I shouldn’t be surprised that my heart skipped a few beats when I discovered Toni Morrison’s newest novel (alright, I’m a little late to the game but now is better than never- right?). Feeling a little nostalgic about my college years and missing its security, beauty, and friends- Toni Morrison was exactly what I was missing. I have become somewhat of an African-American lit junkie, if you will. During my freshman year I took an Introduction to Literature class where the professor focused mostly on apartheid literature and this completely sparked my interest. I went on to take a Richard Wright class in which we read many books by Wright, Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin among many others. Venturing further into this literary circle I took an African American Literature course my senior year where we read Ralph Ellison, Anne Petry, more Wright, and more Morrison. I had become completely immersed and I loved every second of it. Hence, my excitement for HOME by Toni Morrison.
Morrison definitely does not disappoint with her latest novel (does she ever?). HOME is about a young Veteran, named Frank Money, who just returned from the Korean War. Frank had a far from easy life. His family was very poor, lived in a depressing town in which Frank described as, “the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield.” All his parents ever did was work for practically nothing, leaving him and his sister to fend for themselves, mostly always starving. Both parents died at a very young age, making Frank feel more alone and more without a real home. The book opens with Frank in the hospital when he receives a letter that his sister, Cee, is in trouble and if he doesn’t come now she will most likely die. Cee had always been dependent on Frank, she never had anyone else she could turn to. He needed her, so he was going to be there. The book tracks Frank’s journey to find his sister, the revelations he makes along the way and just as important, the revelations that Cee makes herself without her brother there to hold her hand.
What I love most about Morrison is that she puts so much meaning into her books with so few words. I could type on and on for days and I still wouldn’t be able to say half of what Morrison could in a couple hundred pages, let alone so gracefully and resonating. I could sit here all night and list off meaning after meaning of each character, object, and place in this book. But, for everyone’s sake (including my own) I won’t. My first reaction is to talk about the character of Frank Money and his journey to find his manhood, purpose, sense of self, and “home”. After all, I did write many of my college papers on manhood- its challenges, meaning, and the struggles that many African American male characters seem to face on their journey to becoming a “man” and feeling worth something. But thats not what sticks out to me with this book. Instead, I am fascinated by the character of Cee.
Cee’s experience working for the doctor is horrible, gruesome, and definitely beyond anything I could ever imagine. But, in a sense- it set her free. Being young, black, and a woman were all disadvantages Cee had to learn to deal with her entire life. These characteristics made her feel insecure, worthless, and incompetent. Cee felt like she was only there to serve others because that’s all she ever knew. Miss Ethel, Cee’s nurse after the horrific events at the doctor’s, opened Cee’s eyes up to a whole other world. A world where she was her own person. A world in which she decided her own fate and what she did or didn’t do. She doesn’t need to listen to what anyone else tells her- she has her own brain with her own thoughts, dreams, and desires.
The turning point of Cee’s journey is when Miss Ethel tells her, “You young and a woman, and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too. Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no evil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world.” These few sentences really jumped out at me, left me staring at the page for a few moments longer than the rest. Although Cee wasn’t physically a slave to anyone, she certainly was mentally. She let other people decide her worth, her destiny, her life. In this moment, Cee decided she was worth something, “I ain’t going nowhere, Miss Ethel. This is where I belong.” Cee doesn’t want to die, especially from the doings of an evil, heartless man. She wants to stay here on Earth with her people, friends, family and fight. She wants to put her own mark on the world as Cee, not as another helpless patient who succumbed to the dominant forces around her.
If you couldn’t tell already, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. I warn you, don’t expect a happy story with pretty butterflies and flowers. But what you will get is hope, empowerment, and a sense of pride. Nothing can hold me back after reading this book. I feel like I can accomplish anything right now because I’m my own person. I have my own hopes and aspirations and I am the only person who can control them.
Whew- I feel like I am sitting back in one of my college classrooms and I couldn’t thank Morrison, my readers, or this blog enough for that.