7th Jun 2012
Home by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison has long been preoccupied with ideas of exclusive belonging. Maya Jaggi wrote that her works question ‘why all ideas of paradise, our nations, idylls and havens, should be built on separation and rejection’.
Home brings these concerns to bear on the Korean War, and the alienation of soldiers who fought for a country that treated them like outsiders.
Frank returns from Korea to an uncanny homeland – the key fits but the house is strange and unfamiliar. Colour bleeds from his vision and he roams the country with only a zoot-suited ‘dream ghost’ for company.
Even when he has a place to stay he is homeless, a vagrant who wanders without shoes and without purpose. He avoids Lotus because he can’t bear to go home without his ‘homeys’, cant face their parents who would surely resent his survival. He only goes back when his little sister Cee needs protection: ‘Come fast. She be dead if you tarry.’
According to Lenore, anyone born in the street rather than safe at home must be headed nowhere fast and so Cee was fated to be a ‘gutter child’ from the moment she arrived on the road.
Now, missing the brother who always made everything better and abandoned by the rat-husband she should have been warned against, Cee falls victim to Dr. Beau, the eugenicist, and unwittingly becomes his medical experiment.
Cee’s delight in her new job is painfully shrouded in foreboding proleptic hints and rumours of hospitals selling bodies to the medical school because ‘doctors need to work on the dead poor so they can help the live rich.’
Throughout the novel, Morrison questions the notion of narrative belonging. Her vagrant prose meanders through a chorus of tales and the main story is interrupted by passages of the first person Frank whose voice is shot through with trauma and who challenges whoever is ‘set on writing [his] story’ to ‘describe that if you know how’.
Morrison’s symbolism is as searing as ever and she employs it to entangle the reader in Frank’s confusion and repression as each fallible testimony competes for authority.
Like Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, Home is shot through with trauma. The prose is scarred with omission and littered with ellipses that leave room for the small hope that a book can house the distorted stories of the Money children, and that Frank and Cee can have a homecoming after all.