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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 1995
  • Online publication date: July 2010

4 - Knowing Their Names: Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon


That is the ability we must be on guard against for the future – the female who reproduces the female who reproduces the female.

–Toni Morrison

Wherever human society wishes to move into an articulation, the Father must discover and humbly observe his limit.

–Hortense Spillers

Why they got two words for it ‘stead of one, if they ain't no difference?

–Toni Morrison

The “absence” of fathers permeates feminist stories.

–Sara Ruddick


IN the introduction to her collection of black feminist theoretical essays, Changing Our Own Words, Cheryl Wall identifies 1970 as a moment of origin for “a community of black women writing.” Novels, autobiographical texts, essays, and poems which appeared during that year shared thematic focal points: “the exploration of family violence, sexual oppression and abuse, and the corrosive effects of racism and poverty.” What is more, they envisioned black female characters as survivors – active agents in the struggle for social change. In exploring the texture of familial interactions and in placing women in positions of centrality, however, these texts formed a community which appeared deeply threatening to male readers. As Deborah McDowell argues in the same collection, women's writings that concentrate on the domestic space of home also reveal that space as “the privileged site of women's exploitation.” McDowell traces black male critics’ responses to these texts, exposing their obsessive desire for the recuperation of the patriarchal family, for the restitution of the father's dominant place.