28 May 2012


Toni Morrison’s new novel, Home, relates the story of the return home of Frank Money who has been called to rescue his younger sister from the medical offices of a doctor who is medically abusing her. The doctor, interested in women’s wombs, was “constructing instruments to see farther and farther into them. Improving the speculum.” Having callously employed (an ironic use of the term here) Ycidra (known as Cee) as his specimen, he has almost killed her. It is no accident that his subject is a young black female, or that the doctor is a Southern racist still suffering from the Confederate loss in the Civil War. Toni Morrison has never ignored the context of history in her novels. That history always has at its center a virulent racism.
For Frank, the home is Lotus, a place that Frank and Cee had always hated, but to which they do return in the end for healing and peace. Cee must seek mending from the experiments of the doctor, and Frank has returned from the Korean War psychically damaged; his life has fallen apart; he must learn to re-engage in life. His journey to save his sister saves his own life as well.
Home recounts Frank’s life as he journeys to Atlanta where his sister has been trapped and is dying and then to Lotus where she will be cared for by the wise and venerable ladies who have lived in Lotus always and whose wisdom derives from the lives they have lived there. Italicized inter-chapters recount Frank’s life from his memory of it, but these chapters appear to be an oral recounting. Since the person to whom Frank apparently speaks is never identified, nor is the occasion of the narration made explicit, the reader becomes the presumed listener to his story. Frank’s story concerns his redemption, and the return not just to his family home but to himself as well. The town of Lotus, from which both Cee and Frank had long left and hoped never to return, becomes transformed into the place to which they must return to achieve some peace. The deaths in his arms of his friends in Korea become linked in Frank’s mind with his journey to save his sister, and his failure to help the former is balanced by his rescue of his sister, even as the cool, sterility of the doctor’s experiments is contrasted with the natural wisdom of the women who care for the rescued Cee. The novel balances the personal Returned from the war Frank is dying no less severely than is Cee: he has suffered the experience of war, suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome even before it acquired that name, and has as a result, destroyed his marriage. 
The novel is framed by the memory of he and his sister having seen the disposal of a body of a black man into a shallow, hidden grave and the revelation towards the end of the novel that that body was the victim of a racist staging of a knife fight between a father and his son in which one had to kill the other or both would be killed by the savage, white audience. Having heard the story of the event and realizing that the body he had seen buried was the event’s loser, Frank takes the quilt that Cee had madetaught to quilt by the ladies who had  nursed her back to health by their love and their healing arts that leaned more to the natural than the antisepticand brother and sister dig up the bones and bury it properly and put up a marker that reads Here Stands A Man.  In burying the man they had once seen buried, Frank and Cee achieve some resolution to the violence of their lives and realize not peace but perhaps, some rest. The book concludes,
I stood there a long while, staring at the tree.
It looked so strong
So beautiful.
Hurt right down the middle
But alive and well.
Cee touched my shoulder
Come on brother. Let’s go home.
It is almost a resolution, but not really. Certainly, though, it is Morrison’s theme—going home—and one that has consumed my thought for years. In Symphony #1, I have explored extensively the experience of leaving and returning home; I was sensitive to Morrison’s perspective from the stance African-American history, understanding a little how history so powerfully determines our relationship to our homes, and therefore to our experiences of leaving and returning to them.  I think we are all hurt down the middle, but alive and well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The title "Home" for your blog today invariably invokes many memories or meanings for people...different for each according to what "home" means to one based on one's experiences.

For me, "coming home" lately has not meant the return to any physical domicile but to my newly present self after much exploration of my thinking and actions (or more precisely where I had been.) A journey that had and continues to be both euphoric and hellish with numerous other feelings as well. I have not yet learned to detach myself from these feelings nor am I sure I want to.

The journey from home stemmed from a deep discontent and anxiety that was beyond my "normal neuroses!" In hindsight I could say I forgot to leave a guard at the gate to my thoughts until it was too late.
After numerous therapy sessions (and probably more to come) and much research and study on my part, I am beginning to think I was and still am going through something called "existential dread." I'm always searching for something which seems to be written "just for me" and felt like I had "come home" when I read about this topic.

I now no longer lament the process as much as I used to...well still sometimes when I fall back into the old, comfortable home of my being. When I return "home" and open the door each day now, I find I must reorient myself to my new surroundings. Hey...it may be painful but my hope is that I'm becoming a better decorator.

Thanks for your blog!

28 May, 2012 21:58  
Blogger A. Alan Block said...

You might want to read my new book Symphony #1. The first movement considers the experience of leaving and arriving home.

29 May, 2012 05:42  

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