Counter-Narratives: Voicing Against Dominant Black Narratives With Identity Issues in Toni Morrison's Selected Novels

Counter-Narratives: Voicing Against Dominant Black Narratives With Identity Issues in Toni Morrison's Selected Novels

Horizan Prasanna Kumar (SRM Institute of Science and Technology, India), Meadows Bose (Mahindra World School, India) and Alagesan M. (SRM Institute of Science and Technology, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3464-9.ch020
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The term ‘narrative' has attained a contemporary connotation of identity tales and has stepped outside the bounds of literature to enter into realms of sociology, anthropology, law, and even medicine. Narrative is not just the medium used by writers to tell their stories, but also a powerful tool of self-expression, with a strong reference to individual stories set in a significant cultural background. This nature of narrative has been observed in one of the most significant African American writers of the modern era – Toni Morrison. With the rise of in-betweenness and the need for a space to emerge as an individual identity, it is important for people to create narratives to counter prevalent dominant narratives.
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In literary jargon, narrative is the sequence of the events and incidents in a story chosen to be told by the author through the text. The sequence, or the absence of it, affected the impact the story made on the reader. Various narrative techniques were utilised by authors, keeping in mind the kind of story they wished to tell and the type of audience to which it will be told. Lance Strate (2014) observes on this thought as follows:

The storyteller does not invent narrative form, but rather lives within narrative as an environment. We are brought up with stories, receive them as part of our cultural heritage, and are guided by them; the storyteller follows a narrative tradition, and is very much influenced by the expectations of the audience or readers (p. 7).

This implies that even fictional works originate from a particular source and are intended for a particular target audience, and in many cases the author is part of the situations in the narrative. Non-fictional works like autobiographies and memoirs are narratives of individuals, documenting the events and incidents in their lives. It was considered that autobiographical writings were exclusive to popular people figures and celebrities and memoirs were a less formal form of autobiography. Modern literary output and perspective has blurred this demarcation and people of varying ethnicity, culture, race, gender and social status foray into memoir writing. Memoirs are written with an intention to highlight the individual’s experience in life at a particular point in time and are evolving to be more of a narrative, where focus is on the experience itself. Hence, narratives are gaining importance in the modern literary environment because of their content dealing with the social, cultural, racial, legal and medical aspect of human life.

Of note, narratives can mean to be both the conventional narrative of fictional stories (originating from authors who portray their own or others’) and the first-hand individual stories. Emphasis is made in both forms specifically on the existential factors surrounding the central character. A major part of diaspora narratives are the author’s own experiences documented through fictional characters. Stories and narratives, fiction or nonfiction, on people affected by man’s abuse of environment comprise narrative Eco criticism. Through the experiences documented in these narratives, humans empathise with the cultural and environmental oppression faced by fellow humans. In recent times, even these narratives are in for a change. Diaspora narratives are no longer the yearning trips of nostalgia to the land left behind but attempts to find new meanings and identities out of their present existence. Poet and short story writer Keki N. Daruwalla (2015) observes that “we need to help poets of the Diaspora get over their sense of alienation both in India and the lands where they reside” (Narratives of Diaspora). The same is applicable to the member of any diaspora of our times. The Eco critical narratives also cannot be mere writings which are inspired by and reverential of nature. They have to be more real and connected to the contemporary environmental issue. “Eco criticism must question more closely the nature of environmental narrative, not simply praise it, as it has too frequently” (Cohen et al., 2004). Narratives have long crossed the literary boundaries and have entered into earlier unfamiliar territories like medicine. Narrative medicine is a practice aimed at providing medical care by not just interpreting the physical and physiological manifestations of the disease alone but taking into account the patient’s physical and psychological experience with the disease. Narrative medicine is “a medicine infused with respect for the narrative dimensions of illness and caregiving” (Charon et al, 2001). Keen observation of the various narratives about a particular condition in different patients can offer a better understanding of the condition and the possible treatment. Of note, it requires patience and learning on part of health care professionals to include these narratives in their field effectively.

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