In her novel, Love, Toni Morrison reflects on the strength of love and feelings as these feelings help to determine society’s expectations of a person and the social decisions that person makes. There are different kinds of love in a community. There is a driving need for love in a person. Morrison uses the story of the life of a man, Bill Cosey, and his surrounding family and community to portray these powerful emotions.
The shame Bill Cosey felt for his father and the hurt at never feeling loved by the man is Morrison’s first example of a strong feeling controlling a man’s life. Bill Cosey’s father was a colored man who chose to spy on his fellow man in order to profit.
Well paid, tipped off, and favored for fifty-five
on everybody. …. and the money he got for being
at the beck and call of white folks in general and
police in particular didn’t bring comfort to him or
his family. ….He worshiped paper money and
coin, withheld decent shoes from his son and passable
dresses from his wife and daughters, until he died,
leaving 114,000 resentful dollars behind. The son
decided to enjoy his share…use it on things [his father]
cursed: good times, good clothes, good food, good
music, dancing til the sun came up in a hotel made
for it all.” (Morrison 101)
Bill Cosey was the owner of a resort on a beach in the Southern United States. He was a colored man whom people of his community respected but feared eccentric. His generosity was welcomed, but his social decisions were tolerated, not accepted by the community he helped create.
Cosey understood the distinction between the social status of the people who patronized his resort and those whom he hired to work there or who lived in the surrounding homes.
“Cosey didn’t mix with local people publicly,” Morrison wrote, “which is to say he employed them, joked with them, even rescued them from difficult situations, but other than at church picnics, none was truly welcome at the hotel’s tables or on its dance floor.” (Morrison 61) Cosey seemed to feel a need to overcome the shame of his father’s “blood money” and catered to the people of the community and generously helped them out as he could.
However, he understood how his patrons would feel about the social lower class and realized that if he allowed them to be on the same level as the upper class which frequented his resort, then Cosey would lose customers and hence, his resort. In conclusion, it was his feelings of shame for what his father did to the people of the community, turning his back on them and selling their secrets for cash, that made Bill Cosey who he was: a man who tried to nurture those less fortunate, provide fun for an elite few, and wanted to be seen in the eyes of society as a good, respected man.
This driving need to feel respected and loved by the community led Cosey to make many decisions. Some decisions actually turned community respect away from him, but because the community could only love a man who had helped so many, his actions that should have been shunned were not. For example, when he married Heed, an eleven-year-old girl, who was the playmate of his granddaughter, people in the community and his family were shocked, but ignored the action because he was Bill Cosey.
People actually went so far as to put the blame for such an unacceptable act on the poor child herself. As one character remembers they “acted as though Heed had chased and seduced a fifty-two-year-old man, older than her father. That she had chosen to marry him, rather than having been told to.” (Morrison 226)
Even this decision to marry an eleven-year-old was based on feeling. Bill Cosey was haunted by a childhood memory where he helped his father capture a thief for police. Yet, when the thief was punished, being dragged through town by horses, Cosey was devastated to see a little girl running behind calling her father. This girl tripped and fell and no one in the community did anything to help her, not even Bill Cosey who felt ashamed for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, his attempts to make himself feel better about this past incident, actually destroyed the love of friendship between his granddaughter and his new, young wife.
The two little girls who shunned the community’s social ideals to build a much yearned for friendship were controlled by their inner need for love and acceptance. The girls, Christine, the granddaughter, and Heed, the playmate, fought to create a friendship in their youth. Heed was from the seedier, poorer end of town and Christine the granddaughter of a wealthy, respected and community-conscious man. According to society’s rules, they should not be friends.
Christine’s mother tried to stop the friendship, but Christine recalled how much she had needed a real friend and how hard she would struggle to be allowed to have one. “She would never forget how she had fought for her, defied her mother to protect her, to give her clothes…to picnic alone on the beach. They shared stomachache laughter, a secret language, and knew as they slept together that one’s dreaming was the same as the other one’s.” (Morrison 204)
Unfortunately, when Cosey married Heed, Christine felt betrayed because she did not understand. Christine was not told what had happened, and Heed did not understand either. Both were innocent girls who were made to do as they were told in order for the grown-ups in their lives to feel better about what they did or had done even at the expense of an innocent friendship. As Morrison puts it, “After the wedding, they tried to play together occasionally, but with each one lying in wait for the other’s insult, the efforts ended in quarrel.” (Morrison 205)
Christine’s mother taught Christine to hate the traitorous playmate because of the feelings she had about a little girl “stealing” her father-in-law from her and her only daughter. All this led to the destruction of the girls’ friendship. Sadly, this friendship and the love and trust it had once held, was the one thing that could have given both girls the pleasant, love-filled life for which they both yearned . If they had sought to be accepted and loved by each other instead of by the adults that essentially ruined their hearts, they would have succeeded in obtaining the love we all need to feel complete inside.
Unfortunately, this did not become apparent to the two girls until they were old, bitter women, and one was struggling to hold on to life. After hating each other for years and fighting to reap the material possessions of Bill Cosey, Christine and Heed are facing death and finally take the opportunity to reveal their feelings to each other. “We could have been living our lives hand in hand instead of looking for Big Daddy everywhere. He was everywhere. And nowhere.” (Morrison 291) With these last statements to each other, the girls have suddenly realized that they could have had a more emotionally fulfilled life as friends than they did as daughters, granddaughter, girlfriend, or wife. In essence, their search for the love and acceptance from a father, a mother or mother figure and lover led to the ignorance of the love they shared as friends.
There are many kinds of love in a family and a community. There was the love the community’s people felt for Bill Cosey and the pride he brought to their race with his successes. There is the love of a father and the love of a mother, both sought after and both allowing a child to grow up with self-confidence and a feeling of importance. Then there is the love of a lover: the love between husband and wife. This is the passionate love, but the love that ought to make a person whole as two people who love each other become partners in life and find in each other someone who truly understands. Also, there is the love between siblings. And there is the love between friends.
Each love in its own way and for its own reasons is strong. The need for the heart to feel each love and love in return is strong. But the strength of each is only as strong as the lover makes it. The need can only take over as much as a person allows it. This may be what Morrison is trying to focus on in her book.
Through Bill Cosey and his actions, we observe the need to be accepted by society. He is ashamed of his father because in a sense his father turned against his own people for money, but then refused to share it with his family. Thus, Bill Cosey feels unloved by his father as well as hated by his community for what his father was. Cosey spent the rest of his life trying to earn that love and respect from both family and community. The reader can deduce this from what Cosey asks a confidant, “What do they say about me?…..You know. Behind my back.” (Morrison 63) When the answer was that he is a respected man, Cosey simply replied,” Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” (Morrison 63)
Even as Cosey sought vengeance for an unloving father, May, his daughter-in-law, Christine, and Heed all sought the love of a father from him. A love that he intended to give, but never really did give because he was too concerned with his feelings and what the community thought of him. This realization leads to the friendship love that could have been the strongest had Christine and Heed let go of the search for a man’s love and chosen instead to strengthen their friendship.
The love of a husband and wife is ironically not seen between the young playmate and the elder husband, but between an elderly couple, Vida and Sandler, who have learned to live with each other’s idiosyncrasies and accept each other for who they are. Morrison shows this when the couple is together just by what they say and don’t say to each other in order to respect an argument or to stop one from occurring. Also, Morrison shows it in how they honor small requests in order to please each other. Such as, when Vida requests that Sandler speak to their grandson about sex, he does not think he should, but then he does for Vida’s peace of mind. (Morrison 224-225)
All in all, Morrison covers a wide and powerful topic, the importance of love and feelings. She focuses on how important it is for each of us to feel loved and to feel important to someone else in this world, whether it be a community or an individual. Morrison expands on that need for love to show how a person or even a community can let it control them. But it is controllable and can be realized if one accepts the love they are given instead of searching for the love they will never get.
Morrison, Toni. Love. New York, NY, USA: Random House,2003.