Morrison, Dante and Structure

Despite having the syllabus all semester and never hearing anything about it, I assumed for the majority of the course that there would be some kind of big analytical paper about Toni Morrison’s trilogy to do at the end. I had this imaginary assignment in the back of my head for months and I was certain that I would write this paper about Toni Morrison’s structure and organization, as it is what has stood out to me most in all of the novels we’ve covered.

I guess since I can’t have a whole paper, I’ll do some here. I think I’ve already made some posts about structure, but what can I say… I’m a fan of how Morrison uses it.

None of the books we read were perfectly linear; we’d get bits and pieces along the way and there never seemed to be a clear “present” time. We’ve talked during this semester about the unreliability of Morrison’s narrators. Though Morrison’s narrators seem all-knowing, sometimes it feels like the narrators are like characters themselves. The way her novels jump in time seems to reflect the way people remember stories; bringing up different parts as they are recalled or are relevant, as though when they happened isn’t what is important. Sometimes the jump seems out of nowhere (i.e the Golden Gray chapter from Jazz) but even our own minds are unpredictable. Even when we can’t grasp why the topic jump happened, we can probably rest assured that Morrison did it for a reason which will be learned later.

Although my contribution to our group project affirms Dante’s influence in Morrison’s work, I’d say the structure is definitely something that is Morrison’s own. Besides the obvious difference of Dante’s trilogy being made up of cantos, Dante’s work does not jump in time as Morrison’s does. The Divine Comedy is very linear, and follows a single protagonist on a journey that has a clear start, middle and end. There are themes from The Divine Comedy present in Morrison’s Trilogy, but the way they are presented are not the same.

The episodic, non-linear stricture isn’t the only unique thing about Morrison’s work, it’s just stood out to me since I found it in each novel we’ve read. There are also strings of dialogue and lists and long paragraphs and run on sentences placed in unpredictable spots. Things like that are found in all her works, and I as a conclusion I’d say all of these practices work to reflect the way our minds think.

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