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  • Joanne McFarland (bio)
Toni Morrison . Home. Random House.

Toni Morrison takes a calculated risk with her spare novel Home, the story of Korean War veteran Frank Money and his journey to Lotus, Georgia, to save his sister, Cee. The allegorical novel, with its call-and-response form and reliance on the reader's filling in, reads like a deft invitation. From the single-word dedication through its fifteen brief chapters, the novel asks us to unearth the truth beneath what is being told.

Indeed, a burial lies at the center of the story. As children, Frank and his younger sister crawl onto forbidden farmland, hypnotized by the beauty of two warring stallions. They witness two men cast a body (still alive?) into a shallow grave. Cee is overcome by the sight. Her brother enfolds her, attempting to shelter her, mentally and physically, from the horror.

The question that lies at the heart of Home is, What does it mean to be a man? The stallions are more manly than the humans, who are seen only in parts: "We could not see the faces of the men doing the burying, only their trousers." As a young man, Frank, in turn, becomes dehumanized by the war, brutally killing a starving girl because she sexually arouses him. At first Frank lies to the narrator about who killed the Korean child, blaming the murder on a guard. Toward the end of the novel he confesses: "I shot the Korean girl in her face. I am the one she touched." The trip home to Lotus to save Cee (from what exactly Frank does not know) is a journey of redemption.

The novel's perspective alternates between that of a third-person narrator and Frank's first-hand account to both the reader and the narrator. This back-and-forth creates a sense of the gulf between personal experience and true history. Within both storytelling modes most of the characters remain sketches. This dampens the novel's essential truths, even as it enhances its allegorical nature. Frank hands over his story to an unidentified confidant for reasons that are never quite clear, sometimes chiding the narrator: "Don't paint me as some enthusiastic hero" and, "You can't imagine [Korea] because you weren't there." Frank's own, more emotionally charged, recounting still leaves the reader with a host of why's. [End Page 172]

Throughout Home, symbols for maleness are everywhere: the stallions, the pimp's toothpick, Prince's stolen Ford, Doctor Beauregard's gun with its empty chambers. Symbols for femaleness are equally vivid: the Korean girl's orange, Jackie's iron, the "female paraphernalia" that anchor Lily to the earth—"douche bags, enema attachments, bottles of Massengill, Lydia Pinkham, Kotex, Veet hair removal, facial creams, mudpacks, curlers, lotions, deodorants." Women are the "home" Frank seeks to enter for solace, definition, meaning—"Deep down inside [Cee] lived my secret picture of myself."

Cee is an evanescent presence throughout the novel, a poignant captive of others' yearnings. Cee sees her own possible ruination in the killing that opens the book: "When she saw the black foot with its creamy pink and mud-streaked sole being whacked into the grave, her whole body began to shake." She remains a shadowy figure, always at the mercy of others' designs. Her powerlessness provides the impetus for Frank's return to a place he despises. Only by securing Cee's freedom can Frank attempt to atone for murdering the Korean girl.

Given that Home relies so sharply on the reader's collaboration, the story can be marred when Morrison explains too much, or when her lean characterizations tip over into caricature: "How could I like myself, even be myself if I surrendered to that place where I unzip my fly and let her taste me right then and there?"

Toward the end of Home, Frank saves Cee, as he always has. In this way, he saves himself, taking responsibility for his wartime degradation, reclaiming his sanity and sense of honor, and entering a more authentic phase of manhood. Cee, healed by a coterie of "good witches," has the opportunity to shed the legacy foretold by her...


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pp. 172-173
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