Classics: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Hi, friends. Today’s classic is a page turner. Several of my favorite literary works were penned by black womenTheir 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

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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.

Additional Details

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Toni Morrison

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?

6 comments

  1. As prolific as the Atlantic Slave Trade was, it’s mind boggling to know there are more slaves in the world today than ever. Human trafficking is as problematic as ever. Looks like a good read, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. I haven’t read Beloved, although Toni Morrison is a favorite author. I will try it one of these days, but I struggle with books and films about the Holocaust, and slavery. Pretty much all true stories with the merciless mistreatment of living beings get culled from my reading/viewing list. I do think they’re essential novels and wish I could read them without feeling such despair, though.

    The modern-day human trafficking keeps me up nights. When I heard about the separating of families at the border with no plans for reuniting them, the first thing I wondered is how many may end up slaves. I strongly suspect human trafficking lies at the bottom of 45’s blatant corruption and debasement of humans pathetically disguised as leadership.

    The international immigration crisis is a nightmare because slavery is where so many who are running for their lives from violence end up. It’s so hard to pretend my life is fine knowing this is going on and it’s only becoming worse by the minute. Especially when I know in many cases, the violence was stirred up by us in the first place (America.) So many of the people fleeing Latin America to come to America for refuge are fleeing the gang violence America built for them. It’s infuriating anyone has the gall to mistreat them when it’s our fault their running for their lives in the first place.

    And now my blood pressure is up, so I’m going to bury myself in anything else. Sigh. Keep up the excellent posts, Lily. 💜💜

    Like

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