Post 13: Toni Morrison Week

Toni Morrison's immortal legacy, explained in one Beloved passage ...

In Playing in the Dark, Morrison delves into American literature and, specifically, literary whiteness.  Historically, a lot of American literature only included black characters as plot devices.  As a reader, this is very clear to Morrison and she can only see the absence of blackness in American literature.  She then shifts her perspective to analyze American literature as a writer and sees things very differently.  She emphasizes that whiteness and freedom exist greatly in the contrast of blackness and slavery.  In other words, whiteness wouldn’t be a concept or an identity without the existence of blackness and freedom was largely seen in contrast to slavery.  So, blackness, slavery, and racism actually played a huge role in the shaping of whiteness, white stories, and white perspectives; and in enriching American literature.  Additionally, Morrison shines light on the fact the impact of racism on the objects of racists policies is a well-established study but that it should be joined with another, equally important one: the impact of racism on those who perpetuate it.  Morrison acknowledges that discussing race in American literature is largely avoided, which is often regarded as the “polite approach” when, in reality, it is in-and-of-itself an act of racism.  To treat the topic of color as something to be avoided is to imply that being black is negative while erasing a huge part of that person or character’s identity.
I read Beloved for my book report.  Playing in the Dark and Beloved are very different pieces of writing in terms of style and content, but there are connections in context and concept.  Beloved tells the story of the life of a black woman, Sethe, who was formerly enslaved but who is now “free” and living in Cincinnati with her daughter.   Beloved is told on two different planes of time— the present is 1870’s in Cincinnati; and Morrison uses flashbacks told from the perspectives of various characters to detail the devastating experiences of being enslaved 20 years earlier.  Both Beloved and Playing in the Dark approach the topics of identity and humanity. The white characters in Beloved are always a reflection of freedom, or the constant lack of freedom that the main characters have.  Even when Sethe and her family are living in Cincinnati and considered to be “free,” there is always the trauma of being enslaved looming— the trauma of white men possessing their bodies in more ways than one.  Even when they are “free” their freedom looks very different than freedom of the white man and there is the constant fear of losing that freedom.  In this way, Morrison is exploring black and white identities in a similar fashion as in Playing in the Dark— that is, identities existing by contrasting one another.