Themes in African-American Author`s Work

Literature gives us a new way of thinking about the world. Literature is an art with the help of language as a medium. It is often said that literature is a mirror of life and picturizes the actual life of the living beings of this society. Literature is a kind of writing charged with the human interest, characterized by performance, coloured by imagination and artistic embellishment. It deals with the life of human beings and it expresses emotions, feelings, sentiments and attitudes towards life.

It is primarily an expression of ideas.

A piece of literature appeals not a particular class of readers but to all men and women by importing knowledge and by yielding aesthetic satisfaction. Its primary function is to teach and delight. It is not of particular age but for all ages.

According to Hudson, literature is a vital record of what men have seen in life, what they have experienced of it, what they have thought and felt about those aspects of it which have the most immediate and enduring interest for all of us.

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It is thus fundamentally an expression of life through the medium of language.

By reading the literary works of art, one can understand lives of the people with their motives and passions. One can also have an aesthetic pleasure from the reading of a text.

Literature is understood as the expression of life in words of truth and beauty. Literature is the written record of man’s spirit, thoughts, emotions, aspirations, and so on.

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It is characterized by its artistic, its suggestive, and its permanent qualities and it has universal interest and personal style. It has object to know the man and its subject is related to the ideals upon which civilization is founded. Alvin K. Kernan says, It is generally assumed that literature is a permanent expression of human nature and a permanent future of human culture, at least as real as permanent as, say dreams.

Literature expresses the continuing core of humanity that has persisted unchanged down the centuries. It teaches the methods of reasoning, the understanding and formulating of arguments, the perception of organization and structure. Literature fosters not only an appreciation of what one reads, but also a healthy skepticism about it, a questioning of authority, a critical evaluation of text’s and one’s own assumptions. Arnold’s famous notion that literature or culture is “the best that has been thought and known in the world” has been attacked for aligning literature with a social elite, an aristocracy of learning, comprising those who have govern the best country in the best way. Hence, literature became a means of passing on to the present age the values and the cultural system from generation to generation; it even included the criteria of beauty and the morality of the classical texts.

The African-American literature began during the eighteenth and the nineteenth century. The origins of the African-American literature are an invaluable tradition and forces that helped to shape it. Afro-American literature is something in the form of an artistic work by the native African-Americans. Its origin in the English literature began with the writings of the writer like Philis Wheatley and it is in a form by the writers like Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Walter Mosley and many others.

Afro-American literature is the work of art written by the native descents of African-Americans. The native Afro-Americans fought against the issues of racial discrimination, cultural disputes with the superior white community, slavery, inequality, conflicts, whites’ superiority over the black people, freedom, etc. The writers of the Afro-American literature focused mainly on the themes of slavery, inequality, freedom, cultural disputes, racial discrimination, violence and sexual harassments against the black women, and so on. They expressed their views and opinions through the lives of the middle class and poor black people living as one among the superior white community.

Albert J. Raboteau, a professor of Princeton University has said, all African-American studies, including African-American literature, speaks to the deeper meaning of the African-American presence in this nation. This presence has always been a test case of the nation’s claims to freedom, democracy, equality, the inclusiveness of all. African-American literature has made a great contribution in creative manner with the talented efforts of many great writers. In the last two hundred years, black writers have contributed many spirited and important works to African-American literature.

The African-American literature mainly focusses on the black people, their lives under slavery, discrimination, an individual’s struggle in a white dominated society, their search for identity, gaining power and freedom among the whites. The African-American writings has a great social insight reflecting the sentiments, hopes, ideals of the pity black people. It also focusses on the social issues such as the African-American racism, culture, religion, slavery, freedom, equality, identity, etc. Slavery and civil rights has a great impact in the lives of the African-American people and it stood as a prominent role in literature.

Philis Wheatley was the first black writer who was a slave from Africa in his early life. Following Wheatley, there came another writer Frederick Douglass. Because of the availability of educational and literacy opportunities, many writers came with their artistic works into the light of the literary world. Writers like W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington were the one among those writers. Those writers were considered to be the one of the pioneers of other African-American writers, who had their views on the black people, the way in which they could their life better in this suppressed society the writers.

During the 1920s, an artistic movement “The Harlem Renaissance”, took place in Harlem, New York, which made the African-American literature to attain its growth as well as to flourish it in a great manner. It took place after the migration of the black people from the South into the urban areas of Harlem. During this period, the African-American writers, poets, journalists, artists and many other contributors of various fields had given their effort much for their identity, freedom, rights, racial discrimination and well-being among the white community.

Among many artists and writers, the following people were the most famous and pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance. Claude McKay, a poet, novelist and journalist is considered to be the landmark of the Harlem Renaissance and is one of the influential figures of the movement. Alain Leroy Locke renamed the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ as the ‘New Negro Movement.’ An another influential leader of the movement is Marcus Garvey. He is a political leader, publisher and journalist who has inculcated for the racial pride of the native Africans through his writings in the journals.

Zora Neale Hurston is a most prominent and influential female writer among the African-American women writers. Their Eyes Watching God (1937), is one of the most famous novels written by her. Josephine Baker was the first black woman to become a world famous entertainer through her dance and song. W.E.B. Du Bois is a great writer, sociologist, civil rights activists, who lead the movement intellectually.

Fiction in the inclusive sense, is any narrative which is feigned or invented rather than historically or factually true. However, the term “fiction” is applied primarily to prose narratives and is sometimes used simply as a synonym for the novel. In his comprehensive reclassification of all the standard genres, Northrop Frye applies the name “fiction” to any “work of art in prose.” The term novel is now applied to a great variety of writings that have in common only the attribute of being extended works of prose fiction. As an extensive narrative, the novel is distinguished from the short story and from the work of middle length called “novelette”; its magnitude permits a greater variety of characters, greater complication of plot, an ampler development of milieu, and a more sustained and subtle exploration of character than do the shorter, hence necessarily more concentrated, modes.

Until the seventeenth century the word ‘novel’, if it was used at all, meant a short story of the kind written and collected by Boccaccio(1313-75) in his Decameron. By about 1700 it had got something like its present meaning, which, as The Shorter Oxford Dictionary tells us, is ‘a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length in which characters and actions representative of real life are portrayed in a plot of more or less complexity’.

In other words a novel, as we understand it today, is a story longer, more complicated and realistic than the Italian novella as written by Boccaccio and other writers of his time. The novel is now the most widely read of all kinds of literature, and one it is surprised to find that it is fairly new. Indeed it was not until the eighteenth century that people began to write and to read the sort of books that we now call novels. There was a feeling, almost too nebulous to be expressed in words, that the novel was a second-class kind of literature.

The term for the novel in most European languages is “roman,” which is a derivative from the medieval “romance.” The English name for the form, however, is derived from the Italian novella, meaning “a little new thing,” which was a short tale in prose. The novel is characterized as the fictional attempt to give the effect of realism, by representing complex characters with mixed motives who are rooted in a social class, operate in a highly developed social structure, interact with many other characters, and undergo plausible and everyday modes of experience.

The twentieth century has been an age making period for the African-American abstract conventions in the light of the noteworthy commitments made by the African-American women journalists amid this century. The works of the African-American women writers too lies in an important place and gives much of their contribution to the people in the form of literature. African-American women writers, for example, Zora Neale Hurston, Ann Petry, Paul Marshall, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor and numerous other authors by conveying everything that needs to be conveyed and making a profound effect on the African-American artistic field. These writers write not just about themselves, yet additionally about African-American people and their life through their works and contributions.

African-American women writers began to categorical themselves actually and freely for the first time. Their works beyond any doubt portray their growth, struggle and accomplishment. These writers have given readers powerful insights in to grim problems like race, gender and sophistication. However, before one makes a deep inquiry into the works of those writers, it is extremely essential to understood regarding their past. The objectification of African-American folks particularly that of African-American writers had a devasting result on them. It affected them at varied levels: physical, mental, ethical in addition to intellectual.

The time-period of twentieth century African-American women’s writings can be broadly divided. These broad divisions have their own distinctive themes and approaches. The literature within the early few decades of the twentieth century was characterized by cultural phenomena referred to as historic period. Major women writers were notably novelists. Those novelists tried to interrupt stereotype pictures of black women prevailing in thought of the white society. Some among them were Nella Larson, Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurton, Toni Morrison.

Jessie Fauset is one in every of the foremost necessary writers of the historic period and additionally partially its creator. In her novels like Confusion (1924), Plum Breadstuff (1929), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), she explores the problems of identity of the African-American women. Through her works Fauset fathomed the themes of race and gender that accomplished African-American women’s lives.

Toni Morrison is another necessary and extremely acclaimed writer. She started her writing career within the decades of seventies. She has written several novels ranging from The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1974), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1999), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008). Toni Morrison is taken into account as a literary writer of intense intellect that reflects in her works. Her characters are complicated and then are so the settings. She is commonly referred to as a gifted story teller. Since her stories in real time hook up with her readers. Now-a-days she has acquired a canonical standing within the world of African-American literature. Barbara Christian says.

Toni Morrison’s works is mundane fantastic realism. Deeply rooted in history and mythology, her work resonates with mixtures of pleasure and pain, wonder and horror. There is something primal about her characters, they come at you with the force and beauty of gusting water, seemingly fantastic but basic as the earth they stand on.

Antagonistic relationship between African-American men and women and failed relationship is another often occurring theme within the works of the African-American women writers. African-American men and women have raised their family all by themselves. Economic and social incapacity has marred the link between black men and women. This has been investigated these writers in their works and that they have typically shown that African-Americans have an independent and resilient spirit and might survive all on their own. They are undeterred by abuse and violence by black men. As an example. The characters of Sula and Nel in Toni Morrison’s Sula, Celie in Alice Walker’s Color Purple, Janie in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God all triumph against odds and live life on their own terms. Among these famous writers, I am much attracted towards Toni Morrison and took her novel Sula for my research.

Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman who won the Nobel Prize for Literature and best known for her focus on the intimation in the relationships between woman and man in her works, born on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio as Chloe Anthony Wofford. She was the second child of her parents Ramah and George Wofford among their four children. Around 1910, Morrison’s family moved to north in order to escape from the sharecropping and the violence that took place against the Africa-Americans in the South. They settled in the town of Lorain on the Lake Erie. With the support of her father the family balanced their economic status during the period of Great Depression around 1930s.

Morrison’s family is very intimate with the supernatural elements and they often used to predict the future of their family. Such rituals, myths, traditional folklore, music and storytelling of her parents and elders has made a impact in her. Later it paved way in her mind, to start her writing career as a novelist. It is also being often included in her novels. Morrison was influenced by the readings of the works of the very great writers like Jane Austen (1775-1817), Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Gustave Falubert (1821-1880). Their writings motivated her to write in a style in which she was familiar with and about the culture, tradition, heritage of the African-Americans.

Morrison completed her B.A. Degree at Howard University in the year 1953. In 1955, she went to the Cornell University to earn her master degree. After receiving her master degree she taught at the Texas Southern University in Houston for two years. Later she returned to work at the Howard University. In the year 1958, Toni Morrison married Jamaica, a young architect who also taught at the University of Howard. Morrison gave birth to two sons, Harold and Slade and she divorced Jamaica in 1964 and started her career at the Random House as an editor. While working as an editor at the Random House, Morrison helped to publish the books written by African-American writers like Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995), Gayl Jones (1949-), June Jordan (1936-). Then she started to lecture at many countries and wrote many novels.

Morrison’s career as a novelist began with the first novel of hers, The Bluest Eye (1970). It is about the story of eleven-year-old girl, Pecola Breedlove who wishes to have a blue eyes. It was chosen to be an Oprah Winfrey Book Club Selection. Sula (1974), nominated for the National Book Award, which depicts the lives of two black heroines- Nel and Sula. Through this novel she explores the good and evil through the friendship and the quest of identity of an individual woman in the controversial community.

Song of Solomon (1977), shows the struggles of the African-Americans to attain independence and prosperity in order to nourish their identity with the human spirit. It is the second work being selected by the Book of the Month Club by an African-American writer. It won National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1977 and American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. Morrison’s Tar Baby (1987) won Pulitzer Prize in the year 1988. It explores the view of male society towards women as inferior to them. The characters were aligned with the nature and civilization of the black and white community and they reflect their personalities through their decisions.

In 1922, she published Jazz. It is related with the jazz music and shows the inconsistencies in the narration of the story and affects the action of the characters. Pulitzer Prize winning novel in 1988, Beloved was published in 1987. This novel explores the struggles of the black people caused by slavery through the self-alienated characters of the plot. It is considered as her masterpiece. Later in the year 1997, Morrison published Paradise. This novel was selected as an Oprah’s Book Club selection in the year 1998. It is the third novel of Morrison’s trilogy of books which deals with various kinds of novel in the plot. It deals with the redemption and forgiveness with the characters.

During the year 1977, Morrison before moving to the Princeton University, she worked at the State University of New York. In the year 1966, Morrison was honored with a medal for her immense contribution to the American Letters from the National Book Foundation. In 1999, Morrison worked along with her son Slade and published her first children’s book The Big Box, which deals with the blockage of children’s independence and creativity by their parents. In the year 2001, by the President of Washington D.C., Bill Clinton, Morrison was given a National Arts and Humanities Award. It is also said by the President during the ceremony that Morrison has entered the hearts of America.

An author’s style is what that defines his or her work. Toni Morrison’s expressive style is well distinguishable because of her distinctive use of language. Her novels are straightforward to scan, and she incorporates many alternative designs into her writing, like changing the voice of the narration throughout her stories for an amendment of perspective. A number of her most ordinarily used techniques are the utilization of descriptive analogies, necessary historical references, and varied structure.

Morrison is usually celebrated for her use of unusual, yet effective, comparisons that offer more description to the small print she presents. Specifically she utilizes similes in her writing to assist the reader connect the content with alternate pictures and experiences. Such analogies solely doesn’t build the novels a lot of fascinating, however they additionally contribute to the general variety of Toni Morrison’s writings.

One of the key “trademarks” of Toni Morrison’s work is her frequent use of serious references to history. These solely not gives the background data regarding the fundamental measure within which the novels happen, however the historical roots additionally add a lot to the depth of the stories and build them appear as mere realistic. An indication of the historical implications of a fundamental surface within The Bluest Eye, through what Pecola, a child who has learned from her elders regarding the surface world, “Outdoors, we knew was the real terror of life. The threat of being outdoors surfaced oft times in those days” (The Bluest Eye 17). This proves associate innate concern, of being associate outsider or rejected, that individuals of that point amount would have tough. Similarly, as Jazz is about in 1926, another historical perspective is portrayed through a relevancy of the style of the time, “Violet would dress her hair for her the method the ladies wore it now: short, bangs paper sharp on top of the eyebrows” (Jazz 108). Thus, historical citations are beyond question a significant ingredient in Morrison’s direction for fulfilment.

While linguistic supplying are obligatory for associate author’s style, structure is additionally a particularly necessary part to incorporate within the method, and Morrison exceeds this task. She includes a large form of different types of sentences, that makes her writing that far more fluid. In a different way that Morrison takes advantage of her style is by applying periodic and inverted sentences to her novels. The author’s reason for as well as these styles of sentences is to interrupt the stream of monotonous reading by making dynamic sentences that are somewhat surprising.

Morrison entices the reader by manipulating sentence length and phraseology to precise the tone or feeling she attempts to convey this which can be exemplified through the laconic statements that can be seen in Jazz where, Violet is violently reflective on her husband’s affair, “One man. One defenseless woman. Death” (Jazz 73), same plan of victimization sentences with no verbs which is also seen in The Bluest Eye. Cholly is mitigated that the banquet when his aunty Jimmy’s ceremony has finally come, “Laughter, relief, a steep hunger for food” (The Bluest Eye 143). Morrison demonstrates her talent in sentence usage is fair and often found throughout her works, and also the quality of those sentences reflects her overall talent.

Some recognizable traits of Morrison’s work embody the utilization of similes and inventive analogies, excerpts from history to form the stories legitimate, and numerous structure. All of those aspects mix to form Toni Morrison’s complicated and complex novels what they are these days. This author’s distinctive style is what has created her therefore famous and outstanding within the literary world.

Toni Morrison’s genre is incredibly distinctive, and it adds plenty of depth to her novels. Her usage of biblical references, characters, and the way she divides up her novels creates an attraction among her audience and keeps them interested. Her works such as The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved, Morrison alludes to biblical references, which supplies her novels a religious aspects. In Song of Solomon, Morrison refers to the biblical concepts within the title of the novel and therefore with the names of the characters. Beloved, additionally refers the Bible in many ways that, Morrison uses it indirectly with the themes of sin, forgiving each other, and redemption found throughout the novel.

Toni Morrison has a distinct style together with her use of characters of her novels. In her novels, though there is only one main character, several character’s stories and point-of-views are told. For example in Song of Solomon, although the delivery boy is the main character, the different and other characters like Pilate, Hagar, and Guitar’s stories are too told. This adds to the depth and quality of the novel by having the ability to work out a point-of-view which is opposite of delivery boy.

Morrison is incredibly sensible at her readers into the minds of her characters and tells them everything the character is feeling, seeing or hearing. She uses terribly distinctive ways that to divide up her novels. Morrison uses the identical motive for rending up the stories. She divides her novels into sections to point out the changes that are occurring within the novels. Her use of biblical references, characters and the way she sections off her novels add quality to every story, that is a lot of appealing to the readers.

The realism in the characters of the women portrayed in the novel Sula, is being implied with various themes such as racism, self-alienation, friendship, loyalty, pride, segregation, and many others. The implication of various themes in this novel made a curiosity within me to make a research in this novel based on the immoral attitudes of the women characters such as Sula, Eva and Hannah.

Deborah E. McDowell says that the novel Sula can be read as a “black woman’s epic,” a study of “female friendship,” an “antiwar novel,” a “fable,” an exploration of the “feminine psyche,” and a “prime postmodernist text.” The novel Sula, takes place around the year 1965 in the first and the last chapters. The rest of the novel takes place between the years 1919 and 1940 which tells the life of the two black friends Sula and Nel. The novel is set in the background of the hilly area above the valley town of Ohio, Medallion.

Sula, set in the little town of Medallion, Ohio, between 1919 and 1965, is a story of two black women, Nel Wright and Sula Peace. They met at the age of twelve, both ‘wishbone, thin and easy-assed’, both only children, both friendless except for each other, and both determined to explore everything in the world. On the way to home from school, four white boys knock Nel around. Nel avoids them but Sula takes out a knife and cuts off the tip of her finger she looks at the boys saying, “If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I’ll do to you?”.

When Nel and Sula are playing down by the river, Sula swings a young boy around a circle, when suddenly, he slips from her hands and falls into the water. “The water darkened and closed quickly over the place where Chicken Little sank”. The girls know they are responsible for the boy’s drowning, but they don’t tell anyone. At the boy’s funeral Nel stands expressionless while Sula cries uncontrollably.

A few years later, Sula leaves town in search of the experimental life. Nel marries a dude named Jude and settles into a life of serious housewife. Ten years later in the year 1937, Medallion had a plague of robins – Sula came back to the town. At Eva’s house, there are four dead robins on the sidewalk. Later Sula steals Nel’s husband and puts Eva in an old folks’ home. In no time at all, everyone in the town hates her. The towns people define their lives in their own way. They begin to cherish their husbands and wives, protect their children, repair their homes and in general band together against the devil called Sula.

In the end, Sula dies but she dies. Years after she dies, in a flash of insight that puts everything in perspective, Nel sees that her friendship with Sula transcends everything. Nel hears Sula’s voice blowing through the tree tops near the old cemetery and she realizes that all the years she thought she was missing her husband, she was actually missing her friend.

In the literary context, there is a genre by name, Transgressive fiction, which mainly focusses on the characters and personalities who feels very restricted by the conventions, norms, expectations and conditions of their community and society and who wants to free from such factors of their community and society by indulging themselves in the immoral actions and behaviors. My project focusses on the transgressiveness of the characters in the aspects of eroticism and racism in their day-to-day life.


  • The Origins of African-American Literature, 1650-1865, Dickson D. Bruce, Jr.
  • The English Handbook, A Guide to literary Studies, William Whitla,Wiley-Blackwell Publications pp. 6-9
  • “The Idea of Literature”, Alvin B. Kernan, New Literary History Vol.5, No.1, What is Literature? (Autumn, 1973), pp.31. The John Hopkins University Press
  • Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and K.A. Appaih, Preface ix-xiii Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 10 Most Famous People of the Harlem Renaissance http://learnodo-newtonic.coml/harlem-renaissance-famous-people
  • Toni Morrison Biography,
  • CHAPTER – 1 African American Women Writers of ... - Shodhganga
  • motherhood in toni morrison’s sula pg.68-70
  • black community pg.4
  • Rees, R.J., English Literature: An Introduction for Foreign Readers, The Macmillan Press Limited, print. Pg. 1-2, 4, 106-108, 146.
  • Abrahms, M.H., A Glossary of Literary Terms, The Macmillan Press Limited, Print. Pg.62, 105, 114-116.
Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Themes in African-American Author`s Work essay
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