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LET 430 Literatures of the African Diaspora


29 April 2018

Home Sweet Home: The Role of Communities in the Recovery from Individual and
Cultural Trauma in Toni Morrison's ​Home

From slave narratives to contemporary fiction, traumatic experiences have been a


recurring element in African-American literature. Toni Morrison's tenth novel, Home,
explores the black experience in 1950's America while denouncing the traumas endure by
African-American communities of the time. Unlike her previous novels, Home focuses,
primary, on a black male character, Frank “Smart” Money, whose traumatic experiences are
rooted not only in issues of race, but also gender. Because of his past (traumatic) experiences,
Frank has difficulties to identify with his home and his community in the fictional small town
Lotus, in Georgia. In Morrison's Home, the author explores experiences of individual and
cultural trauma and the importance of the community/home in the process of recovery from
these traumas.
Ibarrola explains that "cultural trauma leaves indelible marks upon the group
consciousness and causes a dramatic change in their identity, which is played out by future
generations" (112). In the context of American history, black people have experienced many
collective traumatic experiences; from the memories of the Middle Passage and slavery in
early U.S. history to racial profiling in modern times, African-American people have
collected experiences of trauma for centuries. In Home those experiences are particularly
clear in Frank’s life before and after the war. Before the war, his childhood memories created
a sense of home that is associated with hostility: “Lotus, Georgia, is the worst place in the
world, worst than any battlefield" (Morrison 83, italics in original). After his comeback from
the Korean war, Frank is haunted by his childhood memories as well as his memories from
the army, which put him in a state of almost constant distress that is reflected in his sense of
identity. Sam Durrant remarks that “racial memory threatens to destroy that [personal] sense
of identity by dissolving the individual within a collective experience of negation” (qtd. in
Ibarrola 111). Frank only starts to heal when he begins his journey back to Lotus. During his
journey, he meets other African-American man who not only sympathize with him, but also
help him providing food, shelter and advise. Later, after finally returning home, Frank finds a
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Lotus very different from the one in his childhood memories; the community is willing to
help him, and specially his sister Cee, to heal from the wounds of the past. His sister, after
having underwent violent surgeries on the hands of her employer, a doctor who would
perform medical experiments on black woman, finally got a chance to heal under the care of
the loving and caring countrywomen who she resented as a child. For those women, “the
important thing [was] to get a permanent cure. The kind beyond human power” (Morrison
124), which was particularly relevant for Cee as the traditional forms of healing she found in
Lotus were able to cure her from the harms that were inflected upon her by modern medicine
infected by structural racism.
According to de Bois, the African-American man lives in "a world which yields him
no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other
world" (3) creating a double-consciousness — American and black. The African-American
man is not only striving to attain a self-conscious manhood after years of captivity but is also
trying to consolidate two conflicting identities in a society that subjugates people of African
descent. The struggles of having a double consciousness have been adding to the pains of
cultural trauma of African-American people throughout American history. As Reverend John
Locke explains to Frank in the second chapter of Home, black soldiers, specially, are fighting
for a country that does not consider them full citizens: "An integrated army is integrated
misery. You all go fight, come back, they treat you like dogs. Change that. They treat dogs
better." (Morrison 20); Frank's experiences fighting for the United States in the Korean war,
therefore, only aggravates his struggles as a black American men. Even though Frank does
not realize that his experiences in the army have contributed to his traumas, "the army hadn't
treated him so bad" (Morrison 19), he still battles to live as an African-American war veteran
in a unwelcoming homeland. Frank is reminded of America's hostility toward black men a
few chapters later, when the police officers conducted a "random search" on him and Billy
Watson, another black man who was helping Frank in his journey back to Lotus. Ibarrola
highlights that "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" (111), which is the case of
Frank in Home.
Lotus’s African-American community plays a fundamental role in Frank’s, and Cee’s,
recovery from individual and cultural traumas. Jeffrey Alexander emphasizes that “as they
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identify the cause of trauma, and thereby assume such moral responsibility, members of
collectivities define their solidarity relationships in ways that, in principle, allow them to
share the sufferings of others”. That possibility of sharing suffering, in some ways,
contributes for the healing process of the characters in Home. The community, specially the
woman, seem understanding of the hardships Frank and Cee experienced in life and they are
not only willing to help, but they take responsibility in their well-being. The woman, who
were illiterate, were wise and kind:

As usual she blamed being dumb on her lack of schooling, but that
excuse fell apart the second she thought about the skilled women who
had cared for her, healed her. Some of them had to have the Bible
verses read to them because they could not decipher print themselves,
so they had sharpened the skills of the illiterate: perfect memory,
photographic minds, keen senses of small and hearing. And they know
how to repair what an educated bandit doctor had plundered. (Morrison
128)

In Home, Toni Morrison explores the nuances of individual and cultural trauma in an
engaging narrative that tells the hi(story) of the black American experience in the 1950’s.
Finding home also becomes a search for identity, community and healing for Frank and his
sister. Even though Frank’s culture trauma is not fully healed, as his individual trauma seems
to be, the character find solace in his community and begins to understand the concept of
home.
Works Cited

B., Du Bois W. E. ​The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches.​ Fawcett Publications, 1970.

Ibarrola, Aitor. “The Challenges of Recovering from Individual and Cultural Trauma in Toni

Morrison’s Home.” ​International Journal of English Studies​, vol. 14, no. 1, Jan. 2014.

Morrison, Toni. ​Home:​ Vintage Books, 2013.