Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

I have been enormously fortunate in having readers who generously contributed their own ideas to expand my interpretations of Toni Morrison’s works. This book would certainly not have existed without the urging and constant support of the following readers. Mirin Fader worked on Toni Morrison with me first as student, then as research assistant and friend. Her tireless, scrupulous bibliographic work, her astute comments on my chapters, and her insights into Morrison’s novels sustained me through all the years of writing. Todd McGowan read drafts, sometimes two drafts, of every chapter; his keen...

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INTRODUCTION: Love and Narrative Form

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pp. 1-18

Since Peter Brooks wrote Reading for the Plot in 1984, psychoanalytic narrative critics have explored, critiqued, and suggested variations on Brooks’s contention that desire generates the energy of a novel, keeping the narrative moving and a reader moving with it. In this study of Toni Morrison’s later novels, I ask, What is the effect on narrative structure if it is love, not desire, that moves narrative forward—or, perhaps, imposes stasis and brings narrative momentum to a halt? Or pushes the parameters of narrative convention to reflect heretofore unrepresented kinds of love? Morrison often points to...

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CHAPTER 1 Maternal Language and Maternal History in Beloved

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pp. 19-44

Beloved (1987) represents a radical shift in Toni Morrison’s literary techniques.1 Abandoning the largely chronological ordering and realist discourse of her early novels, Morrison introduces disruptions of syntax and grammar that reflect the troubled psychic worlds of the ex-slaves who are her characters.2 For example, the narrative discourse mirrors Sethe’s idiosyncratic view of herself as a maternal body inseparable from her children through linguistic innovations like literalization and the erasure of the separation between subject positions. And Morrison deploys a temporally convoluted narrative...

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CHAPTER 2 Riffing on Love and Playing with Narration in Jazz

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pp. 45-68

Jazz (1992) plays with many varieties of love and, in the end, invites the reader to play too—to create her own love story. Narrative form in Jazz mirrors and expresses each of these different kinds of loving: both the narrative structure, with its open ending, and the various inventive uses of the narrator formally reflect the text’s changing ideas of love. While the narrator begins her story by voicing a traditional Western notion of love that leads in a straight line from passion to the death of the beloved, she ends by embracing the idea of love as a continuing innovation. She changes because she learns from her characters,...

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CHAPTER 3 Displacement—Political, Psychic, and Textual—in Paradise

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pp. 69-94

The central event of Paradise (1998) is the massacre of the women in the Convent by the men of Ruby. There is an explanation for this violence, but it seems inadequate: the men are trying to get rid of what they see as the disorderly sexual excesses of the women who live in the deserted Convent eighteen miles away because they believe that the women’s display of uninhibited female licentiousness threatens the disciplined order of their community. Since the excesses of the Convent women pose no real threat to Ruby, and since these excesses are largely the products of the Ruby men’s fantasies, the overt...

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CHAPTER 4 Love’s Time and the Reader: Ethical Effects of Nachträglichkeit (Afterwardsness) in Love

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pp. 95-122

In Morrison’s Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, disruptions of chronological narrative sequence reflect the dislocations of African American history—Middle Passage, the journey north from the post-Reconstruction South, the Great Migration—together with the psychic upheavals that accompany them. The disruptions of chronological sequence in Beloved, for example, formally reflect the emotional and psychological disturbances that accompanied the displacements of the Middle Passage, which severed the enslaved Africans from their land, their culture, their ancestors, and their past....

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CHAPTER 5 Failed Messages, Maternal Loss, and Narrative Form in A Mercy

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pp. 123-142

Florens, a slave girl who has been sold away from her mother in A Mercy (2008), is haunted by the insistent image of the mother trying to tell her something. The mother that Florens hallucinates is “saying something important to me, but holding the little boy’s hand” (8); “a minha mae standing near with her little boy . . . she is always wanting to tell me something. Is stretching her eyes. Is working her mouth” (101); “she is moving her lips at me” (138).1 Throughout Florens’s narrative, the image of the hallucinated mother speaks, but nothing issues from her mouth; the daughter strains to...

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CHAPTER 6 Severed Limbs, the Uncanny, and the Return of the Repressed in Home

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pp. 143-170

Repression and the return of the repressed govern the narrative structure of Home (2012). At the level of the individual character, these structural features mirror processes of repression going on in the protagonist, Frank. At the level of national repressed memory, Frank’s sister Cee’s story evokes a long history of the medical establishment’s use and abuse of black bodies in the name of scientific advancement. Severed body parts scattered through the text do double symbolic work. At the personal level, the intrusion of body parts into the story here and there figures the partial return from repression of Frank’s...

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CHAPTER 7 Love, Trauma, and the Body in God Help the Child

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pp. 171-188

A new tone of urgency governs the story of the love between Bride and Booker in God Help the Child (2015). Whereas the long line of Morrison’s novels shows a consistently large and compassionate patience for the lingering vicissitudes of trauma, the narration of God Help the Child betrays an impatience with the residues of trauma that hold back its characters from loving anew. For, as the wise woman Queen says, love is so difficult, and lovers so selfish, that loving requires the full measure of one’s attention and emotional energy. The narrative forms of God Help the Child reflect the urgency of the...

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CONCLUSION: Revisioning Love and Slavery

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pp. 189-194

Rather than repeating themes of love worked out in earlier novels, as one might expect in the late work of a writer now in her eighties, Toni Morrison in these latest novels (Home and God Help the Child ) turns on her earlier works to critique them. Just as Morrison’s late novels call on the reader to confront, examine, and reevaluate her or his established values, so Home and God Help the Child seem to call the notions of love in her prior works into question and demand a reevaluation. The form of these two novels, however, is consistent with Morrison’s practice of treating novel writing as an ethical...

Notes

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pp. 195-212

Works Cited

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pp. 213-226

Index

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pp. 227-233