The issue of social justice involves dilemmas in which individuals struggle to find a sense of place in the modern world. When people suffer at the hands of racial discrimination, one of the few hopes remaining for them lies in finding a sense of community, a place where they no longer face prejudice. In Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home, the narrator, Frank, tells of his struggle to leave the burdensome roots of his past in Georgia while trying to find solace in the outside world. The memory of his homeland infuriates him, with its ties to racism. Yet, on the other hand, Frank’s sister, Cee, still lingers in Georgia, for she is ill and in danger of dying. But she also remains in the south because she feels as if it is her mission to help those in need there. Frank, out of a sense of love and obligation towards Cee, returns to his roots, determined to save her. This will set the stage for a kind of racial realization for Frank, in that he discovers that he need not totally abandon his past. Therefore, the novel presents the idea of home as a paradox; while it represents refuge, it also stands as a reminder of things we would rather avoid.
At the novel’s opening, Frank tells the writer that the home in which he and Cee were raised in was a strict familial setting. Frank says, “When we got home we expected to be whipped or at least scolded for staying out so late, but the grown-ups did not notice us. Some disturbance had their attention” (Morrison 5). Absolute control appears to be one of the tenets of Lotus, Georgia, with its insistence that children should obey their elders without question. The kids do not have total liberty as to what they can do. They must still submit, for now, to authority. As they grow older, however, they will come to realize that disobedience to customs results in much worse than simply being punished for something as trivial as being out late; authority, in the Georgia of the past, means obeying the social norms and cues that often put blacks at the bottom of the social ladder. If blacks refuse to remain “in their place,” attempting to make a name for themselves, then they will suffer chastisement at the hands of society. This is the primary reason Frank desires to leave Lotus for good. No longer does he wish to enslave himself to racists and abusers. Home, for him, lies in being subjugated to pain and misery.
For Frank, home also represents a potential place of perpetual shame, where others criticize him for surviving the perils of war. The narrator says “He didn’t want to go home without his ‘homeboys.’ He was far too alive to stand Mike’s folks or Stuff’s. His easy breath and unscathed self would be an insult to them” (Morrison 15). Frank cannot bring himself back home without the close friends he fought alongside with during the war. Since he grew up in a place where he found at least a few people to get along with (besides Cee), he feels guilty in letting down their loved ones. There lies a bond linking him with his neighbors, creating a moral obligation (on his part) to look after them. Ironically, in this way, home is not a place void of heart, though it may, many times, be a place of persecution. Instead, home can be where you link with those who share similar traits with you, thus engendering a sense of security.
On his way back to Georgia, Frank engages in conversation with a waiter, asking him where he can get something to eat. After mentioning a diner, the waiter says, “These hotels and what you call tourist homes can cost you a pretty penny and they might not let you in with those raggedy galoshes on your feet” (Morrison 25). Though in this instance the concept of home is viewed as a place of luxuriance, the price tag for such an existence limits itself to the rich. And not only does the upper class possess entitlements concerning these places, they usually refuse to open their arms to poor citizens needing their help. They establish a kind of elitism, where only the rich receive the benefits and necessities of life. Even if you’re lucky enough to be admitted in the upper class’s circle, you must present yourself in a certain way, void of any trace of impoverishment. Otherwise, you will be refused admittance. In the case of social justice, this points to the sobering truth that certain individuals in a society, who are not as fortunate as others, must painfully watch as others enjoy the delights of life. Clearly not everyone in America receives equal benefits to the American Dream. For Frank, the idea that he must be a certain way to inherit a place in the world is despicable. He needs to find a home more easily accessible.
There seem to be those willing to lend a hand to Frank on his travels, demonstrating that home can be a place where people assist you and not reject you based on your own shortcomings. While on his journey, Frank receives assistance from a man named Billy: “’Come on home with me. Stay over. Meet my family” (Morrison 29). In this example, home need not be confined to your roots or where you’re from; it may even be a place outside your territory, where anyone desires to offer help in a world often plagued by chaos and stressful societal systems. In the hectic life he lives from his turbulent past, both at home and in war, Frank gains assistance from others’ hospitality, the same kind of care his sister Cee shows to her own townsfolk. If individuals break away from the bondage of their roots and into the world, they may very well find a solace in unlikely places. Frank’s new friend, Billy, serves as a temporary safety until he arrives at his “true” home, the place where he was born and raised.
Without a sense of home, neither Frank nor Cee can function in the world. On reading a letter explaining that Cee is dying, Frank reflects on the situation: “If the letter writer, Sarah, couldn’t help nor her boss either, well, she must be withering away far from home” (Morrison 34). The word “home” in this phrase signals Cee herself, her own personal being. To wither away from home is to lose yourself to death. Cee, in a desperate situation, struggles to remain alive, to live purposefully. Unlike Frank, she desires to live in Lotus, Georgia still, so that she may help those who struggle. But to do so, she must rely on her own inner strength and resolve. Her own compassion and love are her “home,” the source where she derives all her moral fiber. Her spirit, being the seat of her affections, creates the kind of peace others need. From the inward being spring all human emotions, whether they are meant for ill or prosperity. One of the pursuits of the modern human is identity: what does it entail, exactly? Is it a matter of race, creed, or social class? Or is it something that cannot be seen with the naked eye? For Cee, her identity is found in her home: her heart.
Frank and Cee grow up in harsh conditions, a home void of care and affection. Their guardian, Lenore, abuses Frank and Cee on a daily basis. She could care less for their welfare. Frank remembers: “Lenore was the wicked witch. Frank and Cee, like some forgotten Hansel and Gretel, locked hands as they navigated the silence and tried to imagine a future” (Morrison 53). The classic story of Hansel and Gretel involves a witch wanting to kill two wandering children. If Lenore had her way completely, she would be no less kind than the witch. Her duties and obligations put a strain of Frank and Cee. So burdened are the two kids that they imagine a future in which they can find a more stable sense of community. The “silence” refers to the failure of others to respond to Lenore’s cruelty. No one gives the children any voice. In regards to social justice, individuals use the power of imagination and fairy tales to reveal to readers just how blight their current conditions are. Fiction functions as a means for Frank to show the reader just how desperate his and Cee’s situation is. His narrative brings awareness that justice is wanting in a community that seems to have everything together.
Even when Frank leaves Lotus, Georgia and escapes from the clutches of Lenore, he ends up in a domestic situation that is hardly better. Home stands for the adult Frank as a place of shattered relationships. Lily, Frank’s wife, loses her connection with her husband since he wants to go back to Georgia to save Cee. The narrator says, “The multiple times she came home to find him idle again, just sitting on the sofa staring at the rug, were unnerving” (Morrison 80). Lost in his own fears, Frank fails to effectively communicate with Lily. As a result, a gap grows in their affection towards one another. As much as home can be a place of harmony, it can also serve as a stage of discord. Despite Lily’s attempts to restore the relationship, Frank fails to respond. One reason for the difficulty in establishing social justice lies in the family’s failure to function. When communities no longer provide a place where relationships can be built, humans become isolated from each other, harboring distaste and dissatisfaction with one another. And without a stable bond linking people together, the more difficult achieving justice becomes.
The freedom Frank and Cee ultimately need consists in them having the liberty to define who they are without heeding the advice of others. Only then can they gain a sense of identity in a changing world. Ethel, a lady who helps Frank take care of Cee, talks to her about the importance of following one’s dreams and desires: “I seen how you tagged along with your brother. When he left you ran off with that waste of the Lord’s air and time. Now you back home. Mended finally, but you might just run off again. Don’t tell me you’re gonna let Lenore decide who you are?” (Morrison 125). Cee has arrived back “home” in that she is now in a position to change her life for the better. But until she let’s go of the past and realize that Lenore did nothing for her will she truly become a woman. Until she develops a sense of self-esteem will she truly embrace her individual talents and liberties. Home is the place where she can be at one not only with Frank but with herself. And likewise for Frank, he can move from the past and realize that it only served to bring him where he is today. When they look back at the racism and abuse they suffered, all the cruelty and malignance, they need not be weighed down by its scars; they move forwards towards their real home: their future.
As I personally gain a sense of awareness of social justice and how the issues surrounding it affect me, I realize that I, too, have a major role to play. Understanding my own white race’s history with blacks humbles me to acknowledge that we all carry prejudice of one sort or another. Blacks would admit the same. Yet we can all move on from the past and seek to establish loving relations towards one another. When we work together and realize that we are each a mystery to be solved, we’ll come to understand the ultimate meaning of home: a place where you belong, without any unnecessary judgment of any kind.
Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books A Division of Random House, Inc. 2012. Print.