Themes

 The success of a novel depends on the depth and quality of the messages that the author implies. Toni Morrison uses many themes in her works to create deeper meaning as well as dynamic plots. Aside from the many individual themes that apply to specific novels, Morrison also runs similar themes through several of her works. By taking a closer look at some of these shared themes—such as racial tension, sexism, and lustful desire—it will be evident Morrison’s extreme dedication to creating an overall message for the reader to discover.

 

One of the most obvious themes in Morrison’s novels is the idea (and constant presence) of racial tension between whites and African Americans. Morrison presents a ist2_4178397-two-angry-heads-have-racial-confrontationthorough spectrum of perspectives of African Americans by bluntly voicing the opinions many characters of race. For example, she comments on the social position of blacks in Song of Solomon through Macon Dead: “He knew as a Negro he wasn’t going to get a big slice of pie” (Song of Solomon 63). Many of the characters in Morrison’s novels have this same attitude that the whites of society dominate the system, which may also link to historical happenings of the time periods in which the novels take place. In addition to feelings of inferiority, Morrison also suggests a general, bitter sentiment felt by blacks toward whites. These feelings arise from stereotypes and prejudices, and an example can be seen in The Bluest Eye when young Cholly Breedlove is disrupted from his first sexual encounter by two men: “There was no mistake about their being white; 6a00d8345263cd69e200e54f51b32d8834-800wihe could smell it” (The Bluest Eye 147), which proves the reputation Cholly had learned about whites. Another way racial discrimination was weaved into Morrison’s novels was through concrete examples of segregation, such as in Jazz where there were groups formed for “Colored Boy Scouts” (Jazz 58) and where “there were no high schools in [the] district a colored girl could attend” (Jazz 6). Obviously, racial discrimination is an issue of great importance to this author; thus she incorporates this theme into many of her writings.

 

Another common theme Morrison uses is society’s view on the difference between men and women, or, to put it more simply, sexism. She openly displays the sexism present in the communities in which the characters of her novels reside. For instance, in Song of Solomon, shortly after Pilate threatens Reba’s lover by stabbing him, Milkman comments to Hagar about Pilate’s strength. It is then that Hagar responds,images “We are weak” (Song of Solomon 95), referring to the entire population (with few exceptions such as Pilate.) Even Pilate herself admitted that “Women are foolish, ya know” (94), which reflects the attitudes and views of the society in which these characters live. In another of Morrison’s works, The Bluest Eye, the females regard the opposite sex with a different reputation: “Some men just dogs” (The Bluest Eye 13). Similarly, in Jazz, some of the women, such as one who speaks to Violet, claim that “Men wear you down to a sharp piece of gristle if you let them” (Jazz 14), further proving that women are “weak” and can be easily persuaded. Morrison purposely includes this theme of sexism to point out the unnecessary assumptions made by society and the effects these generalizations have on the community and its members.

 

Morrison also includes the theme of lust and desire in many of her novels. This presence of temptation implies an even deeper theme of giving in to pleasures. It appears in Song of Solomon when Milkman’s car suddenly breaks down in front of Solomon’s General Store in Shalimar, Virginia. Milkman walks outside, observes the women there, and decides that “He wanted one of them bad” (Song of Solomon 263), which clearly implies a craving that he desires to fulfill.desire_sticker_2pt75x4pt251 Another example of this same sexual desire surfaces in The Bluest Eye when Polly Breedlove is fifteen and still exploring her sexuality: “Fantasies about men and love and touching were drawing her mind and hands away from her work” (The Bluest Eye 113), and this passage even goes as far as implying distraction from typical daily tasks because she is so intent upon her “fantasies.” lust11Violet in Jazz also experiences this feeling of desire when she longs for her husband: “By and by longing became heavier than sex: a panting, unmanageable craving” (Jazz 108), which shows her extreme devotion to getting what she wants. While some of this described desire may be completely healthy, this same desire also has a negative consequence in Morrison’s works as well. The intense sexual desire experienced by many of her characters leads to abuse of some sort, mainly sexual. Examples include Milkman (pursuing Sweet) in Song of Solomon, Cholly and Soaphead from The Bluest Eye, and Joe Trace from Jazz. The presence of lust and desire appears many times in Morrison’s novels to present the cultural aspects of the characters and to inflict emotion upon the readers.

 

While numerous themes can be found woven deep into each of Morrison’s novels, some of the most prevalent are racism, sexism, and desire. She effectively ties her themes into the plots of her stories so that the reader can actually obtain an overall message that teaches a lesson or makes a comment about society. Undoubtedly, the themes in Morrison’s works can connect and relate to more peoples lives than she probably ever intended, and that is what makes her literature strong. 

 

 

  

 

  

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