The novel only received a modest amount of attention when first published, often reviewed in popular literary magazines. Morrison was praised for her handling of difficult themes. Critic Haskel Frankel said, "Given a scene that demands a writer's best, Morrison responds with control and talent." The first major signal that the book would sell was an extremely positive review in The New York Times in November, 1970. Morrison was also positively reviewed for her break from the status quo of usual novels from the time period, writing to a wider audience and focusing on black subculture in the 1940s, rather than the military culture of the time. African-American critic Ruby Dee wrote, "Toni Morrison has not written a story really, but a series of painfully accurate impressions." Morrison was additionally praised for her wide coverage of emotion in the novel, extending from Pecola Breedlove's quiet descent into madness, to Cholly Breedlove's skewed mindsets.
Critics picked up on Morrison's shortcomings as a first time published author. A common critique of her writing included her language in the novel, as it was often viewed as being made too simple for the reader. Early critics were also ambivalent about Morrison's portrayal of the black woman as an object in society rather than a person, only ever going so far as to bring this fact to light and rarely commenting past it. It was only as feminist critique of the novel began that more in-depth analysis was given on this subject. There was also a difference to be seen in Afro-American critics (who often identified more with the characters of the novel) and Euro-American critics (who often only focused on the actual writing of the novel).
As time passed, more reviews and analyses were written in praise of Morrison's writing of the "colonization of the mind," her critique of white versus black beauty standards, and even began to analyze her use of simplistic language, calling it a stylistic choice rather than a pitfall of the novel.