God Help the Child by Toni Morrison provides a striking narrative into the generational pains of race, intimacy, parenting, love, responding to the injustices of life, and varying degrees of assuaging guilt over life’s sometimes cruel lessons. The moral of this tale is something akin to “children remember what you did to them growing up.”
I am a male in my forties, married without kids, “parent” to a well-mannered dog. In reading Ms. Morrison, there are parts of the struggle that I intellectually recognize as difficult. I may lack some life experience in really feeling what motivated characters in God Help the Child.
My instincts tend toward seeing Sweetness as a product of an environment skewed towards depending excessively on self in a world bent on beating you down. I see here tacit acceptance of a racist construct dictated by when and where she lived. I saw Sweetness passing the cynicism of her experience onto Bride (Lula Ann) as a means of toughening Bride to a place of self-reliance in a world that offered less love than is right.
I feel sympathy for the cultural lot given Sweetness by the larger culture as well as Bride’s father, subject to the same forces and an inflicting force of the self-reliance ethos of Sweetness’ experience. My view is that you love those you’ve loved, in the face of the larger forces of history that may be working against you. I recognize irony for some that could point out that my life experience affords me that privilege.
In trying to gain love from Sweetness, I can understand though not condone Bride’s in childhood attempt to gain the affection of a mother through accusing an innocent woman of a terrible crime. It is a class and color anxiety that strains the life experiences between Sweetness and Bride, with Bride’s journey being the largest narrative of many Morrison articulates.
Booker and Bride have an oddly tense relationship fueled less by class or color tension than by a tension over a difficulty coping with child abuse. Bride, as a dark-skinned black adult of an emotional age similar to a “bone white” child of a prostitute named Rain, grows and receives catharsis in her relationship with Rain. Booker, like Rain, experienced the violence of childhood abuse. We see Booker cope with unhealthy outbursts against those he sees as perpetuating abuse against children he encounters as an adult.
Booker and Bride parent a child together. Unlike Bride’s parents, the promise of these two is to raise the child together as a couple. Sweetness, in learning of the pregnancy yet not the intended relationship, offers a judgment of the pending childhood that echoes the subject seen at least four times in this novel. It is Sweetness that clarifies that inability of the adults to take responsibility for the outcome of children when she summarized her assessment of the pending parenthood: “God help the child.” It is in this that she surmises the cycle of abuse, the overwhelming cynical cycle of abuse, will be repeated for the child of Booker and Bride.
Overall, I give the book 3.5-stars out of 5.
Matt – Monday, May 8, 2017