Frank Money is a Korean war veteran and African-American man who spends most of his childhood in a town known as Lotus, Georgia. He enlists in the army to escape the too-small town, with his two best friends in search for manhood. After killing a young Korean girl and watching his “homeboys” die in front of him, Frank returns to Seattle where he struggles with alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder. The horrid childhood memories associated with Lotus and “ghosts” of the war do not allow Frank to move past his experiences, which in turn causes Frank to believe “Lotus, Georgia, is the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield” (Morisson 83).
It is not until Frank receives a letter about his sister that he is able to reflect and accept his past. Frank’s journey back to Georgia is an opportunity to retrieve his painful memories and put them to rest. Before returning to Lotus, “Everything reminded him of something loaded with pain” (8), however when returning, Lotus “seemed both fresh and ancient, safe and demanding” (132).
Frank’s willingness to confront his past allows him to transition into manhood and is juxtaposed in his changed attitude towards Lotus; as he gets closer to Georgia he realizes that there are certain things there- the weather, the food, the pace of life- that he immediately identifies with.
Frank grows up in strict familial settings, a home deprived of affection and proper care; because of this, Frank leaves his hateful existence in Lotus in search for a place that offers him freedom.
Lotus, Georgia “was much less than enough for Frank” (84). It does not give him the opportunity to explore on his own, as he is limited to jobs in the cotton field just like his parents. The town lacks aspiration and is cramped with suffocating indifferences: “There was no goal other than breathing, nothing to win…, nothing to survive or worth surviving for”(83). The repetition of nothing is used to emphasize Frank’s insistence to leave Lotus. He refuses to follow in the footsteps of his elders. In Lotus, “there was no future, just long stretches of killing time” (Morrison 83).
Frank can no longer live in a stagnant town where his future is predestined for him. In addition to the nature of Lotus, Frank and Cee live under the care of their “wicked witch” step-grandmother, Lenore. Lenore runs a very strict household where she is in absolute control. The oppressive environment Frank grows up in gives him no time to explore his own identity. Frank explains, “When we got home we expected to be whipped or at least scolded for staying out so late” (5). Frank and Cee spend their minimal free time exploring through the tall grass, on a specific occasion they watch faceless men lift a still alive body with a “black foot and creamy pink and mud-streaked sole” (4) from a wheelbarrow to be buried. Interestingly, the only thing Frank remembers from this scene are the horses because “they were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (5). Frank enlists in the Korean war with his “homeboys” in hopes that the war provides them with an opportunity to explore their own identities without the lingering essence of Lotus.
Upon returning to the States from war, Frank’s mind is trapped in his memories, which prevents him from looking to a future. Frank’s decision to kill a young innocent Korean girl, along with the sight of watching his two “homeboys” die, has left profound scars on his consciousness. This is seen by a ghost that is portrayed as “a small man wearing a wide-brimmed hat” and “pale blue suit” (27) which first visits him on the train to Chicago. The ghost can be seen as a manifestation of Frank’s mental state, as well as a symbol of Frank’s confusion of his own sense of self. Literally, a ghost haunts someone. The ghost that haunts Frank is the memories he has of the war and Lotus. It is not until Frank accepts the things that haunt him that the “ghost” stops appearing.
Morrison foreshadows significant events later in the novel to allude to the development of Frank’s character. When staying in a stranger’s house, Frank asks Michael, the handicapped son, what he wants to be when he grows up. He responds with “A man” (33). The young boy’s response is ironic because that was Frank’s childhood desire too, which was part of Frank’s reasoning behind leaving Lotus. However, his escape from Lotus has done the opposite effect in that the war has left him with no grasp on his sense of self. This is seen when he is speaking to John Locke about his arrest, “He truly could not remember. […] What he did remember was that as soon as Lily shut the door behind him, in spite of the seriousness of his mission, his anxiety became unmanageable” (15). Frank is incapable of building connections with other people because of the memories of war that continue to haunt him.
When riding on the train to save his sister, “Frank suddenly realized that those memories, powerful as they were, did not crush him anymore or throw him into paralyzing despair” (100); this realization marks the beginning of Frank’s transition into manhood. Frank’s decision to not let his memories define the person he coincides with his changed perspective of Lotus. This is displayed through Frank’s ability to see things in bright colors, “every front yard and backyard sported flowers… Crimson, purple, pink, and China blue. Had these trees always been this deep, deep green?” (117) The bright color in Lotus contrast against the colorless memories that emerges in Frank’s mind throughout most of the text, “Outside the window- trees, sky, a boy on a scooter, grass, hedges. All color disappeared and the world became a black-and-white movie screen” (23). Frank’s change in perspective of Lotus, seen through the imagery Morrison provides, is related to his ability to not allow the memories that haunt him most take control over his life.
Frank is not a man until he puts his haunted memories to rest, literally and figuratively. Frank demonstrates that he has come full circle by not only admitting to Cee but also himself, that he was the one who shot the innocent girl in the face, “I have to tell the whole truth. I lied to you and I lied to me. I hid it from you because I hid it from me” (133). Frank is not willing to accept the fact that he killed the girl because he believes it makes him not a man, “What type of man is that?” (134). By admitting his actions to himself and Cee, Frank is able to put the traumatic memory to rest and move on. In addition, Cee and Frank dig up the body of the black man they witnessed being buried when they were children. A symbol for uncovering fond memories as well as putting horrifying memories to rest. When giving the man a proper burial Cee sees the “small man in a funny suit swinging a watch chain. And grinning” (144), the same man that visits Frank throughout the novel. This is symbolic to Frank putting his “ghosts” from war to rest. Upon re-burying the black man, Frank plants a wooden marker on the grave that reads: “Here Stands A Man” (145). Morrison creates a double entendre; Not only is the dead man a man but so is Frank.
Frank’s ability to put the “ghosts” of war and horrid childhood experiences to rest in the town he once hated most serves as a paradox; Lotus serves as a reminder of things Frank would rather avoid, but also as a refuge because it is where Frank comes to terms with his past in order to reach manhood. Morrison represents home not only as a physical destination but as an internal state one must find.