We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Toni Morrison and Motherhood

A Politics of the Heart

Andrea O'Reilly

Publication Year: 2004

Traces Morrison’s theory of African American mothering as it is articulated in her novels, essays, speeches, and interviews. Mothering is a central issue for feminist theory, and motherhood is also a persistent presence in the work of Toni Morrison. Examining Morrison’s novels, essays, speeches, and interviews, Andrea O’Reilly illustrates how Morrison builds upon black women’s experiences of and perspectives on motherhood to develop a view of black motherhood that is, in terms of both maternal identity and role, radically different from motherhood as practiced and prescribed in the dominant culture. Motherhood, in Morrison’s view, is fundamentally and profoundly an act of resistance, essential and integral to black women’s fight against racism (and sexism) and their ability to achieve well-being for themselves and their culture. The power of motherhood and the empowerment of mothering are what make possible the better world we seek for ourselves and for our children. This, argues O’Reilly, is Morrison’s maternal theory—a politics of the heart. “As an advocate of ‘a politics of the heart,’ O’Reilly has an acute insight into discerning any threat to the preservation and continuation of traditional African American womanhood and values … Above all, Toni Morrison and Motherhood, based on Andrea O’Reilly’s methodical research on Morrison’s works as well as feminist critical resources, proffers a useful basis for understanding Toni Morrison’s works. It certainly contributes to exploring in detail Morrison’s rich and complex works notable from the perspectives of nurturing and sustaining African American maternal tradition.” — African American Review “O’Reilly boldly reconfigures hegemonic western notions of motherhood while maintaining dialogues across cultural differences.” — Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering “Andrea O’Reilly examines Morrison’s complex presentations of, and theories about, motherhood with admirable rigor and a refusal to simplify, and the result is one of the most penetrating and insightful studies of Morrison yet to appear, a book that will prove invaluable to any scholar, teacher, or reader of Morrison.” — South Atlantic Review “…it serves as a sort of annotated bibliography of nearly all the major theoretical work on motherhood and on Morrison as an author … anyone conducting serious study of either Toni Morrison or motherhood, not to mention the combination, should read [this book] ... O’Reilly’s exhaustive research, her facility with theories of Anglo-American and Black feminism, and her penetrating analyses of Morrison’s works result in a highly useful scholarly read.” — Literary Mama “By tracing both the metaphor and literal practice of mothering in Morrison’s literary world, O’Reilly conveys Morrison’s vision of motherhood as an act of resistance.” — American Literature “Motherhood is critically important as a recurring theme in Toni Morrison’s oeuvre and within black feminist and feminist scholarship. An in-depth analysis of this central concern is necessary in order to explore the complex disjunction between Morrison’s interviews, which praise black mothering, and the fiction, which presents mothers in various destructive and self-destructive modes. Kudos to Andrea O’Reilly for illuminating Morrison’s ‘maternal standpoint’ and helping readers and critics understand this difficult terrain. Toni Morrison and Motherhood is also valuable as a resource that addresses and synthesizes a huge body of secondary literature.” — Nancy Gerber, author of Portrait of the Mother-Artist: Class and Creativity in Contemporary American Fiction “In addition to presenting a penetrating and original reading of Toni Morrison, O’Reilly integrates the evolving scholarship on motherhood in dominant and minority cultures in a review that is both a composite of commonalities and a clear representation of differences.” — Elizabeth Bourque Johnson, University of Minnesota Andrea O’Reilly is Associate Professor in the School of Women’s Studies at York University and President of the Association for Research on Mothering. She is the author and editor of several books on mothering, including (with Sharon Abbey) Mothers and Daughters: Connection, Empowerment, and Transformation and Mothers and Sons: Feminism, Masculinity, and the Struggle to Raise Our Sons.

Published by: State University of New York Press


pdf iconDownload PDF

Title page, Copyright page

pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. ix-xi

Di Brandt begins the prologue to her book Wild Woman Dancing (1993) discussing how the birth of her first child in 1976 called into question all that she had learned—or thought she had learned—in her Masters English literature program completed the same year. She writes: “It was like falling into a vacuum, narratively speaking. I realized suddenly, with a shock, that none of the texts I had read so carefully, none of the literary skills I had...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. xiii-xiv

In Song of Solomon the narrator, commenting upon the importance of other-mothering, says this about Hagar Dead: “She needed what most colored girls needed: a chorus of mamas, grandmamas, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, best girl friends, and what all to give her the strength life demanded of her – and the humor with which to live it” (311). I believe that scholars likewise, need a “chorus of mamas"...

read more

Chapter One: A Politics of the Heart: Toni Morrison’s Theory of Motherhood as a Site of Power and Motherwork as Concerned with the Empowerment of Children

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-46

MOTHERHOOD IS A CENTRAL THEME in Morrison’s fiction and is a topic she returns to time and time again in her many interviews and articles. In her reflections on motherhood, both inside and outside her fiction, Morrison articulates a fully developed theory of African American mothering that is central to her larger political and philosophical stance...

read more

Chapter Two: Disconnections from the Motherline: Gender Hegemonies and the Loss of the Ancient Properties: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 47-72

MOTHERS, THROUGH THE TASK of cultural bearing, pass on to each successive generation of children African American culture and instill in their children knowledge about and pride in their African American heritage. More specifically, mothers pass on what I have called the motherline: the ancestral memory and ancient properties of traditional black culture. In so doing, cultural bearing or motherline mothering confers affirming images...

read more

Chapter Three: Ruptures/Disruptions of the Motherline: Slavery, Migration, and Assimilation: Song of Solomon, Beloved

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 73-91

THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER EXAMINED women’s disconnection from the motherline in and through identification with specific normative gender discourses, namely, those of the family, beauty, motherlove, and female fulfillment. This chapter considers how the African American motherline itself is fractured by historical trauma, in particular slavery, migration, and assimilation. Black women, in the task of cultural bearing...

read more

Chapter Four: Reconnections to the Motherline: Deliverance and Exile: Song of Solomon, Tar Baby

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 93-116

DISCONNECTIONS FROM, AND DISRUPTIONS OF the motherline were explored in the last two chapters: here the theme of reconnection is investigated. Surveying Milkman’s successful quest in Song of Solomon and Jadine’s failed quest in Tar Baby, this chapter will consider Morrison’s reflections on the theme of reconnection in terms of two interrelated questions: How is reconnection made possible and by whom? More than any of...

read more

Chapter Five: Maternal Interventions: Resistance and Power: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Paradise

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 117-152

THE RUPTURE AND REPAIR of the motherline were examined in the previous three chapters. This chapter emphasizes how mothers themselves seek to sustain the motherline and empower their children through the maternal tasks of preservation, nurturance, and cultural bearing. Black mothers are the cultural bearers who model and mentor the ancient properties and the funk of the motherline. Likewise, black mothers, through both preservation and nurturance...

read more

Chapter Six: Maternal Healing: Reconciliation and Redemption: Jazz, Paradise

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 153-170

MORRISON’S RENDITIONS OF MOTHERHOOD are truly horrifying: a son burnt to death; a baby whose throat is slit; children who are abused, abandoned, beaten, and neglected by their mothers—these harrowing events permeate all seven of her novels. The last chapter considered how these violations may be read as gestures of nurturance and preservation and, in particular, as maternal acts of resistance against a white supremacist and patriarchal...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 171-173

Toni Morrison’s theory of motherhood as a site of power and her model of motherwork as concerned with the empowerment of children centers upon a rearticulation of the everyday traditions and practices of black motherhood. More specifically, this rearticulation gives rise to a new consciousness of black motherhood that accords mothers power and enables them to empower children...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 175-180

In the fall of 2003, just as this book was going into final production, Toni Morrison’s eighth novel Love was published. This epilogue will briefly consider how this recently published novel may be read in the context of Morrison’s larger maternal vision, what I have called “A Politics of the Heart.” From this perspective, what strikes the reader most about Love is the absence of mothers and mothering. Unlike her previous seven novels...


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 181-196

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 197-215


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 217-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485163
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791460757
Print-ISBN-10: 0791460754

Page Count: 243
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 62348779
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Toni Morrison and Motherhood

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Motherhood in literature.
  • Mothers in literature.
  • African American women in literature.
  • African American families in literature.
  • Morrison, Toni -- Political and social views.
  • Morrison, Toni -- Characters -- Mothers.
  • Domestic fiction, American -- History and criticism.
  • Mother and child in literature.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access