Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Toni Morrison

Sheika Etienne 

Poets of the Harlem Renaissance

Toni Morrison’s Portrayal of Resilience in the African-American Identity

Toni Morrison’s literary works focus on the development of African-Americans’ identities as they attempt to incorporate their culture into white American society. Her novels demonstrate the connection between African-American characters’ identities and their shared experiences, particularly through the legacy of slavery. The protagonists of The Bluest Eye, Beloved, God Help the Child, and Song of Solomon must break generational cycles of abuse, systemic poverty, and unhealthy beauty standards in order to remain true to their authentic selves. Pecola, Sethe, Bride, and Milkman, all heavily influenced by society, discover that the passage of time, their own individuality, and their emotional resilience ultimately result in the flourishing of their identities. The protagonists are able to proceed and thrive in American society without hesitation due to their newfound confidence. Morrison’s novels demonstrate the importance of African-Americans recognizing their capabilities and potential, aiding in their own overall development and fulfillment.

Similar to Morrison’s African-American characters, poets of the Harlem Renaissance embraced a new era that allowed the black community to express themselves freely and creatively. The Harlem Renaissance enriched the lives of African Americans beyond New York, as new poetry uplifted the black community and gave voice to a voiceless population. Poets were more than just writers, they were community leaders, activists, and radicals. Their powerful voices inspired and motivated others to pursue creative careers within the African American community and to become advocates for black voices. This creative outlet also allowed poets the opportunity to achieve national recognition for their accomplishments. Poets exercised their freedom of speech without fear of judgement or punishment for being too “radical.” Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, two award-winning poets, created a new standard for black accomplishments and redefined the image of African-Americans in the 1900s. They ultimately enhanced old outlets and created new avenues by which African Americans in the United States were able to express their newfound cultural identity.

Major Works Consulted:

Gale, Thomson. “McKay, Claude 1889-1948.” Encyclopedia. Accessed January 30, 2017.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume Books, 1993.
---. Song of Solomon. New York: Vintage , 1977.
Wintz, Cary D. “The Harlem Renaissance: What was it, and Why does it matter?” Humanities Texas. Accessed February 8, 2017. harlem-renaissance-what-was-it-and-why-does-it-matter.
Photo Credit: “Toni Morrison Endorses White Cargo.” From the Square. morrison-endorses-white-cargo/#.WJD1rrYrLHc. Accessed January 31, 2017.