The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place within the Community

The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place within the Community

The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place within the Community

The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place within the Community

Excerpt

The search for self and place is an on-going phenomenon in American discourse. Our current speech and writing are suffused with expressions and images of "finding one's self" and establishing one's "space." Often Americans view this search as an age-old concern so that across the span of human history, both oral and written discourse appear to speak to a desire for a fully realized identity and place. In short, our lives and literature, both past' and present, have been frequently defined by the desire to create and uncreate ourselves and our places within and without the human community.

Perhaps nowhere is the American search for self and place more carefully concentrated than in our national literature. For any given author, be it Hawthorne or Chopin, Faulkner or McCullers, the questions, "Who am I?" and "Where do I belong?" often form the basis for a traditional exegesis. And thus, one might not read, for instance, The Awakening or The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter without in some way acknowledging this search as a determinant in character and plot development. Much critical analysis also centers upon the role self and place play in American literature. R. W.B. Lewis' The American Adam or Barbara Christian Community and Nature: The Novels of Toni Morrison are just two of the scores of critical pieces that testify to this on-going concern for self and place.

My analyses of Toni Morrison's novels are grounded in this American phenomenon. Yet Morrison's novels demonstrate a different kind of search than many American readers are accustomed to. Morrison's work consistently shows that identity and place are found in the community and in the communal experience, and not in the transcendence of society or in the search for a single, private self. It is this central difference that attracts me most to Toni Morrison.

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