Paradise Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature) - Essay

Toni Morrison

Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Paradise was the first novel Morrison published after she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. In that same year, her house in New York burned down, and she lost everything, including many of her original manuscripts. Four years later, she published Paradise. In the novel, she explored the themes of racial purity, racial hatred, love, religious truth, unity, utopia, and desire by combining the elements of historical fiction, magical realism, and mythic tales. In depicting the central event of the novel—the attack upon the Convent—she drew upon a story she had heard about a group of men who attacked and killed a group of black nuns in Brazil. Although she later learned that the story was false, it provided the tale from which would flower her mythic retelling of the ways in which communities reinvent their paradisiacal pasts.

Unlike Morrison’s earlier novels, Paradise was greeted with very mixed reviews. While some critics praised the novel for its mythic structure and its strong characters, others saw it simply as a failure. According to many critics, the plot is contrived, the characters are one-dimensional, and the thematic structure of the novel yields no new insights. Some critics even called it sentimental, opaque, and reductive. The novel brings to a close the trilogy that Morrison began with Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992), but for the critics, this was the least successful of those books.