Priyanka Saha | DUJES Volume 26 | March, 2018

Othering Whiteness – A Reading of Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination


Priyanka Saha is a Research Scholar in the Department of English & Foreign Languages, Tezpur University, Tezpur, Assam, India.

“Othering” provides important perspectives in postcolonial and race studies wherein the dominant group “others” the marginal group by creating negative discourses about the latter. The literary scene of the U. S. has many examples where white writers other the black characters in their works. The literary canon again others the black writers by presenting them not within the mainstream – not as Americans – but as African Americans. Blackness, therefore, has constantly been othered in the American social and literary scene. Black writers and critics have now retaliated by counter othering whiteness in their works. Toni Morrison in her book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination seeks to critically examine “whiteness” in American literary tradition. This paper seeks to show how her criticism engages in a Manichean discourse of blackness and whiteness and fails to be inclusive. Her work follows the tradition of African American critics like W. E. B. Du Bois, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and bell hooks, which, according to her detractors, is overtly propagandist and one-dimensional, with little space for dialectics. In so doing, she fails to dismantle the hierarchies that she condemns and ends up creating new hierarchies, which are also problematic.

Toni Morrison, other, whiteness, literature

The politics of “othering” provided important perspectives in postcolonial and race studies wherein the dominant group “others” the marginal group by creating a negative discourse about the latter. Similarly, the literary scene of the U.S. shows white writers othering the black characters in their works. The literary canon again others the black writers by presenting them not within the mainstream- not as Americans- but as African Americans. Blackness, therefore, has constantly been othered in the American social and literary scene. Black writers and critics have now retaliated by counter othering whiteness in their works. Toni Morrison in her book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination seeks to critically examine “whiteness” in American literary tradition. This paper seeks to show how her criticism engages in a Manichean discourse of blackness and whiteness and fails to be inclusive. Her work follows the tradition of African American critics like W. E. B. Du Bois, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and bell hooks, which is overtly propagandist and one-dimensional, with little space for dialectics. In so doing, she fails to dismantle the hierarchies altogether that she condemns and ends up creating new hierarchy- that is, black on top of white, instead of white on top of black.

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness in the Literary Imagination is part of the William E. Massey Lectures delivered by Morrison at Harvard University in 1992. In this book, she talks about how the literature of America has been shaped by a “dark, abiding, significant Africanist presence.” Morrison raises the question whether a person could become white without the availability of a black absence, of that which can be oppressed. She refers to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Willa Cather and Ernest Hemingway to substantiate her argument. It is one of the most academically discussed works of African American criticism. In this book, it is seen that Morrison, by speaking of a black Africanist presence tries to provide an antithesis to whiteness. By doing so, she tries to show the black force without which the white force would fail to exist. According to her, the characters can assert their whiteness only because there is a black presence. While on one hand, she manages to form a balance and dilute to some extent an overarching white presence, she once again ends up holding blackness as an anti-thesis to whiteness and fails in doing away with the complex tropings of blackness and whiteness

In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon, an Afro- Caribbean theorist, talks about the oppressed black person who is perceived to be a lesser creature in the white world that s/he lives in, and studies how s/he navigates the world through a performance of whiteness (see Fanon, Black Skin). Fanon therefore seems to suggest that whiteness is a construct. If this is to be true, then blackness is as much a construct. It is only in America perhaps that literature is divided along black and white lines. Black and white are, therefore, not just colours in the U.S.A. but have assumed an epistemic status wherein everything from politics to literature to art to food, clothing and lifestyle came to be identified either as white or black. The narratives of whiteness and blackness and their associations with good and evil respectively, were created by whites in the first place in order to keep the hierarchy intact.1 The image of whiteness was reinforced by literary works and by writers who were not racists but racial, that is to say, they had internalised the racial discourses in the air which was reflected in their writings as well.

The responses of the black writer to the constructs of whiteness are governed by a desire to overturn the hierarchy and replace whiteness by blackness. This can be understood as a reaction to the scars left by one hundred years of slavery. However, by calling for a black form of literature, the blacks have themselves assumed an identity which they believe is distinct from the rest of America. Since the blacks cannot see themselves autochthonously grounded in America and since they have no memories of their homeland Africa, they reject both these identities and seek to occupy, what Homi K. Bhabha calls “the third space” or “the liminal space” (see The Location of Culture, Bhabha). The black writers make an insistence on her/his black skin colour as a referent for identification. However, they are aggravating the problem by making the same mistakes which their white counterparts had made. In trying to do away with one kind of power structure, they are introducing another power structure. A black writer can never speak alone but has to always speak with the weight of the entire community. She/he cannot sever herself/ himself from the past in a kind of Bloomean misprisioning.2  Also, the black writer does not write into a congenial but a competitive ancestry or an adversarial tradition which has writers from the Euro centric tradition and whose works provide for the black writers, as Gates says, “the grandfather clause” (Gates 48). That is to say, being born in a racist society, a black writer can never afford to be oblivious of race issues.  However, art stands in danger of secessionism from the black writer’s constant eulogizing of the black tradition and critiquing the white tradition. Toni Morrison’s earlier works can be taken as cases in point. She does to the whites what the white writers have done to the blacks, that is, to reduce them to shadowy presences. The white characters are denied humanity in her earlier novels and are represented as machines of oppression, like those of the school teacher and his nephews in Beloved (1987).

This points to a tradition of apparently subtle but separatist criticism which began with W.E.B Du Bois and continued through Henry Louis Gates Jr. to Toni Morrison and bell hooks. Du Bois especially wanted black writings to be political and was not happy with people like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Duke Ellington etc. who according to him, were more cultural than political. (Leitch, 868). He called for “voluntary segregation” as a means for progress of blacks in a country which was not deceived them into dreams of an America for all (Leitch, 868). In “Criteria of Negro Art” Du Bois explicitly says, “All Art is propaganda and ever must be.” (Du Bois 869). According to him, “the central duty of African American writers and artists is to advance the cause of the race” (Du Bois, 869). Henry Louis Gates Jr., an authority on black criticism and theory, in his essay “Writing ‘Race’ and the Difference it Makes” calls for a separate critical tradition against which the works of African American writers are to be judged. He argues that black literature is essentially different from white literature and so the standards for judging the two should also be different. Similar exclusivist concern is voiced by bell hooks in her “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination” where she talks about how white people inspire feelings of strangeness and awe in the black imagination in a manner similar to the one produced by black folks in white imagination (see “Representing Whiteness”, hooks). By doing so, she involves in an ‘othering’ of the white folks and tries to push whiteness to a disadvantageous position. Morrison follows the exclusivist tradition of these critics her book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.

In the first chapter “Black Matters” of her book, Morrison talks about how American literature and literary criticism has been participating in a willful blindness towards the African American population which has contributed to the American identity. Morrison begins the essay by very subtly attacking the American society and by implication the whole of Western tradition which is strongly driven by conquest motive:
I want to 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. (3)
Morrison distinguishes between “readerly” reading and “writerly” reading. She borrows the terms from Roland Barthes. In his book S/Z, (1970) Barthes uses the terms “readerly” and “writerly” to distinguish, respectively between texts that are straightforward and demand no special effort on to understand and those whose meaning is not immediately evident and demand some effort on the part of the reader. According to Morrison, her reading as a writer has opened her eyes to forays into which she hadn’t been initiated as a reader. It shows the considerations that the writer takes into account while writing a book.

She also questions the apparently self-evident general knowledge “which holds that traditional, canonical American literature is free of and, uninformed and unshaped by the four-hundred-year-old presence of, first, Africans and then African-Americans in the United States”. Morrison argues that the essential “Americanness” that is in collective unconscious is totally oblivious of this presence. The American “mainstream” culture and literature, in the popular belief, has been actually formed by the white American male and is in no way connected to the black people. According to Morrison, the opposite is the truth. “Individualism, masculinity, social engagement versus historical isolation; acute and ambiguous moral problematic; the thematic of innocence coupled with an obsession with figurations of death and hell” (5) as the popularly highlighted characteristics American national literature are, in fact, responses to the Africanist presence. She says that the desire for American literature as a distinguished entity exists as a response to a difference from the black community. She coins the term “American Africanism” as “an investigation into the ways in which a non-white African like (or Africanist) presence or persona was constructed in the United States, and the imaginative uses this fabricated presence served” (6). She makes it clear that she does use the term to explain the complicacies of the African community residing in America but uses it as a term “for the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings and misreading that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people” (7). This discourse provides an arena on which one can contemplate contradictions at ease.

According to Morrison, there is paucity of critical material on the subject of race. However, critics like James Baldwin, Henry Louis Gates Jr. had already appeared on the scene and had started writing critically about race issues. Therefore, the silence and evasion in critical discourse that she talks about is only a myth. What Morrison wants to do in is to shift the critical gaze of African American studies from the racial object to the subject, from the oppressed to the oppressor, from the black to the white:
What I propose here is to examine the impact of notions of racial hierarchy, racial
exclusion, and racial vulnerability and availability on non- blacks who held, resisted, explored or altered those notions. (11-12)
A shift of gaze might well bring the whites within the realm of the ethics of answerability. Whiteness as a trope needs to be interrogated. However, the way Morrison tries to do this does not solve the problem. Her method constantly draws attention to racial aspects of works hitherto judged for their aesthetic qualities. While it opens a new foray of possibilities altogether to study and examine the texts, it has also invited dangers of politicising literary works and a search for a racial angle in every American text. This might lead to examination of racism in every other work where there are black and white characters.

Morrison justifies her stand by saying that “in a wholly racialized society, there is no escape from a racially inflected language” (12-13). In this case one needs to understand that it is only the duty of the writers to try as much as to purge themselves of racial feelings and make their writings free of black or white imagination, as she calls it. However, although Morrison’s project is to interrogate racist imagination, it definitively intensifies racial discursive practices. A prolonged approach to any text from a racial point of view might lead to a reductionist kind of criticism. The author tries to draw attention to how issues of racism in major American texts are carefully sidelined in order to engage with apparently more important issues. She refers to writers like Gertrude Stein, Flannery O’ Connor, Henry James, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway to draw attention to how race related issues were never  part of the critical discussions of their works. According to her, feminist critics have been successful with the result that sexist readings have considerably declined. Therefore she calls for a revision of the critical corpus in order to include race related issues. Cather’s book Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), she thinks, is an underrated work. According to her, the work failed because it tried to evade an important issue simmering underneath the classic slave narrative of a fugitive slave, that of “the power and license of a white slave mistress over her female slaves” (18).

However, it seems that she is keen on giving a racial angle to a professional decision. The analysis that she makes of the work is interesting. She takes a plunge into psychoanalysis so that she can tap on the whiteness in Cather’s narrative. She had a problem with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1984). Jim wasn’t freed because the writer being white just could let that happen. In this case, Nancy in Sapphira is both saved from rape and is free to live a new life altogether. In such situation, it is to be questioned whether the whiteness of Cather’s imagination is really at play while writing the book. It also makes a case for the fact that a writer might not always be affected by racial considerations. In the next essay “Romancing the Shadow”, Morrison, taking a cue from Edgar Allan Poe’s works and the Africanist presence lurking therein, talks about how the genre of romance provides the ground on which America’s fears and sense of freedom found its free expression. Also America was desperately trying to free itself from the clutches of European culture and do away with its sense of belatedness. As “romance is an evasion of history” (37), this genre offers a free play for the American terror “and terror’s most significant, overweening ingredient: darkness, with all the connotative value it awakened” (37). Morrison talks about how the Africanist presence is inextricably linked to the concept of an impenetrable whiteness in American literature. She gives examples from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), by Edgar Allan Poe where there are references to a “shrouded human figure” with skin “the perfect whiteness of the snow”. These white images, Morrison says, are “awe inspiring”.

She shows how the themes of freedom and individualism, manhood and innocence, depended on the existence of a black population that was manifestly not free and that came to serve white writers as embodiments of their own fears and desires. That is to say, the black bodies offered sites as the “other” on which the whites could project all their latent wishes and desires. These bodies provided opportunities for the whites to form their own ideal identity in relation to and in difference from the blacks. Morrison calls the American Dream an immigrant one. That is to say, she sees the dream only in terms of the white European’s idea of America. According to her, the New World suggested for the whites, endless possibilities of freedom. She says, “Romance was the form in which the uniquely American prophylaxis could be played out” (36) and also “There is no romance free of what Herman Melville called ‘the power of blackness,’ especially not in a country in which the resident population was already black, upon which the imagination could play; through which historical, moral, metaphysical, and social fears, problems, and dichotomies could be articulated” (37). She focuses her discussion only on the European immigrants who moved to America in the 15th century. However, she does not take into account other immigrants to the United States which included the blacks themselves and people from other nationalities. For these people the personification of their fears might well have been the white person. The discourse on whiteness provides enough space for such kind of meditation. No doubt the blacks are viewed as exotic creatures by the whites. However, the blacks and other were not innocent of racist constructions and racist gaze as can be seen in bell hooks’ discussion of the black gaze in her essay “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination”.

She says, “Emerson’s call for that new man in ‘The American Scholar’ indicates the deliberateness of the construction, the conscious necessity for establishing difference.” (39). However, if one reads through the essay, there is nowhere the faintest trace of the racial consciousness. Even in the way he talks of the unification of natural images in America, he talks of merging, which would eventually lead to the melting pot culture of USA where anomalies are diminished. Emerson’s approach, as opposed to what Morrison says, seems to be inclusive rather than exclusive. The difference as clearly stated in “The American Scholar” is that of a difference from Europe and not in any way an attempt to establish a difference from the black slave population, which, in any case was considered human enough for contemplation of identity issues. Morrison raises the following questions: “What, one wants to ask, are Americans alienated from? What are Americans always so insistently innocent of? Different from? As for absolute power, over who is this power held, from whom withheld, to whom distributed?” (45). The answer, different from Morrison’s contention, is not a black African presence or population. The answer to the first question, “What are Americans alienated from?” is that they are alienated from all ties of history. They try to divorce themselves from Europe’s influences. The next question, “What are Americans always so insistently innocent of?” can be answered in the fact that they considered themselves to be the chosen one and children of Adam to be sent to the land of America to make the rough terrain a fertile spot for cultivation and smooth life. The answer to the question “Different from?” is that they are different in their sense of exceptionalism. The following question, “As for absolute power, over whom is this power held, from whom withheld, to whom distributed?” can be answered like the Americans believed that they were chosen by God to conquer land, animals, “lesser human beings” and other creatures. The “lesser creatures” should in no way be mistaken with the blacks because the slave trade had begun only in the later half of the seventeenth century Therefore the premise that “the imaginative and historical terrain upon which early American writers journeyed is in large measure shaped by the presence of the racial other” (46) looks invalid.

Morrison states that “It was this Africanism deployed as rawness and savagery that provided the staging ground and arena for the elaboration of the quintessential American identity” (44). This exclusive focus on the shaping presence of “American Africanism” in the constitution of American national identity seems much too simple. For there were other races, cultures that vied for geopolitical space and presence in writing and naming America. Moreover blackness and Africanism cannot be separated from a whole complex of personal and cultural phobias and fetishes around the body, nature, women, race, the Orient, and the democratic masses that haunt and spook the American imaginary. To reverse the hierarchical relation from black to white by claiming black precedence risks reinstating the exclusions of the white literary tradition; it also isolates blackness and Africanism from the complicated network of religious, cultural, historic, economic and ultimately transnational relations in which they were involved. Morrison’s focus on the shaping presence of Africanism in creating a distinctively American literature keeps both “American” and “African American” neatly contained within a nationalist and exceptionalist frame and thus tends to erase the cross-currents of international exchange, economic as well as cultural, imperial as well as textual, in which the writing if the United States more generally have played a commanding role (Kennedy 44).

According to her, “Black slavery enriched the country’s creative possibilities. For in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free but also, with the dramatic polarity created by skin color, the projection of the not-me” (38). This is the idea that she harps on in the essay. In her attempt to show the blackness which offered a surrogate for the white people’s fears or hope, she goes on tapping on the rhetoric of racial difference which in case of people of African origin and those of European origin. What Morrison says that “The act of enforcing racelessness in literary discourse is in itself a racial act” (46), cannot be denied. The white writers have mostly presumed racial inequality in the twentieth century to be a myth and hardly in their works address the racial tension seething underneath. The thing to be taken note of is that Morrison in order to contribute to the discourse of race and its associated tropes of whiteness and blackness, is being too radical or political. In these instances, it seems that the author is desperate to somehow introduce blackness as an anti-thesis to whiteness. Although she makes a case for the marginalised black population in American that is always seen as the other of the dominant white population, to say that in every case the literature if the United States is backed by a black population is to shift the focus from the aesthetics of the text to a political powerplay. Generalising her statement by taking into account few examples of American texts and the role of the black characters in driving the plot and informing the psyche of the white characters does not hold good. Morrison quite easily labels writers as racist while race might not even be a concern for most of them. It is true that these writers belong to the white category and do not have to be race conscious like blacks. However, Morrison who had been critical of allegorical tradition on American literature fails to pay attention to the artistic and subjective dimensions of each of them and covers them under a grand narrative of response to the black presence as she allegorises them.

She even goes on to state that the black American population is different from what is “American”: “Deep within the word American is its association with race. To identify  someone as South African is to say very little; we need the adjective ‘white’ or ‘black’ or ‘coloured’ to make the meaning clear. In this country it is quite the reverse. American means white and Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with ethnicity and hyphen after hyphen after hyphen” (47). An example of this would be the way black skinned Americans are referred to as African-Americans as opposed to the white skinned Americans who are only Americans. The way in which artists- and the society that bred them-transferred internal conflicts to a “blank darkness,” to conveniently bound and violently silenced black bodies, is a major theme in America literature. Morrison says, “Slave narratives in the nineteenth century were a publication boom. The press, the political campaigns, and the policy of various parties and elected officials were rife with the discourse of slavery and freedom.” (50). It is true that the slave narratives flourished during the period when America as starting to be conscious of the humanity of the newly freed slaves. However, literature, unlike the general societal consciousness, concerns itself with many topics on diverse fields. Therefore, to say that American literature is invariably related to a consciousness of the black population in America is not justified. There might be a kind of consciousness in the mind of the writer but it is not always reflected in literature which does not abound in black characters.

Morrison brings out the racist implications of one of America’s most celebrated novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The issues, while they have an authentic basis, were nevertheless certainly in literary terms and in terms of the imagination perhaps, limited. Morrison begins the essay “Disturbing Nurses and the Kindness of Sharks” by speaking of race as a discourse which is more a metaphorical expression than a biological category. These metaphorical uses of race, according to Morrison, constitute the national character of America. What she means to say is that America as a nation is works along strong racial lines and divides. This character, as an obvious outcome, is reflected in the literature of the country. According to Morrison, “Africanism is inextricable from the definition of Americanness- from its origins on through its integrated or disintegrating twentieth-century self.” (65) She says that the idea of America can never be divorced from the black population that constitutes the largest minority in America. If we compare this to Morrison’s earlier assertions of America being synonymous with whiteness, it would seem paradoxical. She refers to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to show the black-white dynamics are at work even there:
Melville uses allegorical formations- the white whale, the racially mixed crew, the black-white pairings of male couples, the questing, questioning white male captain who confronts impenetrable whiteness-to investigate and analyze hierarchic difference. (69)
Here Morrison does not take into account the pairing of Ishmael and Queequeg and even if she does, she surely mistakes Queequeg for a black man. Ishmael nowhere says that Queequeg is a black man. Queequeg’s physical features are recorded in Ishmael’s first impression of the former:
This accomplished, however, he turned round-when, good heavens! What a sight! Such a face! It was of a dark, purplish, yellow color, here and there struck over with large blackish looking squares.... To be sure, it might be nothing but a good coat of tropical tanning; but I never heard of a hot sun’s tanning a white man into a purplish yellow one. However, I had never been in the South Seas; and perhaps the sun there produced those extraordinary effects upon the skin. (Melville, 33)

Morrison undertakes a critical examination of Hemingway’s works where she thinks the black presence is one of the loci around which issues of the novel revolve. Her interest is heightened by the fact that Hemingway’s works are not studied much for their racial implications: “My interest in Ernest Hemingway becomes heightened when I consider how much apart his work is from African-Americans” (69). Morrison points out that in To Have and Have Not (1937) “the protagonist Harry says ‘Wesley’ when speaking to the black man in direct dialogue; Hemingway writes “nigger” when as a narrator he refers to him” (71). However, To Have and Have Not was published only in 1937. It was only in 2007 that the New York City Council banned the use of the word “nigger”. What Hemingway used was only part of the general consciousness and can’t be termed racist. Had the novel been written after 2007, the case would have been different. The use of the word “nigger” was just a kind of replacement of proper names for common names for example “Harry” for “the boy” and nothing more. She says, “Eddy is white and we know he is, because nobody says so” (72). This instance though might at first sight seem to be one of racism, is actually not so. Black is mentioned because it is the minority in a white American society. The anger contained in Morrison’s words support the fact that she is insistent on establishing the attribute of blackness as an anti-thesis to whiteness. Not that she has launched out a verbal war against the white supremacist society. But it is clear that she is driven by her political stance as a black leader which makes her ignore the other minor factions in the American society which might as well have served as subjects of contemplation and constituted the whiteness in literary imagination that she talks about. Morrison talks about how the black man is denied speech by the white writer:
The power of looking is Harry’s; the passive powerlessness is the black man’s, though he himself does not speak of it. Silencing him, refusing him the opportunity of one important word, forces the author to abandon his search for transparency in the narrative act and to set up a curiously silent mate-captain relationship. (73)

Morrison’s criticism brings to mind Chinua Achebe’s criticism of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) in “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”. There Achebe accused Conrad of being “a thoroughgoing racist”. Of the many arguments he gives, one is that of the silencing the black characters in the novel or endowing them with quite incoherent speech. Achebe, however, is a poor reader of Conrad’s novels as he fails to make a distinction between Conrad, the author and the unnamed narrator. It is the narrator and not Conrad who chose to tell parts of the story which he found interesting. In a story telling practice, the narrator will resort to various devices in order to make the story interesting. Similar is the case with Hemingway’s narrator who chooses to speak for the black man because he feels that the black person is not that important. The presence of a silent black character might invite critical attention but does not make the racism integral to the concerns of its discussion. Morrison here confuses the implied author or the narrator with the author. Also, she commits intentional fallacy, that is, she judges the work by the writer’s intentions. Moreover, if we go by Eliot’s dictum of impersonality according to which, in the process of creation a writer loses his self. The quality of a work is judged by the extent to which the writer’s presence is least felt in the work. In spite of this it cannot be doubted that the writer is shaped by her/his circumstances and her/his experiences are reflected in the work. It is true that the black characters are presented and to some extent also determined the subconscious responses of the white characters towards them. However, it might as well be only the obvious response of their writers to their circumstances.  Morrison presents instances of the black man accusing the white of inhumanity to show how it presents another side to Harry’s character:
Ain’t a man’s life oth more than a load of liquor?” Wesley asks Harry. “Why don’t people be honest and decent and make a decent honest living?...You don’t care what happens to a man. You ain’t hardly human.” “You ain’t human,’ the nigger said. You aint got human feelings. (76)

This presents a strong case in favour of Hemingway as a fair writer who has given scope or the black man to express his views. It certainly does not present Hemingway as a writer with racist intentions. This also does not speak in favour of Morrison’s serviceability thesis, according to which a black man is considered for human treatment only in so far as he is serviceable. In this case Wesley is given a fair treatment despite his not so serviceable behaviour. Morrison, in fact, at one point in the essay accepts the problem of applying her thesis to Hemingway’s novels. She admits it beforehand so as not to be singled out for criticism on this ground:
It would be irresponsible and unjustified to invest Hemingway with the thoughts of his characters. It is Harry who thinks a black woman is like a nurse shark, not Hemingway. An author is not personally accountable for the acts of his fictive creatures, although he is responsible for them. And there is no evidence I know of to persuade me that Hemingway shared Harry’s views. In point of fact, there is strong evidence to suggest the opposite. (86)
Morrison spends a lot of time on the racial attributes of whiteness and white society rather than the literary and professional merit of arguments and decisions. Also, she demands recognition of the marginal presences in American literature. This might remind one of Leslie Fiedler who in his Love and Death in the American Novel (1960) talks of marginal presences in American literature. What is to be dwelt upon is that whether the blacks are the only marginal groups in America where the Indians, the indigenous people, were completely erased by both the blacks. This is not a critical review of the book which would judge it on arbitrary standards of right and wrong. The process of argumentation is interested in looking at moments in the text where the author’s arguments seem not logical enough to drive her point home.

1 For a better understanding of the binaries and discourses created by the colonial powers, see Edward Said’s Orientalism.

2 Harold Bloom in his The Anxiety of Influence explains the younger poet’s relation to his literary predecessor in six revisionary ratios: (i) Clinamen (ii)Tessera (iii) Kenosis (iv) Daemonization (v) Askesis and (vi) Apophrades. “Misprisioning” refers to the first ratio “clinamen” where the younger poet swerves away from the path showed by the elder poet.

Works Cited
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