Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

Synopsis

-- Presents the most important 20th-century criticism on major works from The Odyssey through modern literature

-- The critical essays reflect a variety of schools of criticism

-- Contains critical biographies, notes on the contributing critics, a chronology of the author's life, and an index

Excerpt

Toni Morrison's third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), seems to me her masterwork to date, though Beloved (1987) has even more readers. A superb, highly conscious artist from her beginning, Morrison is also a committed social activist. Exemplary as it is, her African-American feminist stance is the prime concern of nearly all her critics, which makes for a certain monotony in their cheerleading.Morrison is scarcely responsible for them, though I detect an intensification of ideological fervor when I pass from rereading Song of Solomon to rereading Beloved and then go on to Jazz and Paradise, her most recent novels. A novelist's politics are part of her panoply, her arms and armor. Time stales our coverings; fictions that endure do so despite the passionate commitments of their authors, while claques, however sincere, do not assure literary survival. The very titles of many of the essays in this volume testify to political obsessions: "black cultural nationalism," "myth, ideology, and gender," "race and class consciousness," "competing discourses." Morrison, far cannier than her enthusiasts, at her most persuasive transcends her own indubitable concerns. Her art, grounded in African-American realities and concerns, is nevertheless not primarily naturalistic in its aims and modes.

Morrison has been vehement in asserting that African-American literature is her aesthetic context: she has invoked slave narratives, folklore, spirituals, and jazz songs. So advanced a stylist and storyteller is not likely to celebrate Zora Neale Hurston as a forerunner, or to imagine a relation between herself and Richard Wright, or James Baldwin.Her authentic rival is the late Ralph Waldo Ellison, whose Invisible Man (1952) remains the most extraordinary achievement in African-American fiction.Morrison subtly wards off Invisible Man (1952), from The Bluest Eye (1970) on to Paradise (1997). Though she has deprecated the "complex series of evasions" of Modernist literature and its criticism, no one is more brilliant at her own complex series of evasions, particularly of Ralph Ellison, unwanted strong precursor. This is not to suggest that Ellison is her prime precursor: William Faulkner shadows . . .

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