Responsibility of the Artist in The Bluest Eye, Faith in a Tree, and Conversion of the Jews
Toni Morrison, in her work, Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation, voices her opinion about the responsibility of the artist and proclaims that art should be political. I would like to examine Grace Paley and Phillip Roth's short stories and Toni Morrison's novel, The Bluest Eye. Each of these works can be considered political, and I believe they fit Morrison's idea of what literary fiction should be.
In both Paley and Roth's work, strongly political themes emerge. Paley's short story, "Faith in a Tree", deals with the Vietnam war and Roth's short story, "Conversion of the Jews", treats religious and moral questions in a public setting. Neither Paley nor Roth state that art must be political, or that it is the responsibility of the artist to create political work. Their work as illustrated in the short stories above, however, is decidedly political in nature as is Morrison's work as exemplified in her novel, The Bluest Eye.
Morrison's definition of the responsibility of an artist is limiting in terms of what sort of art is good and worthwhile.
" 'I am not interested in indulging myself in some private,
closed exercise of my imagination that fulfils only the
obligation of my personal dreams--which is to say yes, the
work must be political....It seems to me that the best art
is political and you ought to be able to make it unquestionably
political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time.' "
(Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation)
Here, Morrison not only states that political art is better than art which is simply beautiful, but also implies that it is the responsibility of the artist to create art which is political in nature. If, as Morrison suggests, the best art is political, what are the criteria for a political piece of art? Using Roth, Paley, and Morrison as examples of political works, let us examine their similarities to come closer to a definition of what makes art (specifically literary fiction) political.
Morrison in her quote above, speaks of the artist being obligated to something other than personal dreams. Whom are the other obligations of the artist to? If the work must be political, then the artist is obligated write about matters of government or government policy, and in a broader sense, matters of public concern. In Paley and Roth's short stories listed above, the matters of public concern addressed were the Vietnam war and religious morality respectively. In Morrison's work the matters of public concern were the detrimental effects of images of beauty in relationship to race. All three works take a similar moral stance on each of the problems--that is to say, all of the works regardless of their specifics are based on a similar system of distinguishing between right and wrong.
Paley reduces the conflict to a question in "Faith in a Tree" to clearly show her position in relationship to...