Toni Morrison's work is deeply rooted in the esoteric mystery and depends on a triple time in which the ambivalence between life and death is constantly confronted.
Essentially based on the novel Beloved, my study will briefly sweep over the whole Toni Morrison's work to support my theory.
Through her work, Toni Morrison explores the sacred. The characters, the places and the situations that she livens up allow the reader to experiment two worlds, one material and another spiritual. Deeply mystic, the work of Morrison gets back numerous religious symbols. Essentially biblical, the religious references which she uses, also come along with old African faiths. So the trinity, the return after the death, the myths of creations... Besides these symbols, Toni Morrison uses the senses of the characters and the reader to open the way to the sacred. So by the material, the spiritual comes to light. Everything is ambivalence in Toni Morrison's work, then the sacrifice appears at the same time saving and avenging. Toni Morrison's work is a biblical metaphor enriched by old animists faith involving the notion of the sacrificial child of a God at the same time avenging and merciful. Toni Morrison makes sacred her characters by giving them name of biblical origin in The Song of Solomon for example and explains this process of writing: "that gesture of getting something holy". Toni Morrison's work is deeply rooted in the esoteric mystery and depends on a triple time in which the ambivalence between life and death is constantly confronted.
The biblical symbols and the ones borrowed from the blacks civilization are legions. Then to read Toni Morrison is almost to read an illustrated Bible along with voodoo practices. Everything, in the novel Beloved, relates to the trinity. The Christian trinity, that of the father, the son and the holy spirit. So, Toni Morrison declines the story of slavery in three novels, a trilogy which begins with Beloved, continues by Jazz and ends with Paradise.
Beyond the purely Christian aspect, it is the notion of the sacred that is unfolded here. Indeed, the Indian trimûrti which means “the three forms” can also been applied to Toni Morrison work. The trimûrti is the shown part of the divine which becomes triple to preside the various state of the cosmos. The difference between Christianity and Hinduism is the conception of return after the death, that is the resurrection for the first one or the reincarnation for the second. The importance of the flesh for Christians, that of the impermanence of things for the Indians. A thing, nevertheless, united them, this unwavering trinity and the faith in soul, the divine spirit which gives life to beings. If I evoked here the Hinduism, it is to underline the fact that the trinity is not only Christian and that a mystic notion is applied to it. Afro-Americans, although Christians, preserved a certain animism and a tendency for a more profane spirituality. And Toni Morrison opens the access to this religiosity. So the ghost is accepted as a wandering spirit and not as a phantasmagoria. But let us return to this notion of sacred and trinity. Two series of three women live in 124 : Babby Suggs “the holy spirit”, Sethe “the father” and Denver “the son” then Beloved “the holy spirit”, Sethe “the father” and Denver “the son”.The trinity is permanent at home. Beloved appears, after the fair, while Denver, at first contrary, gets ready to welcome Paul D as a father. On the way back they appear as the Holy family : Joseph, the carpenter, Mary, the virgin and the child Jesus. Paul D would be then "the father", Sethe "the holy spirit" and Denver "the child Jesus". The male presence, as we can see, transforms the shape, materializes it, because with him the father “God” becomes a carpenter, the holy spirit becomes a mother and the son of God becomes a whimsical girl.
Another ternary biblical myth also unfolds here as a symbol of the human fate : that of Adam, Eve and the forbidden fruit. The three actors who, for ever, are going to transform the fate of the world. As a metaphor of the Eden garden in which Beloved would be the forbidden fruit whereas Sethe in deserving Eve invites her to poison her consciousness. The own name of Sethe is taken from the Genesis. Seth is there, the son of the fathers of human being. The third child of Adam and Eve, he is the gift made by God to Eve to replace her sacrificial child Abel. This patriarch's trilogy confirms this triple time dear to Morrison. Finally, the trinity re-appears during the exorcism, it is indeed thirty women who free Sethe and who exorcise Beloved.
Toni Morrison makes crossed the sacred by the senses or more exactly, as every religion evokes it, by the material. The material being the vehicle allowing the access to the spiritual. At first the sight, in the chapter six, Beloved examines minutely Sethe and questions her about diamond, objects that she saw sparkling while she was still an infant. This vision makes the past reappear and open the mystic breach of return after the death. The link broken by the death between mother and daughter is passed on as well by the sight, indeed, the only time Sethe saw her mother, she was hung. As the strange fruit sung later by Billy Holliday in homage to the blacks persecuted then. This “strange fruit” reminds us this famous forbidden fruit previously quoted, symbolizing the cost of Freedom. Sethe has a tree of stigma on the back which evokes the lashes which received the Christ during the Passion. A parallel, between the wandering of the Black people from immemorial time, their persecutions and those to the Jews at the dawn of the Christian era, becomes then obvious. The shadows and the reflections as the metaphor of the darkness and the light also play a dominating place in Toni Morrison's work. Indeed the embodiment of Beloved has neither reflection nor shadow, she is immaterial.
The Afro-American literature draws its inspiration from the oral forms of expression as the Negro spiritual, the sermons, the gospel, the blues or more recently in the rap. The hearing is still one of the senses used by Morrison as a channel. Denver is deaf at the beginning of the novel, she answers with a hysteric symptom : she refuses to make work the part of her body by she was hurt. She will find the hearing thanks to the noises of the ghost baby. So it is the songs of Beloved that make realize to Sethe that she is the reincarnation, the resurrection of her daughter. The voice of Beloved is strange, incantatory, as coming from beyond. On the contrary the ceaseless songs of Paul D annoy Beloved and Denver. We can underline here the fact that every action or fight always follow this rule of trinity quoted higher. The style of Morrison very often based on flashback which obliges to think, which obliges to re-read everything is a literary process which plunges the reader into the sound context, the emotional context of the author from the heart of the writing. This rhythm, this negro-spiritual music, this jazz of the 1920's (in Jazz) confer a syncronic musicality to the work. Those who know the jazz know that there is an accord of sixth, totally dissonant listened from outside its melodic text, but so sublime for the harmonious connections. Toni Morrison uses this dissonant accord essential to the music. Dear to Toni Morrison, the music is everywhere in her work, so, in Song of Solomon she has written: "Macon gave way to the music and still approached. He did not want either to speak or to spy, only to listen and see them, all three, the source of this music which reminded him the fields, the wild turkeys ...”, of course music is the main character in Jazz ...
The touch and particularly the water are too main channels to reach the sacred. Through Beloved, Toni Morrison exploits, besides numerous myths, the symbolism of the water. This water returns constantly, flowing into the river which lines the house, becoming grave for the children of Sethe's mother, or still liberator for Paul D when he was in jail. Water is symbol of life (by waters of the stomach of the mother, by milk, by its nourishing contributions) and of death (by its lack of oxygen, by the fact that excrements become liquid during the disease). It is by Beloved that the water appeared. Indeed, she emerges at first from waters, as a blessed child ; at the vision of Beloved, Sethe is taken by such an urge to urinate, so uncontrollable that she does not even reach toilets as if she lost waters. And then Beloved is thirst, an unchanging thirst, probably, the spiritual spirit that she is feels the thirst that feels the slaves working in fields... Numerous religions use the water both in the baptismal rites and in the funeral rites, so Morrison still sets the life against the death. Feet, tools which touches the ground, symbol of the most complete materiality, the feet which serve to walk, to run, to move, to be free appear either bruise either pure, another ambivalence, from death to life. Saint John Baptist would have washed foot of Jesus to baptise him, it is what makes the young white for Sethe then in a bad state and on the point to deliver. When Beloved arises, she has foot strangely clean and healthy as if she was a pure spirit. There is also this story of feet soiled by the camomile, undoubtedly they need otherwise a baptism at least a purifying water. Loyal to her ternary rhythm Toni Morrison runs only three of the five senses, the taste and the sense of smell appear only little.
The sacrifice of Beloved is at the same time saving and avenging. In the mind of Sethe her daughter will escape the slavery but the soul remains and will haunt for ever Sethe and the 124. Still we find the ambivalence dear to Morrison : is the sacrifice a crime or a holy act ? Does Sethe save Beloved or does she condemn her ? The act of Sethe can be likened, at the same time, to a voodoo act and to a christian act, so explains it Omi Gasner Joint in his book Liberation of the voodoo in the dynamics of inculturation in Haiti : “The idea of the sacrifice peculiar to the voodoo suggest well an effective presence of the Christ. Because if we assert in mind the letter to Hebrew , all sacrifices are achieved in the Christ, the universal priest, it is necessary to include the sacrifices voodoos there.” Sethe appears as a Pietà, that is to say as Mary crying her sacrificial child. It is nevertheless her, who wears stigmas while she was not the object but the tool of the sacrifice. Then appears the ambivalence, Sethe marked by the slavery saves her child of a cruel fate and the death is the only salvation that she perceives. So her name quoted above, is not insignificant, the first crime of the humanity being, according to the Bible, that of Abel and Caïn. Abel represents then the persecuted just man, and a figure of the Christ, following the example of Beloved. But Morrison voluntary chose not to name Sethe by the name of Caïn, she is on the contrary a child of God. She embodies the mercy of the Lord in front of the madness of the slave trader. She indeed says to have a tree in the back. Besides the stigmas of the Christ, this tree symbolizes the family tree marked with branding iron, as if the fatalist fate of the slaves required an anchor point. She could be likened to Ponce Pilate, the one who condemned Jesus but her story is different ; and Morrison does not want to place her in executioner, but creates by Sethe a much more complex character influenced by a martyr genealogy. She belongs to those who are persecuted as the Jews at that time and while the Christ is filled by magic, Beloved, the baby, is only a simple mortal, and Mary is virgin whereas Sethe knew the rape and the stain. Her sacrifice is not universal but rather ideological and emotional. For the Christendom, the sacrifice of the material body of the Christ would have washed the world from its sin. For Sethe, to sacrifice her child is a spontaneous reaction to the adversity, undoubtedly a voodoo sacrifice inspired by the memory of her people and a way to bring down the slavery and to get back a certain dignity. When Beloved reappears it is like the embodiment of the ambivalence being holy and demonic at the same time. Beloved is like the fallen archangel Lucifer, “the carrier of light”. She appears decay, insect, drought as devoured by the Devil. The Book of Ezekiel makes a reference to a fallen angel, “a protective cherub” : “I had settled you, and you were there, from the holy mountain of God (…) and that until we find injustice inside you.” This is easily applicable to Sethe who gave birth, "settled" a child in the world, but the inequitable context dedicates this child to the slavery so she killed. Nevertheless Beloved resuscitates following the example of the Christ, her spirit becomes again flesh and the protagonists strangely seem as bewitched by Beloved. The "sacred" and the impure oppose the hope and the fear. The spirit at first wandering of Beloved then embodied appears as the consciousness, the purgatory of Sethe.
Toni Morrison is, this day, the eighth woman, the first Black and the only Afro-American author to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature. She so settles down as the voice of a people for too long persecuted, as the witness of History. Following the steps of Phillis Wheatley, the first afro-American author or Rosa Park Who, by Martin Luther King side, fought against the racial segregation, or still Maya Angelou that she had honored during the national book award ; she tells the story of a people in what it has of most intimate, its faith. Her talent and her sincerity offers a honorable revenge to all of Afro-Americans. She portrays the sacred in her work through traditional Christian rituals, sermons, and symbols; through African-influenced themes and characters; and through what Morrison called “just strange stuff.” One of her old friend Carrasco has told about her : “ Morrison develops the notion of the importance and power of magical flight as a way to help the characters deal with “profound racial suffering.” Morrison has revised biblical scripture as a way to criticize American history and rewritten non-biblical sources to envision a future in which patriarchy, racism, and colonialism are eradicated through the revival of suppressed cultural myths. Relying upon the authority of her gnostic work, Morrison labors to create new myths that could provide the foundation for social change. And I shall end by these Toni Morrison's word in Love : “Nowadays, we judge the strange silence and those of my race, for the greater part, forgot how much can be beautiful the fact of meaning a lot by saying little.”