Home – by Toni Morrison – book review

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 Home by Toni Morrison
To be black in America. An experience that most of us could not have and do not understand or imagine although we may live beside black neighbours. That is the experience that Toni Morrison expresses so tenderly, expertly. No rancour, just a relating of the everyday life of black people, against the background of America in the 1950's – refusal at lunch counters, brutality from outsiders, managing to live on the underside of an economy. Home starts with the burial of a possibly still living black man in a field, an event both real in terms of the story, and symbolic of the world in which the two small children who witness it will live. One of the chidren turns out to be Frank Money, the adult protagonist in the story. 

Frank, an American veteran of the Korean War, suffering from what would now be called PTSD, searches for his ill and victimized sister.At first the reader is under the impression that this is a series of unconnected short stories, but it soon becomes apparent that all of the characters who have touched Frank in some way have their own stories which are related in distinct chapters.

The Home of the story is the community of Lotus, a barren haven settled by a group of black citizens who have been chased summarily out of Texas. In the first part of the story, it appears to have little appeal. Frank and his friends try desperately to escape, enlisting in the military. Frank's sister Cee has similar dreams which are dashed when she reaches the city. By the end, Frank recognizes that the dignity and community of that little place, the caring and sharing that are the essence of life and in that community, all black, he is at home and has a place, even though he will be a cotton picker, a job he had previously disdained.

Toni Morrison handles her characters in a deceptively matter of fact way, for we see lives experienced as we, certainly in Canada, can barely conceive them. The whites in the story are either incidental or purveyors of evil, yet she does not harp upon that. Her characters are or learn to be self sufficient and self reliant, creating their own worth in an outside world that does not value them. The goal, as two of the female characters discover, is to find out who you are and live that life. As the elder Ethel tells Cee, "Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Seed your own land….. Somewhere inside you is that free person I'm talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world."