Toni Morrison: The bluest eye and Sula


Morrison: The bluest eye and Sula

African- American folklore is arguably
the basis for most African- American literature. In a country where as
late as the 1860\'s there were laws prohibiting the teaching of slaves,
it was necessary for the oral tradition to carry the values the group considered
significant. Transition by the word of mouth took the place of pamphlets,
poems, and novels. Themes such as the quest for freedom, the nature of
evil, and the powerful verses the powerless became the themes of African-

American literature. In a book called Fiction and Folklore: the novels
of Toni Morrision author Trudier Harris explains that "Early folk beliefs
were so powerful a force in the lives of slaves that their masters sought
to co-opt that power. Slave masters used such beliefs in an attempt to
control the behavior of their slaves"(Harris 2). Masters would place little
black coffins outside the cabins of the slaves in a effort to restrain
their movements at night; they perpetuated ghost lore and created tales
of horrible supernatural animals wondering the outsides of the plantation
in order to frighten slaves from escape or trans-plantation visits. Tales
of slaves running to the north became legendary. Oral tales of escapes
and long journeys north through dangerous terrain were very common among
every slave on every plantation. Many of these tales seem to be similar
to the universal tales and myths like The Odyssey or Gilgemish. Slaves
on every plantation were telling tales that would later be the groundwork
for African-American literature.

African- American folklore has since been
taken to new levels and forms. Writers have adopted these themes and have
fit them into contemporary times. Most recently author Toni Morrison has
taken the African- American folklore themes and adapted them to fictional
literature in her novels. Morrison comments on her use of the African-American
oral tradition in an interview with Jane Bakerman. "The ability to be both
print and oral literature; to combine those aspects so that the stories
can be read in silence, of course, but one should be able to hear them
as well. To make a story appear oral, meandering, effortless, spoken. To
have the reader work with the author
in construction of the book- is what\'s
important"(Bakerman 122).In all of Morrison\'s novels it is easy to see
her use of African- American folklore along with traditional fiction. In
the novels The Bluest Eye and Sula, Morrison creates settings and characters
that produce an aura of unreality, that which is directly borrowed from

African- American folklore. With the aura of unreality in Morrison\'s characters
and settings, her plots scream with real life themes such as murder, war,
poverty, sexual abuse, and racism. In The Bluest Eye and Sula, Morrison
combines fiction and folklore to create two chilling stories about black
communities struggling to define themselves.

The Bluest Eye is not just a story about
young impressionable black girls in the Midwest; it is also the story of

African- American folk culture in process. The character Claudia MacTeer
is the narrator for this folk tale. Claudia gives a voice to Pecola Breedlove\'s
story and to the community. The story is shaped from the beginning with
the expectation of reader involvement and with the presumption of an audience.

The brief preface that begins "Quiet as it\'s kept, there were no marigolds
in the fall of 1941", serves to establish Claudia as the communal rehearser
of tragedy. Her first person narration establishes a close relationship
between herself and the reader. Like many of Morrison\'s novels, The Bluest

Eye shows the heroic and failed efforts of a struggling black community.

With the use of a first person narrator, Morrison is able to make the story
seem oral and it also requires the reader to participate with her in the
making of the story. Morrison has commented "My writing expects, demands
participatory reading, and that I think is what literature is supposed
to do. It\'s not just about telling the story; it\'s about involving the
reader. The reader supplies the emotions. The reader supplies even some
of the color, some of the sound. My language has to have holes and spaces
so the reader can come into it"(Harris 17). This style of writing that

Morrison embraces is directly influenced by the African- American folklore

The Bluest eye is a story that shows on
going problems that effect the black race. The story is about cultural
beliefs, which are the essence of folkloristic transmission. Early narratives
and tales in African- American folklore were about discrepancies in wealth
and social position between blacks and whites. This story transmits patterns
and problems the have