Humor and Ambivalence in the Novels of Toni Morrison

Silvia Chirilă


Rarely can one find pure comedy in Toni Morrison’s novels, as humor is usually either part of a double discourse in which traumatic experiences are “confronted” through a game of perspective, or a means of emphasizing a tragically flavored situation through situating it in a context open to ambivalence. If personal or collective tragedy cannot be eliminated, at least it can be counteracted, just as power relations can be influenced through humor. Apart from being a way of diminishing the tension of trauma or oppression, humor implies freedom of thought and interpretation even when dominant ideologies and discourses aim at enforcing specific institutionalized representations and definitions of self and other. At the same time, in Toni Morrison’s novels “the comic twist” is represented as a way of displacement and a form of empowerment or healing for African Americans, even when it has to do with self-deprecation or self-irony, as pain becomes laughter and “a litany of humiliation, outrage and anger turned sickle-like back to themselves as humor” (Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon).

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