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The Other side of paradise: Toni Morrison's (un)making of mythic history.

Paradise (1998), Toni Morrison's seventh novel and her first since becoming the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1993), was greeted with the most mixed reviews of the author's three-decade career. Reviewers criticized the unconvincing logic of its "war between men and women" and its "rigid and legalistic" male-female dichotomy that results in "a contrived, formulaic book." A journal review concludes, "Morrison's new novel falls prey to ... one of paradise's shortcomings as a concept": "it's too schematic.... Virtue and vice seem to have been rigorously sorted along the convenient divide of gender; all the women are good, all the men bad." (1) Such comments, however, overlook the novel's self-consciousness of its own dynamic: the gender dichotomy is only one part of a larger series of oppositions that the novel stages and then explodes for its central project of interrogating the processes by which popular national histories are made and sustained. (2) Indeed, through its schematic account of gender and race oppositions, and its strategies of self-referential inversions and displacements, Paradise denotes the unsettling paradox of a nation born as the first modern democracy that excluded whole populations from its citizenry based upon precisely such "rigid and legalistic" constructions of identity. More recently, Katrine Dalsgard has incisively identified this incongruity as Morrison's deconstruction of America's original ideal of exceptionalism, which, Paradise shows, "is inevitably entwined with a violent marginalization of its non-exceptionalist other" (237). Yet Morrison is also deeply interested in the means by which certain versions of history--including but not limited to the exceptionalist paradigm--become master narratives. Thus Paradise deconstructs certain founding American narratives in the service of an overarching design that probes the workings of narrating the nation.

Critics have universally recognized Morrison for redressing the limited perspectives of mainstream United States history by reclaiming the narratives of African American history, particularly from a female point of view. To take only the most famous example, Beloved draws on the little-known story of an escaped female slave and her relationship to motherhood, family, and community during the antebellum and post-Civil War period. Paradise extends this earlier example of Morrison's historical revision, creating a springboard for metahistorical argument about conventional national history and the politics of truth it involves--an argument, that is, that probes the ways that truth is linked to systems of power that produce and sustain it. (3) The title of Morrison's seventh novel evokes various tropes for the US that mainstream literary history has produced: the American Adam--an embodied state of innocence, free from the burden of history; Virgin Land--an uninhabited and unspoiled wilderness; the Garden--a natural, regenerative, agrarian utopia. The title is the novel's first hint that unlike Morrison's previous historical works, this text explores not only a particular historical moment, but also a particular national ideal--and the way that national history itself becomes inscribed in our collective imagination as mythic history. Mythic history is that narrative of national identity that partially represents experience and gains particular currency in the popular imagination. Formulated as much from myth as from historical occurrences, mythic history both produces and reflects collective historical imagination. (4) Paradise scrutinizes the tropes of national mythic history, working not only to reveal its sins of omission and exclusion, but also its narrative processes. Paradise combines factual and experiential truths from African American history to construct an insistent countermemory to national American mythologies in order to investigate the relationship of truth both to history--the complex of actual events as well as that which becomes the sanctioned version of the past--and to myth--those stories we tell ourselves about what has happened. Specifically, Paradise explores the ways that truths are constituted, maintained, and subjugated in the process of mythologizing history, a process Morrison suggests is endemic to national community.

Paradise Inverted: The Genealogist's Counternarrative

Morrison creates in Paradise a microcosm of America in the utopian all-black community of Ruby, Oklahoma. As with Beloved and Jazz--the two other novels in her trilogy of excessive love--Morrison's conception of the novel developed from kernels in 19th-century African American history that center on slaves or descendants of slaves fleeing the rampant, violent racism of the South. (5) Beloved s Sethe flees her Kentucky slaveowner in 1855; and in what becomes a backdrop for Paradise, Morrison writes in Jazz that "The wave of black people running from want and violence crested in the 1870s; the 80s; the 90s but was a steady stream in 1906 when Joe and Violet joined it" (33). The historical timeline of Paradise, though not the narrative, begins in the "crest" of that flight. By situating the flight this time as a specifically northwestern exodus, Morrison inscribes African Americans in the US mythic history of westward migration. "So far from being the bucolic Utopia of Rodgers and Hammerstein," writes Christopher Hitchens, "[Oklahoma] was the land of heartbreak for the free black citizens who voyaged there, post-Reconstruction, to set up 26 all-black towns" (144). Founded by descendants of southern blacks who were effectively re-enslaved during the postReconstruction era through the sharecropping system and adamant white determination to block them from economic and political enfranchisement by means legal and illegal, Ruby is a paradise for its inhabitants that is also established on the principle of exclusivity. The founding families of Ruby are distinguished by their impeccable dark skin, evidence that they have not been corrupted by "racial tampering." The grandfathers of Ruby's citizens--always referred to by the community as the "Old Fathers"--fled the white terrorism of the South, only to be rejected by a prosperous settlement of light-skinned blacks, appropriately called "Fairly." This rebuff, known as the "Disallowing" by the townspeople, is the historical moment that provides the impetus for migrating westward to found the township of Haven, and later, for moving "farther westward" to found Ruby (194). As the novel progresses, Morrison explores several issues central to African American history of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from the Booker T. Washington-W. E. B. Du Bois rift, to the rifts occasioned by the Black Power movement of the 1960s and Civil Rights activism, to the Vietnam's War decimation of young black men. (6)

Morrison uses this past, however, as the backdrop to her more urgent subject in Paradise: the relationship of history and myth to the practices of exclusion that have characterized notions of America as paradise, as well as explorations of paradise within America. As if taking a cue from Richard Wright, who wrote that, "The Negro is America's metaphor," Paradise considers the way in which a fantasy of black nationhood, arising from a mythology and history that correspond to the evolution of the United States, devolves into a dystopia. (7) Morrison thus interprets a metaphor for America with which its colonizers characterized it for centuries: "paradise." If, as Homi Bhabha claims, "The entitlement of the nation is its metaphor," in Paradise, Morrison questions the terms of America's entitlement. Paradise's chronological narrative begins, like "the emergence of the later phase of the modern nation" according to Bhabha, in "the mid-nineteenth century, one of the most sustained periods of mass migration within the West." During this period, "The nation fills the void left in the uprooting of communities and kin, and turns that loss into the language of metaphor," transferring the meaning of "home and belonging" for displaced generations. Increasingly then, "'national' cultures are being produced from the perspective of disenfranchised minorities," resulting in contemporary "Counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries--both actual and conceptual" (Bhabha 139, 5-6, 149). Through precisely such an evocative and deconstructive counternarrative, Paradise investigates the ways that the nation becomes home to its people through their investment in the nation's founding metaphor.

As in her critical monograph Playing in the Dark (1990), in Paradise Morrison is keenly attuned to the contested conceptual territory of America, and she uses African American history to critique it. Thus, the black skin of Ruby's citizens, termed "8-rock" for "a deep deep level in the coal mines," inverts the historical landmark of Plymouth Rock; Ruby's Old Fathers are avatars of none other than the founding fathers of the United States. These terms function as only two in a series of inverted echoes of the traditional history of America that Paradise dramatizes. The biblical language that Morrison recreates for her story further evokes Puritan America. Like the early English immigrants, the 8-rocks create a harbor from persecution that is maintained by geographic and cultural isolation, and, when needed, violence against violence, committed by men who "bowed to no one [and] knelt only to their Maker." "Unique and isolated," "free and protected," Ruby is "justifiably pleased with itself" (99, 8). While the 8-rocks seek to build a haven that will allow them to pursue their ideals in freedom, it is a freedom maintained by enforcing their own disallowings. In an inversion of the US's one-drop rule, the town obeys an unspoken "blood rule" that forbids its members to marry light-skinned people, and an even more insidious practice of maintaining an ideal of female purity that both reproduces the hegemonic 19th-century US "Cult of True Womanhood" and critiques it through the violent annihilation of a community of dispossessed women who inhabit "the Convent," a neighboring dilapidated mansion. That the mansion was formerly a Catholic school for Indian girls explains the nomenclature, but more importantly functions as another echo of the nation's suppressed history: the removals and forced assimilations of American Indians. Previously in residence at the Convent were Indian girls who "whisper[ed] to each other in a language the sisters had forbidden them to use," and who "softly s[ang] forbidden Algonquian lullabies" (229, 237). The founding fathers of Ruby reproduce the logic of discrimination endemic to the nation's history by intercalating their own repressed fears and inability to live up to the austere moral code of their haven into their perception of occurrences in town and at the Convent. Armed with invented disparaging myths about the Convent women, they effectively execute a lynching in which the perpetrators, not the victims, are all black men. Turning traditional accounts of US history on their head, the novel introduces its larger interrogation of national history-making and its broader exploration of the possibilities for telling historical truth.

Paradise (un)makes two seminal (African) American mythic histories: spiritual regeneration in the American West and an idealized femininity. (8) These two mythologies intersect in the origin of Ruby, founded "two hundred and forty miles west" of the "dream-town" of Haven--itself "way west of the unassigned lands." In 1952, "when all their dreams outstretched the men who made them," the sons of Old Fathers establish Ruby expressly to rebirth the lost original "idea" of Haven, to which they have been devoted all their lives (10, 6). Ruby is defined explicitly by a conservative and domestic vision of womanhood, continually evoked by its name, given to it after a recently-deceased sister and mother (6, 14). Paradise simultaneously betrays the genuine investment of African Americans in US mythic histories of the West and of femininity, and deconstructs them as master narratives. For vital to the national community enacted by Paradise is a dialectic between memory and forgetting, which Bhabha identifies as essential to nationhood: "It is the will to nationhood that unifies historical memory and secures present-day consent." This will "is itself the site of a strange forgetting of the history of the nation's past: the violence involved in establishing the nation's writ. It is this forgetting ... that constitutes the beginning of the nation's narrative." The discourse of national community, that is, requires a forgetting--or omitting--of "the perplexed histories of the living people, their cultures of survival and resistance" (149, 159-61). Through baring the violence, isolation, and contradictions involved in maintaining a paradisical community, Paradise refigures these sites of "strange forgetting" as cites of countermemories. Its insistent narrative recuperation of fragmented, subjugated voices stresses a slippage between written and oral stories, and between memory and forgetting--what Bhabha calls "the 'obligation to forget,' or forgetting to remember" (160).

By illustrating the subjectivity, distortions, and abuses of power to which oral history is vulnerable, Morrison applies to oral history the precise critical examination to which written history has been particularly subject in recent decades. In this sense, Paradise opens the door for a reassessment of contemporary American historical novels, suggesting the limits of any critical position that overly celebrates the capacities of the oral. The novel posits history and myth as diachronic realms, and employs storytelling to problematize memory and (particularly oral) narrative as legitimate acts of cultural recovery. In Paradise these function in the service of the will to nationhood, and hence as a site of forgetting. Morrison continually highlights the subjective aspect of memory that relies upon omission of some details to pre serve others. By representing forgetting as memory's ominous shadow, Morrison exposes a tension between oral and written histories, and between memory and forgetting. At the same time, Morrison's treatment of the relationship between history and myth reveals both oral and written histories to be subsumed as part of American mythic history. Paradise thus warns of the limits of history--positivistic history as well as personal, subjective history--to convey truth. Morrison's credo that "the crucial distinction for me is not between fact and fiction but the distinction between fiction and truth. Because fact can exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot" is more fundamental to Paradise than to any of her other novels ("Site" 113). For the definitive space she carves out for truth in this novel is one in which truth is ascertained--for the reader as well as for some of the novel's characters--through wrestling with the discontinuities and competing interpretations with which the novel teems.

The methods of a lone genealogist among the citizens of Ruby serve as a model for reading Paradise, and as a metaphor for the novel's sense of historiography: "Any footnotes, crevices or questions to be put took keen imagination and the persistence of a mind uncomfortable with oral histories. Pat had wanted proof in documents where possible to match the stories, and where proof was not available she interpreted--freely but, she thought, insightfully because she alone had the required emotional distance" (188). Patricia wrests a counternarrative to the town's mythic history through her excavation of written as well as oral narratives, and her perspicacious interpretation of both. The difficulties she faces in historicizing Ruby epitomize Morrison's vision of an historiography that must deal with certain oppositions that continually break down: between oral and written narratives; between history and myth; and, most poignant for Patricia, the untenable oppositions between black and white and between subject and object. These dialectics are evocative of the "doubleness," that, Bhabha emphasizes, is fundamental to the "production of the nation as narration.... The concept of 'the people' emerges," that is, "as a double narrative movement" wherein "the people are the historical 'objects' of a nationalist pedagogy" based on a "constituted historical origin in the past" and also "the 'subjects' of a [performative] signification that must erase any prior or originary presence of the nation-people to demonstrate the prodigious, living principles of the people as contemporaneity." Patricia's struggle in writing the genealogy of Ruby may be understood in relation to the "conceptual ambivalence of modern society [that] becomes the site of writing the nation" (5-6, 145-46).

For if Paradise is Morrison's counternarrative of America, Patricia's genealogy is the counternarrative of Ruby. The "emotional distance" that Pat claims she possesses ensues from her parentage: an 8-rock father and his "wife of sunlight skin, of racial tampering" (197). The town's sole-surviving light-skinned resident, Pat is a target of Ruby disapprobation, and treated largely as an outsider. This subjectivity drives her to examine the town's stories as objects. However, since the practices of racial exclusion central to the town's history apply to her, she is also the object of that history--a personal experience that provides her the insight necessary to penetrate the town's snarled narratives. On the one hand, the novel's endorsement of Patricia's genealogy as a truthful account of Ruby suggests the necessity of being outside the pedagogical history that one writes; on the other hand, it is specifically Patricia's authorship--or her own performative history--by which the novel emphasizes the impossibility of being outside of that history. The dilemmas that Pat faces in writing her genealogy as well as in her own person manifest the split between the discourses of pedagogy and performance, and represent the metahistory that the novel underscores. In fact, the novel asserts a chain of counterhistories--at the core of which is Pat's carefully inscribed genealogy--that complicates all of the oppositions that critics of the novel have incorrectly identified as rigidly dualistic.

Ultimately, Morrison's novel both exposes historical discourse as inherently gendered and racialized and argues for an alternative version of US history from a disenfranchised point of view that might supplement official accounts. In other words, the novel affirms knowledge as perspective, and truth as meaning that can be made through a rigorous process that begins with digging in the historical archive, what Morrison has called "literary archaeology": "On the basis of some information and a little bit of guesswork you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to reconstruct the world that these remains imply." Morrison herself relies upon "the remains--in addition to recollection, to yield up a kind of truth" (112). Paradise argues implicitly for this type of counterhistoriography, and, essentially, for this kind of truth, what Dominick LaCapra has called "truth claims." (9) Paradise renders, that is, an alternative account of the past as a way of making truth mean outside of the dominant narrative of mythic history, inherently complicit with prevailing structures of power. Yet if Morrison's novel advocates for a kind of Foucauldian genealogy, or "effective history," her narrative also exposes the limitations of any analysis that does not take gender and race into consideration. (10) For the novel's argument for a counterhistory finds its manifestation precisely in a female African American genealogist whose scribbled accounts consistently expose the omissions and gaps in those histories that conflate distinct political and cultural phenomena into a universal language of power.

Indeed, Patricia's iteration of Ruby can be understood as a kind of analogue to Morrison's own historical work in Paradise, in which she cites the lived experiences of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South and West against certain sites of forgetting intrinsic to US mythic history. Respectively, the first and second parts of this essay seek to illuminate two cites/sites of memory, forgetting, and nationhood with which the novel is centrally concerned: exclusions to "paradise" based on race and gender; and African American westward migration. The counterhistory that Morrison excavates and narrates in Paradise is, however, merely the demonstration within which her novel embeds a theory of historical truth telling that becomes clear by juxtaposing an accumulation of scenes. Accordingly, each of the essay's three sections focuses on a cluster of related textual moments; and the concluding section elaborates the politics of truth claimed by the novel particularly through Patricia's genealogy.

1. Memory and Forgetting, Nationhood and Historical Meaning

Ruby's citizens record an autonomous history through Imaginative workings of memory and story in order to achieve their goal of constituting a separate political sphere defined by its own unwritten laws and mythic history. The foremost of the Old Fathers, Big Papa and Big Daddy, are the grandfather and father, respectively, of what turns out to be the two leading patriarchs of Ruby, twin brothers Steward and Deacon Morgan--so named, we surmise, to be the guardians of Haven (their birthplace) and of the memory upon which it was built. "The twins were born in 1924 and heard for twenty years what the previous forty had been like. They listened to, imagined and remembered every single thing because each detail was a jolt of pleasure, erotic as a dream, out-thrilling and more purposeful than even the war they had fought in." That, "between them," the Morgans remember "everything that ever happened--things they witnessed and things they have not"--foreshadows the intimate relationship of memory, imagination, and forgetting that Morrison emphasizes throughout her novel (16, 13).

Two separate but overlapping memories surrounding the reasons for the exodus of Haven contradict one another, intimating the limits of memory and of the oral history that memory generates. Memory is related as both subjective--shaped and forged partly by imagination--and unreliable as an indicator of historical truth. The War interrupts the twins' experience of Haven, and their return to the town does not satiate the longing that their pre-war memories of it breeds: "The twins stared at their dwindling postwar future and it was not hard to persuade other home boys to repeat what the Old Fathers had done in 1890." So, to escape the "sheer destructive power" of "snakes, the Depression, the tax man and the railroad ... fifteen families moved out of Haven ... deeper into Oklahoma, as far as they could climb from the grovel contaminating the town their grandfathers had made" (16-17). This vague disintegration of Haven and the ensuing desertion appear to be clarified by the nature of Ruby, the town that 15 families found. It is entirely self-sufficient and completely isolated (as was Haven initially), and therefore subject neither to the fluctuations of the national economy nor to the "tax man."

However, since a later recollection by Deacon (a.k.a. Deek) reveals that "the crash [of 1929] had not touched" Haven, that in fact, "in 1932 it was still thriving," and since the twins abandon Haven in 1949--during postwar boom years--the relationship of the Depression to the desertion is tenuous at best (108). The Morgan twins' explanation for the desertion (like the tale of the earlier Disallowing) is one of several explications in the novel whose particulars are sketchy and even contradicted in later memories and narratives. The reader is left to infer probable causes and details of several principal moments in Ruby's history not only by adjudicating various memories and focusing on certain details while disregarding others, but also by weighing each narrator's character against his or her stories. A better explanation, then, for the desertion is gleaned from the "contaminating grovel" that the twins escape, which comes from the railroad that threatens Haven's isolation and hence its racial and sexual purity, allowing for the corruption of the twins' memorialized vision of Haven. For these memories are ones that they imaginatively cultivate, repeatedly return to, and vigilantly protect.

Deek's "most powerful" memory, "one of his earliest," constitutes the primal scene of the novel; hence, I quote it here at length. It eventually crystallizes an understanding of the Haven desertion, the Convent massacre, and the patriarchs' conception of womanhood--central to understanding Morrison's argument about the gendered and racialized nature of narrating--and mythologizing--history. During the Depression, in 1932, Big Daddy takes the twins on a "Grand Tour" to see how the other "Colored towns" have fared. Most have failed, but one particular light-skinned town immediately recalls the flourishing community of Fairly--site of the Disallowing--for which they had been "too poor, too bedraggled-looking to enter, let alone reside in" (14). Like Fairly, this town has thrived:
 In one of the prosperous [towns] he
 and Steward watched nineteen Negro
 ladies arrange themselves on the steps
 of the town hall. They wore summer
 dresses of material the lightness, the
 delicacy of which neither of them had
 ever seen ... Laughing and teasing,
 they preened for a photographer....
 Slender feet turned and tipped in thin
 leather shoes. Their skin, creamy and
 luminous in the afternoon sun, took
 away his breath.... Without a word
 [the twins] agreed to fall off the railing.
 While they wrestled on the ground,
 ruining their pants and shirts, the
 Negro ladies turned around to see.
 Deek and Steward got the smiles they
 wanted....

 ... Even now the verbena scent
 was clear; even now the summer
 dresses, the creamy, sunlit skin excited
 him. If he and Steward had not thrown
 themselves off the railing they would
 have burst into tears. (109-10)


This episode provides the Morgan twins with an idealized vision of womanhood for which they will actively seek to create a haven in Ruby, the town that they will found together as adults. This experience catalyzes the twins' collective will to nationhood, and as such it unifies their historical memory. The Morgans are acutely aware that any white town or city is an unsafe place for black citizens, and for black women in particular. Again and again, throughout the ensuing years, the twins return to the laughing ease and lack of self-consciousness of "the nineteen summertime ladies" that they agree to provide for the women they perceive as their own.

If this scene constitutes the beginning of Ruby's narrative, however, it also becomes a site of forgetting. Inherent to the twins' ideal of femininity is the memory of the women as aesthetic objects: that the ladies are posing for photographs is perhaps the most significant aspect of this scene. For their "laughing, "teasing," and "preening" foregrounds not only the external interest of the photographer that competes with the interest of the Morgan boys, but also the ladies' own sexual agency, both of which suggest a kind of adultery between the "ladies" and the photographer. The sexual energy of the scene thus elides the vision and rules of female chastity that the brothers enforce in Ruby, and simultaneously contains the seeds of the 8-rock fear of miscegenation that can only occur when Ruby citizens couple outside the coal-black bloodlines innate to Morgan males. These mulatto women would have no place in Ruby, a town whose abiding logic Patricia astutely describes: "the generations had to be not only racially untampered but free of adultery too ... in that case ... everything that worries them must come from women" (217). Through this scene the Morgans construct not only female identity, but their own sense of masculinity as well: they are protectors of a certain kind of woman and assailants to anyone--man or woman--who undermines their conception of a femininity that is simultaneously fragile and threatening. In keeping with the ambiguities of race essential to Paradise's project, the adjective "creamy" to describe the women's skin could refer to texture and/or color. However, Morrison's repetition of the word in this context insinuates "peaches-and-cream" complexions, suggesting the likelihood that the women are the issue of both black and white genealogies. Moreover, because the story is set against the historical background of American plantation slavery, under which masters regularly raped their female slaves--a violation that (Paradise makes clear) commonly recurs after the demise of slavery in the rape of black women by white men--the ladies' "creamy" skin invokes this history. The very creamy skin that "excites" Deek is a result, that is, of the violence inherent in establishing the nation; and the Morgans' consequential founding the "nation" of Ruby on the basis of this primal scene requires a forgetting of its concomitant history. Creamy skin is an outcome of the miscegenation intrinsic to slavery--which is not only forbidden in the "haven" that this memory engenders, but also inevitable within it. Moreover, as we will see, the transgression of the "blood rule" by Ruby men is seminal to the violence that taints Ruby from the onset of the novel, which begins with the racially coded massacre: "They shoot the white girl first" (3).

The evocative language of this scene further underscores the subjectivity and imagination--that is, the element of forgetting--that inflects memory throughout. The passage concludes that, "Deek's image of the nineteen summertime ladies was unlike the photographer's. His remembrance was pastel colored and eternal." Morrison's metaphor suggests that Deek's memory is filtered through a lens of chastity and innocence, and that his view of women is biased by the emotion that accompanied the scene then as well as that with which he repeatedly invests the memory as he recalls it. While the affluent beauty of the women arouses the prepubescent boys to an ecstatic state--they are spared tearful eruption by the energy they expend that ruins their pants, and they are relieved by the ladies' reciprocal affection--time passed heightens the power of the image and newly imbues it with that "jolt of pleasure, erotic as a dream." This sacrosanct Morgan memory is imperiled, not once, but twice in the novel, and both times the Morgan brothers respond with unmixed zeal to protect their vision.

Thus, this scene, which occurs much later in the novel than the Haven desertion--yet chronologically decades prior to it--is one of several narrative places wherein historical meaning is revealed to be contingent upon perspective. The accumulation of such scenes in Paradise clarifies my notion of Ruby as a microcosmic "nation," defined by Bhabha as "a contested conceptual territory [in] which national life is redeemed and iterated as a reproductive process." Paradise reproduces national culture out of the contents of the past specifically by revising the given past (the mythic history of Ruby, and by implication, the US) through its narratives of memory and forgetting. Morrison employs the distant past--this cherished memory from the Morgans' childhood--to reveal the near past and present: the founding of Ruby, its blood rule, and the violation and violence it begets. In the penultimate chapter, Steward decides that, "The women in the Convent were for him a flaunting parody of the nineteen Negro ladies of his and his brother's youthful memory and perfect understanding.... He could not abide ... this new and obscene breed of female ... for sullying his personal history" (279). Steward's interpretation of the "degradation" of Ruby by the Convent women is patterned on his interpretation of the "contamination" of Haven, and it similarly provokes drastic action. Scenes such as the Haven desertion and Convent massacre reverberate in the context of other scenes, such as the primal scene, allowing meaning to be made through a complex weaving of shifting interpretations. (11) Although this narrative technique is characteristic of Morrison's other novels, Morrison employs it in Paradise for the express purpose of underscoring the power and process of memory whereby current needs shape the recollection of past experiences and allow (a) people to justify discrete actions in the present based on this subjective use of memory--to emphasize, that is, the mechanisms of the will to nationhood and of the sustenance of national community.

2. The Diachrony of History and Myth

Although the perpetrators of the Convent massacre trace the "evidence" that incites their attack to "rumors that had been whispered for almost a year" (11), this event, which literally frames the novel, is rooted in the stories of the Disallowing and of the ensuing founding of Haven--tales that, as they have been circulating since before any Ruby or Convent residents were born--constitute the people as historical objects of Ruby's national pedagogy. The specific narration of these memories in the present and the way that the stories function in Ruby life illuminate not only the motivation of the killers, but more importantly the complex evolution of oral history into myth that fosters the totalizing will to nationhood. The citizens of Ruby collectively maintain the story of the Disallowing as an intrinsically biblical one to the extent that this historical event which predates all of their lives becomes not merely communal history, but a narrative of mythological proportions--that is, a mythic history. Morrison has said that she wanted to recreate a language that was true to the setting of her story, wherein African American belief in the Judeo-Christian God and black familiarity with the Bible would be ubiquitous and deep-seated (Bryan 1). Nonetheless, her biblical allusions are hardly "gratuitous," as one reviewer complains (Kakutani 3), for as the Ruby residents interpret and cast their history with biblical tropes, they generate their own cultural mythology, steeped in ancient, sacred narratives.

Just as vital for Morrison's implicit analogy between Ruby and early America is the fact that Ruby's stories, flush with both Old and New Testament allusions, make a knowledge of the Bible as essential for the reader of the novel as for the fictional generations who share the tale: this aspect of the Ruby community inevitably recalls the function of the Bible in Puritan American culture. Moreover, Paradise belies the seemingly disparate communities of Puritans and modern African Americans, for (as Dalsgard patiently elaborates), each envisioned a "City on a Hill" as the basis for national community, and returned to the biblical text as a way of garnering authority. One watches this process at work when Steward relates the most detailed version of the Disallowing at Fairly: the families "On foot and completely lost" parallel the Israelites' wandering the desert, while "the shame of seeing one's own pregnant wife or sister or daughter refused shelter" evokes the rejection of the Holy Family at the Inn. Steward additionally shores up his authority by introducing his fathers' story as essentially his own. He remembers "every detail of the story his father and grandfather told," and, despite the fact that he and his wife are infertile and child less, he has "no trouble imagining the shame for himself" (95).

The ensuing components of Steward's version of founding Haven cast Zechariah (a.k.a. Big Papa) as Moses leading his people to the Promised Land, yet they also inflect the story with references to the Gospels. Leaving Fairly, the families wander westward for three days, after which Zechariah leads his son Rector to a spot deep within "the piney wood" where both kneel and wait all night. "My Father," Big Papa says, "Zechariah here." This short narrative alone is replete with biblical allusions. Zechariah echoes Old Testament figures Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah, each of whom respond to the Lord, calling their names with the declaration, "Here I am" (Genesis 22:1; Exodus 3:4; I Samuel 3:4; Isaiah 6:8). Zechariah's leading his son to the pine garden where he initiates an all-night prayer vigil echoes Jesus's leading his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane at night, where He kneels and desperately prays, calling out, "My Father...." And, like Jesus's disciples, Zechariah's son succumbs to sleep during the night. Rector wakes in time, however, to witness God's reply: "footsteps--loud like a giant's tread.... They saw him at the same time. A small man, seemlike, too small for the sound of his steps." Lame from a gunshot wound in his foot, Zechariah has had to be carried part of the way until now. Yet, when Rector, at his father's command, returns with the whole of the sojourners whom he has gathered, "They [find] him ... standing straighter than the pines, his sticks tossed away...." Thus begins the families' "purposeful" journey, led by Zechariah led by God--whom none but he "and sometimes a child" can see--and concluding with their finding the "extravagant space" where they build Haven (96-99). The progression of the story patterns God's first revealing Himself to Moses alone, and then leading Moses and the Israelites by a cloud that moved across the wilderness and settled on the promised land, while Zechariah's miraculous healing echoes Christ's healing the lame.

Yet while Morrison explores the creation of mythic history through the conflation of sacred narrative with personal history, she also broadens the specifically US mythic history of westward migration. Paradise shows that the myth of the American West as a "haven" where one can begin anew is a shared myth, upon which both dominant and marginalized cultures have depended; simultaneously the novel denotes the exclusion of African Americans from the US history of westward expansion. Morrison herself notes that Ghost Towns of Oklahoma, for example, "scarcely mentions any of the black ones" (qtd. in Hitchens 144). She thus locates the origin of her fictional townships in the post-Reconstruction emigration of former slaves to the sparsely settled territory of Oklahoma, and simultaneously layers this cultural history onto the biblical mythic history of Haven and Ruby. In the excerpt above, God appears to the Moses figure, Zechariah, just before dawn, as a "man walking away from the palest part of the sky"--leading the lost people, that is, due west. As Zechariah stares after the vision, "his back [is] to the rising sun"; he is poised to leave the East behind and migrate west for life anew.

In other words, Morrison's portrait of the mythic history of Ruby inserts a Judeo-Christian countertext into the official history of US westward migration from which African Americans have been excluded. Her detail of the importance of both Christianity and westward migration to African Americans is yet another deconstruction of the opposition between white and black America that the novel stages. In this sense, the novel reminds readers that Christianity was foundational not only to 19th-century African American community and culture, but to the 19th-century abolitionist movement that, in its fruition, facilitated the very westward migration on which Morrison focuses. Morrison therefore employs a foundational religious text to interrogate the prevailing national text, in much the same way that abolitionists interrogated the institution of slavery employing the Christian tenets on which the US was founded. Her portrait of the African American experience of the West as a haven from persecution both extends that national mythic history and invests it with a character independent of the national tradition.

Marrying myth to their collective history, Ruby's citizens similarly perpetuate a mythic history that carries a tremendous weight and moral authority, as evidenced by the dire consequences suffered by those who transgress its moral code. As with the primal scene that reverberates in Stewards's interpretation of the contamination of Haven and of the degradation of Ruby by Convent women, the original Disallowing--ironically--is used to justify contemporary disallowings. The repetition of the tale in the present, and its manifestation in these disallowings, serves to keep the past relevant and to maintain a patriarchal authority rooted in the past--to secure, that is, present-day consent. Thus, the town uses the annual staging of the school Christmas play as the principal vehicle for communal memory of the Disallowing. The priority of the Disallowing to the biblical story is reflected in the play's history as well as its content. "The school program, featuring the Nativity and involving the whole town, was older [than the church programs], having started before the churches were even built" (185). The play explicitly conflates the Disallowing with the Holy Family's rejection at the inn. When the innkeepers reject a group of families seeking "room," the families' response first echoes Joseph's--"But our wives are pregnant!"--and then abandons all pretense of faithfulness to the Nativity: "Our children are going to die of thirst!" This pattern of subordinating the Christmas story to the Disallowing script characterizes the play. "Away in a manger, no crib for His head. Slowly from the wings a boy enters," who reenacts God's appearance to Zechariah as the "small man" who led the families to Haven. The description of the play's action continues seamlessly, "The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head." Naturally, Ruby's mimicry of the Christmas story is readable only to the initiated. Reverend Richard Misner, Ruby's newest citizen, watches the children's movements "with growing interest. He had assumed it was in order to please as many children as possible that there were four innkeepers, seven Marys and Josephs. But perhaps there were other reasons. Seven holy families?" He misreads the "big-hat boy" as one of the Magi: "And why only one Wise Man? And why is he putting the gifts back into his satchel?" (210-11) Misner's reasonable misinterpretation of the Christmas play underscores the Disallowing, rather than the Nativity, as the town's most hallowed text.

Whereas the primal scene occupies the private memory and imagination of the Morgan twins, the Disallowing is the paramount catalyst of the public will to nationhood. As the very raison d'etre for the nation-people of Haven/ Ruby, it engenders the primary dialectic of memory and a recurrent forgetting that characterizes its citizenry. Misner's questions, put to a guarded Pat, expose the deleterious function of the memory of the Disallowing in the present. Although Pat, as the children's schoolteacher, helps the children decorate and costume themselves for the play, and she "had seen the play all her life ... she had never been chosen for any part other than the choir." Morrison's reader is led to infer, like Pat herself, that this rejection is because Pat's father "was the first to violate the blood rule" (195). Her genealogy later unearths this breach as the true reason for the disdain with which her neighbors have treated her family throughout her whole life. It is the same reason for her mother's and little sister's untimely deaths: nobody offered medical assistance during the complicated and ultimately doubly-fatal delivery. It is the reason, thus, for her own and her daughter's profound loneliness in their hometown. Through Misner's inquiry, Pat notices that the nine original founding families traditionally represented in the play have been "cut" to seven. The play manifests Ruby's active perpetuation of their mythic history of 8-rock purity: the missing (we might say, "forgotten") families represent the town's internal disallowings of lineages whose members have sought light-skinned partners.

Because the play reflects the interaction between the pedagogy of the Disallowing and its performance in the present (the contemporary subjects who enact disallowings), it depicts the way that the people of Ruby are "an ambivalent movement between" these two discourses fundamental to the production of the nation as narration, as Bhabha argues of modern nation-people generally (149). Moreover, Ruby's enforced contemporary disallowings resound throughout not only the original Disallowing but also the larger, national exclusion that sent the Old Fathers west in the first place. In this way the mechanisms of nationhood endemic to Ruby echo and illustrate those of the US. These mechanisms--the will to nationhood and its pursuant dialectic of memory and forgetting; the people as alternating objects of their nationalist pedagogy and perplexed subjects who fulfill or resist that narrative--reveal how mythic history is created and upheld as the sustaining force of national community.

Viewed as a prequel to the ensuing massacre (as the novel's circular narrative inevitably demands), Ruby's mythic history of the Disallowing exposes the violence involved in narrating the nation, for the patriarchs again promote a mythic history marked by a blood-stained forgetting. Since Misner is out of town when the massacre occurs, "it took four days for him to learn what had happened. Pat gave him two versions of the official story"--both of which render the men innocent of anything but initiating a civil warning visit to the Convent, which accidentally gets out of hand. Yet Pat withholds from Misner her own (correct) interpretation, written urgently in the pages of her genealogy, "that nine 8-rocks murdered five harmless women: (a) because the women were impure (not 8-rock); (b) because the women were unholy (fornicators at the least, abortionists at most); (c) because they could" (297). The 8-rocks will not undermine the authority of their mythic history by admitting either their vicious disallowing of the Convent women or their disallowing of Patricia's "cracker-looking" mother and Menus's "pretty sandy-haired [fiancee] from Virginia," because to do so would discredit the very narrative on which their (nationalist) authority is based: their moral and practical renunciation of the original Disallowing (196). Interwoven threads of memory and violent forgetting, that is, constitute the very fabric of the nation's narration.

3. Counterhistories and a Politics of Truth

The chapters of Paradise collectively assert a series of female-authored counterhistories that correct the patriarchs' mythic history. Although the narrative centers on the Ruby township, ruled by men, the novel relates its true story primarily through women whose individual names entitle each chapter: these include each of the Convent women, and Patricia and Lone (Ruby's resident midwife). Men's voices do enter the narratives--as in the excerpts above where they convey the town's heritage and guiding principles--but the women's stories consistently reveal the men's perspectives to be skewed. Billie Delia's observation of town dynamics, that "the stallions were fighting about who controlled the mares and their foals," evokes the text's reliance upon a formal rhetorical strategy of inversion whereby the margins reveal the center--and the power that excludes female agency--while the township itself relies upon a quixotic and univocal account of experience (150). This formal and thematic narrative relationship highlights the schism in Ruby's community between 8-rock power and those disenfranchised by it.

Fragmented throughout the novel, women's statements thus form a succession of explanations that render Ruby's sites of strange forgetting as cites of countermemories, the most dramatic of which emerge as the patriarchs plot their Convent assault, basing it on "Outrages that [take] shape as evidence." Patricia's own narrative discloses her identity as what the plotters profess is a mother "knocked down the stairs by her cold-eyed daughter" (11). Yet it is Pat who runs "up the stairs with a 1950s GE electric iron ... clutched in her fingers to slam against her daughter's head," and her daughter who runs for her life. Not only do the facts of the event reverse the plotters' version, but Pat's violent fit is misdirected vengeance at the 8-rock disdain of her "lightish" child. Confronting her own internal racism, "Pat realize[s] that ever since Billie Delia was an infant, she thought of her as a liability.... The Royal Ease in her hand ... was there to smash the young girl that had lived in the minds of the 8-rocks, not the girl her daughter ever was" (196-204). The outrage-Patricia's, Billie Delia's, and the 8-rocks'--that the particular disallowing of the Best family has provoked is in fact the effect of 8-rock racism that haunts the town. Also woven into this narrative is a likely explanation for the next outrage, "four damaged infants born in one family": Patricia's genealogy represents a complex history of incestuous Ruby marriages that were entered into because many 8-rock men, unlike her own father, "shunned temptation or any thought of looking outside the families" (197). (12) Although the list of outrages seems in the men's rendition to refer to events integral to the Convent, every one of them is rooted in their way of narrating their nation: their successful mythologizing of the Disallowing has created a totalizing, master narrative that engenders the chronic disallowings that plague the integrity of the Ruby-nation.

Thus, both structurally (through the chapter titles and related stories) and practically (through assertions like Billie Delia's), women's enunciations disrupt what the novel terms Ruby's "official story"--its "heroic version of history" (Dalsgard 239)--revealing the turbulent inconsistencies of its moral code. The dissident opinions of the rejected and alienated individuals among Ruby's community constitute an aspect of the town that is never revealed in its official narratives, but rather Ruby as it is silently experienced and imagined by its own pariahs and mute loners. These thoughtful, hushed, estranged citizens, more women than men, are part of "what nobody talked about" (83). Yet their silence and their lies collude with the patriarchal nationalist discourse, and as such belie the simplistic gender divide between "good women" and "bad men" alleged by the novel's early critics. Paradise's women reveal the "scraps, patches and rags of daily life" that, in the production of narrating the nation, Bhabha explains, "must be repeatedly turned into the signs of a coherent national culture, while the very act of the narrative performance interpellates a growing circle of national subjects." The novel's intricate narrative discloses the split that occurs whereby the women's narrative performances erase the originary presence of Ruby's nationalist pedagogy, and the "people are the articulation of a doubling of the national address" (145, 149).

At the crux of these female counternarratives is Patricia's chapter. Since it revolves primarily around her writing furiously her private genealogy of the community, it lends a Chinese-box structure to the novel that points to Morrison's metahistorical concerns in the novel. The genealogy
 used to be a history project but was
 nothing of the sort now. It began as a
 gift to the citizens of Ruby--a collection
 of family trees; the genealogies of
 each of the fifteen families.... When
 the trees were completed, [Pat] had
 begun to supplement the branches of
 who begat whom with notes ...
 gleaned from her students' autobiographical
 composition ... from talking
 to people, asking to see Bibles and
 examining church records ... letters
 and marriage certificates. (187)


The caustic and penetrating interpretative notes that Pat inscribes are a desperate attempt to defy the rigidity of 8-rock history and myth represented in the genealogical trees with which she began her project, and to dismiss the privilege long placed on the purity of bloodlines. Yet the novel's insistence on the intertwined relationship between oral and written histories brings scrutiny to both forms of accessing historical truth. Like the oral histories in the novel, Pat's genealogy is subjective, and shares some of the same gaps where information to fill it is simply unavailable to its author.

Ultimately, however, the novel stakes out nothing less than a politics of truth that rests centrally on Pat's genealogy. Pat's alternative histories serve as clues for the reader to constitute, in fact, a true story embedded in, between, and outside of Ruby's official story in the same way that the African American history narrated by Paradise (like other Morrison novels) makes truth mean outside of dominant, traditional US histories. The novel is vitally concerned with the distinctive truth-claims of the various historical referents its narrative deploys--in reference to Haven/Ruby history, as well as to US history. Notwithstanding the novel's complications of oral and written histories, there are several key differences between Pat's narrative of Ruby history and the other citizens' narratives, that, considered together, suggest the novel's support of Pat's genealogy as a valid repository of historical truth. The genealogy does not share with the oral histories (which function as official history in Ruby) the willful omission of known facts, suggested by the determined silence of Ruby citizens in response to Pat's requests for information. Moreover, the citizens, unconscious of the conceptual distinction and fundamental connection of event and interpretation, use their stories to "support" the "official story": the tale of the Disallowing authorizes further disallowings in Ruby based upon race and gender; and the tale of the Convent massacre exculpates the killers and affirms 8-rock identity and rule.

Pat's genealogy, on the other hand, disturbs the immobility of 8-rock racial and moral purity. It introduces discontinuities that expose the ironic history of Ruby, countering the grand history received and maintained as inviolable fact by the town's collective narrative. In admitting that her version of the Convent assault differs from the "official story" that she reports to Misner, Pat exposes her perspective a threat to the truth deliberately masked and suppressed by the attackers in their application of racial power. Fully aware of the indissoluble relationship of an historical event to the discourse surrounding it, Pat recognizes her record of history as a system of interpretations, reflecting a level of self-awareness considered crucial by most contemporary historians. Pat's genealogy is distinct, however, not only because she acknowledges her perspective, but because her perspective is unique among the town's residents: it is both politically efficacious and intellectually justified. She reveals her preoccupation with Ruby events in her "supplementary notes" without "pretense to objective comment" that lay bare 8-rock injustice. Coming up against the task of her own project has "her biting her thumbnail in frustration," as if to suggest that her genealogy is inherently linked to her body, and to the violence of history upon her body. (13) Indeed, Pat's own body--her skin and that of her daughter which she tried, literally and metaphorically, to destroy--is the corporeal proof of her father's marriage as violation of the law. Her body is thus indelibly imprinted by the history of violation of the blood rule, and her genealogy registers this fact. Her shrewd analysis of the Convent massacre is underpinned by her keen experiential knowledge that truth is produced by 8-rock systems of power--a knowledge to which, in Ruby, Patricia virtually alone is privy.

The novel asserts its politics of truth most persuasively, however, through its sinuous narrative, for it demands a process of sorting through the various versions of Ruby's past and present that ultimately supports the truth-claims and even the speculations that Pat makes in her genealogy. Lone, for example, becomes "unhinged by the way the [massacre] story was being retold: how people were changing it to make themselves look good ... every one of the assaulting men had a different tale and their families and friends (who had been nowhere near the Convent) supported them, enhancing, recasting, inventing misinformation" (297). As the sole witness to the nine men's plotting just prior to their trip out to the Convent, who furthermore arrived at the Convent just after the first shots were fired, Lone provides a trustworthy account of the event; and it concurs with Patricia's interpretation. The novel's tangle of fragmented, multivoiced, and competing stories does not yield, as Dalsgard and other readers have suggested, an entirely "open-ended fabric" (238). Pat encounters several insistent absences in her history that she correctly infers are deliberate omissions by the townspeople whom she attempts to interview. Pat promises, "she alone would figure out why a line was drawn through Ethan Blackhorse's name in the Blackhorse Bible and what the heavy ink blot hid next to Zechariah's name in the Morgan Bible.... [Older] women ... hinted the most while saying the least. 'Oh, I think those brothers had a disagreement of some kind'" (188). Pat never does fill this crevice, but her attention to it allows the reader, over a hundred pages later, to piece together the puzzle. In an odd outpouring of mixed narratives of confession to Misner, Deacon tells a story of a long-ago incident in which white men "encouraged" the Blackhorse twins, known then as "Coffee and Tea," to dance as they brandished their pistols. Tea "accommodated the whites, even though he was a grown man, older than they were"; "Coffee took a bullet in his foot instead" (which explains Zechariah's lame foot). Deacon concludes: "Coffee couldn't take it. Not because he was ashamed of his twin, but because the shame was in himself. ... So he went off and never spoke to his brother again" (303). This story does not readily recall the Blackhorse and Morgan Bible's secret since Deek refers only to "Coffee" and "Tea"--names that insinuate another layer to the shame "in himself." Coffee brewed is a shade darker than brewed tea, so the names suggest that Tea's skin color may reflect "racial tampering" among the 8-rock ancestors--ubiquitous, after all, in the slave system into which they are born, and which did not allow them to maintain the blood rule that becomes inviolable to their descendants. Perhaps Tea's "accommodat[ing] the whites" reminds Coffee of the white ancestry in his blood: whiteness that becomes synonymous with the terror, oppression, and rejection that drives the 8-rocks out of the South, then from Fairly to found Haven, and, finally, to Ruby.

This story serves many functions. It is one of several examples of fragmented narratives that, added to Pat's "Stories about these fragments," intimates that a certain historical truth resides in her genealogy. Other residents' silence about the fraternal conflict has the mythological effect not only of smoothing over a familial rejection (an action that is contrary to the principle of absolute brotherhood on which Zechariah founded Haven), but of refusing to acknowledge, as the genealogist must, that there is always impurity in the tracing of origins, always dissension and disparity at the sites of historical beginnings. Pat's genealogy thus fragments the mythical unified ancestry of the Old Fathers, and discredits the myth of community fidelity. Loyalty to family and neighbor in Haven, as in Ruby, is ultimately expendable when an individual does not conform to the patriarchs' model of what constitutes black identity. (14) The event worth noting in Patricia's genealogy is not the founding of Haven by Zechariah--that narrative is transmitted repeatedly through the "town's official story"--but rather the absence of his brother at that event, brought to light by her observation of the erasure of his name in the family Bible. A genealogical event is not, as in traditional history, a reign of power such as that of the 8-rocks, but rather a moment when power is most nakedly experienced or exposed. Patricia's emphasis on the microphysics of power in her town suggests the novel's affirmation of this type of counterhistory.

An astute genealogist, Patricia sees absence and silence as sources. Although Morrison has said the character with whom she most identifies is Misner, as he is "closest to my own sensibility about moral problems," I submit that her identity as a writer is most closely aligned with Patricia (qtd. in Jaffrey 1). Pat's description of her process of researching and writing the genealogy recalls Morrison's depiction of her writing process as literary archaeology: both begin with an interpretation of autobiographies and an excavation of available historical remains. (15) The family Bibles, church records, letters, and marriage certificates that Pat mines are traditional sources for historians of black history. (16) The personal, experiential speculations with which Patricia inflects all of her "notes" echoes Morrison's reliance on her memory and others' recollections. Yet the absences that remain in spite of Patricia's tenacious investigations demand, as they do for Morrison, "imagination," or what Pat terms her insightful interpretation. In Paradise, both Patricia and the reader are made to walk in Morrison's footsteps, and it is largely through Patricia's own literary archaeology that the reader can creatively probe Ruby history.

Yet Patricia's chapter closes dramatically with her burning the genealogy, rendering it ultimately unread by anyone but its author. How effective, then, can her history be? This enigmatic act is in fact the key to the novel's sense of historiography, its most articulate pronunciation of the limits of oral and written histories, and at the same time, of the potential of counterhistory. Confessing that she has snubbed Misner as an outsider, Patricia regrets her replication of 8-rock behavior: "When he asks questions, they close him out of anything but the obvious, the superficial. And I of all people know exactly what it feels like" (216). The confrontation with Misner exposes her knowing silence as complicity in the perpetuation of practices of racial and sexual exclusion that are repulsive to her. On the heels of this encounter, Patricia tosses her trenchant genealogy into the fire, washes her hands, and asserts that she feels "clean" (217). By burning the revealing genealogy (the result of her patient and incisive analysis), she yields to the confusion and mystery that has resulted from the simultaneous maintaining and breaching of the unspoken blood rule. Because her genealogy is the most accurate and thorough record of Ruby, burning it relinquishes the verifiable past as a source of history and identity, and paves the way for the unbridled hazardous mythmaking that her silence and the absence of the genealogy only serve to sustain. This sequence of scenes about the destruction of the genealogy suggests that the layers of knowledge of 8-rock practices represented in Pat's genealogy as well as in her own person and family are too weighty a burden for her to bear--particularly since rather than finding ways to use her knowledge and perceptions to try to ameliorate conditions in Ruby (as does Misner), her investigations and unrestrained writings only exacerbate her frustration and sense of alienation.

More importantly, though, the poignant destruction of Patricia's genealogy echoes the status of untold counterhistorical narratives. The novel underscores this historiographical comment by its plot point wherein Ruby's "stock of stories"--the citizens' communal practice of mythologizing history--discredit (in Ruby) the female narratives asserted by the novel (for its reader) as true. Most notably, the multiple spurious and discrepant tales that the citizens circulate to explain the Convent massacre prevent its reliable narrators (Lone, Patricia) from informing the account of the massacre that the town officially adopts. Similarly, Misner's prediction about the historical record of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s functions as a synedoche for such counterhistories:
 What could not be gainsaid, but would
 remain invisible in the newspapers
 and the books he bought for his students
 were the ordinary folk. The janitor
 who turned off the switch so the
 police couldn't see; the grandmother
 who kept all the babies so the mothers
 could march; the backwoods women
 with fresh towels in one hand a shotgun
 in the other; the little children who
 carried batteries and food to secret
 meetings; the ministers who kept
 whole churchfuls of hunted protestors
 calm till help came; the old who gathered
 up the broken bodies of the
 young; the young who spread their
 arms wide to protect the old from
 batons they could not possibly survive;
 parents who wiped the spit and tears
 from their children's faces and said,
 "Never mind, honey" ... years from
 now, those people will be dead or forgotten,
 their small stories part of no
 grand record or even its footnotes....
 (212)


Nonetheless, Paradise consistently contends that the oral histories that might supplement the grand record from which such microhistories are absent are subject to other willful omissions, distortions and denials of their subjective interpretations. Oral and written histories, particularly those of historically-marginalized peoples who have largely depended upon oral histories, are intimately related. In Paradise's interrogation of national history-making, the "small stories" along with the "grand record" are recast as and subsumed by mythic history, which can distort but also illuminate the true stories reflected in Misner's meditation, Patricia's discoveries, and Morrison's writing that seeks to "find and expose a truth" about the interior lives of African Americans. Pat's genealogy--and the fruitful, if arduous process of interpreting her genealogy alongside the novel's multitudinous narratives--suggests that historical truth need not be "dead or forgotten," and it, moreover, illustrates the careful, critical process of construing that truth and wresting it from power.

Works Cited

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Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Noonday P, 1957.

Bent, Geoffrey. "Less Than Divine: Toni Morrison's Paradise." The Southern Review 35:1 (1999): 145-49.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Bryan, Sonya. "Morrison gives revealing lecture at UB." Rev. of Paradise manuscript lecture by Toni Morrison. 24 Apr. 1997. <http://cityhonors.buffalo.k12.ny.us/city/rsrcs/eng/morrev.html>.

Crawford, Margo Natalie. "Transcendence Versus the Embodiment of Racial Abstraction in Novels by William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and John Edgar Wideman." Diss. Yale University, 2000.

Dalsgard, Katrine. "The One All-Black Town Worth the Pain: (African) American Exceptionalism, Historical Narration, and the Critique of Nationhood in Toni Morrison's Paradise." African American Review 35 (2001): 233-48.

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Basil and Blackwell, 1983.

Elmar, Lehmann. "Remembering the Past: Toni Morrison's Version of the Historical Novel." Lineages of the Novel. Eds. Bernhard Reitz and Eckart Voigts-Virchow. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher. 197-203.

Foucault, Michel. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History." The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rainbow. New York: Pantheon, 1984.76-100.

--. "Truth and Power." Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Ed. Colin Gordon. Trans. Leo Marshall, John Mepham, and Kate Soper. New York: Pantheon, 1980. 109-33.

Gates, David. "Trouble in 'Paradise'." Newsweek 12 Jan. 1998: 62.

Hine, Darlene Clark. "Lifting the Veil, Shattering the Silence: Black Women's History in Slavery and Freedom." The State of Afro-American History: Past, Present, and Future. Ed. Darlene Clark. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1986. 223-49.

Hitchens, Christopher. "Morrison's True West." Vanity Fair Feb. 1998: 144-45.

Jaffrey, Zia. "Toni Morrison: The Salon Interview." Salon 2 Feb. 1998. <http://www.salon.com/books/int/1998/02/cov_si_02int3.html>

Kakutani, Michiko. " 'Paradise': Worthy Women, Unredeemable Men." Rev. of Paradise, by Toni Morrison. The New York Times 6 Jan 1998. The New York Times on the Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/01/04/daily/morrison/book/review/rt.html>

Kammen, Michael. Mystic Chords of Memory. New York: Knopf, 1991.

LaCapra, Dominick. History and Criticism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.

Menand, Louis. "The War Between Men and Women." The New Yorker 12 Jan. 1998: 78-82.

Mohanty, Satya. "Why I Am Not a Strategic Essentialist." Cornell School of Criticism and Theory Lecture. Cornell University, 1 July 2003.

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: Knopf, 1992.

--. Paradise. New York, Knopf, 1998.

--. "The Site of Memory." Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Ed. William Zinsser. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. 101-24.

Palmer, Bryan. "Critical Theory, Historical Materialism." The Postmodern History Reader. Ed. Kenneth Jenkins. New York: Routledge, 1997. 103-14.

Slotkin, Richard. "Myth and the Production of History." Ideology and Classic American Literature. Eds. Sacvan Berkovitch and Myra Jehlen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

Tally, Justine. Paradise Reconsidered. Toni Morrison's (Hi)stories and Truths. Hamburg: Lit Verlag, 1999.

Valdes, Mario J. World-Making: The Literary Truth-Claim and the Interpretation of Texts. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1992.

Wright, Richard. White Man Listen/New York: Doubleday, 1957.

Notes

(1.) See Menand, Allen, Kakutani, and Bent, respectively, and also Gates.

(2.) By these I mean what someone such as Stephen Ambrose has done for World War Two: cast it all into a heroic anti-revisionist mould that satisfies the dominant mythologies of American nationhood. Or, consider what David McCullough has similarly done for John Adams (and by extension, the founding fathers). McCullough's rehabilitation of Harry Truman is a remarkable example of the process of mythologizing history with which Paradise is concerned. The runaway success of Ambrose, McCullough, and, along the same lines, of films such as Pearl Harbor (2001) indicate the contours of the extant ideologies and the myths they inform, which continue to circulate through popular and political rhetoric: no matter what the historical specificities and complexities of the conflict, America is the good superhero, making the world a better and safer place to be by conquering evil wherever it rears its ugly head. President George W. Bush garnered tremendous popular support for the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001, and subsequently, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and consequent nation-building in America's image, by deploying the rhetoric of the good American cowboy cleaning up the rift-raft beyond the frontier: evoking "an old poster out West," he stated on September 17, 2001, that he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." His successful portrait of "America" as "the most decent nation ... on the face of this Earth" in contrast to the now-infamous "axis of evil" of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea reinforced the good/bad dichotomies that capture the popular imagination and characterize the arc of traditional American history from the Puritans to the present, and that Morrison takes up in Paradise.

(3.) Foucault coins the phrase "politics of truth" in this context in "Truth and Power": "Each society has its own regime of truth, its 'general politics' of truth: that is, the type of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true" (131).

(4.) I use mythic history to stress the integral derivative relationship that the myths on which I focus have to history, specifically (African) American history. At the same time, mythic history is distinguished from history in that it is one aspect of collective memory that may overlap with, but is not coterminous to, the historian's account. Although myth is usually opposed to history because it is seen as unchanging and archetypal, some contemporary critics of myth define myth as essentially related to history. For Slotkin, "myth is the primary language of historical memory [that is] ... used to summarize the course of our collective history and to assign ideological meanings to that history" (70). I draw from Barthes's view of myth as a language, "undoubtedly determined by history," that naturalizes "ideological abuse" (11). See also Kammen: "all of history cannot be remembered; and collective memory must be used with discrimination by the historian" (9); mythic history is another repository of collective memory.

(5.) That Morrison imagined Beloved's Sethe from the story of the escaped slave, Margaret Garner, who, in fact, tried to kill her children when a slave-catcher descended upon her home to return her and her family to slavery, is well established. In Jazz, the murder of Dorcas by Joe and the ensuing attempt by Violet to desecrate Dorcas's corpse at the funeral is based upon a picture that, like the story of Margaret Garner, Morrison found while editing The Black Book, an "'anecdotal' collection of clippings and snapshots published while she was an editor at Random House in an attempt to document another unknown side of African American history." The photograph showed a "young woman in a coffin who refused to be medically attended and to mention the name of the lover who shot her so that he could get away" (Tally 15).

(6.) On the historical contexts more generally, see Tally, especially pp. 31-54.

(7.) Cf. Wright: "The history of the Negro in America is the history of America written in vivid and bloody terms; it is the history of the Western Man writ small. It is the history of men who tried to adjust themselves to a world whose laws, customs, and instruments of force were leveled against them" (209).

(8.) Because Morrison (like Frances E. White, whom Dalsgard cites in reference to this point) "is concerned with the way African Americans are engaged in the construction of a national identity on the basis of an historical master narrative," Dalsgard argues that Morrison destabilizes "(African) America's past" (237-38). I employ Dalsgard's useful denotation of "(African) American"--where appropriate to my argument--along this same line.

(9.) LaCapra brought the issue of "truth claims" in history and in literature to bear on the discussion of "reference" that ensued from Satya Mohanty's 2003 lecture at Cornell's School of Criticism and Theory, "Why I Am Not a Strategic Essentialist." Mohanty deconstructed the first of what he claims are the two tenets of strategic essentialism, that "we need to abandon the idea of reference to an extra-textual reality." LaCapra raised the question of the relation of truth claims to Mohanty's assertion that there are instances in which reference both is complex and advances epistemically. Through its attention to such representational issues, Paradise implicitly bears on contemporary debates about history, narrative, and truth. Eagleton concisely registers the problems that poststructuralism poses: "The work of Derrida and others has cast grave doubt upon the classical notions of truth, reality, meaning, and knowledge, all of which could be exposed as resting on a naively representational theory of language"--to the "detriment," Bryan Palmer adds in the same context, "of historical sensitivities and the denigration of the actual experiences of historically situated men, women, and children" (Eagleton 143, Palmer 104, emphasis mine). The narrative recuperation and historical assertion of such experiences are, of course, precisely the work to which Morrison and other writers of historically marginalized peoples have devoted their careers. Yet LaCapra, who, like Hayden White, has launched in recent decades an influential sustained critique of positivist historiography, insists that his critique does not entail abandoning the empirical--what Morrison calls "the remains." La Capra argues for a "dialogic and mutually provocative" relation between the empirical and the rhetorical as equally necessary parts of history writing (137). The empirical-rhetorical dialogic relation is another vocabulary for the relationship between history and narrative that informs my analysis of Paradise's theory of historical truth-telling. Paradise deploys its historical referent in a resourceful narrative fashion that constitutes a unique engagement of mythic history: it asserts the truth, for example, of African American westward migration, yet with perceptive attention to the complexity that representation of the referent always involves. Also on the issue of the "literary truth-claim," see Valdes.

(10.) Foucault relates notions of countermemory and "effective history," which he also terms "genealogy." He defines countermemory as that which effective history constructs. Effective history "fragments what was thought unified" by introducing countermemories that are "discontinuities," or historical fragments, into its narrative. My use of counterhistory denotes Foucauldian effective history, and moreover, it underscores the practice of social antagonism that produces it.

(11.) On the relationship of polyphonic narration to memory in Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, see Elmar.

(12.) Tally offers another, historicized explanation of these babies that is equally plausible: "Jeff, however, had married Sweetie just after he came back from [Vietnam] and there are references to his contentions with military authorities.... Jeff's complaint before the administration is never specified, but the fact that he is ignored and frustrated may point to the government's reluctance to admit than [sic] exposure to Agent Orange causes malformation in off-spring" (26-27). As is not uncommon in Paradise, the reader is left to consider various contextual possibilities for the answer to this riddle.

(13.) The task of a genealogy, according to Foucault, is "to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history's destruction of the body" (83).

(14.) Crawford explores endowing the idea of "pure" blackness with transcendence in Paradise.

(15.) In "The Site of Memory," Morrison claims that, "a very large part of my own literary heritage is the autobiography," particularly slave narratives. See the essay for Morrison's description of literary archaeology and its involved processes of research, memory, imagination, and truth-telling, especially pp. 111-13.

(16.) See Hine for a discussion of this in relation to black women's history particularly.

Marni Gauthier is Assistant Professor of English at SUNY-Cortland, where she specializes in contemporary literature. She is currently writing a book on the contemporary historical novel, truth-telling, and national identity. Her articles have appeared in English Language Notes and in the essay collection Moving Stories (U of Nevada P). For their most helpful readings of drafts of this essay, she would like to thank Anna Brickhouse and Jeremy Green.
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Author:Gauthier, Marni
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Date:Sep 22, 2005
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