Monday, November 14, 2016

Toni Morrison by the numbers


By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

Toni Morrison remains our most critically acclaimed African American writers. She is the subject of widespread scholarly attention, and for now we decided to consider her work based on our dataset of 5 of her most critically acclaimed novels.

[Related: Jay Z By the Numbers]

Between 1970 and 1992, Morrison published 6 novels. In this dataset, we include 5 of those novels – The Bluest Eye (1970) Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987), and Jazz (1992) – which collectively became the works that scholars have examined the most over the last 30 years. Between 1997 and 2013, Morrison published 5 additional novels. Those works have received considerably less attention than Morrison’s first 5 novels.

Morrison’s first 5 novels total approximately 385,739 words. Her longest novel Song of Solomon is more than her first two novels combined. On average, Morrison uses 6, 959 different words types in each novel.

Beloved, her second longest novel, is her most critically acclaimed work. According to the website Metacanon, 7 of Morrison’s novels rank in the top 100 of American fiction. Below, we have listed the score Metacanon has assigned to the five texts in our study.

On Metacanon, each work is given a weighted score based on the number of citations it has received in in two major journals (American Literature and American Literary History), JSTOR, and Google Scholar. Beloved is the only novel with a score of 27 or higher. On Google Scholar, Beloved, with 3,423 citations, far outpaces Morrison’s other novels. The high ratings for Beloved on Metacanon and Google Scholar confirm the novel's overall importance.

Morrison’s first two novels – The Bluest Eye and Sula – have a higher percentage of different word types than her longer novels. The extended lengths of longer novels do not have far more word types. Perhaps there is some correlation between the brevity of her novels and their word densities.

Our examination of quantitative data related to Morrison’s novels helps us to assess individual features about her writing and how her works compare alongside one another.

A Notebook on Toni Morrison

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