Toni Morrison and Motherhood

A Politics of the Heart

By Andrea O'Reilly

Subjects: Women's Studies, Literary Criticism, African American Studies
Paperback : 9780791460764, 243 pages, April 2004
Hardcover : 9780791460757, 243 pages, April 2004

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Table of contents



1. A Politics of the Heart: Toni Morrison's Theory of Motherhood as a Site of Power and Motherwork as Concerned with the Empowerment of Children

2. Disconnections from the Motherline: Gender Hegemonies and the Loss of the Ancient Properties: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby

3. Ruptures/Disruptions of the Motherline: Slavery, Migration, and Assimilation: Song of Solomon, Beloved

4. Reconnections to the Motherline: Deliverance and Exile: Song of Solomon, Tar Baby

5. Maternal Interventions: Resistance and Power: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Paradise

6. Maternal Healing: Reconciliation and Redemption: Jazz, Paradise




Works Cited


Traces Morrison's theory of African American mothering as it is articulated in her novels, essays, speeches, and interviews.


Traces Morrison's theory of African American mothering as it is articulated in her novels, essays, speeches, and interviews.

Mothering is a central issue for feminist theory, and motherhood is also a persistent presence in the work of Toni Morrison. Examining Morrison's novels, essays, speeches, and interviews, Andrea O'Reilly illustrates how Morrison builds upon black women's experiences of and perspectives on motherhood to develop a view of black motherhood that is, in terms of both maternal identity and role, radically different from motherhood as practiced and prescribed in the dominant culture. Motherhood, in Morrison's view, is fundamentally and profoundly an act of resistance, essential and integral to black women's fight against racism (and sexism) and their ability to achieve well-being for themselves and their culture. The power of motherhood and the empowerment of mothering are what make possible the better world we seek for ourselves and for our children. This, argues O'Reilly, is Morrison's maternal theory—a politics of the heart.

"As an advocate of 'a politics of the heart,' O'Reilly has an acute insight into discerning any threat to the preservation and continuation of traditional African American womanhood and values … Above all, Toni Morrison and Motherhood, based on Andrea O'Reilly's methodical research on Morrison's works as well as feminist critical resources, proffers a useful basis for understanding Toni Morrison's works. It certainly contributes to exploring in detail Morrison's rich and complex works notable from the perspectives of nurturing and sustaining African American maternal tradition." — African American Review

"O'Reilly boldly reconfigures hegemonic western notions of motherhood while maintaining dialogues across cultural differences." — Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering

"Andrea O'Reilly examines Morrison's complex presentations of, and theories about, motherhood with admirable rigor and a refusal to simplify, and the result is one of the most penetrating and insightful studies of Morrison yet to appear, a book that will prove invaluable to any scholar, teacher, or reader of Morrison." — South Atlantic Review

"…it serves as a sort of annotated bibliography of nearly all the major theoretical work on motherhood and on Morrison as an author … anyone conducting serious study of either Toni Morrison or motherhood, not to mention the combination, should read [this book] ... O'Reilly's exhaustive research, her facility with theories of Anglo-American and Black feminism, and her penetrating analyses of Morrison's works result in a highly useful scholarly read." — Literary Mama

"By tracing both the metaphor and literal practice of mothering in Morrison's literary world, O'Reilly conveys Morrison's vision of motherhood as an act of resistance." — American Literature

"Motherhood is critically important as a recurring theme in Toni Morrison's oeuvre and within black feminist and feminist scholarship. An in-depth analysis of this central concern is necessary in order to explore the complex disjunction between Morrison's interviews, which praise black mothering, and the fiction, which presents mothers in various destructive and self-destructive modes. Kudos to Andrea O'Reilly for illuminating Morrison's 'maternal standpoint' and helping readers and critics understand this difficult terrain. Toni Morrison and Motherhood is also valuable as a resource that addresses and synthesizes a huge body of secondary literature." — Nancy Gerber, author of Portrait of the Mother-Artist: Class and Creativity in Contemporary American Fiction

"In addition to presenting a penetrating and original reading of Toni Morrison, O'Reilly integrates the evolving scholarship on motherhood in dominant and minority cultures in a review that is both a composite of commonalities and a clear representation of differences." — Elizabeth Bourque Johnson, University of Minnesota

Andrea O'Reilly is Associate Professor in the School of Women's Studies at York University and President of the Association for Research on Mothering. She is the author and editor of several books on mothering, including (with Sharon Abbey) Mothers and Daughters: Connection, Empowerment, and Transformation and Mothers and Sons: Feminism, Masculinity, and the Struggle to Raise Our Sons.