During our group discussions on Thursday, my group attempted to find concepts that would form a connection between Toni Morrison and Dante for them to even have a discourse, and left rather unsatisfied with the connections and discourse we’d established. After, I used my additional experience with Dante gained from Dr. Ronald Herzman’s Poetry and Cosmology class to establish a point of connection and discourse between the two works, with greater success. I’ve found a discourse between Dante’s World Soul he constructs in his Paradiso, and the Oven Morrison describes in her Paradise. While reviewing my studies on the structural aspects of heaven with Herzman, and my notes on Paradise, I saw the connection between the two constructs. Both are physical and metaphorical symbols of unity within their works.
Let’s review Dante’s and Morrison’s constructions. Dante constructs his world soul in Canto X of Paradiso, “Lift therefore your gaze to the high wheels with me, reader…See branching off from there the oblique circle that carries the planets,” (X, 7-15). He crafts a great pair of intersecting wheels at the heart of the universe, carrying the planets around their orbits in the physical sense, and connecting the souls on the worlds in the spiritual sense. His world soul is the center of his cosmos and responsible for the spiritual community developing on the worlds it connects. By crafting such a massive, complex, and most important, flawless structure, Dante explains the perfect nature of his creation and the perfect nature of the people who reside within. He’s writing his paradise as a perfect and good creation and a community around which the souls of virtuous people convene, communicate, and perform in virtue. In essence, his paradise is a haven for the virtuous Christian people on earth to separate themselves from the wicked and unfaithful.
Toni Morrison places the oven at the center of the town of Ruby and renders it central to the cultural and physical unity of the town. “An Oven. Round as a head, deep as desire…the huge, flawlessly designed Oven both nourished them and monumentalized what they had done.” (6-7). Morrison describes how the Oven was placed in the center of the town when the residents resettled from Haven and became the cultural and physical center of Ruby. Like Dante’s used the World Soul, she’s made the oven the epicenter of her paradise. However, unlike Dante, her epicenter isn’t a fresh paradise, but a refurbished remnant of a previous, failed paradise. It’s refurbished and secondhand, emphasizing that while Ruby is supposed to be an all-black paradise safe from the racial violence of the 60’s it could still fall into flawed failure like haven did when it was a refuge from post-slavery racial violence, and become a failed paradise itself. Morrison’s description of the verbal combat between the residents of Ruby over the motto on the oven both signifies the Oven’s central part of her paradise, and signifies the imperfect nature of the people in, and the paradise itself.
Without expanding on the nature of their discourse (that’s worth a second blog post in length), I can easily see the connection. Both are symbols of a unified paradise that was specially crafted as a refuge for certain demographics of humans. In addition, the very natures of the World Soul and the Oven act as signifiers for the natures of the paradises they unify, and the people they hold in their havens. I see these constructs as a clear and direct link established by Morrison between herself and Dante.