War in the View of Toni Morrison

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Fighting in a war doesn't just change how a person views life, it can change how they act as well. Before Shadrack went into World War I, he was a young handsome man and fearsome-looking, but his experiences in the war left him emotionally scared. Once he returned to the bottom he become somewhat of a hermit. He survived off fishing and the Ohio River living in an abandoned shack. The only time anyone really sees him is when he parades through the Bottom carrying a cowbell leading the annual National Suicide Day letting people know that they can kill themselves or someone else.

While people of the bottom think National Suicide Day symbolizes hatred, despair, and spiteful, Shadrack wants people to understand and realize that he can be understanding and kindhearted. Shadrack came up with the idea of National Suicide day because, It was not death or dying that frightened him, but the unexpectedness of both if one day a year were devoted to it, everybody could get it out of the way and the rest of the year would be safe and free (Sula 14). He implemented this on January Third every year.

September 10th is world Suicide Prevention Day which helps to provide worldwide actions to prevent suicides since 2003. How Toni Morrison describes National Suicide Day in her novel Sula, is very different from what the world knows it to be. Toni Morrison published Sula in 1973 before there was a lot of research about suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that in 2017 Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and over 47,000 Americans died by suicide. These statistics do not include those who attempted to commit suicide. In 2015, 505,507 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm (Suicide Statistics). There are statistics about race, age, and gender for suicide but nonetheless, suicide and suicide attempts occur across all demographics.

In Jerry Lembcke's article ?Shell Shock in the American Imagination: World War I's Most Enduring Legacy' he writes, The war veteran suffering shell shock is one of the most enduring images of the twentieth-century war. Shell shock is a term that was coined during World War I, which later becomes useful in creating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During World War I, doctors saw soldiers experiencing things that they hadn't seen before. They had tremors, many soldiers had become blind or deaf and some had even gone mute. Soldiers who had physical disabilities also experienced these unexplained symptoms as well. Many believe that British doctor Charles Myers, a medically trained psychologist, coined the term shell shock, it was actually the soldiers who came up with the term. the Army appointed Myers as consulting psychologist to the British Expeditionary Force to offer opinions on cases of shell shock and gather data for a policy to address the burgeoning issue of psychiatric battle casualties (Jones).

As time went on soldiers who hadn't been on the front line or experienced combat yet appeared to have similar symptoms. ?Dr.Joseph Babinski hypothesized the symptoms may be brought about not by the war itself but either by unintentional suggestion from doctors or by the patient's auto?suggestion and imitation.' (Lembcke). Many doctors had rejected the idea of Shell Shock. It got to the point where the British Army Medical Service outlawed Shell Shock in 1917. In 1922, the British War Office Committee outlined its findings by saying that The war produced no new nervous disorders, and those which occurred had previously been recognized in civil medical practice. Some people believed that those who had shell shock were repressing their memories of failure.

Personally, growing up where disorders have been researched and have evidence of the cause, I believe that during World War I the experiences that the soldiers faced and the symptoms they had once they returned home will not only stay in their memory but it has changed who they are as a person, how they view others, and what they do day to day. Everyone experiences something traumatic, and that event no matter when it happened in someone's life, it will affect them. For example, when I was in a car accident and I rear ended the person in front of me, I was scared to drive for a few days. Ever since that day I have changed the way I drive and how close I follow behind someone. I feel that the claims made by the British Army in 1917, was premature. they didn't have much evidence to support their claim. To say that the war produced no new disorder, is being ignorant and not doing the research to back up their claim.

When Shadrack was released from the hospital after the explosion in the War, he couldn't stand to look at his hands. They kept growing larger and large the more he looked at them. He felt safe when he couldn't see the two things that he needs to do pretty much anything. Once he built up the strength to walk out of the doors of the hospital he struggled to walk, breathe, and see clearly. He was confused, lost and had absolutely nothing: No past, no language, no tribe, no source, no address book, no comb, no pencil, no clock, no pocket handkerchief, no rug, no bed, no can opener, no faded postcard, no soap, no key, no tobacco pouch, no soiled underwear and nothing nothing nothing to do (Sula 12). Shadrack had basically lost his mind. The cops showed up and took him to jail thinking he was intoxicated when in reality he was suffering from PTSD. He had post traumatic stress disorder from what he experienced at war and from being in the hospital for a year, not knowing who or what he was. He knew what he wanted and remember what his life before war was like but he couldn't figure out how to get there.

PTSD isn't something that is cured. When a soldier goes to war and comes home with PTSD, his life isn't the same. He has to deal with the triggers, reoccurring thoughts, visual images in his head and around him and he also has to try and hold himself together because he is a soldier and he is strong and brave. That isn't always the case for returning soldiers with PTSD. Not everyone who is diagnosed with PTSD is suicidal. Sy Mukherjee's states in her article ?What's killing America's Veterans? Here's what the Data says' an average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day in 2014. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported that the biggest issue is that veterans don't have access or don't get the health care services that they are entitled to. Many veterans die from accidental overdoses because they are prescribed painkillers to help deal with injuries from combat.

It is unfortunate that the people who served our country end up accidentally dying, or kill themselves because they were out making our lives better. Shadrack is a good example of how some veterans are treated once they return home. People in the Bottom were frightened when they saw him on the first National Suicide Day. His eyes were so wild, his hair so long and matted, his voice was so full of authority and thunder (15), people didn't understand how to act around him. After the first couple January firsts, people understood the boundaries and nature of his madness.

Today people know about PTSD and what type of events can trigger it but many people do not know that they can receive help and what some of the symptoms are. although the novel takes place from 1919 through 1965, and Toni Morrison wrote it in the mid 1970's, she does do a fantastic job at describing and illustrating what post traumatic stress disorder is. Much of what Toni Morrison writes is still true to how PTSD is today. Sula is so much more than just the character Sula and what she goes through. The novel is about friendship, the affects or war, poverty, feminism and racism. Toni Morrison ties all these elements into each other and created this fictional literature that people can learn from and realize just how the past isn't so different from the present.

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War In The View Of Toni Morrison. (2019, Apr 15). Retrieved July 12, 2024 , from

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