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Perhaps this theme can be seen in all of her work, but in connecting the problem of storytelling, which is the problem of interpretation, with the traditional and shopworn narrative of passing, Morrison offers something new.
Although the Oedipal struggle can be found in many traditional passing narratives, the scene--indeed the characters themselves--serves as background and only becomes interesting in relationship to the core story of Violet's unhealthy love for Joe.
Although the passing figure does not pass down his genes, he has an effect on the lives of those who come after him.
If the basic structure of many traditional passing narratives relies on secrecy and the threat of exposure,
The passing figure and her unsure racial identity become central to the history that Twyla is trying to recover.
Morrison ingeniously counterpoints a more traditional passing narrative, a narrative which clarifies the race of the characters, against something that is very different, something that transforms tradition.
Although Paradise, much like "Recitatif," remaps the passing dynamic onto reader and character, effectively creating a metafictional narrative, it also includes yet another brief reference to the tradition.
Perhaps Patricia Best, the traditional passing figure, should be viewed as a counterpoint for the more prominent metafictional play that centers on the unnamed white woman, or nontraditional passing figure, in the first line of the novel.
Passing for white captured the imaginations of past writers because it was symbolic of America's contradictions-the rhetoric of equality and hierarchies based on race, the melting pot and Jim Crow laws, unity and division.
Her passing for white is central to the musical, as is her self -sacrifice and death.
I would add that the pain of addressing the unique problem of the passing figure is shifted from a dynamic between various characters to a dynamic between the reader and the main characters, Twyla and Roberta.
Juda Bennett, an assistant professor of English at The College of New Jersey, is the author of The Passing Figure: Racial Confusion in Modem American Literature (Peter Lang, 1996) as well as several essays on popular and literary representations of racial passing.