Narrative Conventions and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison
Routledge – 2009 – 114 pages
This study analyzes the relationship between race and genre in four of Toni Morrison’s novels: The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, Jazz, and Beloved. Heinert argues how Morrison’s novels revise conventional generic forms such as bildungsroman, folktales, slave narratives, and the formal realism of the novel itself. This study goes beyond formalist analyses to show how these revisions expose the relationship between race, conventional generic forms, and the dominant culture. Morrison’s revisions critique the conventional roles of African Americans as subjects of and in the genre of the novel, and (re)write roles which instead privilege their subjectivity.
This study provides readers with new ways of understanding Morrison’s novels. Whereas critics often fault Morrison for breaking with traditional forms and resisting resolution in her novels, this analysis show how Morrison’s revisions shift the narrative truth of the novel from its representation in conventional forms to its interpretation by the readers, who are responsible for constructing their own resolution or version of narrative truth. These revisions expose how the dominant culture has privileged specific forms of narration; in turn, these forms privilege the values of the dominant culture. Morrison’s novels attempt to undermine this privilege and rewrite the canon of American literature.
Chapter One: Situating Morrison in (African-)American Literary Criticism
Chapter Two: Novel of "Education": Bildungsroman and The Bluest Eye
Chapter Three: (Re)Defining Race: Folktale and Stereotypes in Tar Baby
Chapter Four: Signifying on the Novel: Conventions and Race in Morrison’s Jazz
Chapter Five: "Re-membering" Race: Realism and "Truth" in Beloved
Chapter Six: "How lovely it is, this thing we have done—together"
Jennifer Heinert teaches at the University of Wisconsin – Rock County campus and her research interests include Narrative and Genre Studies, Multicultural Literature, and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.