Stereotypes of a Black Male, Misunderstood: African American Masculinity in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Jazz

This was originally a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for The Honors College at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”

Toni Morrison’s novels Beloved and Jazz both tell stories that involve African-American men discovering and claiming their senses of masculinity. Some critics, such as Stanley Crouch, argue that Morrison misrepresents historical events in order to push her own personal feminist agenda that demonizes black men and elevates black women. I will be examining how Paul D in Beloved and Joe Trace in Jazz come to discover their definitions of masculinity, and I expect to be able to challenge critics such as Crouch by showing that Morrison’s representation of African American men is positive rather than negative. Instead of demonizing men, Morrison shows that they can learn and grow, and that they are not the emotionless monsters that society often paints them as. She also portrays relationships between men and women positively by showing that African American men and women must work together in an equal social position, rather than one gender over the other, in order to survive in a society that systematically discriminates against them. This is a direct counter to Crouch’s claim that Morrison sensationalizes African American women’s suffering in order to claim that African American women’s suffering is more important than men’s.

I see Beloved as both historically accurate, and a good representation of black masculinity following slavery and Reconstruction. I believe that Jazz is also historically accurate, though instead focusing on the period following Plessy v. Ferguson. I believe that Morrison uses the historical moments in these novels to show how the struggle for African American men to claim their masculinity has changed since the end of slavery, while still centering on the same concept of control, and family. In doing so, she engages in the conversation about contemporary black masculinity.

The theme of masculinity in Toni Morrison’s works has been discussed often. The essays that have been written often focus on how masculinity is constructed. There are articles about both black and white masculinity as it is presented in Beloved; however, I will specifically focus on black masculinity in relation to Paul D. “To Love and Be Loved: Considering Black Masculinity and the Misandric Impulse in Toni Morrison’s Beloved” by Nancy Kang focuses on black masculinity as it relates to misandric impulses in Beloved, though it does not go into detail about what Paul D’s definition of masculinity entails.

In Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature, Jeffrey Leak examines masculinity as it is presented throughout the history of African American literature. While Leak occasionally discusses Morrison’s work, he also talks about Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Leak argues that Douglass talks about himself not as an individual, but rather as a slave, and as a victor over slavery. He does not present himself as a complex individual, but rather only presents himself within the realm of slavery. Morrison incorporated many elements of slave narratives into Paul D’s story in order to make the novel historically accurate.

Susan Mayberry’s book Can’t I Love What I Criticize?: The Masculine and Morrison examines the theme of masculinity in all of Morrison’s novels up to Jazz. She challenges the notion that issues of masculinity and femininity are predominantly a white problem by citing Morrison saying “everybody knows, deep down, that black men were emasculated by white men, period” (Mayberry 8). Morrison suggests that not only have black men had to fight back against white male resistance, but black women have been instrumental in helping black men retain their masculinity. This is seen in Beloved with Paul D realizing that he needs Sethe at the end of the book, and with Joe Trace in Jazz realizing that he truly loves Violet.

Beyond Mayberry’s work, there is very little written about masculinity in Jazz specifically in relation to Joe Trace. One of the few articles is “Hunting Masculinities in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” In this article, Astrid Recker examines how the African American men in Jazz derive their masculinity from the white patriarchy, and as such perpetuate the sexist societal norm. In Jazz, Joe Trace and other African Americans are dealing with the consequences of Plessy v. Ferguson, which ruled that African Americans could lawfully be discriminated against so long as they were provided “separate but equal” opportunities and accommodations with whites. Because of this ruling, which was strictly enforced in the South, in the early 1900s African Americans began moving to the North. This would later be called the Great Migration. Many African Americans moved to the Harlem area of New York, which prompted the white people who lived there to move away, causing Harlem to become a predominantly black neighborhood. Joe Trace is representative of the African Americans who did not have much control over their lives, as their opportunities were limited by the racist laws of the time. As such, Joe would not have felt in control over his life, and would have to seek control over his life and others in order to claim his masculinity. I could not find any scholarship about how Morrison demonstrates the way that African American males in Jazz and Beloved have differing definitions of masculinity due to the different times in which they live. Furthermore, there has been no scholarship comparing the masculinity of Paul D and Joe Trace.

Morrison goes farther in her depiction of black men in her literature than simply demonstrating examples of black masculinity. She shows how it changes over time, but also how black men face a lot of the same issues with their masculinity regardless of the times they live in. Both Paul D and Joe Trace must fight for control over their own lives, though Joe also contends with lacking control over others as well. In addition to this notion of control, Morrison demonstrates how African American men’s relationships with women are important to their perceptions of their own masculinity. In the 1980s, much of the discourse on African American masculinity and feminism dealt with the divide between African American men and women. Perceptions of African American men abusing male privilege in order to subjugate African American women caused this divide, and many scholars, including Michele Wallace and Robert Staples, called for the cooperation of black men and women on equal standing in order to better survive in a country that was (and still is) determined to keep African Americans in a subordinate position to white Americans. Morrison uses the historical moments in these novels to show the negative effects of African American men relying too little and too much on African American women. In doing so, she engages in the contemporary conversation about black masculinity.

Paul D in Beloved

Danny Glover as Paul D in Beloved (1998)

Beloved takes place in 1873; however, it often flashes back to earlier times in the characters’ lives. The story in the present time of the novel is during the post-slavery Reconstruction era. This was a confusing time for African Americans as they were freed from slavery, but then provided little to no opportunities. The Federal government attempted to provide the newly-freed slaves with a starting-point for their new lives, but “black codes” that were passed by many states severely restricted African Americans’ opportunities for employment, housing, and land ownership. The formation of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization devoted to the subjugation of the entire African American race, only served to make the transition from slavery to freedom even more difficult. The central story in the novel is about a woman named Sethe and her daughter Denver after their escape from slavery. Morrison based Sethe’s story on that of runaway slave Margaret Garner, who escaped to Ohio in 1856. Like Garner, Sethe escaped slavery with her children but was discovered a few weeks later. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, escaped slaves were required to be captured and returned to their masters regardless of whether they were captured in a free state. Rather than be forced back into slavery, Sethe resolves to kill her children and herself. She is able to kill her youngest child, but is stopped before she can continue. In 1873 Sethe’s house, often referred to as “124,” is haunted by what Sethe believes to be the ghost of the child she killed. A young woman named Beloved appears at the house after the ghost is driven out, and Sethe then believes that Beloved is a physical manifestation of the child.

Beloved is not only a book about Sethe’s struggles with motherhood, but Paul D’s journey to discover his masculinity and what truly makes him a man as well. Until he was a grown man, Paul D had not known any life other than that of a slave on a Southern farm. Sweet Home, as the farm was called, was run by a man named Mr. Garner. Mr. Garner prided himself on treating his slaves like men, or what he thought was treating them like men. It was a point of pride to him, and it brought him great joy to brag to other slave owners about the way he treated his slaves: “Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one” (Morrison, Beloved 10).

Paul D did not question or even think about whether or not Garner actually treated his slaves like men until later in his life at Sweet Home. When Paul D grew up at Sweet Home, he felt that he was a man because he did not know anything else. He was told he was a man and accepted that without fully understanding or considering what he thought being a man meant. The irony of this is that Paul D only thought he was a man because another man defined him as so. This struggle between definer, definition, and defined is something that Paul D wonders about throughout his life, and is a struggle that Morrison specifically highlights throughout the novel. The most explicit example of this is when Sethe remembers the time that Sixo, another male slave from Sweet Home, stole a shoat to eat. When he is asked to explain himself by schoolteacher, the master of Sweet Home at the time, Sixo says that he was improving schoolteacher’s property by feeding himself. While this response was clever, schoolteacher beats him anyway to show him that “definitions belong to the definers — not the defined” (Morrison, Beloved 225).

The issue of definers, definitions, and defined permeates every stage of Paul D’s life. Before Mr. Garner’s death, Paul D only defines himself as a man because Mr. Garner, the Definer, says so. This makes Paul D unsure about whether he truly was a man, as he does not have the ability to define himself. The only power he had was given to him by Mr. Garner, and Paul D realizes this, thinking:

Garner called and announced them men — but only on Sweet Home, and by his leave. Was he naming what he saw or creating what he did not?…It troubled him that, concerning his own manhood, he could not satisfy himself on that point. Oh, he did manly things, but was that Garner’s gift or his own will? What would he have been anyway — before Sweet Home — without Garner? (260)

Paul D was unsure if he truly was a man since he only felt like one because another man, one with a significant amount of power over him since he owned him, told him he was and allowed him to only show his masculinity in certain ways. Garner determined Paul D’s masculinity for him, and Paul D does not believe that is truly masculinity.

Paul D’s opinion of his fellow slaves Halle and Sixo reveals what he believes being a man means. He does not wonder if they were truly men: “That was the wonder of Sixo, and even Halle; it was always clear to Paul D that those two were men whether Garner said so or not” (260). Both Halle and Sixo have some form of control over themselves and the directions that their lives take. They have a certain amount of physical as well as mental autonomy, both of which Paul D feels that he lacks. This struggle for a base definition of masculinity not only leaves Paul D feeling like something other than a man, but also makes him feel less than human.

The dehumanizing effects of slavery have been well-documented, and the idea of manliness being related to physical autonomy is something that is brought up in many slave narratives, most notably Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Morrison was no doubt aware of the common themes of male slave narratives, and she hinges Paul D’s definition of masculinity on the same control that Douglass shows when he stands up to his slavemaster, Edward Covey. Covey comes to whip Douglass for accidentally releasing some oxen, when Douglass fights back and overpowers his master. In this moment, Douglass reclaims his manhood, and describes the fight as “the turning-point in my career as a slave…It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom” (Douglass 72–73) Paul D experiences extreme dehumanization when he has a metal bit placed in his mouth, which was a metal gag used to punish slaves, when he saw Sweet Home’s rooster, named Mister. Mister was free to roam around and do as he pleased, and Paul D came to the realization that though Mister was not human, he had more freedom than Paul D.

Sexual assault committed on African American men rather than by them was one of the main ways Beloved depicts the emasculation of the African American male. According to Nancy Kang in her article “To Love and Be Loved: Considering Black Masculinity and the Misandric Impulse in Toni Morrison’s Beloved”: “Paul is the victim of sexual assault by both [Sethe’s baby’s ghost] Beloved and the prison guards in Alfred, Georgia” (Kang 841). She says that Beloved acts as a parallel to institutionalized rape under slavery. Beloved acts as a strange catalyst for Paul D, forcing him to face his memories of abuse by amplifying them (841). She seeks to deny him sexual access to Sethe by emasculating him, pushing him out of Sethe’s bedroom and into the “maternal space” of a rocking chair (842). Soon after, she pushes him into Baby Suggs’s bed, out into the useless space of the storeroom, and finally from 124 altogether. Paul D is powerless to resist, just as he was powerless with the prison guards.

When Paul D tries to kill a later master of his, he is sent to a prison for slaves in Georgia. In this prison, the prisoners are sexually and physically abused by the guards on a daily basis. The prisoners are powerless to fight back as they are all chained together, and have been threatened with death if they attempt to rebel. Later while staying at 124, Paul D experiences sexual assault again, this time at the hands of Beloved. This encounter with Beloved brings back memories of the emasculation he suffered in the prison, and he is forced to confront these memories. This leads to Paul D telling Sethe that he wants her to have a baby with him in order to “document his manhood” (Morrison, Beloved 128). Pamela Barnett in “Figurations of Rape and the Supernatural in Beloved” points out that “[Paul D] must ‘document his manhood’ because he is a victim of supernatural rape that he feels has emasculated him just as the guards in Alfred, Georgia, have” (Barnett 424). Since Paul D is limited by language, he cannot account for differences in masculinity for men affected by slavery. In his eyes, his powerlessness is not a result of his enslavement, but rather it is due to his lack of manhood. Paul D is “victimized as a black man in a racist system,” but he instead attributes his sexually subordinate position to gender rather than a racist institution (424).

More critical to Paul D’s perception of Sixo and Halle is their relation to women and family. Sixo goes off with his “thirty-mile woman,” demonstrating his own desires and acting on them without Garner telling him that he can. Sixo exhibits what Paul D considers masculinity, as he has a life outside of Sweet Home that Mr. Garner has not given to him, but rather that he has made and taken for his own. Paul D does not wonder about Halle either, despite Halle being far less rebellious than Sixo. Halle manages to buy his mother Baby Suggs’ freedom from Garner and has Sethe choose to be with him.

In addition to being able to help a member of his family, Halle also has a woman of his own and makes a family with her. Even though he needed Garner’s permission, Halle and Sethe chose to be together instead of being selected to breed with her as sometimes happened in slavery (Brown 9). This is another reason that Sixo was held in such high regard by Paul D: he was able to choose his own partner without requiring his master’s permission. Slaves often were not completely in control of their sexuality, just as they had very little control over other aspects of their lives (Brown 10). Sixo and Halle have this in common to an extent. They both choose their sexual partners, and even though Halle gets Garner’s permission, he is still showing more agency than Paul D, as Paul D has not been able to choose his own woman while still at Sweet Home, nor is he been chosen by a woman until later in his life.

Studies such as “‘What defines a man?”’: Perspectives of African American Men on the Components and Consequences of Manhood” by Derek Griffith and Emily Cornish have shown that as African American men mature, they begin to affirm their sense of manhood through family and spirituality rather than sexual prowess and material possessions. Historically, African American men have had difficulty in fulfilling the role of patriarch and provider for their families. This inability to provide is often seen as their inability to be defined as men. Paul D focuses on family later in his life as well. He seeks to reaffirm his masculinity after Beloved forces herself on him by asking Sethe to have a baby with him. He also refuses to accept Sethe allowing him to stay at 124 for free. He feels a need to provide for Denver and Sethe, which is shown when he takes them to the fair for the day.

Morrison demonstrates the divide between African American men and women in Beloved through Paul D. From the time he is a slave at Sweet Home, to after emancipation, and finally to the present time of the novel, Paul D does not consider getting help from women to heal the trauma he has experienced. Instead, he prefers to lock all of his painful and traumatic memories away inside his “tobacco tin heart.” He refuses to open up to women not because he believes that they are incapable of helping him, but rather because he would feel like less of a man if he let someone know how much the past has affected him. Because of this, he shuts women out and does not get too close to them. He prefers to be a wandering man, because he is afraid that people would be able to pick up on the pain that he hides if he stays with a woman in one place for too long.

Paul D is only able to begin healing when he realizes that he must allow his tobacco tin heart to open. Towards the end of the novel, he remembers what Sixo told him about his thirty-mile-woman: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind” (Morrison, Beloved 321). This memory of Sixo, who Paul D believes is undoubtedly a man, reminds Paul D that he needs to allow a woman to help him. This causes Paul D to return to Sethe after Beloved is driven away by the community. Upon returning, he finds Sethe bedridden. While taking care of her, he realizes that “he wants to put his story next to hers” (322). It is important that Morrison uses “next to” rather than something like “on top of” or “underneath” when referring to Paul D and Sethe’s stories. Through these characters, she is demonstrating that African American men and women must work together from an equal position in order to reconcile with their traumatic pasts and move forward with their lives. Morrison demonstrates this through Paul D when he says, “Sethe…me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (322).

Joe Trace in Jazz

Toni Morrison’s “Jazz”

Jazz takes place during the Harlem Renaissance in 1926; however, the novel often flashes back to earlier times of the Great Migration. The story in the present time of the novel is about a man named Joe Trace, his wife Violet, and his deceased lover, Dorcas. Violet has become depressed which has led to Joe feeling neglected and lonely, so he takes Dorcas as his lover. Eventually, Dorcas leaves him for another man, and Joe then hunts her down and shoots her in public. Joe and Violet work on repairing their relationship throughout the novel, and in the end find fulfillment and reconciliation through their fostering of a young girl, Felice.

The novel flashes back to the late 1800s and early 1900s during the Great Migration. The Great Migration is the period after Reconstruction when many African Americans migrated from the southern United States to the north. The South was a very harsh place for African Americans to live. Many states enforced Jim Crow segregation laws that were only strengthened by the “separate but equal” ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson. While the law mandated that African Americans be given separate and equal opportunities and facilities, the “equal” part often went ignored. African Americans had far worse opportunities for jobs, land ownership, economic growth, and social status. However, the northern states were often less strict about enforcing these laws. Because of this, combined with the north’s rapid industrialization creating many job opportunities, African Americans began migrating north in great numbers.

Another important factor in the Great Migration was the prevalence of racial violence, particularly lynching. Lynching is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “[being] put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.” For African Americans, the threat of lynching was very real. Roughly 3,500 African Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1968 (Tuskegee University). The victims of these lynchings were often either awaiting trial, or unfairly accused. For most of these, nobody in the crowds were charged with any crime. In some parts of the United States, lynching was part of the local culture. Photographers sometimes took pictures of the crowds posing with the bodies of the victims as mementos, and these pictures were often used on postcards.

While most lynchings took place in the South, they were not unheard of in the North. This was shocking to African Americans who expected the North to be better than the South. Because of the racial violence that they faced, African Americans began congregating in large communities in urban centers as a kind of “safety in numbers” measure. Areas such as the southern side of Chicago and the Harlem neighborhood in New York became large African American communities. This migration led to the Harlem Renaissance, which was a period of rapid African American cultural expansion that occurred in Northern urban centers beginning in the 1920s. The term “Harlem Renaissance” is used because Harlem was one of the largest African American communities at the time.

Joe Trace is the central male character in Jazz. Shortly after his birth, he is abandoned by his mother; however, he is taken in by another family. After learning that he was abandoned, he chooses the last name “Trace” because his parents “left without a trace” (Morrison, Jazz 124). This leads to struggles with identity and abandonment issues throughout his life. Because of his mother’s abandonment, Joe has a hole in his identity that he does not recognize is caused by the lack of a female motherly figure in his life. Because of this, Joe looks to women to complete his identity, and he puts the burden of defining his masculine identity on them. When Violet becomes depressed, Joe is not able to maintain his feeling of completion with her, and he goes off to find a woman that can complete him.

Joe meets Dorcas while selling cosmetics. For most of his life, women are drawn to Joe; however, Joe makes the first move with Dorcas which makes him feel like more of a man. With Violet, Joe literally fell into her lap, and she chose him at first instead of the other way around. Having a young woman like Dorcas be so interested in him also makes Joe feel like a man again. After Dorcas leaves him, Joe is once again left feeling incomplete and abandoned. Because he placed so much of his masculine identity on Dorcas loving him, Joe is completely destroyed when Dorcas leaves. This leads to him hunting her down, and when he sees her with another man, he shoots and kills her. His hunt for Dorcas mirrors his hunt for his mother, which further demonstrates the connection between Joe’s mother leaving him and the abandonment issues that he struggles with.

As a young man, Joe is taken under the wing of a man named Henry LesTroy, or Hunter’s Hunter as he is called. Hunter’s Hunter kind of acts like a surrogate father for Joe. He teaches Joe about being a man after choosing him and his adoptive brother Victory to go hunting. He also teaches Victory and Joe life lessons about living as black men. He tells them about his experiences with white people, and teaches Joe and Victory moral lessons. According to Susan Mayberry in “Can’t I Love What I Criticize,” having a strong male figure like LesTroy in Joe’s life causes him to focus even more on the feminine void left by his mother’s absence (Mayberry 198).

Much like Paul D, Morrison uses Joe to demonstrate the divide between men and women; however, Joe represents the opposite end of the spectrum. While Paul D relies too little on women, Joe Trace is on the other end of the spectrum and relies too much on women to define his masculine identity. This is damaging for him, and for the women that he relies on. In Joe’s case, he is unable to have healthy relationships with women, and has a flawed idea of what his masculinity is. For the women, particularly Violet, having so much of the burden of Joe’s identity placed on them is damaging because they are then less focused on their own personalities and feelings. This is one of the major factors that causes Violet to grow depressed. Unlike Paul D with Sethe, Joe is not interested in helping Violet reconcile with her past traumas and instead solely focuses on his own, and so Violet stagnates and remains unable to move on from her past just like Joe.

Later in the novel, months after Dorcas’ death, Dorcas’ friend Felice seeks out Violet and Joe. Felice lives with her grandmother because her parents work out of town. Even when they come visit Felice every few weeks, they treat her coldly. Felice tries to meet with Joe and Violet because she wants the ring that she lent to Dorcas back. She also knows that Joe has been devastated since Dorcas’ death and wants to tell him that she thought Dorcas was manipulative to him, and something that Dorcas told her before she died. Joe and Violet invite her to stay for dinner that night, and they all enjoy talking together. Felice brings Violet and Joe back together by allowing them to talk about what happened with Dorcas and to move on from it, and in turn Violet and Joe help Felice recover from Dorcas’ death.

Violet feels that Felice could be the daughter she never had, or at least allows her to feel motherly. At the end of the novel, the three of them dance together like a family, and having this family structure allows Joe and Violet to reconcile with their pasts and move on. It also represents a shift in Joe’s manhood. After Dorcas, he has moved on from defining his masculinity by sexual prowess, and has begun to define it by his having a family instead. As African American men get older, they begin to define their masculinity more by family than by sexual prowess and material possessions. This is shown in the study “‘What defines a man?’: Perspectives of African American men on the components and consequences of manhood” by Cornish and Griffith. Joe and Violet dancing also puts them together as partners. While there is typically one leading when dancing, they are still equally important in the performing of the dance. By showing Joe and Violet as only achieving happiness when they are equal with each other, Morrison demonstrates again how African American men and women must work together from an equal position in order to heal from the trauma in their pasts.

Both Joe Trace and Paul D are used to demonstrate the divide between men and women; however, they represent opposite reasons for the divide. Paul D relies too little on women to help heal his past and define his masculinity, and pushes them away, while Joe Trace relies too much on women to define his masculinity and fill the hole left by his mother’s abandonment. Morrison shows how both are harmful to African American men and women, but also offers a solution. African American men must find a balance with African American women. They must allow themselves to be helped by women, but they must be careful not to place too much of the burden of their identity on them. In other words, women must be equal to them in order for men and women to heal from the traumas that they’ve faced in a country that has systematically discriminated against them for hundreds of years.

Conclusion

Through her novels Beloved and Jazz, Toni Morrison engages in the contemporary discussion about African American masculinity. Contrary to some critics’ assertions, Morrison does not use these novels to demonize African American men and elevate African American women above them through their suffering. Instead, she uses the novels to call for equality between men and women, that one gender should not be above the other. Through Beloved, she shows the negative effects that men pushing women away has on both men and women. In Jazz, she demonstrates the damage that men relying too heavily on women has. In both of these novels, she shows that there must be a balance between men and women. They must be equal to each other in order to survive in a country that was, and still is, determined to keep African Americans in a lesser position.

This message is as relevant now as it was when Morrison wrote these novels. African American men still face the issue of “definitions, definers, and defined” that Paul D and other men in Beloved do. In addition, they still face the threat of racial violence, especially from police. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander demonstrates how the United States prison system has been used to systematically discriminate against African Americans and keep them in a lesser position in society much like they were in the Jim Crow era. Since the United States implemented drug enforcement policies during the “war on drugs” in the 1980s, prison populations have climbed from 300,000 to over two million, with the majority being drug crime arrests. Even though drug use rates are largely the same between races, African Americans are more than 50% more likely to be arrested for drug crimes (Alexander, 2010).

When one considers that the rate of incarceration in the United States is six to ten times greater than other industrialized countries, this appears to be a form of racial control. This form of social control is what Alexander refers to as a “racial caste system” in which those of a certain race are kept in a lower social, economic, and political level than others. Alexander argues that the basic structure of Jim Crow laws has not changed so much as the language that is used in them has evolved. Racial terms have been substituted by terms such as “criminals” and “offenders.” African Americans, particularly men, are disproportionately labeled as “criminals,” which allows for several different discriminatory practices in housing, voting rights, and employment, among others.

Much like Paul D and Joe Trace, African American men in modern American society must fight for autonomy and recognition. They are constantly forced into worse situations that they must adjust to, and opportunities for them to rise are limited. They are often unable to properly provide for their families, which is an important part of African American masculinity due to inequalities in careers, wages, and arrests. While American society has progressed in many ways, the African American male’s struggle for masculinity and identity has not. Morrison sets her novels Beloved and Jazz in different time periods in order to demonstrate this truth, and it is still as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago when she wrote them.

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