspondence between the older and newer books. Eliot is correct in observing that

what happens when a new work of art is created is something that hap
pens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The exist
ing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified
by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them.
The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to
persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must
be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of
each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity
between the old and the new.

This matter of alteration of the whole by the new is addressed in a revised, although not substantially changed introduction, and the added chapters inevitably acknowledge conversation among the novels.

And yet the impetus for all the chapters here is exploring Morrison’s aims for each book project as these relate to voice, narrative structure, historical context, thematic focus, and pedagogy. The novels are problem sets for Morrison, “a way of sustained problematizing.” As she says, “writing [each novel] for me is an enormous act of discovery. I have all these problems that are perhaps a little weary and general and well-worked-over that I want to domesticate and conquer. Then I can sort of figure out what I think about all this and get a little further along” (136).

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