God Bless the Child Summary
God Bless the Child is the tragic story of the short life of Rosie Fleming, who chases a false dream and dies in pursuit of it. The narrative begins when Rosie is seven years old. Readers soon learn of the early influences that indelibly shape the impressionable mind of young Rosie. The first is Rosie’s father, who has already abandoned the family when the novel opens. That event has led Rosie to believe she is unlovable. This initial seed of insecurity is inadvertently fed by Queenie, whose attempts to make Rosie independent are interpreted by Rosie as further evidence of her own inadequacy. Lourinda, the self-absorbed grandmother who idolizes the white world in which she vicariously lives as a servant, is responsible, however, for strengthening and bringing to fruition the self-hate growing within Rosie. The seemingly harmless reveries in which Lourinda regularly indulges about the lives and possessions of her white employers further diminish Rosie’s chance to find the nurturing she needs. Unlike her golden-skinned mother and pale grandmother, Rosie is as dark-skinned as her father, a man Lourinda describes as “no count” and “black as tar.” Not only is Rosie not white, she is impossibly black, impossibly removed from the full affection Lourinda reserves for her white employers.
Despite her problems, Rosie is a precocious and shrewd child. She knowingly negotiates The Avenue, a neighborhood street populated by derelicts, drunks, and members of the criminal underworld. At only seven years old, Rosie seems to have no illusions about or apprehension of these adults or places, except an intuitive fear of a local pimp, Shadow.
Further insight into Rosie’s emerging character is gained when the usually truant Rosie encounters schoolmate Dolly Diaz, who is dutifully heading to school. From this chance meeting, two things become clear. First, Rosie has developed a strong contempt for proper or legitimate means of action. Second, Rosie has indeed developed a tough veneer, which she uses to scare away Dolly’s tormentors. In school Rosie is smart, despite her regular truancy.
Rosie is seen again at seventeen years old. This seemingly adult Rosie is really the same, needful child of seven, grown physically but emotionally stunted. Rosie begins to concentrate on getting the money she fervently believes can provide escape from the ghetto she despises and entry into the life her grandmother has spoken of so often.
She quits school and starts working as a salesgirl. With her driving need for money, it is not long before Rosie is seeking a quicker source of revenue in the illegal numbers racket. At first, she succeeds only in gaining more employment as a night-shift waitress in a disreputable bar.
Within months, the wear of two full-time jobs is taking its toll on Rosie, but she stubbornly keeps working. It is not until Rosie hears a chance remark from Lourinda about a vacant house in the white neighborhood where she works that Rosie is able to focus her incredible drive on something substantial. With the objective of buying the house for her grandmother foremost in her mind, Rosie is able to push her physical need for rest aside and continue working. The way to quick money seems to come in the form of a partnership with Tommy Tucker, a numbers runner and Rosie’s first lover.
Just as it seems that everything is coming together for Rosie, it is also falling apart: Queenie is stabbed in a barroom brawl. Rosie’s own health is declining. She loses one job and is betrayed by Tucker. Nevertheless, instead of failing, the resourceful Rosie triumphs against all odds and is able to move into the house she wants.
For a while, it seems Rosie will be able to have all she desires. Her relationship with Queenie, however, remains poor. Queenie attempts to use Larnie Bell, who has become a family friend and Rosie’s lover, to intervene in her daughter’s affairs, but Larnie is no match for Rosie. Larnie’s own plans for the future have faltered since he was forced out of college after a socially impermissible affair with a white coed. Soon he becomes disillusioned and dependent on Rosie; he moves in with the family. Rosie’s relationship with Larnie suffers, too, because she distrusts his love and cannot understand his interest in music.
When Rosie becomes pregnant, it seems she must finally acknowledge her limitations. Her refusal to do so signals the beginning of the end, as the façade she has tirelessly erected crumbles. After an illegal abortion and the death of Queenie, Rosie’s own collapse is imminent.
When Rosie collapses, Dolly is then able to see that her friend does not lead a charmed life. With this understanding, Dolly realistically sees that her attraction and engagement to Tommy Tucker has been a poor attempt to escape her own bland circumstances.
Rosie marries Larnie and grows closer to him. He is able to find his own manhood, but the control he begins to exert over Rosie is too little, too late. Rosie’s death is hastened when she realizes her supposedly inviolable white house is as decrepit and infested as the tenement slum she sought all of her life to escape.
Buckmaster, Henrietta. “The Girl Who Wanted Out.” The Christian Science Monitor, September 10, 1964, 7. Praises the novel despite what Buckmaster sees as flaws in length and pace. She considers God Bless the Child further insight for white readers into the African American experience.
Kelley, Mary E. Review of God Bless the Child, by Kristin Hunter. Library Journal 89 (September 15, 1964): 33-36. Kelley suggests that the novel is valuable as a guide to understanding interracial issues and is appealing, convincing, and moving but flawed by the author’s style.
Schraufnagel, Noel. “Accommodationism of the Sixties.” In From Apology to Protest: The Black American Novel. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1973. Views the 1960’s as a literary period that spawned the militant protest novel but that still provided many accommodationist novels, the characters of which acquiesce to convention and work within the system. To Schraufnagel, God Bless the Child is accommodationist because Rosie embraces white values to progress, even though her motives are more complex than acceptance of black exploitation.
Tate, Claudia, ed. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1983. Tate and the author discuss Hunter’s life and work. Hunter offers observations about the effect her own experiences have had on her writing and her views on social conditions.
Turner, Darwin T. Introduction to God Bless the Child, by Kristin Hunter. Washing-ton, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1986. Turner considers God Bless the Child a product of the social gains made in the decade prior to its publication, a period in which writers such as James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry focused on the more personal aspects of oppression, an approach continued in Hunter’s novel.