TONI MORRISON HAS written eloquently about the legacy of slavery for black people in North America. In a series of novels, beginning with The Bluest Eye (1970), she examines the damage inflicted by white slave-owners. the impact of segregation, and the struggle of black communities to find their place in American society. The focus of her enquiry is the human heart – its possibilities, contradictions and failures. Drawing on religious myth and history and employing a poet’s dexterity with language, she explores the emotional effects of injury and displacement, and the difficulty of evaluating the behaviour of people acting under extreme conditions. In Beloved, a mother kills her daughter to save her from slavery, a tragedy which, Morrison suggests, cannot be judged according to everyday rules of right and wrong. In jazz, a middle-aged man shoots his young lover, but issues of race and identity are deeply implicated in the fatality, and affect the reader’s assessment of the murder.