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Reading The Bluest Eye

October 27, 2015

For the next few weeks of the semester, we’ll be spending some time with The Bluest Eye, a novel by the contemporary author Toni Morrison. If you’re familiar with Morrison’s writing at all, you might be more apt to recognize titles like Beloved, Song of Solomon, or Paradise. The Bluest Eye, however, is Morrison’s first novel, originally published in 1970. It recounts, as the first pages make clear, a devastating event in the life of a young African-American girl and the reaction of those around her. The subject matter is challenging, but Morrison’s approach in the novel is well worth our time.

I’d like us to begin thinking about the novel by using some of the terms of academic discourse that we’ve picked up in our reading of Joseph Harris’s Rewriting. This may seem strange at first. A work of literature isn’t exactly an argument – at least not tbeexplicitly – and chances are we won’t see Morrison making the distinct conversational “moves” that many academic articles do. But I would like for us to think about how Morrison is working purposefully to respond to particular questions and problems that were relevant at the time she wrote the novel. To put this another way, we need to consider the rhetorical situation at stake in Morrison’s composing process.

Here are a few questions to begin with:

* What is the problem at the heart of this novel, and how is Morrison articulating that problem? Or, in Harris’s terms, what is Morrison’s project here?

* How does Morrison make use of other texts in her novel? What specific moments of intertextuality exist in the first sections, and what purpose do they serve?

* How does Morrison choose to present this narrative? What choices has she made in organizing the story, and what difference does that make in the way we react to it?

For more information about Toni Morrison, you can start at the following websites:

The Wikipedia entry for Toni Morrison

The Toni Morrison Society website

Toni Morrison on the Nobel Foundation website

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