Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Toni Morrison Modes between “Beloved” and “God Help the Child”

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We read Beloved at the beginning of the semester and the group presenting on it noted that Toni Morrison was coming out with a new novel this very semester. I immediately pre-ordered it, arguing that since I would be working in the literary world this summer, I should know what this legendary author had recently published. Well, this same book, God Help the Child, came in last Friday and I was pleasantly surprised. Not so much the actual novel, although it is quite good, but more because I had completely forgotten about ordering it.

I am only 40-ish pages into the novel, but already I can see parallel themes between it and Beloved. Most notably is the troubled relationship between mother and daughter. The child, Bride, is a dark “blue-black” color but her mother, Sweetness, is high yellow and unable to treat her like a daughter because of this. Similar to Sethe and Beloved, Sweetness argues that she acts the way she does in reaction to the world around her. She acts coolly toward Bride, telling her to call her “Sweetness” instead of “Mother” in order to disconnect herself from the girl and to teach Bride about the harshness of the racist world around her.

Other than the strained mother-daughter relationships, there is also the matter of sexual assault. Early in the novel, we learn of a court case Bride was involved in as a child. One of her teachers (a person in power, like schoolteacher) was charged and found guilty of child molesting. One interesting quote was that she used “fruit as bait.” It’ll be interesting if this symbolism continues elsewhere.

One final, unrelated, theme I have noted is the real/natural vs. fake/synthetic beauty. Bride grows up to be a makeup exec, selling synthetic beauty to other women, yet she presents herself only in white, wearing no makeup and no jewelry, so that only her natural beauty is seen. Feeding into this idea of real versus fake, there is a theme of metamorphosis of the characters. “Bride” is actually a given name/identity that she gave herself when she was about 16. Before that her name was Lula Ann which begs the question: which one is her real identity and which one is fake? “Sweetness” as opposed to “Mother” is a similar question of identity and when Bride reacquaints herself with her molester after she is released from prison, there is a sudden snap between the submissive prison inmate to a crazed violent attacker, which causes me to wonder if the submission was merely a defense mechanism to survive 25 years of being locked up or if her spirit was actually broken, like Sophia’s.

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