Select a short section from the summer chapter that identifies a particular incident of diction or style that is particularly revealing. Identify and analyze the author’s use of literacy devices. List three questions about the short passage.

The chapter opens with a description of the speaker's feelings about that season. The descriptions are full of language which evokes the color, feel, and sound associated with each season. In "winter," for example, the descriptions focus on coldness, snow, ice and wind. The imagery is often harsh and bleak. In winter "the world seems to be dying," "you hear guns in the fields," your mother tells you it is cold outside but you know she is lying because "the windows were shut so tight you could see your breath." The chapter ends with a description of how one character feels about a particular season. This time we are given more information about that character than just his feelings about the season.

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This chapter marks the final section of Morrison's novel, and, like most of the other chapters, it begins with an evocative presentation of summer and what this season means to the speaker, as well as how this meaning is altered by the speaker's family life and family history. This opening...

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This chapter marks the final section of Morrison's novel, and, like most of the other chapters, it begins with an evocative presentation of summer and what this season means to the speaker, as well as how this meaning is altered by the speaker's family life and family history. This opening passage, then, is a valuable section for analysis in that it is rich with evocative imagery and figurative language which offer revelations to the reader about the speaker's relationship with summer and with her mother.

I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer—its dust and lowering skies. It remains for me a season of storms. The parched days and sticky nights are undistinguished in my mind, but the storms, the violent sudden storms, both frightened and quenched me. But my memory is uncertain; I recall a summer storm in the town where we lived and imagine a summer my mother knew in 1929. There was a tornado that year, she said, that blew away half of south Lorain. I mix up her summer with my own. Biting the strawberry, thinking of storms, I see her. A slim young girl in a pink crepe dress. One hand is on her hip; the other lolls about her thigh— waiting. The wind swoops her up, high above the houses, but she is still standing, hand on hip. Smiling. The anticipation and promise in her lolling hand are not altered by the holocaust. In the summer tornado of 1929, my mother’s hand is unextinguished. She is strong, smiling, and relaxed while the world falls down about her. So much for memory. Public fact becomes private reality, and the seasons of a Midwestern town become the Moirai of our small lives.

The imagery of the "tightness of a strawberry" in the first phrase is very sensual: the reader can almost imagine how teeth would "break into" it, and yet this image is juxtaposed against a seemingly unexpected one of summer as a season of "dust and lowering skies." One would ordinarily associate strawberries with sunshine and open fields, but the speaker's immediate conception of summer as "a season of storms" offers a revelation into the speaker's frame of mind. This is particularly true because the third element in the speaker's mental understanding of summer is her mother: "Biting the strawberry, thinking of storms, I see her." The three elements are connected in the speaker's mind, and the speaker seems to mentally associate herself with her mother's "storms": "I mix up her summer with my own." We can read this information in combination with the comment that "the violent sudden storms both frightened and quenched me," and contemplate the metaphorical meaning of the storms that may be suggested in terms of the speaker's mother and their relationship. The storms seem a break from "parched days and sticky nights," something to "distinguish" them, and the speaker remembers them clearly as a source of both relief and fear.

As the passage goes on, it becomes clearer that the storms are metaphorical as well as literal. In the speaker's mind, her mother, "a slim young girl," "waiting," is cast away on the storm, swept up by it: "the wind swoops her up," and she is "not altered by the holocaust." This image offers us an illuminating insight into why the association between storms and the speaker's mother is a positive one: when a storm appears, her mother remains "strong, smiling and relaxed while the world falls down around her." The speaker acknowledges that this may not be the reality of the situation—"so much for memory"—but the metaphor of the young girl in the storm is a metaphor of how she remembers her mother, her "pink crepe dress" recalling the pink of strawberries, "strong" in the face of a tornado. The allusion in the final sentence of the passage, to the Moirai, or the Greek fates, expresses the idea that ultimately the speaker feels that their "small lives" have been controlled by the turn of the seasons—the weather of their lives, both literal and metaphorical.

Some questions about this passage:

  1. Why do you think the speaker chooses to focus upon her mother in the "summer" chapter in contrast to the focus upon her father in the "winter" chapter?

  2. Why might the speaker draw a parallel between a storm in her own memory and one particular tornado of 1929? What does this suggest about the nature of memory?

  3. All of Morrison's chapters open with descriptions of how she feels in relation to each season. What is the effect of this on the work as a whole?

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