The Deep Effects of Racism and Prejudice on the Body and Mind Analyzed through Toni Morrison’s Characters in “Home”: Part 2- Cee By Ashley Boccio

To continue the idea of character development and growth from my last post, we will be analyzing Morrison’s character Cee, a young, and naive woman at the start of the novel “Home”. When Cee’s brother Frank leaves for the war, for the first time in Cee’s life she is left facing the world without her older brother by her side protecting her. As a consequence, Cee finds herself in a life altering situation working as an assistant to a private practice, experiment-oriented doctor. As the reader follows Cee through her time with the job, it is clear off the bat that there is something incredibly wrong with the situation that she is about to insert herself into. However, Cee as a character is entirely oblivious to the red flags as she comes across them, innocent in not knowing the clear malice they foreshadow. This incident circles back to Cee and Franks shared denial and oblivious nature towards malevolent situations, as discussed in my previous post regarding the burial of a murdered man, blanketed with the imagery of horses.

To truly understand Cee, it is important that we delve deeply into chapter four of Morrison’s novel, where we follow Cee through the process of being interviewed and starting at her new job with the doctor. As Cee makes indicative observations, it is painful to watch as she processes these observations incorrectly, failing to recognize them as dangerous. For example, in Cee’s first weeks at the job, she begins to notice different aspects of the house such as the doctor’s extensive library:

“Now she examined the medical books closely, running her finger over some of the titles: Out of Night. Must be a mystery, she thought. Then The Passing of the Great Race, and next to it, Heredity, Race and Society” (Morrison 65).

Each of these books contain ideologies pertaining to white supremacy, and belief in superior genetics; ideologies that inspired Hitler’s “aryan race”. Anyone who is familiar with these texts would be strikingly alarmed by their proud appearance in a library of a home due to the horrifying opinions and studies that the books contain. Additionally, being that Cee is African American, the display of these books should have been perceived as dangerous and hostile. However, Cee is completely unaware of the harsh, racist ideas described in the texts due to her lack of education in the subjects, and instead she views the library as a representation of the doctor’s extensive knowledge. In Harriet Washington’s, Medical Apartheid, she specifically discusses in chapter six the dangers of scientific theory and the influence that it has on public social opinions. This ties in perfectly with Morrison’s Home as we become aware of the books that are present in the doctor’s home. Washington goes into great detail about how these rogue “scientific theories” were being used as justifications for the horrendous mal treatment and prejudice towards individuals based on the man-made construct of race: “But scientific theory was beginning to trump other philosophies. Scientific theories of racial inferiority had strongly informed the entire nation’s medical perception of African Americans as befitted of slavery, if only because few scientists outside the South troubled themselves to investigate” (Washington 145). In Home, the doctor uses Cee’s perceived “race” and social status to justify his experimentation on her all in the name of science. Morrison successfully displays the dangers of perceived “higher intellectual” thought, as many times these studies were heavily opinionated and just looking for any reason to push down non-whites. Washington uses Dr. Josiah Nott as an example, and his scientific paper on his theory about mulattoes and their standing in the social hierarchy: “The Mulatto A Hybrid – Probable Extermination Of The Two Races if Whites And Blacks Are Allowed to Intermarry” (Washington 145).

It is important to recognize that it is not Cee’s fault that she is naive to these warning signs; circumstantially Cee was truly deceived and manipulated into trusting a home that should have been viewed as a hell house. Her deceivers had specifically been looking for poor, young women, like Cee, that would be naive and unaware of the nonconsensual malice that the job entailed. Cee had been strategically interviewed in a manner that displayed her lack of education, making her a perfect candidate for the doctor’s plans: “Did you graduate from high school? No ma’am… Count? Oh, yes. I even worked a cash register one. Honey, that’s not what I asked you. I can count, ma’am. You may not need to…” (Morrison 59-60). Cee is at a complete disadvantage due to her lack of education, something she even recognizes as she states “How small, how useless was her schooling, she thought, and promised herself she would find the time to read about and understand “eugenics.” This was a good safe place she knew…” (Morrison 65). In this statement alone it is evident how deeply her employers have trapped her in their snare, making Cee trust them entirely. The doctor can be viewed as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, and Cee at this moment only sees the docile, gentle sheep (the beautiful home, the good paying job, the benefits), rather than the monstrous truth (the doctor is going to non-consensually experiment on Cee). 

Circling back to Cee’s observations, it is important to note that Cee is cunning enough to recognize the pattern of the type of people who have had this job in the past, yet she fails to puzzle together why this pattern is present and dangerous: “Her admiration for the doctor grew even more when she noticed how many more poor people – women and girls especially – he helped” (Morrison 64). Cee views this pattern as a representation of the doctor’s kind, giving nature rather than as a warning, and thus another layer is added to the doctor’s deceptively “sheepish” appearance.

Lastly, at the conclusion of chapter four, Cee engages in a truly stomach turning conversation with Sarah, a long term worker of the house. In this ominous scene, Cee is depicted sharing a melon with Sarah, and as they “split the melon,” Sarah repeatedly references that this melon must be female, and why the females are most desirable. As she continues to personify the melon as female, Sarah gives a low-chuckle laugh insinuating that she knows what is going to happen to Cee: “Sarah slid a long, sharp knife from a drawer, and with intense anticipation of the pleasure to come, and cut the girl in two” (Morrison 66). And with this concluding line, the reader is able to assume the reason Frank has received word that Cee is ill, and at the edge of life and death.

After receiving this information, Frank does everything in his power to get to Cee, taking long train rides, staying in strangers homes and so on. When Frank finally reaches Cee, she is in the doctors home, barely conscious and excessively bleeding from her female organs. The Doctor had been consistently drugging Cee and cutting her open bit by bit to perform ungodly experiments. Frank lifts up Cee and rushes her back to their childhood home, where she is delivered to the strong, elderly black woman of the community, who are versed in their own version of the healing process. These women through tough love, and hard work heal Cee both physically and emotionally from the experience that she has just endeavoured. As they rebuild her physical strength, they toughen up her psyche as well: one of the women Ethel even exclaims to Cee, “Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no evil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world”( Morrison 126). Through this healing of the body and mind Cee is finally shown as maturing and independent in character, no longer susceptible to her previous naiveties. As stated by Ethel, “First the bleeding…Next the infection….Then repair” (Morrison 121). Cee begins to truly recognize and accept what had happened to her, and in doing so, she uses this deep pain for personal growth and repair.

As the novel comes to a conclusion, we follow Frank and Cee as they go to bury the man they witnessed as children be improperly buried and hidden from the world. Together the siblings gain closure on the events of their life thus far, accepting the pain, and ultimately conquering it to continue on with their lives.  As they put these bones from their childhood to rest, Cee and Frank stand together under a tree when Cee states: “Come on, brother. Let’s go home” (Morrison 146). This closing line is significant in the fact that Cee is now leading Frank, rather than vice versa. This statement solidifies Cee’s new found strength and independence as a character as she comes full circle at the second burial of this man. 

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