Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher’s Blurb: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
It’s often difficult to tell the difference between an over-hyped book and one deserving of my attention. Thus it was between Beloved and I. Until an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad made me think I “should” read it. The tipping point came over lunch with a friend who was absolutely shocked I hadn’t. All righty then.
The opening line, “124 was spiteful,” sets the stage. Who or what is 124 and why is s/he/it/they spiteful? That sentence leads into the deeply moving, dark tale of not so distant slavery and being black in America. Which story resonates today as we struggle with racism in modern times.
124 is haunted by the spirit of Sethe’s daughter who, we learn as the story moves on, was killed as an infant as protection by her mother from the slave runners. This “ghost” symbolizes all the pain, anger, and suffering slaves endured at the hands of white owners.
But then, Beloved appears seemingly out of nowhere and is suspected to be the corporeal manifestation of Sethe’s daughter. The chaos still exists, now represented by the physical embodiment of pain, anger, and suffering.
124’s inhabitants are the epitome of chaos as buried memories come to the surface. How can anyone go on after suffering the horrific indignities of being a slave? How can life go on? How can anything approach something approximating “normal?”
Beloved explores these questions. And faces harsh realities. Being black in America will never afford the right of equality and the privilege of agency. Never.
My favorite quote is from a scene that Paul D describes while a slave at Sweet Home. He describes to Sethe what it was like to have his eyes opened by Schoolteacher, who taught everyone on the plantation until Mister broke up the lessons. Mister gets to be Mister no matter what, because he’s white. “Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.” Paul D realizes now his value was less than the chicken who was about to become dinner. Schoolteacher exposed him to that understanding, which both binds Paul D tighter and frees him.
Cleveland in 1863 just as well be Ferguson 2014 or Philadelphia 2018. Anyone who thinks this is not the way of the world hasn’t been paying attention.
Beloved is complex. And I join the chorus which insists this is a book which should be read by everyone. Repeatedly.
See my list of books which help me understand being black in America.