Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.
Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Romans 9:25: ”I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.”
Beloved by Toni Morrison is what my book club picked for this month. The review meeting is actually being held today. Since joining the book club, I have only bailed out on reading one book, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. I knew it was a difficult book so I didn’t even try. However, despite being told about Beloved being another difficult book, I decided to challenge myself and read it.
Beloved in set in 1870’s after the abolition of slavery. The protagonist, Sethe lives in a big house at 124 Bluestone with her daughter Denver. However, it soon becomes clear that they are not the only occupants of 124. In the same house lives Beloved, the ghost another one of Sethe’s daughter.
Let me digress a little bit, I did not expect to find a ghost or any supernatural aspects in Beloved. I never saw it coming and the first chapters of the books terrified me. You can read about my nightmares on this post I did for WWW Wednesday this week.
However, moving forward, I soon realized that this was not a horror story.
Paul D moved in with Sethe and Denver and managed to chase out the ghost of the baby. Nevertheless, a woman shows up at the house and yeah, her name is Beloved. I will not divulge more details on the plot-line so as not to spoil the book for those who have not yet read it.
“There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind–wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved
Beloved was a difficult book to read. At first I really struggled to get the flow of the book. The story is told in a stream of consciousness that I had a hard time keeping up with. Nonetheless, as I kept reading; I soon found out that the first chapters become clearer as you progress into the story. The story is also told from different perspective by different narrators hence helping in the flow of events.
There were parts of the book that were hard to read, not because of the style of writing but the harrowing tales of slavery. For instance; Sethe kept talking about being treated as a cow and having her milk stolen. Paul D also narrates scary stories of being forced to sleep in a hold in the ground. The ugliness of slavery is exposed in a shocking way that will make readers sympathize with the former slaves.
Beloved by Toni Morrison is definitely thought provoking. It made me question Sethe’s act of killing her baby and the justification behind it. She explained that she killed her baby to save her from the slave masters. Why does it feel like that something similar to that still happens today? How many times to we destroy each other while using the ‘slave master’ as an excuse. There are different forms of slave masters everywhere. In addition, Toni Morrison shows that it is not just the slave masters who exert the mistreatment. For instance; in the book, the black people in Sethe’s neighborhood were not particularly kind to her. She was ostracized by them because of the choices that she had made. Toni showed that not all white people were bad and not all the black people were good or victims. Beloved also made me think about how sometimes the past refuses to be left behind. I guess that’s what Toni was trying to explain using the ghosts.
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved
It is a literary masterpiece and I understand why it won the Pulitzer price and why Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize. However, before you read Beloved, you need to be prepared for the journey ahead. There are heavy themes and difficult topics which are all entwined. There are mentions of bestiality, sexual assault, racism, slavery, human torture and infanticide. It is not an easy book to read but it is definitely worth it.
Note: Beloved was inspired by the story of an African-American slave, Margaret Garner who killed her daughter to keep her from being returned to slavery