The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia

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<p>THE TONI MORRISON ENCYCLOPEDIA</p> <p>Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu Editor</p> <p>GREENWOOD PRESS</p> <p>THE TONI MORRISON ENCYCLOPEDIA</p> <p>THE TONI MORRISON ENCYCLOPEDIA</p> <p>Edited by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu</p> <p>greenwood pressWestport, Connecticut . London</p> <p>Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The Toni Morrison encyclopedia / edited by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-313-31699-6 (alk. paper) 1. Morrison, ToniEncyclopedias. 2. Women and literatureUnited StatesEncyclopedias. 3. African Americans in literatureEncyclopedias. I. Beaulieu, Elizabeth Ann. PS3563.O8749 Z913 2003 813.54dc21 2002021617 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available. Copyright 2003 by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, by any process or technique, without the express written consent of the publisher. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2002021617 ISBN: 0-313-31699-6 First published in 2003 Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881 An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. www.greenwood.com Printed in the United States of America</p> <p>The paper used in this book complies with the Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National Information Standards Organization (Z39.48-1984). 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1</p> <p>Contents</p> <p>Introduction Acknowledgments The Encyclopedia Selected Bibliography Index About the Editor and Contributors</p> <p>vii xi 1 385 401 421</p> <p>Introduction</p> <p>If all of Toni Morrisons work could be summed up with just one quotation from one of her characters, it would have to be Pilates observation, in Song of Solomon, Life is life. Precious. Indeed, Morrisons work overows with the stuff of lifethe examined and the unexamined life, the triumphant and the tragic life, the small, undervalued life and the amboyant, celebrated life. In reviewing Morrisons work to prepare this volume, it occurred to me that the very imperative which compels Toni Morrison to write is life itself. And what grander subject matter is there? Around the time I rst began reading Morrison seriously, I ran across an interview in which she was defending herself against the allegation that the tales she tells are larger than life. Life IS large, she retorted, and her work supports that claim vociferously. The irony comes in the stories she chooses to tell; after all, what is the value in hearing the story of a young Black incest victim who wishes for nothing but the blue eyes she believes will grant her societys acceptance and the love she craves? Or the adventures of a materialistic young man with the appropriate surname Dead, who stoops to rob even his own aunt? Or the harrowing journey of a runaway slave woman whose brief taste of freedom convinces her that killing her children is more just than allowing them to be returned to slavery? Through her novels Morrison forces us to acknowledge that the lives we often overlook and rarely celebrate are perhaps the lives we can learn most from. As a writer, Toni Morrison personies courage. She tells stories that we often do not wish to hear. She speaks as a Black woman in a world that still undervalues the voice of the Black woman. She blends the personal and the political for she feels very strongly that art should have meaningto depict African American cultural and social history, and she does so in a way that resonates for</p> <p>viii</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>readers of all ages, races, ethnicities, and genders. Morrison embodies a rare writers gift: the ability to tell the powerful stories she imagines, employing an equally powerful, yet simultaneously poetic language. One might argue that Morrison herself has become one of the ancestor gures she privileges in her work, guiding her readers to a much-needed understanding of the past in order that they might recognize the urgent promise of the future, and doing so with a wisdom and eloquence unparalleled in American letters. Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, the daughter of Georgia-born George Wofford, a shipyard welder, and Alabamaborn Ramah Willis Wofford. She was the second of four children and spent her childhood in Lorain, Ohio, an ethnically diverse steel town just west of Cleveland where her parents had relocated to avoid the racism of the deep South. Morrison attended an integrated school in Lorain and excelled early on, especially in reading. Even before her formal school years, though, Morrison had absorbed at home a love of stories from her parents, both of whom were storytellers and musicians and who instilled in their children a deep respect for their heritage through the stories they told. Morrison graduated from Lorain High School with honors in 1949 and enrolled in Howard University, where she majored in English and minored in classics. During her college years she joined a university-afliated touring repertory company, and also changed her name to Toni, allegedly because so many people had difculty pronouncing Chloe. Following graduation from Howard in 1953, Morrison attended Cornell University, earning a masters degree in English after writing a thesis on William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. In 195557 Morrison taught at Texas Southern University, then returned to Howard University to join the faculty in 1957. There she met her husband, Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect.They married in 1958 and had two children, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin, before they divorced in 1964, the same year Morrison left Howard University. It was during this period that Morrison began writing in earnest, as an antidote to the loneliness she often felt. One of her rst projects was a short story about a young Black girl who dreamed of having blue eyes. In 1964 Morrison began work as an editor for the textbook subsidiary of Random House in Syracuse, New York, and was promoted to senior editor at the companys headquarters in New York City in 1967, where she had the opportunity to work with a number of prominent Black authors. While at Random House, Morrison continued to teach, holding positions at SUNY-Purchase (197172) and Yale University (197677). She left Random House in 1983 and was named the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at SUNY-Albany in 1984. Presently Morrison is Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of Humanities at Princeton University, the rst Black woman to hold an endowed chair at an Ivy League university. The workshop story that Morrison began in the mid-1960s was published as her rst novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. She maintains that in working on the manuscript she was striving to write the type of literature that she liked to read</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>ix</p> <p>and that was too often unavailable. This novel, which served as Morrisons introduction to the American literary scene, was followed in 1973 by Sula, for which she received the National Book Award nomination in 1975. She published Song of Solomon next, in 1977; it garnered a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. The novel was also a paperback best-seller. Tar Baby, released in 1981, landed Morrison on the cover of Time magazine, and in 1988 Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for what many consider to be her greatest novel, Beloved, published in 1987. Jazz, Morrisons sixth novel, appeared in 1992. In 1993, Toni Morrison received the Nobel Prize in Literature, only the eighth woman ever to do so, and the rst Black woman. Upon awarding Morrison the prize, the Swedish Academy described her as a writer who, in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality. Already a writer with an international reputation in 1993, Morrisons recognition by the Swedish Academy was the ofcial inscripting of a worldwide recognition and appreciation of the intellectual stimulation and awesome power of her writing, according to Trudier Harris in an essay that appeared shortly after the honor was conferred. Since becoming a Nobel laureate, Morrison has published Paradise (1998), the novel she had in progress at the time of the award. In addition to her seven novels, Morrison has written a signicant work of literary criticism, Playing In the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) and has also edited two collections of essays, Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (1992) and Birth of a Nationhood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case (1997). This introduction, presenting as it does the basic facts of Morrisons life and the salient details of her career, is necessarily brief. Fine interviews and biographies have been published, and studies of her novels abound. Each time a new novel is published, her readers thrill to discover what reading challenge Morrison has designed for them, what new and delicious uses of the English language she has invented, what memorable characters will join the ranks of the Breedloves, the Deads, the Peaces, and the Suggses. And each time her readers are not disappointed. Toni Morrisons contributions to literature are vast the characters and places she has created, the situations she has imagined, the moral ambiguities, public pronouncements, private agonies and celebrations she has dramatizedall these make up an oeuvre that is unrivaled in American literature. The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia seeks not to document Morrisons work exhaustively, but instead to catalog and interpret for readers some of her most important themes, characters, and places. There are essays on each of her literary works, as well as an approaches section designed to offer readers various paths of entry into her work. For the convenience of the reader, entries are arranged alphabetically. They vary in length, with the novels and major themes receiving</p> <p>x</p> <p>INTRODUCTION</p> <p>more in-depth treatment than characters, places, and minor themes. The volume is by no means complete; like Morrisons novels, which offer gaps through which the reader can enter and co-create, there is ample room here for individual interpretation and elaboration. More than fifty scholars from across the country pooled their expertise to produce the entries that make up The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia; without them, this volume would not have been possible. When the project was rst announced, inquiries from around the world poured in. All of the entries are signed by the critics who contributed them, and many conclude with a list of sources that readers may wish to consult for further reading and research. Finally, the Encyclopedia concludes with a selected bibliography that is just thatselected. In 2002 the MLA Bibliography listed well over one thousand books and articles on Toni Morrison and her work; Morrison scholarship has become a virtual industry. What this volume hopes to contribute to that industry is an overview of Morrisons primary concerns and achievements, and a reference point for readers who wish to go beyond Morrisons texts themselves. Like the talking book that speaks at the end of Jazz, urging readers to consider the manifestation of creativity and love they have, by reading, participated in, I like to think that this volume speaks, tootestifying to Toni Morrisons gifts and accomplishments, encouraging the creativity of her readers, and reminding us of the many ways that Morrison insists on life.</p> <p>Acknowledgments</p> <p>I wish to thank the following programs and individuals for making this work possible: The Frances Holland Black Endowment in Womens Studies at Appalachian State University, for funding a graduate student to assist in the technical preparation of this manuscript. Gena Pittman, who had never read Toni Morrison, for spending an entire summer turning hundreds of entries into a book manuscript, and for remaining cheerful and pleasant while she sorted through characters, places, and story lines she surely found, at the very least, bewildering. Friends, colleagues, and Morrison acionados who contributed entries, advice, general support, and much-needed encouragement for a project they insisted was long overdue. And nally, my husband, James M. Ivory, for what can only be called his many expertises, and my son, Sebastian Luke Ivory, for all the ways he tried to exercise patience during the many stages of this project.</p> <p>A</p> <p>Acton (Jazz) In Jazz, Dorcas Manfreds* boyfriend with whom she cheats on the married Joe Trace*. The type of man Joe would call a rooster, Acton is narcissistic, critical, and unable to empathize with Dorcas, which makes him all the more appealing to her. She tries in vain to please him, losing herself to his self-serving demands. As she lies dying of a bullet wound, he is angry that her blood has soiled his clothing. See also Jazz. Caroline Brown African Myth, Use of Critics such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., argue that an understanding of African mythology is an important backdrop against which to read African American writing. While elements from biblical and classical Roman and Greek mythology* also exist in Morrisons work, African myths do, indeed, play an especially important role. These mythic elements root the novels in the African tradition and provide a spiritual and cultural bridge between the history of her characters ancestors and the lives of the characters at the times the novels are set in the United States. The myths also provide a context for understanding the magical realism* that is often such an important aspect of the stories. In Song of Solomon*, for example, the novel opens with the ight of a Black insurance agent, Robert Smith*, who jumps off the roof of No</p> <p>2</p> <p>AFRICAN MYTH, USE OF</p> <p>Mercy Hospital* and ends with Milkman Dead*, who, after tracing the roots of his ying African* ancestors, gains the incentive he has needed all along to join them. Many readers have noted elements of the Greek myth of Icarus in this novel. This trait of ying, however, also goes back to the myths of flying Africans that slaves carried with them to the shores and fields of the United States. For example, slaves frequently told stories of the Africans who ew back to Africa rather than be enslaved. The act of ying is believed to result from a realization, often, of ones identity*. While most readers readily suspend their disbelief in this work of ction, the ying myth grounds the magical realism of the story rmly in African heritage. Beloved* is a novel steeped in African spirituality* and myth. One belief is in a collective consciousness of the ancestors that is carried among the living, which often results in ancestor worship. Another feature is that the female often holds a leadership role in this ancestor community, even taking on a goddess-like quality. Burial practices are very important, and improperly or incompletely buried corpses are thought to generate angry ghos...</p>