The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf

The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf

The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf

The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf

Synopsis

On first consideration, Nobel prize winning African-American author Toni Morrison might seem to have little in common with Virginia Woolf, the British writer who challenged Victorian concepts of womanhood. But interestingly enough, Morrison wrote her masters thesis on Woolf and William Faulkner, and in that thesis, she gives special attention to issues of isolation. For Woolf, Morrison notes, isolation brings a sense of freedom that the attached can never comprehend. In her own novels, Morrison redefines Woolf's concept of isolation in terms of American racism, and both Woolf and Morrison examine the obstacles the female artist must overcome before she can create art. This volume looks at the similarities that link Morrison and Woolf together despite their racial, ethnic, national, and historical differences. At the same time, it analyzes how differing structures of domination define their art.

Excerpt

In Toni Morrison master's thesis on "Virginia Woolf's and William Faulkner's Treatment of the Alienated," she argues that for Woolf isolation is "the one state of mind in modern existence which allows man to understand and triumph over his position" (2). She emphasizes that Woolf "found in isolation 'the freedom the attached can never know'" (23). Morrison's early interest in Woolf is important to this study, since I will argue that both writers create narrative structures that emphasize the severe obstacles the female artist must encounter and overcome in order to create. If isolation gives the artist freedom to imagine a vision that is at odds with the world around her, it also, at the same time, can thwart her ability to find a form for her creativity. This dilemma becomes the starting point for many of their novels.

My study of Morrison and Woolf is a comparative women's studies project. On the one hand, I look at he similarities that link these women together across the chasms of race, ethnicity, historical time period, and nation. At the same time, such a study elucidates how these very same differences define their art as well as construct self-identity. Since Woolf has been an important theorist of the western feminist movement, looking at her works highlights the ways white western women have been complicit in the discourse of racism. While Woolf worked to create a new sentence that would express women's experience, she was, for the most part, blind to issues of race. She wrote most of her essays for the white "daughters of educated" men, clearly effacing the experiences of women of color. Morrison's purpose, on the other hand, was to create a distinctly black aesthetic that would capture the experiences of black women who had been left out of literature.

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