by Toni Morrison

Kerry Nichols (03/07/14): The point-of-view of Home goes back and forth between first person, told by Frank, and a third person omniscient narrator, whose version has been influenced by Frank. The story begins as Frank tells a story about his childhood, when he and his sister sneak onto a farm to see horses, but instead witness a man being buried. Not understanding, the two children put the events from that night in the backs of their minds, not thinking about them again until they are grown. The point of view then shifts to the omniscient narrator who tells about adult Frank who is worried because of a letter he receives about his sister that says, “Come fast. She be dead if you tarry” (Morrison, ch. 2). It is the trigger which begins Frank’s journey home.

After returning to the USA following the Korean War, Frank stays as far from his hometown as possible because of the shame he feels, the trauma he suffered, and the loathing of the small Georgia town. When he receives the urgent letter, he has to travel across the country, relying on good Samaritans to help him along the way. One of these good Samaritans, Billy, brings Frank to his house to sleep, helps him get clothes, and feeds him (Morrison, ch. 2). While he continues on his journey home, both Frank and the omniscient narrator tell stories of Frank’s and Cee’s difficult childhood.

Frank and Cee lived through poverty, racism, and an abusive step-grandmother. Their parents were too busy working to protect them from the neglect and abuse they endured from their grandfather’s wife, who was particularly rough on Cee. Frank had always been over-protective of his little sister, leaving little room for her to have fun. After he left to join the military, Cee was free to do as she pleased. This freedom left her vulnerable to being victimized. At fourteen, she married and moved with a man to Atlanta, where he quickly abandoned her, leaving her penniless and alone. She took a job as a doctor’s assistant, trying to make a better life for herself. Unfortunately, the doctor turned out to be a racist, experimental scientist who wanted to sterilize women who he deemed substandard. Because Cee was uneducated and naive, she admired the books on his shelf that were about eugenics, rather than being suspicious of the doctor’s work. Morrison writes, “Her admiration for the doctor grew even more when she noticed how many more poor people—women and girls, especially—he helped” (ch. 4). It was her naivety that caused her to be in the kind of trouble that needed Frank’s rescuing.

When Frank arrives at the doctor’s Cee is near dead, having been experimented on by the doctor. He has to take her to the one place he never wished to return—home. Once in their home town, Frank takes her to a woman’s house. She takes Cee, but sends him away, as if his role in his sister’s rescue is complete. Her care is completely taken over by female, maternal characters. Morrison writes, “He was blocked from visiting the sickroom by every woman in the neighborhood” (ch. 13). The women scold Cee for allowing herself to be victimized by the doctor. They say, “Who told you you was trash?” (Morrison, ch. 13). The women proceed to make her a strong woman, teaching her how to quilt, crochet and the value of being able to take care of herself. Once better, Cee becomes determined to be a strong woman who does not have to rely on a man to save her.

While Cee learns to become a strong woman, Frank learns to come to terms with his past. He has to confront the shame he carries with him from the Korean War. He admits to killing a little girl, while in Korea, because she aroused him when she touched him and said, “Yum-yum,” hinting that she would pleasure him if he would give her some food (Morrison, ch. 14). This is not the only thing Frank has to come to terms with. He also has to go back to the night when he was a child, when he and Cee saw the man buried. The place where the two children went to see horses was actually a place where black men were forced to fight one another “to the death” (Morrison, ch. 14). The man they witnessed being buried died when his son was forced to kill him. Frank learns that the man’s son refused until his father begged, out of fear that they would both be killed, “Obey me, son, this one last time” (Morrison, ch. 14). Frank decides to alter the outcome of the horrific event from his memory by reburying the man, in a quilt made by his sister, under a tree. Frank’s journey home is complete when he makes peace with his past and learns to accept and love his hometown.

Reading Home through an archetypal criticism perspective helps to bring elements of the story into focus. This type of literary criticism looks for patterns that “commonly recur in other literary works” (Murfin and Ray 29). In this story, these patterns are found in the common character types that can be found in many other stories across many other cultures. There are many archetypal qualities to this story, beginning with Frank. The major theme of this story is that it is the hero’s journey home. Frank embarks on this journey to save his sister. Through his journey the shadow, the darker side of Frank, is shown by the repression of the shame he feels about killing the Korean girl. There are other major archetypes in this story. First, there are the good Samaritans which help both Frank and his sister to survive throughout the story. Characters, such as Billy, who have no ulterior motive than to do the right thing, make Frank’s journey and his sister’s survival possible. Then, there are the villains. This archetype is represented by the grandmother, the doctor, and the racists in the story. Another archetype is the maternal caregivers. These healing women are empowered by their gender and have a basic instinct which enables them to cure Cee. Since Frank represents the hero archetype, oppositely, Cee is the victimized girl archetype—the damsel in distress. Cee has a journey of her own that she has to travel. Hers is one of self-discovery, where she learns from her mistakes and eventually represents a more modern type of archetype, the independent or empowered girl.

Though this novel is brief, Morrison packs many layers into her characters and storyline, creating a thought-provoking, interesting read. Though Frank is the hero of the story, he is also damaged, angry, and full of regret. Morrison reveals many sides to his character, which highlights the difficulty of the hero’s journey. She shows the love he feels for Cee, the need to escape his hometown, the trauma that was inflicted upon him at war, the shame of his actions while in Korea, his willingness to sacrifice his own needs to save his sister, and his desire to make peace with his past. Cee is also a fully developed character. In this story, Morrison shows her grow from an abused young girl, to a victimized young woman, into a strong and empowered woman. The storyline is also layered to create a complete world.

There are many subplots that occur within Home. Racism is in the background of all that happens to both Frank and Cee. Morrison reveals the racism in this novel in an indirect way, never pointing out the races of people, but instead allowing readers to draw their own conclusions based on the context of the story. Readers are able to make these assumptions because of their collective understanding about the racism that was common in mid-twentieth century America. For example, though Morrison never reveals the race of the father and son who were forced to fight one another, or the races of the enforcers, readers can assume that the father and son were black and the aggressors were white based on the clues she provides. She writes, “They brought him and his daddy from Alabama. Roped up” (ch. 15). Reader’s collective memory of a volatile, racist point in American history allows them to connect the southern state of Alabama and the image of men being tied with rope to that racist past and conclude that the victims were black and were being brutalized by white men. Poverty is another subplot. When Frank and Cee were children, they were forced to live with their abusive step-grandmother due to their parent’s poverty. Also, Frank mentions to Cee that “the army was the only solution” for him to leave Lotus (Morrison, ch. 2). Had Frank’s family not been impoverished, he could have afforded another option to leave town. There are many layers and subplots within this story, which make it a rich and interesting read. As is typical of Morrison’s writing, Home is beautifully written. The artistry that is infused into every sentence created makes this book a pleasure to read. For example, to describe Cee’s first experience with sex, rather than be crass, Morrison describes it as “the great thing people warned about or giggled about,” keeping in line with the young age of Cee’s character (ch. 4). Her use of multiple points of view creates a dynamic story that allows readers to see the tale from many different vantage points. The most interesting aspect of the different points of view used by Morrison is that she manages to utilize an unreliable third person narrative, something typically reserved for a first person narration. This is due to the fact that the third person omniscient narrator is telling a story that was told to him or her by Frank. This unreliability becomes apparent when Frank stops the story being told by the omniscient narrator to admit that he lied to him or her about who shot the Korean girl (Morrison, ch. 14). This unique and unexpected type of narration is exciting and interesting. Even more brilliant is that Morrison manages to keep the points of view organized in a way that makes the story easy to follow and understand.
Rating: ****

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