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Home by Toni Morrison
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Jul 08, 12

Read in June, 2012

Frank Money, a Korean War vet, returns home, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He does not want to return to his hometown of Lotus, Georgia, but he has no choice when he learns that his sister Cee is very ill. As he travels back, the reader learns Frank’s history, how he had always been his sister’s protector, and how he enlisted to escape the stifling atmosphere of Lotus.

Most of the book is narrated from the third person omniscient point of view, some focusing on other characters besides Frank, but the insertion of first person dramatic monologues from Frank’s viewpoint are the most revealing.

As would be expected from Morrison, the book is about racism, this time in the period between just before the end of Jim Crow and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. Frank is a war veteran but that doesn’t guarantee him equal treatment, even in the Northern states through which he travels.

The novel follows the classic structure of the hero’s journey. Frank leaves home, undergoes trials, gains self-knowledge through his experiences, and returns home a changed person. Frank thinks about his sister who “could know the truth, accept it,” and in the end he does that too: he accepts the truth about his heart of darkness revealed in Korea. When he returns to Lotus, his attitude has changed: “he could not believe how much he had once hated this place. Now it seemed fresh and ancient, safe and demanding.” It is as if he recognizes the symbolism of the town’s name: though its roots are usually found in the muck at the bottom of ponds, it is a beautiful flower.

In some ways the book seems an indictment of medicine as practised by men. Cee recovers because the women in her community use traditional healing practices which are sharply contrasted with patriarchal medicine epitomized by a Dr. Scott who uses women for his experiments in eugenics. “Those women with seen-it-all eyes” are the ones who “repair what an educated bandit doctor had plundered.” Frank isn’t even allowed to visit his sister because the women believe “his maleness would worsen her condition.” Cee is healed not just physically, but spiritually as well: “They delivered unto him a Cee who would never again need his hand over her eyes or his arms to stop her murmuring bones.” I love books with strong female characters, but I found the portrayal of these healers too sanctifying.

This sanctification continues with Cee. As the younger sibling, she was always the one whom Frank rescued, and he does save her from the clutches of Dr. Scott. However, Cee, after her recovery is determined that “she wanted to be the person who would never again need rescue. . . . she wanted to be the one who rescued. . . “Ironically it is her older brother whom she recues by showing him that she “was gutted, infertile, but not beaten” and he need not be either.

In the end, both Cee and Frank are like a sweet bay tree which is described as “split down the middle, beheaded, undead – spreading its arms, one to the right, one to the left.” “It looked so strong/So beautiful/Hurt right down the middle/But alive and well.” It is this affirmation of human strength in the midst of suffering that is the strongest reason to read this book.
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