Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

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Harvard University Press, 1992 - Literary Criticism - 91 pages
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison brings the genius of a master writer to this personal inquiry into the significance of African-Americans in the American literary imagination. Her goal, she states at the outset, is to "put forth an argument for extending the study of American literature...draw a map, so to speak, of a critical geography and use that map to open as much space for discovery, intellectual adventure, and close exploration as did the original charting of the New World--without the mandate for conquest."

Author of Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and other vivid portrayals of black American experience, Morrison ponders the effect that living in a historically racialized society has had on American writing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She argues that race has become a metaphor, a way of referring to forces, events, and forms of social decay, economic division, and human panic. Her compelling point is that the central characteristics of American literature individualism, masculinity, the insistence upon innocence coupled to an obsession with figurations of death and hell--are responses to a dark and abiding Africanist presence.

Through her investigation of black characters, narrative strategies, and idiom in the fiction of white American writers, Morrison provides a daring perspective that is sure to alter conventional notions about American literature. She considers Willa Cather and the impact of race on concept and plot; turns to Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville to examine the black force that figures so significantly in the literature of early America; and discusses the implications of the Africanist presence at the heart of Huckleberry Finn. A final chapter on Ernest Hemingway is a brilliant exposition of the racial subtext that glimmers beneath the surface plots of his fiction.

Written with the artistic vision that has earned her a preeminent place in modern letters, Playing in the Dark will be avidly read by Morrison admirers as well as by students, critics, and scholars of American literature.
 

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User Review  - dchaikin - LibraryThing

80. Playing in the Dark : Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison 1992, 100 page hardcover read Dec 9-12 These essays are work but also enlightening if you can manage to fight your way ... Read full review

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User Review  - RandyMetcalfe - LibraryThing

Sometimes I wish that all literary critics were obligated to first serve an apprenticeship as great writers of fiction. Surely, like Toni Morrison, they would then be better able to appreciate the ... Read full review

Contents

black matters
1
romancing the shadow
29
disturbing nurses and
61
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About the author (1992)

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio on February 18, 1931. She received a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953 and a master's degree in English from Cornell University in 1955 with her thesis on the theme of suicide in modern literature. She taught at several universities including Texas Southern University, Howard University, and Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Her other works include Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, Home, and God Help the Child. She has won several awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977, the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the Edward MacDowell Medal for her outstanding contribution to American culture in 2016, and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction in 2016. She also co-wrote children's books with her son, Slade Morrison, including The Big Box, The Book of Mean People, and Peeny Butter Fudge.

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