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Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, on Feb. 18, 1931, where her parents had moved to escape the problems of southern racism; Morrison’s father, George Wofford, was a welder and told her folktales of the black community, transferring his African-American heritage to another generation (Williams). According to Scott Williams, a professor at State University of New York at Buffalo, in 1949, she entered Howard University in Washington, D. C. America’s most distinguished black college; there, she changed her name from Chloe to Toni, explaining once that people found Chloe too difficult to pronounce. While teaching at Howard University and caring for her two children, Morrison wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970); this book was partly based on Morrison’s story written for a writer’s group in 1966 (Williams). According to Williams, then she wrote seven other novels: Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Paradise, Love, and A Mercy. I read Morrison’s speech called “Cinderella’s Stepsisters” and the Bluest Eye novel.

These two pieces of writing show the nature of cultural conflict as it happens through race, gender, and minority status, and how they interfere in either a real person’s or a character’s life. Toni Morrison presented a speech entitled “Cinderella’s Stepsisters” to a graduating class at Barnard College. In the course of her speech, Morrison parallels the stepsisters in the fairytale “Cinderella” to many women of power today; Morrison begins by describing her discontent with how the fairytale character, Cinderella, is treated by her mother and stepsisters in the story (“Stepsisters” 287).

Morrison’s compares “Cinderella” to how women suffer from pain and are tortured (“Stepsisters” 287). Morrison is disturbed that “Cinderella” contains a group of women who join together to oppress another woman (“Stepsisters” 287). She feels that this is a horrid example of how a female-to-female relationship should be (“Stepsisters” 287). Morrison said, “I am alarmed by the violence that women do to each other: professional violence, competitive violence, emotional violence, the willingness of women to enslave other women, and the growing absence of decency on the killing floor of professional women’s worlds” (“Stepsisters” 289).

She compares the woman of the 20th century with Cinderella’s stepsisters in the beginning of the fairytale: they are described as beautiful, intelligent and full of power (“Stepsisters” 288). Morrison explains to the graduating women of Barnard Collage that they now have the same status and power as the stepsisters (“Stepsisters” 287). It seems that Morrison concludes that a person’s heart determines how they wish to deal with others. The Bluest Eye is the story of three black schoolgirls growing up in 1940s Ohio: the sisters Claudia and Frieda MacTeer and their friend Pecola Breedlove (Bluest 5-15).

Pecola is a troubled young girl with a hard life; her parents are constantly fighting (Bluest 5-15). Pauline and Cholly are Pecola’s parents, Pecola is continually being told what an ugly girl she is by them (Bluest 35). Pauline is happily working for a rich, white family; Cholly is a drunken man (Bluest 40). Pauline and Cholly have lost the love they once had for each other (Bluest 43). One day when Pecola is doing dishes, Cholly rapes her for the first time; the second time, Cholly gets her pregnant (Bluest 78-100).

So, the entire town turns against her except Claudia and Frieda: they help her (Bluest 103-112). Pecola loves blue eyes, and she prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, and so that her world will be different (Bluest 118-121). This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning to get blue eyes. The Basic theme of the Bluest Eye revolves around the African American community’s conformity to white standards, while in “Cinderella’s Stepsisters,” Morrison’s theme is more about gender.

The Bluest Eye states actual beauty in the world is only white beauty, and black physical appearance is considered as ugly. For example, Pecola wishes that her eyes would turn blue because Claudia had given her a white baby doll to play with and constantly told Pecola how lovely the doll is (Bluest 106). For somebody like Morrison, her life as a black woman has clearly influenced this idea that she explores in her work, both non-fiction and fiction: white beauty is the only beauty in the world, and this is a cultural conflict for her and other African Americans.

Morrison uses an informal tone in both her novel and speech which is easy to understand. Traylor, a professor of English at Howard University, states, “The Bluest Eye begins ‘Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941’” (1429). This sentence is simple and uncomplicated: nothing fancy here. Another example of cultural conflict I saw in Morrison’s novel: the small community has suffers more because the large community has more power in any culture.

Writer Ross Macdonald said, “The Bluest Eye takes its place in a distinguished tradition of African-American literature concerned with the struggle to assert culture and individual values in the face of majority, or European-American culture and economic dominance” (449). The Bluest Eye addresses the issue of the child as the innocent victim of a culture that is in decline (Macdonald 449). According to Macdonald, this seems a particularly modernist theme, and Morrison’s novel compares with such modernist expressions as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and E.

L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel (1971) as a treatment of the spiritual and conceptual victimization of children by a culture that has lost its way (449). In the Bluest Eye, Morrison stresses most the cultural conflict of racism especially toward black people–how they suffer, and what value they have in society. Bryant, a professor of English at California State University, said, “It is true that Morrison operates within many of the racial commonplaces” (336). She focuses on the black sections of those towns and the racial prejudice of the whites (Bryant 336).