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African American Winner Of The Nobel Prize English Literature Essay

The first African –American winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Toni Morrison is also designated as one of the most important novelists in the contemporary pantheon of American literature. In addition to being a Nobel Laureate and a contemporary well-known novelist, Toni Morrison has earned herself the position of a greatly discerning literary critic, a cultural critic, an influentially prestigious editor and a university teacher, as well. She has also exercised her talents in short story, drama, musical and opera. Gained a national and an international critical recognition, her works have received extensively critical attention and discussed from different approaches. Toni Morrison's fiction has drawn critical attention to its aestheticism including language, narrative techniques, themes and its political significance. Similar to other African American writes, Morrison's works have participated in an African American aestheticism which includes elements such as antiphony, collaboration, and functionality, improvisation and audience participation. Thus, the critical commentaries on her fiction are contributions from African American criticism and Euro-American approaches, as well, although the application of Euro-American approaches to African American literature has been a controversial issue among the black critics.

Being an African American novelist, Toni Morrison is situated within two social spaces of American mainstream culture and African American tradition. The relations between these two spaces have been socio-historically determined, defined and monitored to date. The so-called relations have been primarily theorized in terms of skin color which congealed into institutionalized racism of the 19th and early decades of 20th centuries, and its legacy, mainly through culturally racial stereotypes, operates in American society to the blacks' disadvantage. Later on, interracial racism transforms into intra-racial racism which pervades in Toni Morrison's novels. In other words, the discourse of racism assumes a new form in the late 20th century.

Writing as a female black writer in the doubleness of spaces and well aware of the ravages of interracial and intra-racial racism, Toni Morrison probes into unexplored female spaces which have been silenced in both mainstream and African American literatures. She primarily concentrates on the consciousness of black female children growing up and black women living in the African American families whose structures have been historically warped by the dominant-dominated relations in its contact with the mainstream culture. Under such circumstances , the sense of personality gains momentum and becomes a crucial issue for the social actors in social practices. To put it differently, identity becomes a major concern in the universes of discourses of the novels similar to the African American community outside.

As a female black writer living in the contemporary America, Toni Morrison herself has been a social actor in the realm of the social. She has entered a social realm which has been defined by synchronic and diachronic Discourses. That is, Discourses which have come down from the past centuries and those that coincide with Morrison's practice of writing. To be more specific, she writes within particular Discourses in particular traditions and for particular readership. These Discourses manifest themselves in her discourses, that is, her language as a practice. Similar to herself, her fictional characters, too, who are mainly black females, are social actors acting within particular Discourses which, in turn, define their subjectivities.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

While discourse is highly important in identity formation, no prior research has examined the vitality of discourse in investigation of identity in Toni Morrison's novels. Indeed, identity has not been studied as a discursive construct located in the sociocultural practices of American society and African American community. Without doing so, identity is mostly reduced to personality traits of characters in the novels. Such a character analysis ends up in confusion about why the characters do this or perform that way. Among the outcomes of such a traditional analysis are, first, the inconsistencies and inability to account for contradictions in characters; secondly, the unconvincing interpretation and inference about characters' adoption of a particular action; and thirdly, the historicity of the text is ignored. For example, Milkman Dead's involvement with his friend, Guitar, and his aunt, Pillar, at the end of Song of Solomon (1977) and his return journey from South towards the North is not convincingly accounted for in the previous discussions. In contrast, viewing identity as locations within Discourses will shed new light on the old ambiguities and confusions.

The relation between identity ( and subjectivities) in Discourses is contextualized within larger social regulations and practices which are themselves a part of the power/knowledge grids in American and African American communities. The embeddedness of social actors within social regulations and relations of slavery, biology, physiology, economy and sexuality provides them with identity markers of color/ race; physiology/gender; economy /class and sexuality/sex. These identity markers ( or mostly physical features) congeal into the politics of identity ( or social facts) which have been, for centuries, operating as practices determined and monitored mainly by the hegemonic culture of America and reproduced or resisted by counter-hegemonic traditions of African American community. Therefore, the consideration of identity formation as a discursive construct is a complex issue and will necessitate a multivariate analysis of different variables such as the historicity, ideology, power, race, gender, sexuality, class (economic power) in specific contexts. For instance, if applied, the liberal individualism as the dominant mode of subjectivity in American literature might be a simplification of the multiplicity of black female experience.

1.3 Objectives and Significance of the Study

1.3.1 Hypothesis

Taking into account the problematic of identity in Toni Morrison's novels, the present study proposes that identity must be handled as a multivariate construct definable in terms of different D/discourses which position the social actors within the universes of the discourses of the novels. Analysis of the positions of the social actors within the discursive worlds of the novels necessitates the analysis of subject positions within the larger level of Discourses beyond the scope of the novels, that is, within the socio-cultural practices and structures of American and African American communities.


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