Language, Relationships, and Death in Early Novels of Toni Morrison
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CitationBarbato, Victoria E. 2016. Language, Relationships, and Death in Early Novels of Toni Morrison. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractBased on an analysis of Toni Morrison’s early novels, her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and the Norton Lecture series she delivered at Harvard University in 2016, this study articulates patterns regarding the relationship between death and language in Toni Morrison’s work. When Toni Morrison gave her speech accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, she said, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” I argue that this message is the major argument of her novel Sula, where she proposes her ideas about the relationship between death and language but is faced with barriers in time period, race, and gender of her characters. I go on to argue that Morrison reattempts to convey the power of language over death in Song of Solomon, where she reinvents the story through the lens of a male character in contemporary times. In this version, she expresses her argument fully but some of the value is lost due to the gender of the protagonist and the abruptness of his death. Morrison completely succeeds in relating her message in Beloved. This investigation delivers an analysis of each novel, discussing various factors impacting Morrison’s message. It goes on to consider the relationship of language and death in African American tradition and folklore, which undoubtedly influenced Morrison’s writing and ideas.
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