Date of Award

12-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Mary B. Zeigler - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Thomas McHaney

Third Advisor

Dr. Nancy Chase

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Carolyn C. Denard

Abstract

From fourteenth century medieval literature to contemporary American and African American literature, researchers have singled out and analyzed writing from every genre that is prophetic in nature, predicting or warning about events, both revolutionary and dire, to come. One twentieth-century American whose work embodies the essence of warning and foretelling through history-laden literature is Toni Morrison. This modern-day literary prophet reinterprets eras gone by through what she calls “re-memory” in order to guide her readers, and her society, to a greater understanding of the consequences of slavery and racism in America and to prompt both races to escape the pernicious effects of this heritage. Several critics have recognized and written about Morrison’s unique style of prophetic prose. These critics, however, have either taken a general cursory analysis of her complete body of works or they are only focused on one of her texts as a site of evidence. Despite the many critical essays and journal articles that have been written about Morrison as literary prophet, no critic has extensively investigated Morrison’s major works by way of textual analysis under this subject, to discuss Morrison prophetic prose, her motivation for engaging in a form of prophetic writing, and the context of this writing in a wider general, as well as an African-American, tradition. This dissertation takes on a more comprehensive, cross-sectional analysis of her works that has been previously employed, concentrating on five of Morrison’s major novels: The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, Jazz and Paradise, in an order to assess how Morrison develops and infuses warnings and admonitions of biblical proportions. This investigation seeks to reveal Morrison’s motivation to prophecy to Americans, black and white, the context in which she engages with her historical and contemporary subjects, and the nature of the admonitions to present and future action she offers to what she sees as a contemporary generation of socially and historically oblivious African Americans, using literary prophecy as the tool by which to accomplish her objectives. This dissertation also demonstrates—by way of textual analysis and literary theory—the evolution through five novels of Morrison’s development as a literary prophet.

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