Humanity in Morrison’s Home

Our Alondra Nelson reading made me want to revisit Home due to the fact that both texts deal with burial. The one thing that was left unanswered for me at the ending of Home is the significance of the line that caught my attention the most: “And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). Frank narrates this in the opening chapter when he speaks about his memory of watching horses in a field with his sister, Ycidra (Cee). Frank says that, although he and Cee also witnessed a violent burial, all he remembers from the field that day were the horses: “I really forgot the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). When I read it, I knew that the description of the horses held some type of significance; I just didn’t know how or what. After our Nelson reading, I think I’ve managed to put things into perspective.

The horses’ description as standing “like men” is echoed in the ending of the book, specifically on the wooden grave marker that Frank makes. After Cee recovers, Frank leads her back to the field where they saw the horses and the burial and digs up the bones; the two then rebury the bones underneath a tree. Frank is described to nail a wooden marker on the tree (right above where the man is buried) that reads: “Here Stands a Man” (Morrison, 145). This is significant because Cee had said she heard that, in the fields where they saw the horses, men were running “dogfights” (Morrison 136). Once Salem, Frank’s grandfather, hears this, he corrects Frank by clarifying that they were not “dogfights” but rather “more like men-treated-like-dog-fights” (Morrison 138). In the explanation that Salem gives, Frank learns that the men who ran the fights had forced a father and son duo (and many others) to fight each other to the death. In doing so, “[The members running the fights] turned men into dogs” because they were ruthlessly playing with human lives and controlling them as they would with hunting dogs (Morrison 139). Once Frank hears this story, he realizes the man he and Cee saw being violently dumped in the field that day was the father who was forced to fight against his son. The reason why Frank likely specifies “Here Stands a Man” is because the father was not treated as a man, as a human, in life, but rather as a “dog.” It’s perhaps no coincidence that Miss Ethel, who helped cure Cee after Dr. Beau hurt her, tells Cee: “Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery” (Morrison 126). Here, Miss Ethel reminds Cee that for most of her life, she’s been told who she is, what she’s worth, and what to do by the individuals around her. She urges Cee not to let the individuals around her define her, reminding Cee that to be told what she is by others is a form of “slavery,” a form of oppression. What Miss Ethel tells Cee can be applied to the individuals involved in the fights: they were “turned…into dogs” and defined as something they were not by people in power (Morrison 139). That, as Miss Ethel says, can be considered “slavery” (Morrison 126).

Frank likely decides to rebury the man in an attempt to restore humanity; in life, the father was not treated like a man (like a human) and in death he wasn’t either because he was buried without respect. Our Nelson reading makes clear the importance of a proper burial. Nelson quotes the former governor of New York, David Paterson, when explaining this: “‘It’s bad enough that some of the bodies that may be in those tombs were discriminated against in life. But now, they’re being discriminated against in death” (Nelson 46). He says this because the bones of the dead were being disrespected with improper handling and conservation methods (one construction worker accidentally poured concrete on the graves). By giving the father a proper burial with a proper marker, Frank makes an attempt to treat the father like a human. Frank’s words on the marker also signify this. “Here Stands a Man,” aside from being an indicator that there is a person buried there, also means “here stands a human.” Frank prevents the man from being forgotten in the field, from being forgotten as a human, by reburying him properly and by posting a sign so that those who view the tree will remember that, despite how he was treated in life, the father was a human being. By having Frank restore humanity to a person, Morrison perhaps suggests that it’s never too late to create change and restore humanity to others.

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