Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Family and Parenting in Toni Morrison's Love

Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Family and Parenting in Toni Morrison's Love

Article excerpt

Toni Morrison's Love (NY: Alfred Knopf, 2003) like her earlier The Bluest Eye (1970) and Song of Solomon (1976) pays a glowing tribute to the African American family in celebrating it as a vital force that helps create socially sensitive and morally responsible citizenry. To these fictional ends, Morrison explores various human relationships and emotional terrains. The present essay seeks to examine the dense interrelationship between family and the individual in Love through a close reading of the life stories of young Romen and Junior (aka. June).

The evocative description, right at the beginning of the novel, of dinnertime at Gibbons' household, which consists of Sandler, Vida, and their fourteen-year-old grandson Romen, underscores the novel's concern with the nurturing and responsive family. If in divulging the differences between Sandler and Vida "over some old mess" (17) Morrison refuses to romanticize the Gibbons' family, the author also forcefully focuses on the relative rapport and affability between its members.

Such unmistakable filial bonding is further apparent in the care and concern with which Sandler and Vida raise their grandson Romen after their daughter and son-in-law enlist in the army. As ideal surrogate parents, Sandler and Vida not only feel "responsible for Romen" (146) but also see in such responsibility a means to perpetuate the love for their "own daughter" (146). Finding Romen employment in Bill Cosey's household is Sandler's way of ensuring that his grandson stays away from "bad cops, street slaughter, dope death, prison shivs, and friendly fire in white folks' wars" (148). But much to his and Vida's consternation and anguish, Romen comes under the sexual spell of June at the Coseys'.

However, as an exemplary parent figure, Sandler by balancing warmth and affection with directness "minus [...] threat" (151) effectively checks Romen's sexual proclivities and further convinces his grandson that his previous "sniveling one [self] [...] was hipper than one who couldn't help flinging a willing girl [Junior] around an attic" (195). Following his successful internalization of Sandler's parental wisdom, Romen, eventually, retreats from Junior to assist the Cosey women, and this movement clearly signifies his evolution into an emotionally mature and socially sturdy individual. In narrating the story of Gibbons, Morrison highlights both the difficulty of parenting contemporary youth and how family as a social unit continues to have a preponderant role in molding the destiny of individuals. …

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