Toni Morrison Questions and Answers

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Discuss the impact Toni Morrison has had on contemporary literature today. She is often criticized for being vulgar and depressing. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why do you think Twyla’s and Roberta’s diverging memories of Maggie are so important?

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Some critics have written that Morrison's characters are too depressing and that they tend to play the role of victims, making them overdetermined. In other words, they think Morrison's characters are determined by race and gender rather than living, breathing people. On the other hand, critics have praised Morrison's lyrical writing, even if it is at times vulgar. In 1993, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the committee praised her as follows: "She delves into the language itself, a language she wants to liberate from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the luster of poetry." The committee was referring to the innovative way in which Morrison uses language and organizes her narrative in works such as Beloved. One of Morrison's ideas is that language itself is constrained by race and that she has to break through the traditional ways of using language to fully express the way her characters experience life in a racist society. Hence, even if some consider her works vulgar, there is no doubt that she has revolutionized the use of language and dialect to reflect the lives of her characters, such as Sethe in Beloved, a former slave in the era during and after the Civil War.

In Morrison's short story "Recitatif," the main characters Twyla and Roberta each remember Maggie differently. Maggie, a disabled older woman, is a victim of abuse, and Roberta remembers her as Black, while Twyla does not. It's an interesting commentary on the way in which people classify each other's race, as it's not clear whether Twyla and Roberta are white or Black. It's also a commentary on the way they deal with outsiders and victims. Roberta classifies Maggie as Black, while Twyla, recalling Maggie's skin, does not think Maggie fits into that category and thinks of Maggie as a disabled person.

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