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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Toni Cade Bambara
- Sandra Cisneros
- Judith Ortiz Cofer
- Leslie Feinberg
- Diane Glancy
- Maxine Hong Kingston
- David Mamet
- Toni Morrison
- Thomas Pynchon
- Alice Walker
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Toni Morrison (b. 1931)

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [A Young Woman at the March with a Banner]
[3042] Anonymous, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [A Young Woman at the March with a Banner] (1963), courtesy of the Still Pictures Branch, National Archives and Records Administration.

Toni Morrison Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Unlike many African American authors, Toni Morrison has set most of her fiction not in the rural South or the urban North but in Lorain, Ohio, where she was born as Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931. She attended Howard and Cornell Universities before beginning careers in teaching and editing. While teaching, Morrison counted among her students civil rights activist Stokeley Carmichael and prominent literary and cultural critic Houston A. Baker Jr.; while editing for Random House, she worked with Muhammad Ali and Toni Cade Bambara. Her novels include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Jazz, and Sula. One of the most prominent African American woman authors in the nation's history, Morrison was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize, which she did in 1993.

Morrison is best known as the author of the 1987 Pulitzer prize-winning novel Beloved, which tells the story of Sethe, an ex-slave haunted by memories and by the ghost of her daughter, Beloved, whom she killed as an infant because she did not want her to live as a slave. Morrison's portrayals of the brutality of the slave system recall the atrocities depicted in Harriet Jacobs's and Frederick Douglass's slave narratives. The novel sparked discussion about how the nation should attempt to heal from the wounds caused by slavery: was it best to literally live with the past, like Sethe, or to try to move into the future, like other characters in the novel?

In "Recitatif," too, Morrison explores the role of memory in shaping women's consciousness. Morrison tells the stories of two childhood friends, one white and one black, as they move into adulthood during the civil rights era. The twist is that she does not identify which woman belongs to which race. While some readers have felt that this "trick" is unnecessarily manipulative, by denying this information to the reader, Morrison highlights the human urge to categorize people. Without diminishing the very real consequences of racial difference, Morrison points out the absurdities of racial stereotyping by providing racial "markers" that serve to confuse rather than clarify her characters' races.

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