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Love as reclamation in Toni Morrison's African American rhetoric

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There is a long tradition of using the lovehate dichotomy as a rhetorical trope in the African American struggle for emancipation. In an interview with Toni Morrison (The Nation, 24 May 2004) Cornel West points out the peculiar function of African American love as a catalyst for change which takes on subversive status rather than being just a gesture. When, throughout history, a people has been systematically taught to hate themselves (Morrison and West 2004), love the opposite of hatred becomes the most effective means of resistance and of claiming ownership of one's history. Toni Morrison's mission as a writer is to write for and from within the African American community. Whilst one of her major concerns is to rewrite African American history, she takes over this tradition of resistance through love and uses it to forge a writing technique through which she dissents from what she calls the whiteness of the American literary canon. Morrison develops a rhetoric of negatives in which mechanisms of dysfunctional love are turned into political strategies for reclaiming African American history. This article will argue that love is a central trope in Morrison's shaping of an alternative African American, non-WASP narrative rhetoric and will analyse the evolution of this rhetoric in her novels Beloved, Jazz, Paradise and Love.
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Keywords: African American; love; pain; reclamation; rhetoric; trauma

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Bucharest.

Publication date: 2008-10-16

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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