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Beloved - Toni Morrison
My step daughter is a member of a bookclub and this was the book they read and discussed recently. She and I were chatting about book s we had read recently and she mentioned this. As I said it sounded interesting she kindly lent it to me. I have read a number of books about slavery and blacks in America and indeed did a unit in my university course about Black History and literature so this was the sort of read that fitted in with my interests in this area.
I had not read any of this author's books prior to this one which is a bit remiss of me considering that she has written nine novels and is very well regarded in literary circles. Toni Morrison was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She has also been awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer prize so an impressive CV really.
This is her fifth novel and I understand it has been made into a film but not one I have seen so I won't comment on that but will certainly look out for it having read the book.
This story is loosely based on that of a slave mother, Margaret Garner who killed her own child and tried to kill her others rather than let them be caught and returned to the owner's plantation. This woman became well known at the time and someone prepared to risk her life fighting the Fugitive Slave Laws.
Morrison took this basic story and built 'Beloved' around it. 'Beloved' is a ghost story, a story of a mother' love for her children, a story of escaped and freed slaves, and a story of mental illness and bravery and so much more.
It is difficult to pin this down or even give a plot outline as it is so many people's stories and bits of stories melted and blended and twisted together. I think Morrison herself describes the book well when she says to write this was to 'pitch a tent in a cemetery inhabited by highly vocal ghosts.' Her heroine represented 'unapologetic acceptance of shame and terror; assume(ing) the consequences of choosing infanticide; claim(ing) her own freedom.'
A short plot summary does not in any way capture the emotions of the book but basically Sethe, a female slave lived on Sweet Home farm and married one of the men there. The owner was a pretty nice man and allowed one slave to buy his mother's freedom ( Baby Suggs) but when he died things became very unpleasant so the slaves plotted their escape and attempted to gain their freedom. Paul D, one of the male slaves who escaped from Sweet Home, turns up at Sethe's door. By now Baby Suggs has died and only Denver and Sethe No 124. Sethe's husband never joined them and we never learn what exactly happened to Halle, her husband. There is also a rather demanding ghost in the house who Sethe and Denver muddle along coping with. Almost at the same time as Paul D turns up another mysterious girl who tells them her name is ' Beloved' also arrives on the doorstep and from this time nothing is the same.
This is not an easy beach read; I found so many times that I had to go back and re read a few pages to decipher what was going one. The story jumps around and the writing is at times deliberately jumpy and sentences strange. At times the text is set out on the page more like poetry than a novel.
Sethe is the mother who is an escaped slave who kills her daughter when she sees her old master arrive at her house. She is imprisoned and released to live back with her husband's mother Baby Suggs who was free because her son bought her freedom. Sethe's daughter Denver also lives in the house, No 124.
As the novel progresses we learn of the different character's stories. We find out how Sethe escaped, heavily pregnant with the daughter she eventually kills. Baby Suggs has some sort of spiritual presence and holds meetings which are kind of religious services in a clearing in a woods nearby.
Sethe works in a restaurant and is the money earner keeping all three in food and the roof over their heads. She initially is the strength holding them together.
Denver her daughter is quiet and rarely leaves the house initially, but develops her own strength of character as the story moves on and the effect of Beloved's arrival changes the balance in the house.
Baby Suggs ( heaven knows where that name came from) is Sethe's mother in law and Denver's grandmother lives in the same house and actually was the first person in their family in the house.
Paul D is one of a few Paul's at the Sweet Home the place they were all slaves. He has a very interesting story which we learn about gradually as the novel progresses as he has travelled to many states since his successful escape.
At no time are we made to feel superior to these characters. They are all immensely strong in their own way and you cannot help but admire they tenacity and determination. You feel horror at what they have suffered and anger that it could have ever been considered okay in society. This is the sort of book you read and become part of for that time. After you have finished it haunts you; I find myself thinking about how I might have reacted. Would I have been able to kill my own child to protect it from a life I considered worse than death? Would I have taken to this mysterious stranger in the same way or would I have concentrated my efforts of my child that was still alive. Did Sethe lose her mind? Would I have been strong enough to get that far?
Strangely the characters are never described except for beloved. I had no mental picture built on descriptions from the novel. I did build my own picture of the characters but they were based on previous people I have met or seen rather than from the author's description.
Beloved is a mystery, we are left to make up our own minds as to whether he is a 'real' girl as Denver treats her. Sethe come to believe she is her dead daughter returned but is this just Sethe losing her mind? Beloved seduces Paul D while he is living in the house and finally drives him away.
I know it sound like I am giving away a lot of the story but to an extent the story is not really what this book is about. It is more about the emotions and interaction between the characters and how they deal with situations thrown at them.
Sethe is rejected by the people who are part of her community but not because of the murder of her child, as we might think, but because she is too proud and independent according to them. This isolates this little family from outside support which would have been so useful to them.
It seem that killing your own children was not unheard of as Nan, raises Sethe tells 'small girl Sethe' that Sethe's mother 'threw them all away but you...the ones...from more white she...threw away. Without names, she threw them.' This may be why this murder did not shock the community. They possibly would have been sympathetic and allowed her back into the community had she been a bit more humble when let out of prison.
We hear how supportive the black community is from Stamp Paid, a man who helped escaped slaves across the river. He tells Paul D that anyone would have offered him a place to sleep. Sethe doesn't have any of this support and neither therefore does Denver who never left the house it seemed.
Strangely although to me, what Sethe did is beyond forgiveness I never hated her for it. She was a likeable character who earned my sympathy. In fact there are no dislikable main characters in the book the only ones are slave owning incidental people and it is what they do that we hear about, they are not really characters of any importance.
If you are after an escapist light read then avoid this. If the sort of book that appeals is one that grabs you and really makes you think then this will more attractive to you.
The writing is not easy flowing text. It jumps from one story to the next rather as though the individual characters are thinking back to memories in the past and then they are brought back to the present by something happening. We learn about the history of the different characters through these flashbacks and have to piece the bits together a bit like a jigsaw. At times I had to go back and re read something as it seemed to be nothing to do with what I had just read and indeed we had jumped again to another part of the story.
This reminds me of 'The Colour Purple' in its style and the emotions that you suffer when reading it. This book will not entertain, nor will it raise your spirits. It is however a deeply thoughtful, well written and at time poetic novel.
Thank for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
I flipped the first page of this novel open on a beach in a trashy tourist resort, surrounded by hedonistic holidaymakers swilling beer and roasting their uncooked pastry-coloured bodies. After a few pages, I gave up. A tale of malicious ghosts in a jerky, concealing language: it was clearly not my sort of book. I reopened it on a quiet bench in the airport - and immediately became engrossed. The themes of the book are compelling.
Plot and Structure
Beloved is a novel written by Toni Morrison in 1993 and received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is set in the 1900s at the very beginning of a transition period for slaves - some slaves were being bought out of slavery and a vague opposition to the practice was being voiced. However, in this period, the USA was a nation prospering from the labours of the enslaved black people. The novel explores the lives of a community of slaves centering around a woman called Sethe. The house where Sethe and her daughter, Denver live in the present time of this novel is 'haunted' by the restless spirit of Sethe's dead baby. The two, troubled by the poltergeist-like actions of the spirit,challenge the spirit to 'Come'. It does just at the same time as a fellow slave, Paul D, from 18 years ago arrives at the house also. The narrative describes what happens next in the present time but also interweaves snippets from the former slaves' terrible past lives creating the fuller picture of terror, loss, deprivation and denial.
The language of the book is interesting; I felt it took you deeper into the very separate (from 'white folks) lives of the black characters and made their true lives (rather than the ones that 'white folks' in the novel perceived them to have) more vivid to the reader. As I began the book, I needed to go back and re read phrases to extract their full meaning but as I got further into the book, I became more familiar with the language. Towards the end of the novel, the writing takes on a more poetic stream-of-consciousness for some pages. This is fitting as it expresses some of the more complex emotional states and worlds of key characters - some of which would be difficult to describe in straight prose.
At one point, towards the end of the novel, a peripheral character says, "We are all mad." and this perhaps sums up the mental state of slaves and former slaves who have been damaged and changed by acts of immense cruelty. The novel examines some of the particular 'journeys' of the slaves. The main character of this novel, Sethe, is a woman whose mental state, is deeply affected by this at various points of her life. The reader sees her as a slave,as a runaway as a daughter in law, as a lover, as an employee - and as a mother: it is as though we are viewing her from a multitude of angles - the huge strength and the meltdowns. Her daughter, Denver, is also shown as a character who makes a journey -but hers is from inertia and fear to bravery and independence. Paul D is a character who takes the longest physical runaway journey to freedom - but his hardest task is to figure out what his place is -either involved - or not involved - with this troubled family with which he is strongly connected to from the past. Other characters include Baby Suggs - the visionary mother in law of Sethe and Beloved - the pivotal presence. A number of other characters include 'white folks' slave owners and others, many, many slaves and a few ex slaves. As a reader, you get the feeling of a cast of thousands but with the scrutiny falling to a few. Those few tell the pain of the many.
The main theme of this novel is - what it means to be 'free'. All other themes such as love and being a parent are all examined under the umbrella of this major theme. Through the various characters' stories, the reader sees the agony of a life in enslavement where all emotions need to be repressed because the pain of loss (loss of family, children, dignity, control, self esteem etc) are commonplace in a place where white society views black slaves as animalistic and treats them accordingly. I felt that the themes were incredibly thought provoking, making the reader consider the realities of slavery in a tangible and emotionally connected way. As, I went deeper into the book, I understood some of the complexities of the situations and emotions that the themes explored.
'Beloved' is a must-read book. It took me to a greater understanding of the lives of slaves. It is a reminder of the horror and institutionalised violence that characterised the USA at that period and continues to rear its ugly head intermittently - in the world - and over the ages. There are still many in the Western world whose family wealth is directly attributable to the work of slaves.
This is not a particularly easy read but it is extremely engaging - and this makes it a worthy winner of its prize. I found myself thinking of the horrors and the dilemmas of the fictional characters - and of the real people who endured and were murdered by the atrocity of slavery.
How far would you go to protect your children? And in what form would that protection take? Could you live with the consequences of your actions?
Beloved, by Tony Morrison, is often considered an 'ethnic' book. Indeed, I studied it in a course entitled 'Ethnicity in American Literature'. But to me, the book is about motherhood, family, community and pride. But let me back up a little.
This is a VERY complex book, with very complex themes. But the plot is not amazingly difficult to summarise. Morrison got the idea for this book from a newspaper clipping she saw, about an escaping slave who killed her child rather than let the child be recaptured into slavery.
Sethe, mother to a couple of boys and two girls, has done just that. The elder ('already crawling') girl was the victim - Sethe used a hacksaw - nearly sawing her head off. Her tombstone reads simply, 'Beloved'.
The story begins, however, not with the death. Sethe has escaped slavery, and now lives free. Ish. She lived her first years of freedom with her mother-in-law (Baby Suggs), as her husband did not escape Sweet Home. She is not happy. Her boys have fled, and her remaining daughter, Denver, has...well...issues, and is very withdrawn. Paul D, a man whom she new at Sweet Home (where she was a slave), is a welcome arrival to Sethe, and 'marries' her.
Then, on their way home from the fair, they find a young woman sitting in front of the house. She 'speaks funny', and has no memory of anything that had gone before. No memory of a life before the rock on which she sits. She says her name is Beloved. Beloved takes up residence with Sethe, Denver and Paul (although she is immensely jealous of Paul, attempting to seduce him at one stage - possibly to drive a wedge between him and Sethe). Sethe and Beloved embark on a destructive, possessive relationship (and I don't mean a sexual relationship).
The question hangs throughout the book whether Beloved is a real girl, or the ghost of the girl who died. Who will help Sethe, when she cannot or will not ask for help herself? Who will help Denver and Paul? Does Beloved need help? Can Sethe ever be forgiven, or indeed, forgive herself for what she did all those years ago in that shed with that saw?
That all makes it sound like a straightforward (if slightly horrific), ghost story. But besides the horror element, we are also presented with the fact that Sethe is not accepted even within her own community. That no-one in her home is happy. And that pride is a worse crime than murder.
NB: You don't have to read the analysis below - this was the LAST paper I had to write for my degree (1999), and so made it a personal one. I wrote about what mattered to me.
The Analysis - pride, prejudice, and murder
'What she want to go and do that for?'(2) To a parent, Sethe commits the worst possible or imaginable crime, that of infanticide. Yet in Beloved, Sethe murders her 'already crawling' daughter in a particularly horrific manner, yet is still a sympathetic character. Furthermore, the crime for which she is ostracised by her society is not solely, or even primarily, that of murder, but rather of excess: an excess of pride, and an excess of love. However, as a mother myself, I find Sethe's actions difficult to 'forgive', and harder to fully understand. To understand what has shaped Sethe and her community - what has seemingly forced Sethe to such drastic action - it is useful to examine the reactions (and the judgements) of both Sethe herself and those around her. It is also important to explore the role of the family and that of the community in the text and in Sethe's life and to remember that Sethe is not the only character who kills, but she is the only one who kills a child that she, her family and her community regard as her own. I would argue that although Sethe has been forced to endure unspeakable hardship, the murder she commits is horrific, immoral and (at least to an extent) inexcusable, even by the standards of the community depicted in the novel.
The family is the backbone of all known human societies - either ideally or actually: 'all the members of any society are members of some family system(s) (or some simulated family system[s])(3), Sethe, and the other characters in Beloved, are no exception. Although the family is often fractured, and members of a 'family' may or may not be biologically related, the family is still the ideal structure. Cheryl Townsend, paraphrasing Du Bois asserts that even within slavery, 'black people preserved the family in spite of the law'(4) [keeping in mind that slave children belonged to the slave-owner, not to the parents]. Sethe barely knew her mother, and Baby Suggs did not know her mother and barely knew their children, the ideal unit is nevertheless the family unit. Sethe was raised by Nan although she still longed to know her own mother. When Sethe is recounting what little she knows of her mother: the 'brand' on her skin, she says, '[a]ll I could think of was how important this was...[Sethe asks her mother] "but how will you know me?" Baby Suggs wonders,"...could she have been a loving mother? If my mother knew me, would she like me?"
We therefore see that it is not only the family that is the ideal structure, but the mother is the focal point for the rearing of young children, both in societies at large and in Beloved, despite the appalling conditions that the ex-slaves are living under and have experienced. There is still an expectation that mothers (or mother substitutes) will care for and protect their children. Dr Levy maintains, 'the initial inculcation of family patterns on infants and very young children is *always and everywhere* ideally and/or actually carried out by mothers.'(5) (emphasis mine.) Because of the emphasis and 'idealness' of the maternal role in child-rearing, Sethe's actions are considered abhorrent and they set her out as the 'other', (6) against the non-murderous 'norm' in her community. Denver articulates the isolation the family experiences, complaining, "nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys don't like me. Girls don't either...it's not the house. It's us! And it's you!'"
It is important to note, however, that Sethe is not the only character in Beloved whom we are told has killed infants. Nan tells 'small girl Sethe' that Sethe's mother 'threw them all away but you...the ones...from more white she...threw away. Without names, she threw them.' The unnamed infants, though, do not seem to 'count'. They were products of rape by the whites and are therefore somehow not considered a part of the ideal family, nor do they seem to be seen by Nan and Sethe's (also nameless, at least to the reader) mother as fully human.
Sethe's 'already crawling' daughter, conversely, is considered by the society in which Sethe lives, as a part of a family; as a child who requires protection and nurturing. Sethe's societies (despite the conditions, as mentioned previously) still expect a certain standard of behaviour from the mother figure. When Sethe confounds those expectations by killing her (again, nameless) daughter, her society shuns her. However, Sethe's society is not hostile towards Sethe solely, or even primarily, for the crime of infanticide. Her reasons are understood by the African American society depicted in Beloved, even if her reactions are considered extreme. Instead, Sethe stands accused of excess: an excess of pride, an excess of love, and an excess of action. Ella, for example:
"...understood Sethe's rage in the shed twenty years ago, but not her reaction to it, which Ella thought was prideful, misdirected and Sethe herself too complicated. When she got out of jail and made no gesture toward anybody, and lived as though she were alone, Ella junked her and wouldn't give her the time of day... Sethe's crime was staggering and her pride outstripped even that..."
Ella, and the rest of Sethe's community, have also experienced the horrors and indignities of slavery, and do understand the need to escape and to stay free.(7) However, Sethe experiences everything, and reacts to everything to excess. She 'talked about safety with a handsaw.' Paul D tells her, '[y]our love is too thick' The townspeople resent Sethe and the family for their (perceived) excess of pride even before the murder takes place. They had 'offended...by excess.' They do not seem (in the community's eyes) to be showing the humility that should be a result of their suffering. The town even eventually resents Baby Suggs for being freed, rather than escaping from bondage.
The black community condemns Sethe for her excess of thought and deed, but they do (to a point) understand at least part of it. The 'four horseman' understand nothing at all:
"What she go and do that for? On account of a beating? Hell, he'd been beat a million times and he was white...no beating ever made him...I mean no way he could have...What she go and do that for?"
The nephew cannot understand the extremes Sethe is willing to go to avoid being re-enslaved, for although he had been beaten before, and did not like it at the time, he was still a free man and had the ability to take his anger and humiliation out on something smaller and less powerful than he, like the well bucket or the dog. Sethe (and any other slaves) have no such luxury. Furthermore, the nephew is missing the point, since he can both regard himself, and is regarding as human. Sethe is not driven to extremes by a simple beating, but by the constant humiliation (such as the forced suckling) she and her children have had to endure and would have to again if they were re-captured. To the Schoolteacher, Sethe was not fully human, but rather a 'mishandled creature'. The four horsemen cannot, therefore, even begin to imagine the desperation that drove Sethe. Furthermore, they can neither forgive nor condemn her because she is, in their eyes, a creature. One does not condemn nor forgive a lion for killing his rival's offspring. To the Schoolteacher and his party, Sethe and her kind are no more than that.
Sethe is, of course, not simply a creature, and is not viewed as such by her own community. Her peers cannot forgive Sethe until she requires help. In order to accept help, she must relinquish her pride. Initially, Denver symbolically does this for her, by overtly asking for help. The attitude of Sethe's society then softens from condemnation to a degree of understanding: '"You can't just up and kill you children." "No, and the children can't just up and kill the mama."' The town unites to save Sethe (and by association, Denver) from the personification of her own guilt, Beloved. Afterwards, they begin to accept Denver back into the community as an independent adult (therefore no longer associated with the guilt and pride of her mother), but still find Sethe strange, at the very least, '...Damn. That woman is crazy. Crazy.' However, even the town is beginning to acknowledge that Sethe is not alone in a kind of madness: 'Yeah, well ain't we all?' Sethe's crime of infanticide and the 'punishment' she suffers at the hand of Beloved has become 'a story [not] to pass on'.
EPILOGUE - A PERSONAL VIEW
I am a mother. I have a daughter whom I adore, and I try to protect her from humiliation and harm. I hope fervently that she is never threatened with enslavement and the ritual humiliation and suffering that accompanies it. However, I would save her life at the expense of mine if I were faced with such a horrific choice. Perhaps I am quick to judge Sethe's actions in Beloved. I do not, for example, feel as repulsed by the implied murder of Sethe's siblings (8) (as unpleasant as that is) as I do about 'Beloved's' murder. Perhaps part of the reason for the difference in degree is the fact that the 'already crawling' girl's murder is described in vivid and horrific detail. I can almost hear the screams and feel the child's pain (OK, so I'm a bit theatrical at times). The point is, the child's murder is considered immoral (although interestingly, it is never condemned as sinful - the word sin is not mentioned in connection with the murder) even by the society in which Sethe lives. Sethe's children were indeed spared the horrors of slavery by Sethe's actions, but the child is dead, the boys have disappeared, Denver has completely retreated into herself and Sethe is consumed by the past. Sethe had indeed won a Pyrric victory.
REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES
(1) (TITLE of essay) Marlowe, C (1991) Dr Faustus: The A Text edited by Ormerod D & Wortham C Nedlands, Western Austrialia University of Western Australia Press line 308
(2) Morrison, T (1987) Beloved (Large Print edition) Thorndike, Maine USA, Thorndike Press. pg 261 All page numbers refer to this text.
(3) Levy MJ (1992) Maternal Influence - The Search for Social Universals New Brunswick, NJ Transaction Publishers pg 18
(4) Gilkes, CT 'The Margin as a Centre of a Theory of History' refering to Du Bois WEB Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920; reprint, New York: Schocken Books, 1969)
(5) ibid. pg 45
(6) Ferguson R (1998) Representing 'Race' Ideology, Identity and the Media London, Arnold pg 68
(7) Baby Suggs, for example, did not understand that freedom was something to be relished until she herself experienced it. (pg 246)
(8) Not wishing to open a can of worms, I will avoid the implications of those murders on the modern-day abortion issue
You could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' is a literary masterpiece, what with it winning the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. Unfortunately though, these prizes don't always go to the right people. I'll risk controvesy by maintaining that I find 'Beloved' quite awful, and simply unworthy of such a great accolade as a Nobel prize. It's a novel with delusions of grandeur, written in arrogance and, to be quite frank, a book that is impossible to engage with.
Remember the day when reading fiction was all about escapism and enjoying a read about someplace/someone doing something far more interesting than you? Now, I'm not against novels with a purpose, or a message as such, but in the case of 'Beloved', I fear Morrison takes her mission too far. Attempting to meld horror, tragedy, history, fiction and political comment all at once, Morrison has only succeeded in creating a novel that feels weighed down by it's multi-faceted purpose and excludes a great majority of its readership.
I'll start with the problem with the plot. Set in the mid 19th century, 'Beloved' tells the bizarre story of a woman who has escaped a life of slavery, only to have her daughter 'taken' from her by means of a violent death. Having haunted her mother and sister for years, the unrestful spirit then takes the form of a teenage girl who returns to her family, creating a good few problems in the process. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Well, sadly, it's not. I found that I really had to force myself to continue reading this novel, and frequently I wanted to skip entire chapters, which were either overwritten or simply uninteresting.
The story in itself sounds simple (if silly) enough. However, Morrison complicates what possibly could have been an interesting ghost tale by adding a poltical message that we've encountered many times before. This is when things begin to get convoluted. Mixed in with the sense of Beloved's dangers, the reader is also expected to deal with Morrison's views on slavery. Whilst at times I merely wanted to find out why Beloved had returned and what she had in store for the unsuspecting family, Morrison was boring me with asides from the characters' pasts that were really quite irrelevant, and could have been left out without detriment to the story. Now, I am aware that Morrison's main point was to write a book on slavery. It says a lot, then, that when reading this said book, the reader is finding the more trivial ghost plot more interesting.
Morrison's main problem is her arrogance. She described this novel as being aimed at 'her people, her tribe, her family'. Fair enough, I understand that in the past African Americans suffered greatly at the hands of slavery. But hold on. It was 1993 when Morrison wrote this novel. How could she possibly put herself on a par with people who died many years before she was even born? She arrogantly assumes she deserves sympathy for a political effect that, really, had no effect upon HER. In fact, it's doubtful she would have any real understanding of such a plight, making her historical thread somewhat less credible.
And onto the narrative. Basically, Morrison thinks she's being quite clever in her complex dialogue. Really, she only (again) comes across as arrogant. The language in this novel at times is so bizarre that it's impossible to understand upon first reading what is being said. This only serves to exclude readers (i.e. white readers, since apparently white people do not fall into the category of Morrison's so-called 'tribe'). Her habit of writing non-sentences (she frequently neglects to include approproate verbs, adjectives and even nouns) is merely irritating, and doesn't come across as the kind of language Black people would speak, only (perhaps) young children. In short, it's contrived and only paints her characters as lazy.
Morrison's problem is that she has tried to do too much in one novel. As noble as it is to highlight the horrors of slavery, we've seen it all before, and in a much more realistic and interesting way. Thrown together with a silly ghost story, the message is bogged down and far too convoluted to be enjoyable. A plot twist that leaves you incredibly angry does not help matters.
The only redeeming feature of the entire novel is the one character of Paul D. As the only remotely interesting figure, his past, unlike the others', is very compelling. He has far more depth and relism than any other in the novel. Why? Only Morrison could answer this one. For some reason she devoted more thought to Paul D, thankfully creating one aspect that can keep the pages turning.
In short, this book does not belong on any list of Nobel prize winners. I may not have the qualifications the judging panel possess, but really, I doubt you'll need a PHD in literature to realise this novel just isn't very good. Just because a book is unique, Nobel board, this doesn't mean it's wonderful.
This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read and may well be one of the most important pieces of writing of the 20th century. With a plot line that circles key moments in the lives of a profoundly troubled black American family, this is an amazing tale of 'too thick love' and death at the end of America's slave era. Brutal, violent, graphic and very upsetting, this really brings home the truth of race history in America. Being white and British, I had not thought much about race before I read this book. It opened my eyes to things that we should all know about, and gave me a far better understanding of both the past and the present. By popular request, a few lines about the plot. It's hard to talk about this book, because so much hangs on what you don't know. I'll sketch very lightly and try not to tell you too much. Sethe, a female slave was sold to Sweet Home farm at 13 years of age. She married one of the men there, and had a child every year. When the liberal farm owner died and was replaced by a far less humane man, she and the other slaves decided to make a run for freedom. Many years later, Paul D, a fellow surivior of Sweet Home, finds himself at Sethe's door. Of all her children, only one daughter is left with her and her husband never joined her. There is a ghost in her house, and trouble in her past. Then a mysterious girl by the name of Beloved walks into their world, and chaos is unleashed as the past comes back to haunt the present. Beloved is an amazingly written text, with sections of pure thought transposed onto paper, and voyages into the supernatural. Many students are now reading this at school or university, if you haven't been obliged to read it, and you have any interest in thought provoking and well crafted literature, get hold of a copy of this book. it will probably change your life.
This book was slightly ruined for me by the fact that I had to study it at school. Last minute readings meant that I missed some of the details, but as time progressed it turned out to be one book that I really enjoyed studying. The startling, almost unbelievable start of this novel made me read on and on until it was properly explained, and the characters so shockingly disturbed by their past were upsetting, but amazing. The narrator takes the reader through a confused chronology, describing many different aspects of slavery in the Deep South of America during the abolition years. Nothing is revealed in too much detail at one time, giving the reader an understanding of the way that all of the occurrences and consequences are interlinked and damaging for all concerned. The family in this book are virtually ruined physically, and mentally by the actions of white men in the slave trade. I found some of the violence and degradation very disturbing, partly because of the detailed descriptions. The main character's wounds are used as a symbol for everything in slavery, from its pain to its spreading consequences, allowing the reader to really understand what life was like for those affected. Probably not a book for the light-hearted, but you can take a lot away from it. Such a harrowing narrative could probably help you to realise that your life is not that bad after all, if nothing else!!
Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1989 for her creation of Beloved. Although you are more likely to have seen the film than read the book, don't be put off by the film. It certainly doesn't compare to the book, neither does it capture its heart-rending essence. Beloved is a marvellous depiction of the American black slave trade; its inhumanity and dehumanising effects. The story is told through a series of memories of one slave who had been freed from slavery. Toni Morrison writes in an intelligent style which is very moving but compels the reader to read on.
I studied this nobel prize winning book for A-Level, and although complex in language and theme, I can honestly say that it is the best book that I have ever read. Toni Morrison describes black slavery and the dehumanisation of the slaves with a poignancy and beauty that compels you to keep turning the page. The novel is compiled using a series of memories of a slave so the writing is not ordered, but this adds to the beauty of the writing. Morrison never allows you to pity the slaves, which means that the reader is not allowed to feel superior. I urge whoever reads this to just give it a go. You won't regret it....