Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Value Village

In her essay "City Limits, Village Values: Concepts of the Neighborhood in Black Fiction", Toni Morrison explores white and black writers' different approaches to how characters relate to settings, specifically the city vs. the village. According to her observations, black writers describe the village in a positive light, praising tribal values, while white writers dismiss the city as mechanized and insert their characters in suburbs where they can be self-loathing, disillusioned individuals. Personally, I think this is a very narrow interpretation of contemporary literature, but it did make me reconsider my own beliefs about writers' preoccupations. The things she says about John Cheever made me laugh because they are true to a certain extent, but I don't think it's worth criticizing him for his choice of setting and characters. Are a writer's preoccupations always directly proportionate to his/her race?

Morrison writes: "When a character defies a village law or shows contempt for its values, it may be seen as a triumph to white readers, while Blacks may see it as an outrage." (38). This is a conflicting idea for me, especially considering Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place. At the end of the novel, the women revolt against the imposed isolation of the wall by taking it apart brick by brick by throwing it into the street to cause a traffic jam and numerous car accidents. I guess the point could be made that the women won't prove their point until they act violently against their oppressors, but Naylor spent many pages convincing the reader that certain characters who were victims of violence deserve sympathy. Should we view this incident as defying the "village law" or as preserving the "village law"? I guess Naylor wants it to be the latter, and I don't particularly agree with her solution. Is Morrison then right? Is it right for her to be right?

If this village of women lives within a city, then the city as a whole should be its village too. By throwing the bricks into the street, it could be that they were asking the city to become part of their village or to let them become a part of the city's village. I just don't think that throwing bricks into the street is a very inviting way to create a community. In addition, what the women share has been brewing so long among themselves that no one else will understand why the transformation is occuring. Aren't they isolating themselves even more? Morrison doesn't seem to think so.