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Can't I Love What I Criticize?

The Masculine and Morrison

Susan Neal Mayberry

Publication Year: 2007

Taking a close look at all the key male figures in Toni Morrison's eight novels, this book explores Morrison's admitted, but critically neglected, interest in the relationships between African American men and women and the “axes” on which these relationships turn. Most Morrison scholarship deals with her female characters. Can't I Love What I Criticize? offers a response to this imbalance and to Morrison's call for more work on men, who remain, in her words, “outside of that little community value thing.”

The book also considers the barriers between black men and women thrown up by their participation in a larger, historically racist culture of competition, ownership, sexual repression, and fixed ideals about physical beauty and romantic love. Black women, Morrison says, bear their crosses “extremely well,” and black men, although they have been routinely emasculated by “white men, period,” have managed to maintain a feisty “magic” that everybody wants but nobody else has.

Understanding Morrison's treatment of her male characters, says Susan Mayberry, becomes crucial to grasping her success in “countering the damage done by a spectrum of sometimes misguided isms”--including white American feminism. Morrison's version of masculinity suggests that black men have “successfully retained their special vitality in spite of white male resistance” and that “their connections to black women have saved their lives.” To single out her men is not to negate the preeminence of her women; rather, it is to recognize the interconnectedness and balance between them.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Writing represents a journey in liberating, companionably solitary confinement. Nobody, however, can do the time alone. Writing is, as Toni Morrison describes it, a “craft that appears solitary but needs another for its completion.” My four-year stint in solitary was eased considerably by the finishing touches of a number of astonishingly considerate others: Nancy...

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1. Something Other Than a Family Quarrel: Morrison’s Review of the Masculine

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pp. 1-14

Toni Morrison’s delight in flouting traditional as well as fashionable bottoms and tops finds her denounced by some politically stylish scholars for not carrying their latest lines. In a 1971 article, which posits “What the Black Woman Thinks about Women’s Lib,” she has already begun to close down this kind of criticism with her usual comically blunt opener: “Well, she’s suspicious...

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2. Black Boys, White Gaze: A Respectful Publication of The Bluest Eye

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pp. 15-50

Twenty-three years after it appeared in 1970, The Bluest Eye was still mislabeled fiction for adolescents. Morrison’s afterword to the 1994 Plume edition describes the initial publication of her book to be “like Pecola’s life: dismissed, trivialized, misread” (216). In fact, The Bluest Eye represents its creator’s masculine manifesto. Morrison deliberately places her black male...

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3. An Elegy on Black Masculinity: The Beautiful Boys in Sula

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pp. 51-70

Morrison dedicates her second book, praised for its celebration of girls’ intimacy, to boys. She inscribes Sula (1973) to her young sons, whom she “miss[es] although they have not left [her].” Based on Sula’s absence, Morrison’s novel, like her dedication, illustrates that it is “sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.” Sula embraces inversion,...

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4. Flying without Ever Leaving the Ground: Feminine Masculinity in Song of Solomon

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pp. 71-115

The Bluest Eye is Morrison’s manifesto. It pecks away at those aspects of the “white gaze” abusive to African American masculinity: distorted sexuality, ownership, physical beauty, romantic love. Sula extends Morrison’s outrage at the attempted annihilation of that manhood by rough white hands who “tore the [protectively poisonous] nightshade and [thornily sweet] blackberry...

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5. The Nigger in the Woodpile: Sons and Lovers in Tar Baby

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pp. 116-152

The image resonating at the core of Tar Baby (1981) projects a hungry, dirty, dark-skinned young man located on a fantasy island near Haiti in the bedroom closet of a red-haired, pale-skinned, well-heeled older woman. Relayed separately by the various black and white voices reacting to it, the image fluctuates, taking its power from and suggesting positions of power...

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6. Circles of Sorrow, Sites of Memory, Forms of Flooding: Colored Men’s Time in Beloved

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pp. 153-192

Among the memories that send Son scampering lickety-split at the end of Tar Baby is the site of a smokehouse cot. Wrapped in an Easterwhite towel, having watched his personal dirt swirl down somebody else’s shower drain, he stares out the window of a beautifully kept bedroom at the back of an old black man on the ground below “stooping over some cutting...

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7. Classically Re-training Blues Boys: Morrison’s Jazz Men

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pp. 193-222

Jazz (1992) and its jazzmen merge Beloved’s blues with the tragicomic tradition of the nigger in the woodpile to maintain their compassion yet make a current kind of sound. Though they possess a serious, even sacred dimension, they never consider anything too holy to leave alone. They are the indirect descendants of Beloved’s music man Sixo, who, always off the...

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8. Putting down Parking Lots out There: Morrison’s Unpaved Male Paradise

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pp. 223-260

Morrison’s seventh novel, Paradise (1997), lives up to its mystical number in her cosmos; it also figures as an inversion of its creator’s original handiwork, The Bluest become blackest Eye. The book represents in more ways than one a culmination. Third in a trilogy on the African American experience, its chronology encompasses the failed Reconstruction of the...

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9. Laying down the Law of the Father: Men in Love

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pp. 261-292

“For and with” her beloved maternal grandmother Ardelia Willis, Morrison’s eighth novel explores looking for [L]ove in all the wrong places. It also re-locates [L]acan’s Other.1 Since Morrison maintains that Old World black women like Willis constitute the essence of love, Love’s Up Beach L could be considered the swamp women of Tar Baby or Ardelia reincarnated—enduring...

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pp. 293-298

Chatting animatedly beside me prior to the opening curtain of the Margaret Garner Opera, libretto by Toni Morrison, sat two women, clearly a couple. When I informed the closest partner that over 250 other members of the Toni Morrison Society from across the globe had accompanied me to this gala Cincinnati premier in July 2005, she perked up even more. “What in the...


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pp. 299-318

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 319-329


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pp. 331-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336510
E-ISBN-10: 0820336513
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820329451
Print-ISBN-10: 0820329452

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2007