Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye (1969), is a contemporary portrayal of the self-hatred and destruction that can occur when African Americans look to white society for validation. Pecola Breedlove is a young black girl who has adopted white child star Shirley Temple as her ideal. In comparison, Pecola feels ugly and longs for blue eyes. After her father rapes her, Pecola's obsession turns to insanity. She gives birth prematurely to a baby who later dies, and withdraws into a fantasy world where she has the bluest eyes of all.
Told from a male perspective, Morrison's award-winning Song of Solomon (1979) relates Milkman Dead's search for identity. Milkman wavers between the altruism of his aunt and the materialism of his father and sets out on a journey of discovery. He overcomes his confusion and dissatisfaction to discover the richness of his African-American heritage, the importance of community, and the nature of love and faith.
The first novel to appear after Morrison's Nobel Prize, Paradise (1998) tells the story of the fictional town of Ruby, Oklahoma, founded by African-American freedmen after Reconstruction. Morrison examines the nature of community, responsibility, and history as she relates the events that lead the townsmen to destroy a nearby convent.
Winner of the National Book Award, Charles Johnson's Middle Passage (1990) is a powerful tale of a newly freed slave who stows away on a New Orleans ship in order to avoid marriage. When the ship turns out to be a slave clipper bound for Africa, Rutherford Calhoun faces a journey that is harrowing in both body and spirit.
Inspired by the furor over the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was a pioneering portrayal of the evils of slavery and the humanity of slaves. (The stereotype of an "Uncle Tom" comes from poorly adapted play versions of the novel, not Stowe's Christ-like title character.) The novel sold over three hundred thousand copies during its first year of publication and served as a source of inspiration for many anti-slavery activists.
A highly acclaimed writer for children and young adults, Virginia Hamilton has collected and retold several books of African-American stories and folktales. Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1992) uses actual narratives to trace the history of African-Americans, while Her Stories (1995) collects folktales, fairy tales, and true stories featuring African-American heroines. Both volumes have illustrations by award winners Leo and Diane Dillon.
Another young-adult writer has created a searing portrayal of the evils of slavery. In Nightjohn (1993), Gary Paulsen tells the story of twelve-year-old Sarny, a slave girl who risks serious punishment when she learns to read.
One critic likened the public impact of Morrison's Beloved to that of another novel that tells of a people's fight to combat prejudice and oppression. Leon Uris's popular bestseller Exodus (1957) is an epic tale of the Jewish settlement of modern Israel. In preparing to write the novel, the author read 300 books, travelled 12,000 miles inside Israel, and interviewed more than 1,200 people.
Harriet A. Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself(1862) was one of the first autobiographies written by an African American. In it, Jacobs relates her birth into servitude, her affair with a white neighbor, her escape from a North Carolina plantation, and her struggles to free herself and her children.