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Title: Transforming America : Toni Morrison and classical tradition
Author: Roynon, Tessa Kate
ISNI:       0000 0001 3539 0940
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2006
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This thesis examines a significant but little-studied feature of Toni Morrison's work: her ambivalent engagement with classical tradition. Analysing all eight novels. it argues that her allusiveness to the cultural practices of Ancient Greece and Rome is fundamental to her political project. Illuminating hegemonic America's consistent recourse to the classical world in the construction of its identity, I expand on prior scholarship by reading Morrison's own revisionary classicism as a subversion of dominant US culture. My three-part study examines the way her deployment of Graeco-Roman tradition destabilizes mythologies of the American Dream, prevailing narratives of America's history, and national ideologies of purity. Part I shows that Morrison enlists tragic conventions to problematize the Dream's central tenets of upward mobility, progress and freedom. It argues that while her engagement with Greek choric models effects her refutation of individualism, it is her later novels' rejection of a wholly catastrophic vision that enables her to avoid reinscribing the Dream. Part II demonstrates that it is through her classical allusiveness that Morrison rewrites American history. Her multiply-resonant echoes of the epic, pastoral and tragic traditions that have consistently informed the dominant culture's justifications for and representations of its actions enable her reconfiguration of colonization, of the foundation of the new nation, of slavery and its aftermath and of the Civil Rights Movement. Part III illuminates how the author uses the discourse of pollution or miasma to challenge Enlightenment-derived valorizations of racial purity and to expose the practices of scapegoating and revenge as flawed means to moral purity. Her interest in the hegemonic fabrication of classical tradition as itself a pure and purifying force is matched by her insistence on that tradition's African elements, and thus on its potent impurity. Her own radical classicism, therefore, is central to the transformation of America that her novels envision.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts & Humanities Research Council (Great Britain) (AHRC) ; University of Warwick
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PS American literature