Toni Morrison and the Writing of Place

Abstract: This dissertation explores the writing of place in Toni Morrison’s fiction, focusing primarily on the novels Beloved (1987), Paradise (1998), and A Mercy (2008). It analyses particular instances of written places in these works in a twofold way, namely, how place is foregrounded through literary means in the text and how place has emerged in a process of shaping. Through an exploration of the conjunction of text and avant-texte, that is, of published texts as well as manuscripts, in an analysis combining close reading and genetic criticism, the study investigates how certain moments of place are shaped in processes of writing and presented in the published version of the text. Drawing on archival material in the Toni Morrison Papers at Princeton University Library and exploring the literary foregrounding of place both in its genesis and in its published textual form, the study supplements previous research and gives new insights into Morrison’s writing of place. The investigation is carried out in four chapters, of which the first presents a selective overview of place in Morrison’s oeuvre, giving an outline of the geographical locations of her main fictional places as well as insights into the writing of some placial moments in her fiction. This is followed by three in-depth analyses, focusing on the three selected novels. The analysis of Beloved shows that the idea of joining that runs through the text is placial; moreover, drafts indicate that this idea was planned to conclude the novel, thus emphasising it as a central textual feature of the novel. The study of Paradise suggests that places in the novel both stem from and present processes of transformation. This is underscored by textual features such as contrasts, paradoxical images, and by the inclusion of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé as a transformational force. The chapter on A Mercy engages with how place is foregrounded through the characters’ placial relations and through literary allusion. Florens’s writing on the walls and the floor of Jacob Vaark’s third house forms the house into a place of articulation in its dual sense of joining and expression. Manuscripts indicate an increasing emphasis in the writing process on the house as the site of inscription and a shift in intertextual resonances from the canonical male author William Faulkner to the first published African American woman Phillis Wheatley. Through these analyses, the study seeks to demonstrate the manifold ways in which Toni Morrison shapes her fictional places into meaningful literary elements.