Student Question

What makes Home by Toni Morrison original? What's striking about the novel?

Expert Answers

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Your teacher obviously wanted your opinion on this novel, so consider the following ideas I will give you but please come to your own conclusions after reading both the novel and these comments. What moves me or seems unique and original to me may not seem so to you.

Home by Toni Morrison is a short novella, and there are several reasons why it might be considered original or unique. First of all, it is not like most of Morrison's other novels. While the characters are black and suffer extreme prejudice from bigoted and sometimes violent whites, and despite the protagonist's struggles to achieve some sense of normality in life, Home is written in a much more straightforward and direct style, sontaining very little of the lush and soaring prose for which she is most known. That is not to say it is not beautifully written; however, it is a departure from her usual style and could therefore be considered "original" or "striking."

A more significant reason this novella might be considered unique is that the protagonist of the story, Frank Money, actually addresses his comments to the writer of the story (presumably Morrison herself). The chapters alternate between third-person narrative and first-person narrative. Though the third person chapters are still about Frank and the significant people in his life, they are more objective than the first-person chapters. This is not an exceptionally original idea; however, the tone of the first-person chapters is.

After telling about the awful and degrading trip to Georgia he and his family had to make because they were violently forced to leave their Texas home, Frank says:

"Write about that, why don't you?"

At other points in the novel, Franks makes similar comments:

Trees give up. Turtles cook in their shells. Describe that if you know how.

I think you don’t know much about love.... Or me.

Don’t paint me as some enthusiastic hero.... I had to go but I dreaded it.

Each of these statements is not only a comment to the writer but also a bit of a challenge. Frank is almost daring the writer to think that she (or he) can possibly know what various aspects of his life must have been like. This narrative device serves to add to the impact of all of those awful things.

One last reason why Home might be considered original or striking is that it can be considered as a kind of allegory. In fact, one book reviewer says this novel "revisits the theme of the prodigal son," a biblical story (allegory) Jesus used in His teachings. Note that the protagonist is Frank Money, yet he comes from a family which in fact is virtually penniless. He grows up in a town called "Lotus," a place Frank describes as 

the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield.

The mythology of the lotus flower is that it represents life and creation springing from the dirt and mud under which it is submerged each day. 

One of the first questions Frank asks is: 

Say, tell me, why does its lock fit my key?

This metaphor of lock and key is carried out through the story, as Frank meets characters like the Reverend Locke who assist him along his journey, a symbolic reference to Frank's "key" question. All of these elements suggest that Frank's story is a kind of allegory, a story which uses Frank's experiences to teach a bigger lesson.

While in many ways this is a recognizable Toni Morrison novel, Home does represent a departure both from her usual work and from most other novels. These elements serve to make it unique. 

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