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Reviewed by:
Terry Otten. The Crime of Innocence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1989. 101 pp. pb. No price given.
Elliott Butler-Evans. Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1989. 227 pp. $29.95.

Citing the fall and its related themes of the nature of good and evil, the passage from innocence to experience, and the paradoxical consequences of self-knowledge, Terry Otten argues that Morrison fuses Biblical allusion with African myth and fantasy in her novels to depict "a world couched at times in seemingly contradictory truths: rebels becoming heroes; good creating evil; gardens that oppress; sins that redeem." He applies these themes to Morrison's five novels: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, and Beloved. According to Otten, "Morrison projects a fortunate fall idea through characters who must destroy the false identity ascribed them as blacks in a spurious 'garden.'" A fortuitous fall then, Otten opines, becomes in Morrison's world-view, "a return to the true community or "village" consciousness—a world in which "[n]ot to fall becomes more destructive than to fall." Otten finds this pattern in each of Morrison's novels. As he argues, "In all her works the fall from innocence becomes a necessary gesture of freedom and a profound act of self-awareness."

In The Crime of Innocence in the Fiction of Toni Morrison Terry Otten provides a useful examination of Morrison's manipulation of the theme of the fall in her novels. One of the work's more significant contributions is its chapter on Beloved, which provides one of the first critical analyses published on that novel.

An example of the third stage of contemporary Afro-American literary scholarship that makes use of such interpretative strategies as semiotics and feminist theory, Elliott Butler-Evans' Race, Gender, and Desire forays into semiotics, narratology, feminist theory, and ideological analysis to provide a densely written, highly sophisticated study of narrative strategies in the fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Butler-Evans intends to fill what he describes as a void in Houston Baker's and Henry Louis Gates's "racial discourse" which, according to the author, "generally downplayed the ideological issues generated by the representations of Black women in the narratives of Black males and the strategies of self-representation that characterized the writings of Black women." In this effort, he joins in the work of Hortense Spillers and Marjorie Pryse in Conjuring, their edition of essays, Hazel Carby in Reconstructing Womanhood, and more recently, Cheryl Wall in her edition of essays, Changing Our Own Words, and Andrée Nicola McLaughlin's and Joanne M. Braxton's edition of essays Wild Women in the Whirlwind.

Aside from what is often brilliant analysis—the discussion of Cholly Breedlove's rape of his daughter Pecola in Morrison's The Bluest Eye for example—Elliott Butler-Evans' argument is at times encumbered by its frequent references to various complex theoretical issues. And although in some sections every third paragraph offers an in-depth discussion of current critical theories, his appropriation of the concept "desire"—whether Kristeva's or Lacan's—is not sufficiently made clear at the onset. Moreover, in places the text appears to be attempting too much. Although the analysis is quite rich in its implications, perhaps Butler-Evans might have more accessibly handled the wealth of insight and very probing analysis in Race, Gender, and Desire by making use of several separate studies. [End Page 274]

Along with Michael Awkward's Inspiriting Influences, Elliott Butler-Evans' Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker is one of the most intelligent and provocative critical studies of African-American literature written in 1989. Afro-Americanists in the field of literature can look forward to reading more of his work in the future.



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pp. 274-275
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