The Deep Effects of Racism and Prejudice on the Body and Mind Analyzed through Toni Morrison’s Character in “Home”: Part 1- Frank

By Ashley Boccio

In Toni Morrison’s novel “Home” she develops flawed characters, Frank and Cee, that are thrown into situations that dynamically change them at their core. At the end of the novel, each of these characters are able to achieve an impressive level of growth and personal development. In this analysis of Frank and Cee, it is important to discuss the circular nature in which Morrison sets up the prose in her novel, strategically having her characters begin and end physically in the same location, yet emotionally they are entirely changed. One of the largest elements of the novel that incites this character growth, is the intense racism and prejudice that Frank and Cee have to endure. During this time period in America (1930s), it is impossible not to recognize the deep scars of racism and prejudice on society, and how they affected millions of hard working Americans. 

The novel opens up with a romanticized scene of horses freely galloping in a field, told from the perspective of Frank. Although the language used to describe the horses is beautiful, there are clear violent undertones to the entire scene, the beauty and violence perfectly foiling one another to represent the clear emotional coping that both Cee and Frank are developing. The truth of the memory is that young Frank and Cee had stumbled upon something incredibly gruesome and in doing so, they create this beautiful image of horses galloping in a field to deter their minds from what they are actually seeing; the burial of a man who has just been murdered. Frank states, “I really forgot about the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). This opening scene is only the beginning to Frank and Cee’s growth from self denial and naivety. 

To begin this analysis we will take a closer look at Frank. Frank is an overprotective brother to Cee, and a veteran of the Korean War. After facing several horrors and losing his childhood friend Mike in the war, Frank is expected to come back to the states and learn to adapt to the society that he had left behind when entering the war. In returning, Frank recognizes that there is an entirely new front to fight on his home turf, racism and prejudice. We are introduced to Frank as he is frantically escaping a mental hospital, gathering only his army uniform and service medal. The first individual he stumbles upon following his escape is a kind reverend named John Locke. After Frank explains his situation, John Locke exclaims to Frank, “You lucky, Mr. Money. They sell a lot of bodies out of there” (Morrison 12). Here we are reintroduced to the dark motif of improper burial in Morrison’s novel. Diving deeper into this scene, it opens up the conversation that healthcare for people of color during this time period was almost entirely avoided as improper practice, experimentation, and lack of consent plagued the field of medicine. Frank had  most likely been found drunk and aggravated, and rather than caring for the lost veteran or considering his struggle with returning from the war, the police throw him into a “nuthouse” to be isolated from society. In 1963, we see one of the first retaliations of segregation in healthcare with the Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital case. Inspired by Brown v. Board of Education, the Simkins case is successful in finally legally recognizing the unlawful violation of unequal healthcare, that has caused generations of colored individuals to still fear medicine to this day. These obstacles that Frank has to face on a daily basis are in his mind worse than any hell he faced in Korea. Morrison is masterful at threading in these instances of racism through gruesome scenes that are witnessed through Frank’s perspective. For example, when Frank is on a train ride to get to Cee, he witnesses a couple of color get physically assaulted by a group of individuals and thrown off the train. In this scene it is important to note that it is Frank’s first run-in with the ghost-like “zoot-suit man” who is symbolic of the hard memories Frank has suppressed. Coming full circle, the zoot-suit man repairs at the end of the novel as Franks reaches acceptance and closure with himself and Cee.

Where we truly see Frank’s growth is in his own personal thoughts and realizations about himself. Morrison works in Frank’s personal thoughts into the plot by inserting every other chapter a diary entry of Frank’s, giving the reader a tid-bit of Franks inner-self. One of Frank’s most striking entries is when he opens up about a young child he encountered in Korea. In this entry, Frank tells us a story about a child who would sneak into their camp daily to take food from their trash. However, one day Frank witnesses the murder of this child, as she is shot in the head. It is clear that this scene had deeply affected Frank, scarring him emotionally, yet we don’t learn till later why he is so deeply affected. Circling back to this scene Morrison inserts an entry of Franks that reveals what had truly occurred in Korea. Frank finally admits to himself that he was the one that shot the child, and he is the one that let the child inappropriately touch him. This brings Frank feelings of deep shame and disgust with himself. However, Frank being able to admit what had actually happened is the first sign of his tremendous growth as a character. Going back to the scene with the horses, Frank had always pushed off bad memories in his mind and replaced them with others to distract himself from the hard truth. Yet here Frank is finally able to admit to himself what had actually happened, and face it head on.

To conclude the novel, Morrison has Frank and Cee go back to the site where they had seen the horses. There they finally accept what they had actually seen. As they dig up the body of the murdered man, they stand in silence both knowing what needs to be done. Together they collect the bones of the man and wrap him gently in a blanket to be buried with a head stone to mark his grave. A proper, humane burial to bring peace to the dead, and in doing so bringing peace to Frank and Cee. As the man is being buried, the zoot-suit man reappears, “…a small man in a funny suit swinging a watch chain. And grinning” (Morrison 144), completing his symbolic purpose in the novel. In my opinion, the zoot-suit man is the ghost of the man who Frank and Cee had watched be improperly buried as kids, his presence staying with Frank (on the train for example) until he can finally be put to rest, as demonstrated through the ghosts clear happiness at the site of this burial. As the “zoot-suit man”  is put to rest, so is Frank’s conscience, representing his indisputable growth as a character.

To be continued in my next post, I will be discussing Cee, and her development as a character in Morrison’s novel “Home.

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