TONI MORRISON – GOD HELP THE CHILD – 2015
This is the book of an old lady.
She is telling us a story about the future the way she sees it.
“A child. New life. Immune to
evil or illness, protected from kidnap, beatings, rape, racism, insult, hurt,
self-loathing, abandonment. Error-free. All goodness. Minus wrath.” (page 175)
And to make sure we understand
the dream she adds:
“Good luck and
God help the child.” (page 178)
Those are her concluding words
from a character who is going to be a grandmother. These words are addressed
both to her own daughter and to the future child that is going to be born. And
these two endings sound like a surreal vision, first because Boston
is reverberating in our short memory and will reverberate for a long time in
our consciousness. Let alone all the wars around the world, terrorists attacks
here and there, and of course daily crime in all countries without any exception!
It is a lie and it will require a lot of attention from God to even start
fulfilling this dream.
The second reason why we seem to
be in a fairy-tale is that she explained in a recent interview she does not
have to say she is sorry because she deals with black characters. But that is
just the point. This book does not deal with black characters. She deals with
characters who have suffered some deep and serious traumas when they were
children, and they accidentally happen to be black, even the grandmother who
could pass for white. To assert that she deals with black characters seems to
mean that she deals with the problems of black people. She does not. She deals
with standard problems children have to go through, and these children happen
to be black and that changes nothing.
Let’s take the only man in this
tale, Booker. He is from a happy large family, till one day the eldest son,
Booker’s elder brother Adam, is abducted by a child molester, a homosexual
white child molester who is indifferent about the races of the children he
abducts, since some are white, some are black and he carries their names
tattooed on his shoulders. Then in the family, stricken by grief till the body
is finally recovered some six months later, and they shift then to moving on,
because they have to if they want to survive, the only one who does not follow
is Booker. All of them except Booker who leaves his family for ever. There is
absolutely nothing typically black in this story.
Now the main character Lulu Ann,
aka Bride, a successful beauty product designer, is blue-black, which was the
drama of her mother who easily passed for white. That is racial for sure. The
mother, abandoned by her husband who also passed for white, has to raise this
blue-black nigger. The racism is in her mind and that is awful. Of course we do
have allusions to some racism around her but she ends up, without any real
training, becoming a successful executive in a business. I would say this is a
perfect example of diversity and integration.
But to capture the love and
attention of her mother when she was seven or eight, she testified against a female
white teacher she accused in court of having molested some children in the next
door kindergarten. She gets the attention of her mother for sure, of the press
and the community for sure too. But it is all a lie. The mother gives us some
echoes of the difficult child she becomes then and she more or less runs away
as far as possible. An attitude that is difficult to understand and has nothing
to do with race. Any child who is disregarded by his or her parents is ready to
do anything to get their attention, even if that attention is regular beatings
he or she provokes. Nothing new under the sun. A child needs attention,
contact, including physical contact and love from his or her parents, otherwise
the child will grow crooked and will do bad things and will escape in a phantom
world of some kind where he or she sill be in constant contact with a phantom
doppelganger who will tell him or her what to do. . . to get the attention of
his or her parents, of the world even.
And this Lulu Ann, aka Bride, was
supremely successful at doing.
The story revolves around a physical
transformation of Bride after Booker leaves her without any explanation. Her
pierced ears lose their piercing. Her armpit and pubic hairs disappear. She
loses her breasts completely. She is regressing to the little lying girl she
was in court when eight. The loss of her man triggers the fact that she physically
regresses back to girlhood. This is unrealistic. That she be regressing back to
girlhood mentally is totally understandable. She regresses back to her lie, to
the lie that traumatized her for life, based on the lack of love that
traumatized her for life too. Though she can confess her lie, though she cannot
repair the damage she caused to the female white teacher who spent some ten
years in prison because of that lie, she cannot in anyway erase the memory of
it and, worst of it all, of the loveless mother she had and her no father
whatsoever, not to speak of the damage these facts caused on her and her psyche
But that is in no way racial. This
is human and the papers are full of such events everyday.
The fact that she manages – after
many incidents and accidents – to find Booker again and to get things straight with
him, and then the fact that after just a few days with him, at most a couple of
weeks, she is able to announce she is pregnant and he is the father is surprising.
Was she pregnant when she started her chase? We were told she skipped two or three
menstrual cycles but that was going along with the other physical magical transformations.
Was it the only one that was real? Was she at least two months pregnant when
she started the chase? That is kind of loosely sown up. The lace is unraveling.
That story is good, but it would
have been a master piece if she had forgotten about the black color of her
characters and if she had been able to describe the same world as universal and
to tighten up some loose ends and loose threads. But as the will of a grandmother,
as the novel written for her own grandchildren to remember her, it is a
masterpiece. Victor Hugo wrote poems for his grandchildren too. They are
certainly not his greatest poetry, though they are fine and even emotional at
times in their naivety.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU