A critical study of specific exploded violent hierarchies in five novels by Toni Morrison
Strauss, Helene Johanna
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In a study of Toni Morrison's fiction it is appropriate to consider some of the relevant philosophical insights of Jacques Derrida, particularly Derrida's theory of deconstruction and the way in which it facilitates the explosion of violent hierarchies. Firstly, a general overview of relevant Derridean terminology is given. In his work, Derrida exposes many classical philosophical oppositions in which one pole of the opposition dominates the other. In fact, he questions the very nature of a Western reason which causes difference to be viewed as opposition. He uses the phrase 'violent hierarchy' to show that there is no peaceful co-existence of terms within oppositions but that one term traditionally has the upper hand. Derrida also demonstrates that these hierarchical structures of dominance and oppression not only manifest themselves in language but are also promoted by logocentric language. By insisting on the play of différance in language, Derrida offers a way in which these violent hierarchies can be exploded. The term 'explode' is similar (yet not identical to) the Derridean term deconstruction. However, instead of deconstructing Morrison's texts, the aim of this study is to lay bare Morrison' s treatment of the tensions inherent in specific hierarchical structures of dominance. To explode the chosen violent hierarchies is to expose the contradictions and ironies in certain hierarchic structures which manifest themselves and are reflected in language, whereas deconstruction itself is a complex reading strategy that Derrida uses when revealing discrepancies within certain classical philosophical texts. The term 'explode' is thus a more accurate description of what is aimed at in this research. Next, the study entails an assessment of exploded gender, class and racial hierarchies in five novels by Toni Morrison. In The Bluest Eye and Sula, Morrison's explosions of the male/female violent hierarchy are evaluated, while violent class hierarchies are addressed in Song of Solomon. Finally, the way in which Morrison explodes racial and colourist hierarchies in Beloved and Paradise is researched. By opening up language to the play of différance and consequently undermining traditional metaphysical binary reason Morrison, like Derrida, encourages the perpetual explosion of these violent hierarchies in both literature and society at large.