Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#11: God Help the Child (Toni Morrison)

on July 1, 2016

I’ve been a fan of Toni Morrison since I first read Beloved in college (and wrote more papers about that novel than I care to remember). God Help the Child is her latest novel and quite different from her other works. The main difference is that the plot is the first to be set in modern times. That single difference makes it difficult to compare the work to her other books, but I can definitely say that I am a fan.

God Help the Child tells the story of Bride, a successful beauty magnate whose childhood memories continue to haunt her. As a child, Bride felt unloved by her mother simply because of her skin. You see, Bride was not blessed with a light pigment; instead, she is “blue-black” as described by the narrator. In an effort to gain her mother’s love and respect, the child testifies against an accused child molester.

When the pedophile is scheduled to be released from prison, Bride is drawn to meet her and offer money, travel vouchers, and skin care products. This one decision — as though she is attempting to make amends — creates problems for Bride in her professional and personal relationships that brings the novel to an unexpected conclusion.

God Help the Child reminds the reader that all people are shaped by their childhood. Statements made in jest or in an offhand manner can create unintentional wounds that the child will carry the rest of their life. Pain suffered in childhood can often remained unhealed, causing problems as we become adults. Sadly, the pain suffered by one generation is often passed on to the next until someone finally breaks the cycle of sadness and pain.

For anyone who has ever experienced one of Morrison’s novels, it is no surprise that a central theme of all of her novels is that of race. In light of issues currently facing Americans in our current political environment, I found the following passage from God Help the Child to be very interesting.

“It’s just a color,” Booker had said. “A genetic trait – not a flaw, not a curse, not a blessing nor a sin.”

“But,” she countered, “other people think racial –”

Booker cut her off. “Scientifically there’s no such thing as race, Bride, so racism without race is a choice. Taught, of course, by those who need it, but still a choice. Folks who practice it would be nothing without it.” (Morrison, God Help the Child, 143)

I find this view of racism very interesting coming from an African-American author. Honestly, I have found myself returning to this passage repeatedly since finishing the novel to fully delve the depths of the idea. When a passage or any piece of writing stays with me so long after reading it, I know that I have read something that can only be considered a modern masterpiece.

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