Beloved – Toni Morrison

“Darkness is stronger and swallows them like minnows.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

“Beloved” is a beautiful, haunting story that is set around the time following the slavery emancipation declaration. It’s mysterious and supernatural, as well as being a love story, a tale of horror, forgiveness, loss and confusion. It’s very poetic and lyrical, full of metaphors and powerful imagery. The book tells the story of Sethe, a runaway slave who has left her home in the South but is still living in the past. Her deceased two year old baby supposedly haunts 124, the house in which she and her daughter Denver live. Later, we find out the awful way in which the baby died and that makes the story even more tragic. The house is an ominous character in the book; it had a life of its own. I felt the hopelessness of Sethe and Denver who had no place else to go:

“So Sethe and the girl Denver did what they could, and what the house permitted for her. Together they waged a perfunctory battle against the outrageous behaviour of that place; against turned-over slop jars, smacks on the behind, and gusts of sour air. For they understood the source of the outrage as well as they knew the source of light.”

The love story in this book is a different kind of love story, a love story that involves a couple,Sethe and Paul D, who were once slaves. How can people move on from being slaves to being in free relationships? As slaves they became accustomed to their loved ones, their parents, children and lovers being sold or running away. The past has left scar marks like the scars in the shape of a chokeberry tree on Sethe’s back.

And then she moved him. Just when doubt, regret and every single unasked question was packed away, long after he believed he had willed himself into being, at the very time and place he wanted to take root- she moved him. From room to room. Like a rag doll.”

What I found very powerful was the term Morrison used “rememory,” which is remembering memories. I experienced it when I visited a slave memorial in Zanzibar and entered the dungeons where the slaves had been kept. Obviously the slaves aren’t there anymore but I felt a multitude of emotions and I felt as though they were still there in some form.

Ibrahim showing me the dungeons were the slaves were kept.
Ibrahim showing me the dungeons were the slaves were kept.

I found it nearly impossible to read large chunks of the book at a time; I had to take breaks. Toni Morrison stands in a class of her own.This book was beautiful yet tragic; a true masterpiece.

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12 thoughts on “Beloved – Toni Morrison

  1. Yes, Toni Morrison’s books kind of demand that you not just plow through them in one sitting, which is good.

    This is a great review of a relatively “tough” book.

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