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African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison

K. Zauditu-Selassie

Publication Year: 2009

Toni Morrison herself has long urged for organic critical readings of her works. K. Zauditu-Selassie delves deeply into African spiritual traditions, clearly explaining the meanings of African cosmology and epistemology as manifest in Morrison's novels. The result is a comprehensive, tour-de-force critical investigation of such works as The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Paradise, Love, Beloved, and Jazz.

While others have studied the African spiritual ideas and values encoded in Morrison's work, African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison is the most comprehensive. Zauditu-Selassie explores a wide range of complex concepts, including African deities, ancestral ideas, spiritual archetypes, mythic trope, and lyrical prose representing African spiritual continuities.

Zauditu-Selassie is uniquely positioned to write this book, as she is not only a literary critic but also a practicing Obatala priest in the Yoruba spiritual tradition and a Mama Nganga in the Kongo spiritual system. She analyzes tensions between communal and individual values and moral codes as represented in Morrison's novels. She also uses interviews with and nonfiction written by Morrison to further build her critical paradigm.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

This project was completed over many years of shifting jobs, attitudes, and cities, and also old and new colleagues and friendships. Many people have helped me along the way; I regret that I cannot thank each one individually. While in graduate school at Clark Atlanta University, I was blessed to have dedicated professors, ...

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Preface: Dancing between Two Realms

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pp. ix-xii

In one of my earliest recollections of myself, I am dancing. Yes, when I was young, I was that little dancing girl. On various holiday occasions, when my friends’ relatives would visit them, they would send for me, saying, “Go get that little dancin’ gal.” Honoring their requests, I would perform dances such as “Mickey’s Monkey,” ...

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Introduction: There’s a Little Wheel a Turnin’ in My Heart: Cultural Concentricities and Enduring Identities

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pp. 1-24

Toni Morrison declares that the “forced transfer” of African people is the “defining event of the modern world” (“Home” 10). The arrival of captive Africans to North America, their enslavement, and their continued survival, represents a journey of remarkable resiliency. ...

I. Ancestral Echoes Positing a Spiritual Frame

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pp. 25-26

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1. I’s Got the Blues: Malochia, Magic, and the Descent into Madness in The Bluest Eye

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pp. 27-48

At the conclusion of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), the protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, has descended into a world of madness.1 In this realm, her ruptured personality has not divided into the Duboisian notion of “warring souls” but into an amicable split ...

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2. Always: The Living Ancestor and the Testimony of Will in Sula

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pp. 49-66

Following the success of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, her second novel, Sula (1974) received considerable critical attention with approaches varying from dialogues concerning the nature of good and evil to examinations of motherhood.1 However, the quest motif remains a major critical feature that begs for exploration. ...

II. Psychic Domains and Spiritual Locations

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pp. 67-68

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3. I’ve Got a Home in Dat Rock: Ritual and the Construction of Family History in Song of Solomon

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pp. 69-96

On the page following the dedicatory inscription to her father, Toni Morrison writes, “The fathers may soar and the children may know their names.” In these prefatory annotations, Morrison informs her readers of the novel’s twin themes: freedom and identity. ...

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4. Dancing with Trees and Dreaming of Yellow Dresses: The Dilemma of Jadine in Tar Baby

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pp. 97-118

In her third novel, Tar Baby (1981), Toni Morrison inscribes indigenous knowledge, representing physical and cultural landscapes as sites of power to balance individuals and restore community cohesion.1 Using patterns of African traditional beliefs where nature is revered and deified, ...

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5. In(her)iting the Divine: (Consola)tions, Sacred (Convent)ions, and Mediations of the Spiritual In-between in Paradise

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pp. 119-142

Morrison structures her seventh novel, Paradise (1999), beyond the literary doppelganger or a re-fashioning of the oft-cited Duboisian concept of “Double Consciousness.”1 Instead, as I argue, she inscribes the negotiation of spiritual tensions in her use of spiritual amplification represented by the Yoruba Òrìsà known as Ibeji ...

III. Remembrance Has Not Left Us: What the Record Shows

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pp. 143-144

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6. Living with the Dead: Memory and Ancestral Presence in Beloved

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pp. 145-167

Using the conceit of memory as the central organizing principle, Toni Morrison lays the necessary mythic foundations to invoke ancestral presence in the novel Beloved (1987).1 The focus of this chapter is an examination of the heroic character, Sethe, and the ways in which the ancestor, as memory, works in consonance with Yoruba Òrìsà, ...

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7. Tracing Wild’s Child Joe and Tracking the Hunter: An Examination of the Òrìsà Ochossi in Jazz

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pp. 168-188

Jazz (1992), Toni Morrison’s sixth novel, employs a set of distinctive epic characteristics and constructs the concept of spirituality as the matrix for text, context, and ritual performance.1 My analysis of this novel focuses on the heroic quest of Joe Trace, a character representing the Yoruba Òrìsà, Ochossi. ...

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8. If I’d a Knowed More, I Would a Loved More: Toni Morrison’s Love and Spiritual Authorship

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pp. 189-200

In her 1993 Nobel Prize for literature lecture, Toni Morrison describes prominent features of the African’s encounter in America, lamenting over such disquieting conditions as their not having had a home in this place, the historical occurrence of being “set adrift from the one(s) you knew,” ...

Glossary

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pp. 201-210

Notes

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pp. 211-224

Works Cited

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pp. 225-238

Index

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pp. 239-249

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About the Author

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Kokahvah Zauditu-Selassie is a Yoruba priest of Obatala and a Mama Nganga in the Kongo tradition. She has been a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar, a Fulbright-Hays fellow in Cairo, Egypt, and South Africa, a National Council for Black Studies fellow at the University of Ghana, Legon, and a Scholar in Residence at New York University. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780813040097
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813033280
Print-ISBN-10: 0813033284

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Morrison, Toni -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Morrison, Toni -- Spirtualistic interpretations.
  • Morrison, Toni -- Knowledge -- Africa.
  • American literature -- African influences.
  • Yoruba (African people) in literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Spirituality in literature.
  • Africa -- In literature.
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