Fiction and Folklore
The Novels of Toni Morrison
Best-selling novelist Toni Morrison has published five major works: Beloved (which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988), Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, Sula, and The Bluest Eye. In this provocative study of Morrison’s novels, Trudier Harris blends fictive and folkloric approaches to illuminate the depth and complexity of the African-American literary heritage.
Morrison stands in a long line of black writers who have grounded their characters, themes, and structures in African-American folk traditions. Typically, students of such grounding have proceeded in two steps—first identifying items of folklore and locating them in previous collections, then interpreting how the items function in the literary text. Thus critics have viewed folklore as merely grafted onto the “real” literature. While Morrison joins her literary predecessors in drawing on folk materials, her “literary” folklore restructures and adapts traditional patterns so creatively that scholars now must reconceptualize the relationship between folklore and literature.
Harris identifies Morrison’s primary folkloric strategy as reversal—a process that creates an alternative universe where the antithetical is the norm and the incredible is taken for granted. Thus Morrison succeeds in creating worlds where the line between history and fiction, legend and fact, is permanently blurred. Furthermore, in replicating the processes of folk culture, Morrison encourages readers to participate in the creative process itself.
The Author: Trudier Harris is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English and Chair of the Curriculum in African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.