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Sweetness

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “Sweetness” by Toni Morrison. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, themes and message.

Presentation of the text

Title: “Sweetness” (2015)
Author: Toni Morrison
Genre: Short story

Toni Morrison (b. 1931) is an award-wining African-American writer. She is also a professor at Princeton University. Her best-known novels are Beloved, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye. Morrison has received both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize in Literature. The short story “Sweetness” was published in the American magazine The New Yorker.

Excerpt

Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

Title

The title, “Sweetness” does not reveal much about the plot of Toni Morrison's story. As we read the story, we find out that the narrator takes on this name in relation to her daughter. The mother opts for this name because she is too embarrassed to have a very dark-skinned girl call her mother: “I told her to call me ‘Sweetness’ instead of ‘Mother’ or ‘Mama.’ It was safer. Her being that black and having what I think are too thick lips and calling me ‘Mama’ would’ve confused people.” (ll. 64-66). As well as being embarrassed, the narrator is frightened that she and her daughter will be subject to even more discrimination if their true relationship is revealed.

Symbols

The story includes a few elements that can be interpreted as symbols. 

The letters mentioned in the story become a symbol of detachment and breaking family ties. The narrator’s grandmother refused to answer her family's letters because she wanted to pass as white in a segregated society.  Many years later, Lula Ann/Bride sends her mother a letter about her pregnancy with no return address, suggesting she does not want to see her mother and prefers writing.

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Sweetness

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