The main themes in Home are accepting the past and healing from trauma, the dangers of traditional masculinity, and the tension between masculinity and women's self-healing.
- Accepting the past: Both Frank and Cee struggle to accept traumatic pasts. Frank's war memories haunt him, and Cee tries to heal after being harmed by a eugenicist.
- Masculinity: Frank tries to find a meaningful sense of masculinity, something that war fails to provide.
- Women's self-healing: In order to heal, Cee must turn away from Frank's protective instincts and seek a community of other women.
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Accepting the Past and Healing from Trauma
Through the characters of Frank and Cee, Home explores how different individuals experience, move on from, and heal from trauma. Frank's story primarily deals with his PTSD, which arose from his time in the Korean War. While at war, Frank both witnessed and committed horrific acts, including murdering a Korean child who touched his groin. Though he has returned from war, these experiences continue to haunt him and prevent him from achieving stability in his life.
Frank and the other black characters also deal with the ongoing collective trauma inflicted on them by racism in the US. Many scholars would argue that an analysis of trauma is central to the exploration of African American identity due to the collective and generational suffering inflicted by slavery and racism. It is clear in Home that Morrison is particularly interested in exploring the gendered dimensions of trauma and healing. Frank's healing process is in part about coming to terms with having murdered a child, a murder which was itself rooted in questions of sexuality. Frank's progress toward healing is demonstrated when he finally is able to admit that it was he—not another soldier—who killed the Korean girl: "I shot the Korean girl in her face. I am the one she touched."
Cee, on the other hand, was injured by a white eugenicist, in part due to her own naivety. Morrison makes clear that her healing process depends on the bonds between black women; while Frank plays a part in saving Cee, he cannot be present for her healing process.
Ultimately, Cee and Frank help each other heal, and it is through their sibling relationship and their relationships with members of the black community in Lotus that they are able to come to terms with the past and return home. Though Frank initially couldn't “stand before Mike’s folks or Stuff’s” and thus stayed away from Lotus, he is able to return when it becomes clear that he needs to be there for his sister. Ultimately, he returns to the grave he and Cee saw being dug as children and finds closure there.
The Dangers of Traditional Masculinity
Much of the novel concerns Frank's struggle with masculinity, a struggle that takes on a racialized dimension. Throughout the novel, Frank must deal with both the dehumanization of black people and come to terms with masculinity. These issues are illustrated in the contrast between the stallions in the opening scene who were "so beautiful ... so brutal [and] stood like men" and the man who was made to fight "like a dog" and then buried unceremoniously. The significance of this moment becomes clear at the end of the novel, when Frank and Cee return to rebury the man and mark his grave with the epitaph: "Here Stands a Man." This action mirrors Frank's own journey in learning to affirm his own dignity in the face of a world that seeks to dehumanize him.
Ultimately, war proves to be a false source of masculinity. Though going to war is often held up as the ultimate masculine act, it simply pushes Frank to a breaking point. Rather than teaching Frank to act as a protector, war turns Frank into a murderer, and the experience leaves him broken and haunted by flashbacks: "They never went away, these pictures." Frank's rejection of traditional masculinity is further demonstrated when he comes to rescue Cee and relishes his ability to do so without violence. By the end of the novel, Frank still has not fully come to terms with his identity, but he has moved on...
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from a period of crisis and achieved a measure of peace.
The Tension Between Masculinity and Women's Self-Healing
As the novel closes, there are still unresolved tensions between Frank's masculinity—particularly the way he views women—and what is necessary for Cee's personal healing. Frank repeatedly states that he appreciates women because they are "fragile." In one instance, he notes that he "could break [Lily's breastbone] with a forefinger if he wanted to, but never did." Projecting this kind of fragility onto women and feeling that he is physically dominant over them gives Frank a sense of security; however, it soon becomes clear that for Cee to heal, she must reject this framing of women and of herself. Frank protected her as a child, but it was in part her reliance on this protection that left her naive and thus vulnerable to Dr. Beau. Though Frank rescues her, Cee comes to realize that she has to grow stronger to truly heal.
Instead of relying on Frank, Cee turns to the community of black women around her, learning in the process that she must look inward for strength: "Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you." Taking up quilting is a direct, material way for Cee to take care of herself. This act, which is grounded in a communal tradition she shares with other black women, helps her grow to the point where she “would never again need [Frank’s] hand over her eyes or his arms to stop her murmuring bones.”