cover image The Origin of Others

The Origin of Others

Toni Morrison. Harvard Univ., $22.95 (133p) ISBN 978-0-674-97645-0

Based on the 2016 Charles Norton Lecture series at Harvard University, the latest work of nonfiction by Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize–winning novelist Morrison analyzes the language of race and racism and the classification of people into dehumanizing racial categories in American culture. “The necessity of rendering a slave a foreign species appears to be a desperate attempt to confirm one’s own self as normal,” she writes, and draws on numerous examples from history and literature that expose the psychological work of “othering.” Two particularly chilling instances of this dehumanization come from the 19th century: Southern physician Samuel Cartwright’s invention of an illness he called “drapetomania” that he used to account for why slaves ran away, and planter Thomas Thistlewood’s diary entries describing the callous rape of slaves with the cold detachment of scientific notation. Morrison also shows the ways white authors romanticized slavery in fiction, pointing to the scene from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin where Tom and Chloe’s slave children happily eat under the table. She includes discussions of William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Flannery O’Connor’s “The Artificial Nigger,” and many of her own novels. Lyrically written and intelligently argued, this book is on par with Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and The Black Book. (Sept.)