Flash back in modern fiction

Essay by oussamalara June 2004

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On first consideration, African American author Toni Morrison might seem to have

a little in common with Virginia Woolf the famous British writer. But the interesting

fact is that Morrison wrote her M.A thesis on Woolf and William Faulkner. Morrison

and Woolf wrote about so many common themes as: freedom, isolation, feminist

matters etc...They used difficult and complex techniques in order to express how

important and complicated those themes are indeed and to focus on them in a very

unique modern way. In very different cultural contexts, Toni Morrison and Virginia

Woolf tell personal and collective stories in such a way that asks readers to explore

their own lives in terms of larger stories of compassion and survival. The major points

in this paper are to talk about the validity of Woolf's use of flashback technique in

Morrison's writings, to examine briefly the different dimensions of using flashback

and how it served in conveying the purposes of Woolf and Morrison in two of their

remarkable masterpieces: Morrison's "Beloved" and Woolf's "To the Lighthouse".

Morrison's use of shifting perspective, fragmentary narrative, flashbacks, and a

narrative voice extremely close to the consciousness of her characters, reveals the

influence of Virginia Woolf, a writer that Morrison not coincidentally, studied

extensively while a collage student.


One of the prominent techniques, that are worthy to be taken into consideration, is the

recurrent use of flashback in both novels. However it's useful to technically define

flashback. "Flashback is an interruption in the continuity of a story, play, etc. by the

narration or portrayal of some earlier episode."(Webster's New World Dictionary) In

terms of this definition I'll analyze examples of where, how and especially

why, Morrison and Woolf used this literary device.

Beloved's narrative moves quickly between past and present, frequently shifting

forward and back...