Hi, friends. Today’s classic is a page turner. Several of my favorite literary works were penned by black women—Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, now this one. I suspect that my Southern roots play a role in that. [Many readers struggle with phonetically-written black dialogue, but it’s easy for me to decipher because it often reads like a deep Southern accent.]
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Though it was written in 1987, Beloved is set after the Civil War. The tale begins by cryptically describing the supernatural force that haunts a family of ex-slaves. Sethe is the mother, and Denver is her teenage daughter; Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law, lived there but passed away, and Sethe’s two sons have run away. By 1873, “the present,” Sethe and Denver live alone with this mysterious, hostile ghost; however, Paul D, another ex-slave who was owned by the same family as Sethe at “Sweet Home,” reappears in their lives and brings Sethe some comfort. As Sethe, Denver, and Paul D walk home from the fair a few weeks later, they encounter a strange, beautiful, disoriented girl lying on a stump. She says that her name is Beloved. Since the girl doesn’t remember where she came from or where she’s going, she ends up staying with them indefinitely. Her presence in their lives opens old wounds and leads to unpredictable situations.
The novel is a patchwork of past and present events. Some chapters take place in “the present” while others revert to Sethe, Baby Suggs, and Paul D’s time at Sweet Home. Often, the narrator drops hints about past events that are later explained in flashback chapters. The narrator is always third-person and usually focuses on Sethe’s thoughts, but occasionally, the focus shifts to another character for a chapter. In theory, a non-linear form could be confusing, but it’s easy to follow once you’re invested in the story, so it only makes the novel richer and more suspenseful.
This novel is not appropriate for all ages and people; there are several disturbing and evil events in this book. Be forewarned that this novel contains elements like beastiality and extreme violence. Beloved is moving but intense.
Morrison wrote Beloved after reading the story of a runaway slave named Margaret Garner, who ran from Kentucky to Ohio (slave state to free state) in 1856. Reading details of the real life story would spoil parts of the novel.
The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988.
In the 1998 film version, Oprah Winfrey plays Sethe, Danny Glover plays Paul D, Kimberly Elise plays Denver, and Thandie Newton plays Beloved. Beware: the movie description on Wikipedia spoils parts of the novel.
The book is dedicated to “Sixty million and more” for Africans who died in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
The epigraph is Romans 9:25–“As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” (ESV)
Toni Morrison was the first black woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1993.
Thanks for reading! Are you intrigued to read this book?