God Help The Child Morrison

I can’t say that I’ve heard, “God help you!” used more often in a positive than in a negative light.

With all its cynical subjunctive force, the phrase has more often meant, “You need a miracle to get out of your predicament; there’s no salvation in sight.”

It’s this double-edged subtlety of its title that attracted me to Toni Morrison’s latest work, God Help the Child.

In this work, the grandmotherly omniscient narration, regardless of chameleon changes of narrative voice, brings past and present, childhood and adulthood, into a continuum of living gestation.

Given the title and the tale, is this a preacherly work?

Of course, one cannot escape the << Suffer the little children>> motif. But the principal characters, Booker and Bride are far from angelic.

The world and their parents have made them wicked survivors, dealing out as much evil as they have encountered. Bride, the child, wrecks the life of her teacher, causing her teacher to be sent to prison for fifteen years. Bride manipulates her school friends to support her in a child-molestation lie in order to gain her mother’s smile, touch and approval. Her parents’ shadeism, their rejection of her blackness is what sets her evil in motion. In like fashion, Booker, her lover, a heartless drifter and user of women, cannot man up because he can’t get over the death of his brother in childhood at the hands of a pedophile.

Resilience for children, such as Booker, Bride and Rain (a female runaway her mother pimps out) means learning to hurt others.

But God Help the Child does not give these children a pass. In their adulthood, Bride and Booker with their own child on the way, for instance, the message is to be mindful of the legacy.

Because, for sure, the pedophile and Slender Man still exist.

In the title, the word H E L P, by nature a semantic scream, overshadows the other three words in Morrison’s title cluster.

Forgive the child, help the child, look after the child, cherish the child – which reminds me of another antediluvian mantra, “You make a child, but you don’t make their mind” – often uttered in contempt of malicious, wicked and destructive acts of children such as that committed by the principal character of Morrison’s novel, Bride.

“Really?” God Help the Child asks.

In all honesty, regardless of the childhood trauma she suffered because of her dark skin colour, it’s hard for me to stomach Bride.  The brutal post-prison beating the teacher inflicted on the adult Bride fifteen years later just doesn’t cut it for me, not as fiction, not as parable, not in real life.

Nonetheless, I concur with the grandmotherly admonishment of the novel, “Good God! Help the child!”

God Help the Child Morrison 

©Cynthia James, July 2015

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