The narrator

Outer characterization

The narrator's outer characterization in “Sweetness” by Toni Morrison reveals that she is a light-skinned African American who used to be married to a man named Louis with whom she had a daughter: “I’m light-skinned, with good hair, what we call high yellow, and so is Lula Ann’s father.”

Because of their daughter’s dark-skinned color, her husband Louis abandons her, assuming she had an affair, but sends them money regularly: “…I had to look for another, cheaper place to live. I did the best I could. I knew enough not to take her with me when I applied to landlords.”. The narrator ends up supporting herself and her daughter by working in a hospital: “…dollar money orders and my night job at the hospital got me and Lula Ann off welfare.”

As the story accounts for events that span over many years, the narrator's income situation varies from poverty to being able to manage on her own.

In the present, the narrator lives in a nursing home, is old, and suffers from a bone disease: “…small, homey, cheaper, with twenty-four-hour nurses and a doctor who comes twice a week.”; “I’m only sixty-three – too young for pasture – but I came down with some creeping bone disease, so good care is vital.”

Inner characterization

The narrator’s inner characterization is mostly constructed in relation to her relatives and through her attitude to issues of skin color and race. We will look at each of these aspects next.

Relationship with her family

In the beginning of the story, the narrator gives various backstories about her grandmother and her parents. The story suggests that she takes great pride in the fact that her grandmother and mother were light-skinned: “You should’ve seen my grandmother; she passed for white, married a white man, and never said another word to any one of her children.”; “My own mother, Lula Mae, could have passed easy, but she chose not to. She told me the price she paid for...

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