"You Can't Just Fly Off and Leave a Body": Toni Morrison's Abolitionist Vision of Justice
This thesis explores two of Toni Morrison’s novels — Song of Solomon (1977) and Jazz (1992) — alongside a growing body of scholarship and activism surrounding the contemporary prison abolitionist movement. I argue that Morrison can be read not just as a celebrated author, but as a “theorist of justice,” whose fiction highlights the white supremacist origins and practices of the current U.S. Criminal Justice system and consequently advocates for justice that is rooted in healing, accountability, and repair. I also argue that Morrison’s overall literary project can be interpreted as an attempt for readers to understand that every one of us is capable of harm. Morrison’s determination for us to identify with, or at the very least, see the motivations and desires that drive her characters directly combats the “Otherness” that incarcerated people face in their daily lives, both during their time in the prison system and after their release. Throughout the thesis, I connect the literary community of Morrison scholars to people whose work challenges the structures of the U.S. Criminal Justice system and ultimately calls for their destruction while simultaneously envisioning what true justice might look like and how we can best meet the needs of our fellow people.
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