Doctoral Qualifying Examination Question
In her Nobel Lecture, Toni Morrison has some questioning young people issue this challenge to a wise old woman:
“Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. . . . We know you can never do it properly—once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours, forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. , . . Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man.
What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.”
The challenge raises questions about belief and fear, self and other, situatedness and rootlessness. In an essay drawing from at least five of Morrison’s novels, describe the ways such tense pairings operate and the “particularized world” (or worlds) they help to create.
Do not consult secondary critical materials when preparing your answer; a bibliography or works cited page is unnecessary, but you should provide page numbers in parenthetical citations. If you like, you may draw upon Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” and Morrison’s nonfiction, but the main focus of the essay should be on her novels.
Novels are as follows and will be provided via PDF:
God Help the Child
The Bluest Eye