“Childhood Cuts Festered and Never Scabbed Over”: Child Abuse in Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child

Manuela López Ramírez

Abstract

Toni Morrison revisits one of the main thematic concerns, child abuse and trauma, of her premier novel, The Bluest Eye, in her latest book God Help the Child. She has actually dealt profusely with all sorts of child maltreatment in her oeuvre. In her recent narrative, Morrison weaves a tangled web of childhood trauma stories, in which all of the characters have suffered some kind of abuse: neglect, witnessing domestic violence, emotional and psychological abuse, molestation, sexual abuse, etc. She shows how the child’s exposure to traumatic experiences has dramatic far-reaching effects into adulthood, such as psychological, emotional, behavioral and social problems. Morrison explores the curse of the past, the legacy of slavery and its aftermath, and its hold on the present, through the phenomenon of colorism. Racism and intra-racial discrimination based on the skin color result in childhood trauma. Children may adopt coping strategies to resist maltreatment or they may internalize oppression and accept self-loathing. Violence generates violence, a vicious cycle which will eventually make the victims future victimizers. Nonetheless, God Help the Child is not only about childhood abuse and trauma, but it is also about transformation and healing. Morrison describes the characters’ restorative journeys towards redemption.

Keywords

Child abuse; Childhood trauma; Racism; Colorism or shadism; Healing



DOI: https://doi.org/10.14198/raei.2016.29.08