God Help the Child by Toni Morrison. Review by Mary E. Latela
@LatelaMary, firstname.lastname@example.org, mlatelablog.wordpress.com Written spring, 2015, excerpted in Ms. Magazine “Letters” section summer 2015 issue.
Morrison says she wanted to separate color from race in her latest creation, God Help the Child. “Distinguishing color — light, black, in between — as the marker for race is really an error: It’s socially constructed, it’s culturally enforced and it has some advantages for certain people,” she says. “But this is really skin privilege — the ranking of color in terms of its closeness to white people or white-skinned people and its devaluation according to how dark one is and the impact that has on people who are dedicated to the privileges of certain levels of skin color.”http://www.npr.org/2015/04/20/400394947
I have read quite a few reviews of God Help the Child and found them mostly disappointing. I was so distressed with less than mature renderings that I needed to read for myself, and respond from my perspective as a passionate reader, author, and social activist.
The core issue, according to Morrison, is color – not race, but the incredible weight given to the depth or lack thereof of skin color, particularly applied to Bride, the successful, scarred woman whose mother was ashamed of her blue-black skin color and would not touch her child, hid her. The mother, “Sweetheart,” blames society, blames the child, and takes no responsibility for helping her child.
I see this powerful novel as a reminder of the deadly nature of lies, betrayals, secrets, and childhood trauma untreated. If it seems that every adult in the novel is a pervert, that is the point. For a frightened child, this can become a way to clear out one’s personal life, a protective shield. Booker, the guy friend who is Bride’s true love, runs away from suffering, won’t tell his story, and leaves Bride to travel, talk to people, read his powerful poetry, in order to understand what the man cannot bring himself to say or admit.
I refrain from comparing one of Morrison’s excellent works to another, but I clearly understand that God Help the Child is a novel for our time, for our history, and for our future. And it rings true. It rings true.
Review at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1284184685 …. Excerpted in “Letter” section of Ms. Magazine, summer 2015