Black Naturalism and Toni Morrison: the Journey Away from Self-Love in the Bluest Eye

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Although my students were unaware of it, in a sense what they were questioning from the standpoint of literary criticism is not only the theory of postmodernism with its emphasis on race, class and gender, but the theory of naturalism as well: the idea that one 's social and physical environments can drastically affect one 's nature and potential for surviving and succeeding in this world. In this article, I will explore Toni Morrison 's The Bluest Eye from a naturalistic perspective; however, while doing so I will propose that because Morrison 's novels are distinctly black and examine distinctly black issues, we must expand or deconstruct the traditional theory of naturalism to deal adequately with the African American experience: a …show more content…

The novels may focus on individual characters like Milkman and Jadine, but the salvation of individuals is not the point. Rather, these individuals struggling to reclaim or redefine themselves, are portrayed as epiphenomenal to community and culture, and it is the strength and continuity of the black cultural heritage as a whole that is at stake and being tested. (93-94)

What is "at stake" in Morrison 's novels and in black fiction in general is a consistent emphasis on the need to resist forces stemming from society which may serve to destroy "continuity of the black cultural heritage" by a conscious embracing of the past combined with a concurrent quest for identity. When analyzing this pattern of creative reSistance of outside forces and rebuilding of the self in Morrison 's novels, one can perceive a distinct echo of naturalism. The word "echo" is significant because Morrison 's novels are not strictly naturalistic. While Morrison 's works do exhibit naturalistic tendencies, she presents them in a new way, illustrating different challenges specific to minorities and offering alternate ways of dealing with these challenges. Morrison 's protagonists face a world that is more complex, oppressive, and destructive than either Theodore Dreiser 's Carrie or John Steinbeck 's Tom Joad because Morrison 's

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