Mary L. Dudziak: The Limits of Empathy in Toni Morrison’s "Home"





Mary L. Dudziak is Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law School. Her books include War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences; Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey; and Cold War Civil Rights.

Toni Morrison’s new novel Home about a Korean War veteran’s struggles after the war might seem perfectly suited to an impending cultural turn. The close of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq and an anticipated draw-down of American troops in Afghanistan, might signal the end of a war era and a renewed focus on what we now call the homeland. Perhaps we can turn to Morrison’s beautiful and brief narrative to understand the journeys of our generation’s soldiers as they, like Frank Money (the protagonist), try to find their way home.

The message of this novel is sobering. Whatever home might be for Frank, it is not a place where war is absent, as he brings Korea along with him as he travels. If peace is thought of as an absence of war, it is a state that Morrison’s character is unable to experience. War memories, psychological injury, and loss have become a part of him, so that his wartime and peacetime selves have become one. His army jacket and dog tags are outward signs of an inner melding. Home for this soldier/citizen cannot be a place apart. And so a central theme in the novel is the kind of space home can be for a broken veteran like Frank....



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