Abuse and trauma in the novels The House of Impossible Beauties and God Help the Child
Childhood abuse has been a center of focus in most literature discourses. Child abuse can be described as the parent’s or caregiver’s violent attitude or acts towards children that have a negative impact on their physical and psychological wellbeing. Abuse is represented in many forms that include neglect, physical beating, sexual abuse, ill-treatment, exploitation among others. Child molestation has far-reaching impacts that continue to affect the children well into their adulthood. The novels House of the Impossible by Joseph Cassara and God Help the Child by Toni Morrison exemplify the theme of childhood abuse and trauma that follow the characters to adulthood. This paper examines the theme of abuse and trauma in the two books. This theme is then analyzed against Tony Morrison’s concept of goodness and evil. The two books by Joseph Cassara and Toni Morrison shows how child abuse causes trauma to children that weigh on them even in adulthood.
Child abuse and trauma in God Help the Child
Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child is a dramatic book that discusses how childhood experiences impact on adults. The novel features Bride, a beautiful black woman whose childhood is characterized by abuse and trauma from her mother and father because of her dark skin color. When she was born, her mother disliked her because her skin was very dark. She was so angry that she contemplated taking her to an orphanage. Trauma and abuse are dominant themes in the novel, and nearly every character has to deal with childhood neglect, trauma, and abuse. For example, Bride and other children in the novel such as Rain, Hannah, and Brooklyn suffered neglect from their parents when they were young. Neglect is s form of child abuse where parents fail to provide basic needs to their children. The chief basic needs of children are protection and love. The storyline of the novel revolves around how these characters are neglected by their parents and how this affects their childhood as well as adulthood. The past experiences of the characters in the novel are full of anguish and distress that weighs on them even at adulthood. Bride, for instance, does not get an aura of affection from her mother, Sweetness, and she even instructs Bride to address her as Sweetness instead of Mom. Parents are supposed to love their children and take care of them in all circumstances. However, Sweetness is ashamed of her daughter and at some point, she thinks of killing her with her blanket. She says that Bride “was so black she scared me” (Morrison 12). Thus, as a child, Bride is hated by her parent and she does not get the love and security she deserves from her them as a child.
The novel is set in a historical period when the black community was seen as inferior. Even among black, discrimination based on color existed where the lighter-skinned people occupied a higher social status than the dark-skinned people. Bride was dark-skinned, and her mother describes her as “midnight dark, Sudanese dark” (Morrison 12). Sweetness, on the other hand, is high yellow. This puts her at a disadvantage in the society since her daughter’s skin color would put her at the receiving end in the streets. She had grown in a society where discrimination and racism were deeply rooted and it scared her to the core to see a dark child that would make her situation even worse. While talking about white supremacy in America, she explained that black children could be sent home for fighting or talking back in school. She also said that black people were the first to be fired and the last to be hired (Morrison, 75). She depicts how dark color was seen as a problem and that is why sweetness is scared when she finds that Bride is dark. Therefore, Bride encounters abuse from her mother and father simply because she is dark in a community where white skin color comes with power while weakness, scorn, shame, and low social status are attached to dark skin. However, she rises above her challenges to become a beautiful and wealthy businesswoman who runs her own beauty company. She proves that blackness is not a disability or a source of trauma but it is just a color but not “curse not a blessing nor a sin” (Morrison 235). Here, Tony Morrison’s explanation of goodness triumphing, in the end, is seen.
Besides neglect, children also faced sexual abuse that led to psychological issues and even death. For example, the book refers to another child molestation case of Adam. Adam, Booker’s brother, had been molested when they were young and then killed by the man who called himself; ‘the nicest man in the world’. He was ten years old when the man kidnapped him and chained him in the basement where he raped and eventually killed him. People in the village thought that he was a nice man who would not even hurt a fly. Here, Morrison warns people against trusting other people who appear to be good on the surface. The man not only sexually molested children but also cut their sexual organs. Booker suffers from deep trauma as a result of his brothers’ death. In her representation of abuse, molestation, and violence, Tony Morrison uncovers the traumatic experiences African American children went through in a racist society. The consequences of child abuse have long-lasting and broad impacts on the child. For example, although Booker is an adult, he still remembers what happened to his brother and this weighs heavily on him. Another instance of child molestation is seen in a conversation between Bride and Rain. Rain was sexually assaulted and dumped in the rain where Evelyne and Steve found her. The conversations about child abuse continue to dominate the characters who have now became adults and this shows the trauma caused by these experienced and their broad impacts.
Child abuse in The House of Impossible Beauties
The House of the Impossible follows the lives of drag ballplayers in the 1980s. The novel highlights the experiences of the LGBT community as they came to terms with their sexuality and gender. The novel also captures how the members of the LGBT community were abused by their families because they were different. They also experienced immense pressure to conform to the expectations of society. The novel details the struggle about the sadness of living a queer life to survive. The LGBT characters in the book have been neglected by their families because of their sexual orientation and they survived through shoplifting and doing sex work. The characters have also endured trauma in society as they try to live like straight people in society. For example, Angel, seventeen years girl has gone through sexual abuse and neglect in the past (Cassara 50). Angel is joined by Venus in the House of Extravaganza, and Juanito and Daniels. They must learn how to survive abuse, addiction, and sex work.
The issues of the abuse and trauma experienced by the LGBT community have been a center of focus in the 21st century. Many people have publicly come out to let the world know about their sexual orientation. However, this is not without rejection from parents, friends, and society. The LGBT members are viewed as ‘abnormal’ and people are quick to judge them. Due to their sexuality, the characters in the novel suffer abuse, lack of parental or family support and abandonment. The novel, therefore, shows the extent of trauma and struggles encountered but people with different sexual orientations.
In her lecture at Harvard Divinity School, Tony Morrison attempted to explain the concept of good and evil as it pertains to literature in the19th, 20th and the 21st century. She notes that most novels focus on evil giving it more attention while only mentioning a few instances of goodness. For example, in the book God Help the Child, the storyline dwells on the evil acts of Sweetness and other adults who abuse children. Similarly, in the House of Impossible Beauties, the novel focuses on the traumatic experiences of the LGBT. Cruel acts of molesters, therefore, dominate the plot. However, Morrison notes that in the end, the good triumphs. In Joseph Cassara’s novel, goodness is seen when Bride successfully survives without her mother, and how she turns her life around to be a respected executive. She also grows into a beautiful young woman who wears only white to stand out more. This represents goodness since Bride is not broken but instead, she collected herself and turned her life around.
Morrison argues that evil takes over the intellectual platform and it calls for the examination of consequences. The evil in both books is exemplified through the child abuse and character that the audiences analyze to make sense of these evils, where they stem from, their consequences and possible interventions. However, Morrison asserts that goodness takes the back seat (Morrison 2). Its actions are brief and short. Morrison defines goodness as a value that is learned and taught. For example, people learn to address other people with respect. The second type of goodness is narcist in nature and it is enhanced by ego. Goodness may also result from genetic instincts to protects one’s group. In the two novels, Goodness as instinct is clearly seen where Bride is good towards other people to protect his black identify and color. Similarly, the characters in the second book extend goodness towards each to support their LGBT identity and each other.
In conclusion, the two books by Cassara and Morrison show the effects of child abuse on children and the associated trauma that stays with them even at adulthood. The most common form of abuse in both books is neglect where the parents fail to provide love, care, and protection to their children. As a result, the children experience challenges and trauma that impacts their lives. The characters in the two books have all undergone childhood abuse that left a mark in their life. They also experience sexual abuse and some like Adam died in the process. Parents are supposed to love their children unconditionally and protect them despite their skin color or sexual orientation. However, in the two books, although there are some acts of goodness, evil dominates. Tony Morris is right when she says that evil hogs the stage while goodness occupies the back seat.
Cassara, Joseph. The House of Impossible Beauties: A Novel. HarperCollins, 2018.
Morrison, Toni. God Help the Child: A novel. Vintage, 2015.
Morrison, Toni Goodness, and the Literary Imagination: Harvard’s 95th Ingersoll Lecture with Essays on Morrison’s Moral and Religious Vision. U of Virginia P, 2019.
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