As I read through Toni Morrison's essay, entitled City Limits, Village Values: Concepts of the Neighborhood in Black Fiction, I became aware of her emphasis on recurring themes contained in Black literature. She cites themes such as "individualism and escape" (38) and claims that there are indeed patterns in literature of both the village and city that define the two and make them unique. Morrison claims that the figure of the 'the ancestor' plays an important role in defining literature of the city versus literature of the village, among many other themes and characters. Ultimately, her conclusion is that "the city has huge limits and the village profound values" (43).
Morrison states that "what is missing in city fiction and present in village fiction is the ancestor. The advising, benevolent, protective, wise Black ancestor is imagined as surviving in the village but not in the city" (39). This bold statement seems an attempt to categorize Black literature of the ciy based on what is contained in literature of the village, and seems to be perhaps a generalization. She also states that 'The city is wholesome, loved when such an ancestor is on the scene...the country is beautiful" (39). She seems to trivialize the role of the ancestor when the setting is the city. Contrary to her views on urban literature, she states that when "the Black American writer experiences the country or the village, he does so not to experience nature as a balm for his seperate self, but to touch the ancestor" (39). According to Morrison, the village has a more solid connection with the ancestor than the city does. She seems to claim that any connection with the ancestor in the city is superficial and less meaningful than any connection in the village.
Morrison's critique of Black city literature is defeated by Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place. Naylor's character, Mattie, plays the role of the mother in the novel and is the ancestor that Morrison claims is lacking within literature of the city. She plays the role of mother when Ciel's baby dies, she is a friend full of wise advice for Etta Mae, and watches over all the other women of Brewster Place with an experienced pair of eyes. She is strong and courageous, a role model for all of Brewster Place, a mother that takes all women under her wings. Morrison states, "The worst thing that can happen in a city is that the ancestor becomes merely a parent or an adult and is thereby seen as a betrayer" (40). This is certainly not the case for Brewster Place. Mattie's character as matron is not characterized by betrayal because she acts as a parent. Rather, the women of Brewster Place admire her for the role she assumes within the city. Morrison says a city scorns an ancestor who is connected with the past, but Mattie's connection with the past is what ultimately secures her connection with the women surrounding her; without it she would not be so full of wisdom. Naylor's novel seems to be revolutionary if the trends Morrison speaks of are true. However, it is my opinion that the role of the ancestor in the city is present, but perhaps overlooked or misinterpreted. Morrison's view on the limits of city literature seems to be limited in itself.