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Metaphysics of Self in Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child

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Abstract

Various factors lead Morrison to write God Help the Child, in which one of the major factor is the self. Most of the work of Morrison contains social statements and attest to the physical, emotional and psychological abuse African American suffered at the hands of whites. The present study intends to analyze the metaphysics of self in God Help the Child. The study adopts the qualitative approach for studying Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize winner novel in the light of self creation, a step in the process of embracing personalism.

Introduction

For almost half a century Morrison’s subject has been racial prejudice, a story that she has told and retold with a steadiness of rage and compassion. Many African American novels like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Richard Wright’s Black Boy, contains social statements and attest to physical, emotion and psychological abuse African Americans suffer at the hands of whites. Often called Freed Slave narratives, these novels directly attack white values. While most of the Toni Morrison’s novels fit into this genre, she focuses primarily on the characters, experiences, the choice they have made and the reasons for their choices. Morrison in her novels occasionally adds the element of magical realism.

Morrison’s earliest novel, The Bluest Eye, provides clear examples of characters who accept white values. In the novel, Morrison criticizes American indifference which prevents individuals from making conscious decisions and creating themselves. Same is the case with her latest novel ‘‘God Help the Child’’ in which the protagonist in an effort to escape the isolation she experiences, ignores her own ideas, feelings and needs in favor of following the popular crowd, the rich, the powerful, the ‘beautiful.’ Morrison also questions the instant reactionary myth-making i.e. ‘‘Black is beautiful’’ which shows power depends on beauty.

Metaphysics is the exploration into the nature of reality and so the metaphysics of the self is exploration into the nature of the self. The question arises what makes up the self; the phenomena that we encounter and experience in the subjective world. Mind as an interior of the subjective world and there locate in the centre a core of the self which might be known as consciousness or awareness. That core of self experiences everything that happens to it but it cannot experience itself directly and the reason for this is that it’s like an eye. It sees everything around itself but cannot see itself and as a result we end up seeing only what is happening around the central point. The things that are closest to central point are mental construct that are heavily associated with our sense of identity. Our sense of identity includes gender, memories, body image, our relationships to others, our beliefs and our experiences. When we try to look inward or to look into centre of ourselves we can’t see it but we do see whole things associated with the identity and these things become a collective then our mind starts to believe that this is the self. And this collection of construct that’s an illusion of self is called ego. When this ego is thought as the entire self it often causes so many emotional problems.

In the novel, ‘‘God Help the Child’’ the main character can be seen fighting for the identity and the self. From her birth she was being rejected by her parents because of her blackness which became her childhood misery. As a child her mind started to construct an ego and one of those construct was ‘Gender’, as a female her body and looks were supposed to be white, beautiful, desired and attractive. As for the male the standards are different which require dominance, physically strong and stoic. They were probably the beauty standards at the time if they are not desired enough or if they not fulfill this standards they were not consider as the part of the society which leads to isolation and identity crisis. Considering all these standards Bride works in the fashion and beauty industry where one stylists recommended her to dress only in white, she makes herself, ‘‘a panther in snow.’’

This ego or self causes problem in the relationships when an individual connects with someone or have relationship this relationship becomes the big part of the ego, the other persons love for you becomes the part of your identity and when it is taken away the individual becomes devastate. The same happens with Bride after Booker left her and went away she was devastated and on her journey to find her love she became aware of her own ego and identifies which part lie’s a true self. That is the point when the pain from losing ego starts to diminish that’s when you start seeing yourself more accurately and as that process happens ego diminishes and starts to take the form of awareness that we can’t see. This makes everything get better and begins to encompass everything in your subjective experience and that is the state of balance.

In literature, metaphysics can be identified simply by reading any passage or whole work if they deal with the idea of ‘self’, ‘spirit’ and ‘existence’. The novel ‘God Help The Child’ by Toni Morrison exhibits the very ideas of self and identify, through the characters like Bride, Sweetness, Rain, and Booker, Morrison presents childhood trauma suffered by the characters followed by the quest of self realization. The whole novel displays a profound understanding of American culture, freedom, social classes, individualism and inner struggles of individuals; the delusion of racism, violence and redemption.

‘God Help the Child’ revolved around the life of Bride, also known as Lula Ann Bridewell. She was a young black woman in her early twenties who had to overcome the crisis in her life, particularly from her childhood, to become the successful business woman she is today. She works for the cosmetic company Sylvia, Inc. The story shares her childhood trauma which shapes her character and allows her to discover her outstanding abilities.

The novel begins with Bride’s mother, Sweetness, telling the story of Lula Ann’s birth. Sweetness and her husband, Louis, were both light-skinned blacks with good hair. That’s why both parents were shocked when Lula Ann was born.

‘She was so black she scared me. Midnight black, Sudanese black.’ – Sweetness. ‘God Help the Child’ 

Because of her dark color, Louis assumed that she wasn’t his baby, he never touched her, and eventually left Sweetness. Sweetness was embarrassed to be seen with such a dark child. She treated her harshly from the beginning and doesn’t even wanted to touch the baby, a feeling she had throughout Lula Ann’s whole life. Since she was ashamed for people to think that Lula Ann was her child, she told the baby to call her “Sweetness” instead of “Mama” or “Mother.”

‘I told her to call me ‘Sweetness’ instead of ‘Mother’ or ‘Mama’. It was safer. Being that black and having what I think are too-thick lips calling me ‘Mama’ would confuse people.’ – Sweetness. ‘God Help The Child’ 

Sweetness saw Lula Ann’s color as “a cross she will always carry” – Sweetness. ‘God Help The Child’ 

Throughout the novel Sweetness professes over and over that Lula Ann’s plight in life was not her fault.

Though it started with Bride’s blackness, she was rejected by her parents because of it. For as much as Sweetness hated Bride’s skin color, Bride turned it into an asset.

‘I sold my elegant blackness to all those childhood ghosts and now they pay me for it. I have to say, forcing those tormentors- the real ones and others like them- to drool with envy when they see me is more than payback. It’s glory.’ – Bride. ‘God Help the Child’ 

Color phobia undoubtedly been a compelling issue among some blacks, with black skin being an embarrassing stigma, Bride overcomes this stigma and instead of being embarrassed by her blackness she embraces her color but she was unable to shake her tormented past; the memory of being rejected by her parents because of her color haunted her throughout her life.

As soon as she left her mother, she changed her name to Bride and acquired a second skin to her blue-black hue; she wore only white clothes and stilettos, drove a Jaguar and worked her way up to bean executive at You, Girl, a cosmetic company where black was the new black. But while her very existence was celebrated, her childhood trauma lived just under her skin.

Bride’s boyfriend Booker was a happy little boy in a happy family until his beloved older brother, Adam, was murdered by a child molester, leaving a hole in Booker’s heart. Unable to forgive his family for trying to move on after Adam’s death, Booker has become “a leaver” who has abandoned his parents and his siblings and he even leave Bride as well, shattering her heart and with unanswered questions. Booker, another character questioned about his self. His aunt Queen Olive accused him of being in control of his dead brother Adam.

‘Well what? You lash Adam to your shoulders so he can work day and night to fill your brain. Don’t you think he’s tired? He must be worn out having to die and get no rest because he has to run somebody else’s life.’ – Queen. ‘God Help the Child’ 

Bride’s journey to self-acceptance after the rejection by her boyfriend takes her on another direction where she tries to atone for her mistake in helping to convict Sofia, the woman wrongfully accused of molestation. Along the way, she encounters another character shaped by childhood trauma: Rain, a white girl, sexually abused by a man known to her mother; she is rescued by a hippy couple, and both this couple, and Rain, rescue Bride in different ways; Bride also learns about Adam, Booker’s brother, whose story shapes him, and forms a particularly difficult and uncomfortable section of the book. On her way to find Booker, Bride was rescued by a hippy couple after a car crash. She lived with the couple for few weeks and is able to thoroughly examine her life. In those days she realizes the change in her physique and she ponders upon her own existence.

The ending of ‘God Help the Child’ closes with a death and a new life and moreover with a note of hope. Bride after being reunited with Booker announces her pregnancy.

Morrison describes Bride and Booker’s thoughts about the future:

“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. So they believe.”

‘God Help the Child’, indeed a depiction of inner struggle, childhood trauma and self realization, the novel celebrates characters who achieve selfhood in spite of childhood suffering.

Conclusion

‘The trauma is…..the severe fragmentation of the self’¹Toni Morrison’s novels revolve around the fundamental issues of African-Americans, these issues include alienation, identity crisis and fragmentation of self. The characters of Toni Morrison’s fictions are relatively free from social norms, they are free to create themselves. This freedom creates complexity in the characters and they’re often found in the state of alienation and they struggle for the stability of their identify. ‘God Help the Child’, indeed a depiction of inner struggle, childhood trauma and self realization, the novel celebrates characters who achieve selfhood in spite of childhood sufferings.

References:

  • Book God Help the Child Evans, Mari. ed. Black Women Writers. New York: Anchor Books, 1984.
  • Atlas, Marilyn Judith. ‘Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child and the Reviewers.’ Midwestern Miscellany 18 (1990): 45-57.
  • Christian, Barbara. ‘The Concept of Class in the Novels of Toni Morrison.’ Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women Writers. New York: Pergamon Press, 1986.
  • Morrison. ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature’, Modern critical views: Toni Morrison, Ed. Harold Bloom. New York; Chelsea House, 1990, P.g 214 

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Metaphysics Of Self In Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/metaphysics-of-self-in-toni-morrisons-god-help-the-child/
“Metaphysics Of Self In Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/metaphysics-of-self-in-toni-morrisons-god-help-the-child/
Metaphysics Of Self In Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/metaphysics-of-self-in-toni-morrisons-god-help-the-child/> [Accessed 19 May 2022].
Metaphysics Of Self In Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Jun 09 [cited 2022 May 19]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/metaphysics-of-self-in-toni-morrisons-god-help-the-child/
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