Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

The Challenges of Recovering from Individual and Cultural Trauma in Toni Morrison's Home

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

The Challenges of Recovering from Individual and Cultural Trauma in Toni Morrison's Home

Article excerpt

Trauma and recovery are complicated, layered processes for all individuals because both personal and cultural memory reactivate past experiences stored in bodily circuits.

Evelyn J. Schreiber, Race, Trauma, and Home in the Novels of Toni Morrison

Although the emphasis in these novels is on "working through", the novelists nevertheless remain attentive to the resistance and shock of trauma. The absence of the dead remains inviolable and forms the central silence around which the narratives circle but which they cannot finally redeem.

Anne Whitehead, Trauma Fiction


Most critics and reviewers of Toni Morrison's latest novel, Home (2012), have agreed that it reprises many of the themes and narrative techniques that readers have become familiar with in her previous works of fiction. Although deceptively slight, Home brings together most of the resounding topics and storytelling devices that she mined in her earlier novels. According to Michiko Kakutani, "Home encapsulates all the themes that have fueled her fiction [...]: the hold that time past exerts over time present, the hazards of love (and its link to leaving and loss), the possibility of redemption and transcendence" (2012: np). Indeed, the novel can easily be read as an instance of "trauma fiction" in which the author is trying to rescue previously neglected historical periods and to give voice to generally repressed or forgotten stories from the perspective of the unprivileged (see Whitehead, 2004: 82). In order to do so, Morrison makes use of some of her staple narrative techniques such as the inclusion of multiple focalizers, the repetition of the same scenes from various viewpoints, intertextual references to earlier novels, and an intriguing dialogue going on between her main character and a kind of scribe -or implied author. All things considered, it may be said that Morrison manages to capture how many African Americans experienced the period of the 1950s, a period often idealized in the country's historical imagination, but which, as the novel shows, was not without its social complexities and blatant racial abuses (cf. Smith, 2012: 132).

Despite the presence of all those thematic strands and narrative devices reminiscent of her earlier novels, it would be incorrect to assume that Home is a work of fiction lacking in originality. To begin with, for a first time in her long writing career, Morrison has decided to focus primarily on a male protagonist, Frank "Smart" Money, and the difficulties he faces in forming an adequate manhood. Unlike her previous works -mostly covering female issues-, this book delves deep into typically masculine experiences such as the horrors of war, their injurious psychological effects, bonds of male friendship, and brotherly responsibilities (cf. Charles, 2012). The seminal work by Murphy (1994) and Connell (1995) regarding the social construction of hegemonic masculinities -in plural- and the urgent need to study their praxis should prove invaluable in tackling those topics in the novel. Although, as mentioned above, Morrison has often dealt with the unbearable weight of the past on the present, that weight is exponentially multiplied when the victim has been exposed to bigotry and injustice at home, and extreme violence and losses abroad. Churchwell notes that "Morrison returns to the 50s, an era she remembers, to mine the traumatic possibilities of the Korean War and of biological experiments on African-Americans" (2012: np). One last remarkable innovation in the novel is its narrative structure, which alternates the voices of the mentally unstable protagonist - chapters in italics- and that of a more traditional -and apparently objective- scribe. The juxtaposition of these two voices does not only allow Morrison to investigate the complications of representing trauma in fiction, but it also invites her to consider and "negotiate the twin seductions of interiorization and exteriorization" (Christiansë, 2013: 5). …

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