Paradise—Toni Morrison

Paradise

Toni Morrison

About the Author

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio to George and Ramah Wofford.  She had three other siblings and grew up in a working-class family.

As a child, Morrison read constantly and her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy.  Morrison’s father also told her numerous folktales of the black community (a method of storytelling that Morrison’s used in her own writings).

She has two children.

Author’s Professional Background

Morrison received a B.A. in English from Howard in 1953

She earned a Master of Arts degree, also in English, from Cornell University in 1955

Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (from 1955-57) then returned to Howard to teach English

She worked as a textbook editor she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House

played an important role in bringing black literature into the mainstream

The Life of a Writer

Toni Morrison takes inspiration for her books from other types of art like music. For example, for her book “Jazz” she has various voices telling the story because in this musical genre improvisation is key and no one’s voice is omniscient.

She is largely influenced by the true lessons of history. That is why she doesn’t want her characters to escape their past. She wants her characters to learn from their enriching past.

Also part of the problem in her stories is coming to terms with history.

She has been told that she writes in black English, where the speaker uses the present tense for events in the past.

She is very sensitive to languages from an early age. She grew up on a steel town (Lorain, Ohio) with many immigrants.

Paradise

Paradise was published in 1997.

Most of her work attempts to “redefine African American personhood with the intention of ultimately producing a new consciousness regarding race.”

Morrison’s Paradise is an attempt to address specific issues of race, gender, and history.

Morrison attempts to make visible the invisible presence of the other in the formation of the self.

Historical context

The task Morrison attempts to convey with this text is to invite the reader to “shoulder the endlesss work we were created to do down here in paradise.”

Achieving consciousness and moving beyond race or gender to all human to human relations.

Timeline

1890 black people from Mississippi and Louisiana found a new town called Haven.

1950 a group, many of them returned from WW II moved from Haven to build another town called Ruby.

There is also convent just outside of town where a group of women live free and peaceful.

Settings

Ruby represents a haven, paradise where black people can get away from whites in a closed haven where they can grow and blossom.

The convent is also a shelter and haven with chaos and dysfunction.

Men fear the convent, when women are loose anything can happen, if you can’t control race you cant tell who belongs to who.

Convent-race is non-existent, not important.

Background

The original title of this text was War to show how violence brings ends and brings about certain changes.

The title also emerges from Paradise Lost by John Milton referencing the fall of Man, expulsion from the garden of Eden, and blame on women.

Characters

Connie-protagonist, rescued by nun when she was 9, maternal figure.

Mavis-negligent 27 year old woman with an abusive husband.

Gigi-sensual liberated woman.

Seneca-20 year old woman, left by her mother when she was 5.

Pallas Truelove-16 years old, wealthy lawyer father, mother left her at 3.

Transformations of Race

1st-skin color and blood line (power not so important)

2nd-class, skin color, bloodline

3rd skin color, class, gender, culture, etc. Power becomes extremely important.

The result is that race comes to stand for differences in culture, religion, class, etc.

Think Kimberle Crenshaw “Intersectionality”

Racism: A Short History by George M. Fredrickson

Racism as Difference

Differences of race/culture

Differences in gender

Differences of religion

Transition from inclusionary to exclusionary

Racism as difference and power transforms from a white construct to a black, intra-racial one, to a racial, sexist idea.

Initial Reactions

“They shoot the white girl first.”

How did this initial quote make you feel? What did it make you think of?

How does this relate to our concepts of race, racism, power, privilege, etc.?

Contemplate that when we typically read—often if the racial identity of a character isn’t indicated we assume a character is white.