How do patriarchal forces act in Toni Morrison's novel God Help the Child?

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bree1228 | High School Teacher | In Training Educator

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In God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, patriarchal forces shape how the characters develop.  From the very beginning of the novel, Bride, the main character, is rejected by her parents.  No sooner is Bride born into the world than the very people who are responsible for her well-being and care reject her. Her father feels that Bride was born too dark.  He feels immensely shameful about this, and therefore abandons the family.  Her mother, Sweetness, refuses Bride the most critical aspects of maternal love by insisting that Bride address her mother as Sweetness rather than anything more sentimental or demonstrative of love.  It is the father's initial abandonment and rejection of his infant daughter that sets into motion the rest of the events that shape Bride's life.  Traditionally, the role of the male in the family household is to nurture, provide, and give unconditional love. Bride is deprived of this.

The rejection of Bride by her father follows her development as a woman.  As Bride grows, she is plagued by the fact that her mother is trapped in the void of identity as a black woman degraded by patriarchal views in a white-dominated world that she has already fallen prey to.  This shapes Bride's identity.  It takes most of Bride's childhood years to come to terms with who she is as a female in a man's world and in a world where the lighter your skin is, the richer your beauty and worth.  Even as Bride tries to cope with these problems, she is rejected by her beloved, Booker.   She bears her soul to him in hopes that he will be an honorable male figure, but again, patriarchal forces shut her down.  He leaves too, and instead of accepting that his vision of the world and his vision of the relationship is faulty, she goes in search of Booker, thereby embarking on a search for her own female identity.  She is the victim yet again of male dominance in a world that already sets her up for a struggle.

Bride is a victim of betrayal by her father, the patriarchal master.   The father's actions follow her throughout the course of her life, as she strives to understand and make sense of her existence.  It is difficult enough being born a female in a male dominated world, but she is also forced to be an outsider in the way she is perceived as a black woman.  Bride is a victim of delayed growth in the way that she learns to measure her self worth by how men behave towards or against her.  She is caught in the proverbial trap of the initial mistakes of her parents.  She is already fighting to exist and find meaning as a female in a male-dominated world, yet she is also a victim of the innate prejudices that are inherent in a bigoted white society.  In this tragic way, her father's actions actually mold her development, which has been arrested by rejection.

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