One of the most shattering novels ever written, Family by J. California Cooper is a perfect specimen of a XIX-century American tragedy.
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Creating the characters that might as well be the real people of the America sunken under the weight of slavery and torments, J. California Cooper demonstrates what makes a real family and explains why the rules and morals governing in the XIX century time, made people suffer and families split in a dreadful misconception.
Explaining the true family values in her shocking and gripping novel, J. California Cooper manages to convey the importance of the family ties and emphasizes that in the hardest times when slavery came to reign in the country and people, could be sold and bought, family relationships were practically doomed – it took a real miracle for the people of different races to come to terms and understanding.
It is quite peculiar that the author does not actually offer her vision of what the real family makes – the descriptions of the woes that Chlora had to undergo to come to realizing that her family is completely broken.
Without even comparing the ideal family to the one that Chlora was doomed to have, J. California Cooper made the reader unconsciously understand that the real family was supposed to make an entity, an integral piece that on no account should be divided. Once the family is split, the lives of its members are broken for good. Moreover, the feeling of belonging also vanishes without a trace, as J. California Cooper explains:
And the Erath Mother asked the Erath Child as she handed it the succulent Earth fruit, “And where does a tree bear fruit that is not its own?” And the Erath Child threw back its beautiful head, laughing, saying, “Never, never…” (Cooper iv).
Whenever the author mentions Chlora’s family, her children and the life they led, there is a surge of pain rising from the pages and hitting the reader right in the heart of his/her hearts.
Telling in plain words about the things that obviously seem outrageous and despicable to the modern-days world, but are a common practice in the world Chloe lives in, Cooper creates the vision of the family ruined by the social prejudice and the racism ideas reigning in the society:
…When the children was sold and the money used to buy more land or something for the land, Always named whatever was bought by the name of her child. So there was fields named Lester, Ruby, and Lark, and whole lotta cows named Satti. (135)
There is no doubt that the real values of the family are concealed in its integrity and entity. Once the family is split, there is no way which can possibly make the family members reunite. As the lead character, Clora, the slave, says in her sorrow, All my family, my blood, is mixed up now.
They don’t even all know each other. I just hope they don’t never hate or fight each other, not knowin who they are. Cause all these people livin are brothers and sisters and cousins. All these beautiful different colors! We!… We the human Family. God says so! FAMILY! (231)
Another important issue in the novel that requires thorough considerations is the problem of racism. Though racial issues can be viewed as an integral and a necessary part of the development of the humankind and passing over to the next stage of evolution, racism is, no doubts, the most repulsive phenomenon ever.
Whenever the author mentions the segregation issues, there is no hatred towards racists themselves, but the sadness that people can cause such pain to the fellow human beings. Such an atmosphere in the book enhances the understanding that racism is the most repulsive phenomenon, yet does not involve the desire to destroy the people who are under the influence of the racial ideas, which is extremely important.
Stressing the importance of piece and equality, the novel offers a different approach to the racial issues, which is rather unexpected: “Such a wave of hate is being planted up deeper in this world. The devil is the busiest thing I know” (231). Therefore, the author blames the time and the epoch, even the supernatural things, for racism, but not people themselves, which is rather wise.
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Hence, it cannot be denied that the humankind was passing through hard times to come to understanding that slavery led to the breach of any human relationships within the people of different races and the split of the family ties between the people of different races. In addition, J. California Cooper conveys the idea that slavery provoked the outbursts of cruelty and was the ultimate summit of the inhumane.
Hence, creating a picture of a family, distorted, and the family values, defied and trampled on, J. California Cooper emphasized the importance of treating all people equally and the fact that, without the equality among all races and nationalities, all family morals and values are turned into ash.
Cooper, California J. Family. New York City, NY: Doubleday, 1991. Print.