JOHN N. DUVALL
Toni Morrison's Covert Letter to Ralph Ellison
And all those people were me. I was Pecola, Claudia.... I was everybody.
Soaphead Church and his letter to God have occasioned a variety of critical responses. A fact generally overlooked in the commentary on The Bluest Eye, even in articles specifically on narration, is that Soaphead, because of his letter, is a narrator too. His narration is coterminous with his act of authorship. Since authorship is what Morrison herself stakes a claim to in her first novel, I want to argue that Church stands as a significant early figure in Toni Morrison's attempt to fashion a usable radicalized authorial identity. Growing up in the working-class town of Lorain, Ohio, where there were no black neighborhoods, Morrison's youth and adolescence were largely free of race consciousness. "I never absorbed racism," Morrison says in a 1992 interview. "I never took it in. That's why I wrote The Bluest Eye, to find out how it felt." Morrison's various accounts of her relation to her first novel invite speculation on how this fiction figures in a process of racial self-discovery that is indistinguishable from the act of writing.
Taken as an instance of self-fashioning, Church's letter to God reveals itself as a metafictional gesture that encodes Morrison's own ambitions and anxieties regarding her authorial identity. Church's urge to address God's____________________