- Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison’s Novels
This study of Toni Morrison’s six novels to date makes me want to teach my Major American Authors course on Morrison again, right away. As his acknowledgments page indicates, this research was “fueled” by his teaching; it, in turn, fuels the teaching of the scholars who read it. A dense, richly connective study, Dangerous Freedom traces the [End Page 482] interplay of fusion and fragmentation throughout Morrison’s novels. In the process, Page synthesizes multiple aspects of Morrison’s work, threads in African American, American, and African cultures, dimensions of literary theory concerning postmodernism, gender, race, and class, and the body of Morrison scholarship to date. This is a most impressive piece of scholarship.
Composed of nine chapters, Dangerous Freedom, after two introductory chapters, focuses a chapter on each of Morrison’s novels in chronological order, ending with a concluding chapter. Earlier versions of portions of chapter 7 (on Beloved) and chapter 8 (on Jazz) were published in articles by Page in African American Review in 1992 and 1995, respectively.
Chapter 1, “The Puzzle of the One-and-the-Many,” sketches the loose yet cohesive conceptual net for the study. Alternately termed the “one-and-the-many,” “plurality-in-unity,” and “fusion and fragmentation,” the key thread of the book is the part/whole relationships in Morrison’s novels between communities, ideas, characters, parts of characters, form and content, families, members of families, cultures, and text, author, and reader. In short, Page’s book is about how all the textual fragments and oppositions relate to, resist, and comprise the whole. This plays out, he argues, in the characters’ identities, the form, and the relationship with the reader. Page asserts three key contexts for Morrison’s work here: American culture, African American culture, and deconstruction/postmodernism. This first chapter is well-grounded theoretically, and lucid. The theoretical jargon is minimal, yet the conceptual framings are more than adequate. Page charts a dense, multilayered positioning for his study that is accessible. One can see that he has taught these ideas in the classroom.
Chapter 2, “Morrison’s Novels as Texts, Not Works,” extends Page’s positioning to an explicit delineation of how Morrison’s texts enact the dynamics of chapter 1. Fused here, but acknowledged in their separate integrities, are the fragmentation of African American identity due to racism, Morrison’s use of Euro-American literary tradition, the realities of African American historical and cultural heritage, qualities of postmodern fiction, Bahktinian polyvocalism, and traditional terminology of literary criticism such as third-person narrator. As throughout his text, in this chapter Page grounds his perspective in the [End Page 483] scholarship to date on Morrison. His is the most responsibly cited work on Morrison I have seen. Page also quickly sketches an overview of the dialectic between fusion and fragmentation in each novel: in The Bluest Eye, the focus is divisions within the self; in Sula, attempted dyads; in Song of Solomon, divided family and immersion in ancestral family; in Tar Baby, identity formulation within a microcosm of American society; in Beloved, restoring previously divided, or establishing, families; and in Jazz, divided children and parents. Page also outlines divisions and attempted integrations of past and present, multiple perspectives, and the text and reader.
Chapter 3, “The Break Was a Bad One: The Split World of The Bluest Eye,” centers on the multiple levels of the splitting motif in the novel. Pecola’s self is split, as are the identities of others; the Breedlove’s sofa is split; Claudia’s dolls are split. Page notes that the novel emphasizes that the split “has creative potential.” While the splitting of the Breedlove’s sofa reflects their powerlessness to effect any repair of the psychic split caused by racism and economic oppression, Claudia’s splitting of the dolls suggests a rupturing of that same hegemony, and the power of the white female beauty myth, which can be healthy for her identity. Page also offers nice readings of the positive and...