Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 384

Love is a novel by Toni Morrison published in 2003 that follows the life and death of a hotel owner named Bill Cosey.

Summarizing the plot, however, is a somewhat arduous task because of Morrison’s non-chronological, fragmented narrative style. Here is my best attempt.

Bill Cosey was the successful millionaire...

(The entire section contains 1177 words.)

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Love is a novel by Toni Morrison published in 2003 that follows the life and death of a hotel owner named Bill Cosey.

Summarizing the plot, however, is a somewhat arduous task because of Morrison’s non-chronological, fragmented narrative style. Here is my best attempt.

Bill Cosey was the successful millionaire owner of Cosey’s Hotel and Resort, a high-end vacation spot for wealthy African Americans, mostly from the East Coast. Cosey was married twice, and his second wife, Heed, was only eleven at the time, in addition to being the best friend of Cosey’s granddaughter (via his deceased son Billy Boy and Billy Boy's widow May, called Christine).

The novel explains how different events in the Civil Rights Movement impacted Cosey’s businesses in the 1960s, before its eventual closing in the 1980s.

The central conflict, however, is between Heed and Christine, both of whom occupy the former resort building. Each woman believes she is entitled to Cosey’s hotly contested, barely-there will because of her connection to him. The two women despise each other, and each works to gain the sole ownership of Cosey’s inheritance.

Heed even hires a phony named Junior, a young delinquent who begins having an affair with fourteen-year-old Romen, the grandson of one of Bill Cosey’s former fishing buddies, who works for both Heed and Christine.

The novel, at various points, introduces other women who were present in Cosey’s life. L, as the former cook at the resort, seems to have the most reasonable impression of Cosey as both a good and a bad man. The reader is also introduced to Celestial, a sex worker with whom Cosey fell in love.

By the novel’s end, Heed and Christine are finally able to reconcile to an extent, largely based on a common understanding that their hatred and fighting were the result of Cosey’s moral failings. Christine remarks that both women “sold [themselves] to the highest bidder,” perhaps meaning that Cosey was an ideal they tried to please and that in so doing, each gave up her independent identity.

Overall, the novel tries to examine the various meanings of love, family, and the African American experience through the lives of these female characters who all knew the same troubled yet charismatic myth of a man.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 793

Love is a carefully structured novel with a prologue and nine chapters devoted to the characters’ stories and their different, often contradictory, perceptions of Bill Cosey. Together, these chapters span a sixty-year period and represent the way racial segregation and the process of desegregation shape the lives of the Cosey family. To the local African American community, Cosey’s Hotel and Resort, catering exclusively to African Americans with its procession of famous jazz musicians and wealthy guests, offered a fairytale image of success during the Jim Crow period. While Bill himself was a role model of African American achievement to his guests and the locals, the different chapters in the novel suggest the tensions, bitter resentments, and misunderstandings brewing in Bill’s immediate family, and they question Bill’s roles as a husband, father, grandfather, friend, and benefactor.

Alhough he died over twenty years earlier, Bill’s influence upon Christine and Heed is still palpable in the 1990’s. They may have loved each other as children, but now they are enemies. Bill’s will, a note scribbled on a menu from 1958, is not specific enough; it leaves everything to that “sweet Cosey child,” and both Cosey women have a claim to that title: Christine is Bill’s granddaughter, while Heed was his child bride and called him “Papa.” Heed employs Junior to find a later will, and Christine visits a lawyer after pilfering the housekeeping money. The two women live at war in their Monarch Street house, while Junior establishes a sexual relationship with Romen, who is fourteen.

Behind the novel’s tight focus on the personal history of the Cosey family lies the public history of U.S. segregation and the movement toward desegregation. Working under the Jim Crow laws that separated African Americans and white people in public places such as schools, trains and buses, theaters, and resorts, Bill necessarily made some concessions to the white power structure to keep his establishment open and thriving. His friendship with the local sheriff, Chief Buddy Silk, resulted in morally dubious deep-sea fishing excursions and eventually in the sheriff developing and naming a town after himself.

The novel incorporates historical events of the 1950’s and 1960’s, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) outlawing segregation in public schools, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, sit-ins, the murder of fourteen-year-old African American Emmett Till in Mississippi, and the Freedom Riders who fought the segregation of buses in the South. These events shake the security of the Cosey family, as white people in the South react violently to the quest for African American equality. After race riots and the death of a mixed-race couple at the resort, May Cosey, Bill’s daughter-in-law, is terrified that the hotel will be closed and someone will be lynched. Once African Americans achieve legal equality in the 1960’s, the resort begins to allow local African Americans to visit it, as its more wealthy patrons from other regions have acquired a wider variety of potential vacation spots. Heed must pay the sheriff’s son, Boss Silk, more protection money and finally resort to blackmail in order to keep the business afloat, until it finally closes in the 1980’s.

Sources for Further Study

Morrison, Toni. Remember: The Journey to School Integration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. In her foreword to this pictorial history covering the years from 1954 through the 1990’s, Morrison refers to “a time in American life where there was as much hate as there was love; as much anger as there was hope; as many heroes as cowards.”

Pinckney, Darryl. “Hate.” Review of Love, by Toni Morrison. The New York Review of Books 50, no. 19 (December 4, 2003). Outlines the novel’s plot and points to Morrison’s “straightforward” but rich prose, her warring characters, and her evocation of African American history.

Roynon, Tessa. “A New ’Romen’ Empire: Toni Morrison’s Love and the Classics.” Journal of American Studies 41, no. 1 (2007): 31-47. Links the representation of rape in literature and history to classical works from Greece and Rome and classic American texts. Argues that the representation of rape in Love reveals and critiques the representation of traditional heroic masculine acts in literature and history as empowering colonization.

Rymer, Russ. American Beach: How “Progress” Robbed a Black Town—and Nation—of History, Wealth, and Power. New York: Harper Perennial, 2000. Provides a history of one of the many African American resorts that, like Morrison’s fictional one, flourished prior to integration and collapsed when schools and vacation spots were desegregated.

Wardi, Anissa Jane. “A Laying on of Hands: Toni Morrison and the Materiality of Love.” MELUS 30, no. 3 (Fall, 2005): 201-218. Analyzes the abstract concept of love as practical, healing action in the novel, focusing particularly on the materiality of touch, compassion, healing, and nurturing.

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