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Family and parenting in Toni Morrison's Love.

Toni Morrison's Love (NY: Alfred Knopf, 2003) like her earlier The Bluest Eye (1970) and Song of Solomon Song of Solomon, Song of Songs, or Canticles, book of the Bible, 22d in the order of the Authorized Version. Although traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, many scholars date it as late as the 3d cent. B.C.  (1976) pays a glowing tribute to the African American African American Multiculture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. See Race.  family in celebrating it as a vital force that helps create socially sensitive and morally responsible citizenry. To these fictional ends, Morrison explores various human relationships and emotional terrains. The present essay seeks to examine the dense interrelationship in·ter·re·late  
tr. & intr.v. in·ter·re·lat·ed, in·ter·re·lat·ing, in·ter·re·lates
To place in or come into mutual relationship.

 between family and the individual in Love through a close reading of the life stories of young Romen and Junior (aka. June).

The evocative description, right at the beginning of the novel, of dinnertime at Gibbons' household, which consists of Sandler, Vida, and their fourteen-year-old grandson Romen, underscores the novel's concern with the nurturing and responsive family. If in divulging the differences between Sandler and Vida "over some old mess" (17) Morrison refuses to romanticize ro·man·ti·cize  
v. ro·man·ti·cized, ro·man·ti·ciz·ing, ro·man·ti·ciz·es
To view or interpret romantically; make romantic.

To think in a romantic way.
 the Gibbons' family, the author also forcefully focuses on the relative rapport and affability between its members.

Such unmistakable filial filial /fil·i·al/ (fil´e-al)
1. of or pertaining to a son or daughter.

2. in genetics, of or pertaining to those generations following the initial (parental) generation.
 bonding is further apparent in the care and concern with which Sandler and Vida raise their grandson Romen after their daughter and son-in-law enlist in the army. As ideal surrogate parents, Sandler and Vida not only feel "responsible for Romen" (146) but also see in such responsibility a means to perpetuate the love for their "own daughter" (146). Finding Romen employment in Bill Cosey's household is Sandler's way of ensuring that his grandson stays away from "bad cops, street slaughter, dope death, prison shivs, and friendly fire in white folks' wars" (148). But much to his and Vida's consternation and anguish, Romen comes under the sexual spell of June at the Coseys'.

However, as an exemplary parent figure, Sandler by balancing warmth and affection with directness "minus [...] threat" (151) effectively checks Romen's sexual proclivities and further convinces his grandson that his previous "sniveling sniv·el  
intr.v. sniv·eled or sniv·elled, sniv·el·ing or sniv·el·ling, sniv·els
1. To sniffle.

2. To complain or whine tearfully.

3. To run at the nose.

 one [self] [...] was hipper than one who couldn't help flinging a willing girl [Junior] around an attic" (195). Following his successful internalization Internalization

A decision by a brokerage to fill an order with the firm's own inventory of stock.

When a brokerage receives an order they have numerous choices as to how it should be filled.
 of Sandler's parental wisdom, Romen, eventually, retreats from Junior to assist the Cosey women, and this movement clearly signifies his evolution into an emotionally mature and socially sturdy individual. In narrating the story of Gibbons Famous people named Gibbons include:
  • Beth Gibbons (born 1965), British singer
  • Billy Gibbons, guitarist for ZZ Top
  • Cedric Gibbons (1893–1960), American art director
  • Christopher Gibbons (1615 - 1676), English composer, son of Orlando
, Morrison highlights both the difficulty of parenting contemporary youth and how family as a social unit continues to have a preponderant pre·pon·der·ant  
Having superior weight, force, importance, or influence. See Synonyms at dominant.

pre·ponder·ant·ly adv.
 role in molding the destiny of individuals.

In a different register though, Morrison employs Junior's narrative to capture the debilitating de·bil·i·tat·ing
Causing a loss of strength or energy.

Weakening, or reducing the strength of.

Mentioned in: Stress Reduction
 and corrosive effects of a dysfunctional family dysfunctional family Psychology A family with multiple 'internal'–eg sibling rivalries, parent-child– conflicts, domestic violence, mental illness, single parenthood, or 'external'–eg alcohol or drug abuse, extramarital affairs, gambling, . Junior's mother who "did not care a thing" (129) about her and her equally callous soldier father, Ethan Payne Jr. who preferred to "move[d] back to his father's house" (55) unmindful of what happened to others in the family, are both guilty of gross neglect and betrayal of the trust of children in parents (Millard, Kenneth. Contemporary American Fiction. [Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000]: 14). As if this were not enough, her idle teenage uncles whose lives "alternated between brutality and coma" (57) often threatened and abused her. Junior's parents like the Breedloves' in The Bluest Eye fail to foster lasting emotional ties. With no one to care for her, Junior abandons the Settlement and "wander[s] for weeks" (59) in the suburbs all by herself. It is after living through such claustrophobic monotony and nightmarish violence Junior manages to get hired as personal secretary to Heed. Between leaving the Settlement and her stay at the Coseys', Junior helplessly sees her youth waste away in a juvenile home ironically named Correctional.

Further, such traumatic childhood without the shield of parental solicitude so·lic·i·tude  
1. The state of being solicitous; care or concern, as for the well-being of another. See Synonyms at anxiety.

2. A cause of anxiety or concern. Often used in the plural.
 drives Junior to surrender to Cosey, in whom she identifies her "Good Man" (157). Thus, even on the first day at Cosey's residence Junior experiences an overwhelming sense of "protect[ion]" (29) and "the kick of being, living, in [...] a real [first] house" (156). Junior's depiction as a victim of specific family pathologies provides a rationale for her repeated manipulative and maneuvering behavior in the novel's present.

Thus, Morrison's Love is a powerful defense of the centrality of family and parental affiliation which make a significant difference to the physical and psychic well-being of children. In analyzing the life stories of Romen and Junior, the novelist rediscovers with insight and clarity the supreme role of family and parents in shaping responsible individuals/ citizens. This conception of family, as Millard observes, is consistently "fundamental to Morrison's vision of a better future for Afro-Americans" (15). In the final analysis, this preoccupation with family and parental love as the source of all human values overridingly attests to Morrison's distinct humanist credentials.

V. Sathyaraj and G. Neelakantan, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur * Weather Risk Management Services Pvt. Ltd.
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Author:Sathyaraj, V.; Neelakantan, G.
Publication:Notes on Contemporary Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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