One of the first things I noticed about this book is that it’s written in third person omniscient. When Toni Morrison first heard the story of Margaret Garner and decided to write a novel on it, the most obvious choice she could have made was to write the book from Sethe’s perspective. What better way is there to tell the story of this woman who would rather kill her own children than let them go through what she went through? Obviously, getting completely inside the head of the main character would make it easiest to know her innermost thoughts and desires. The simplest way to get your audience to sympathize with your main character is to tell the story from their perspective. But, Morrison chose not to do that.
She could have told the story from Denver’s perspective. Granted, Sethe’s backstory could only be told to the reader secondhand, but, in exchange, the reader could learn the thoughts of the daughter of a murderer. This daughter lives in the same house as the woman who killed her sister and would have killed her as well, the same house that her dead sister now haunts. But, of course, if the story were told from Denver’s perspective, it would no longer be about Sethe’s impossible choice. It would be about Denver’s struggle between desiring Sethe’s love as her mother and trying to accept that her mother would have killed her if given the chance. That’s not the story Morrison set out to tell.
The story could have been told from any characters’ perspective. It could have been told in second person, drawing the reader in even further than it already does. It could have been told in third person limited, maybe diving a bit into one of the character’s heads, but staying away from anyone else’s backstory or inner thoughts. When writing this book, this was one of the first decisions Morrison had to make. She chose third person omniscient. Why?
The story starts with a series of facts about the house, undisputable because of the confidence with which the narrator gives them. When the narrator is jumping into the heads of different people, the style of the telling changes. This creates the idea that this story is being shared between a number of people. It’s a communal story. That’s really what this book is all about and that’s why Morrison chose this style.