(Re)writing genre: Narrative conventions and race in the novels of Toni Morrison

Jennifer Lee Jordan Heinert, Marquette University


This study analyzes the relationship between race and genre in four of Toni Morrison's novels: The Bluest Eye, Tar Baby, Jazz , and Beloved . In each chapter, I use close reading and textual analysis to show how Morrison's novels reject and revise conventional generic forms. In the first half of the study, I show how The Bluest Eye rewrites the genre of bildungsroman and how Tar Baby rewrites the genre of African American folktales. In the second half of the study, I put Morrison's revisions into broader contexts: I show how Jazz signifies on the genre of the novel as a whole and conclude my study by showing how Beloved 's revisions of conventional forms undermine the privileged status of formal realism in the genre of the novel. However, this study goes beyond formalist analyses to show how these revisions expose the relationship between race, conventional generic forms, and the dominant culture. Morrison's revisions of critique the conventional roles of African Americans as "subjects" of and in the genre of the novel, and (re)write roles which instead privilege their "subjectivity." This in-depth study of race and genre provides readers with a new way of understanding Morrison's novels. Whereas critics often fault Morrison for both her break with traditional forms and the lack of resolution in her novels, this analysis shows Morrison's revisions shift the narrative truth of the novel from its representation in conventional forms to its interpretation by the readers, who are responsible for constructing their own resolution or version of narrative truth. Moreover, these revisions as a whole expose how the dominant culture has privileged specific forms of narration; in turn these forms privilege the values of the dominant culture. Morrison's novels as whole work to undermine this privilege and rewrite the canon of American literature.

Recommended Citation

Heinert, Jennifer Lee Jordan, "(Re)writing genre: Narrative conventions and race in the novels of Toni Morrison" (2006). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3210964.