“Working dough. Working, working dough. Nothing better than that to start the day’s serious work of beating back the past.”- Toni Morrison, Beloved
My first review from August 2013 is here
“Beloved” focuses on the psychological trauma of slavery which permeates the very atmosphere and even emerges in ghost form. It seems to be a good book to read in the light of the recent discussion on the Roots reboot, as well as the New York Times article which discusses how African-American DNA bears signs of slavery. I feel that for many this isn’t too much of a surprise.
This was a tough read, even tougher the second time around. I never get used to books like this; if anything they get more painful as I become more and more aware of what slavery consisted of. One of the things that always gets to me when reading slave narratives is the burdens the slaves had to endure and with little to no help, but I’m learning about the little things they did to try to endure and survive. Some of their methods may not sound healthy, from our perspectives (for example, limiting love because you know that any time your family could be taken away from you), but this book shows us in many ways how unless we are in a certain situation, it’s really impossible for us to know how we’ll react to it.
At the beginning of the book, former slave Baby Suggs is contemplating colour, all because she is about to die and she has never had the time to do so before. The world of a slave is small and it doesn’t belong to them. And even with freedom the past still haunts them:
“Her past had been like her present–intolerable–and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color.”
Love is one of the themes in this book, and throughout I wondered whether love is ever enough to get over the past. Paul D and Sethe’s love story is against the odds, with Paul D guarding his heart and Sethe still recovering from deaths, abuse, and children running away. Two very broken people, and Paul D with this sort of mentality:
“He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lid rusted shut. He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him. And it would hurt her to know that there was no red heart bright as Mister’s comb beating in him.”
“Would it be all right? Would it be all right to go ahead and feel? Go ahead and count on something?”
This time around I tried to focus more on the characters I didn’t dwell on much in my first read, so Denver, Sethe’s daughter, received more of my attention. I pictured her loneliness, loneliness that caused her to value the company of a ghost, which is why she clung to Beloved, who demands so much attention and affection.I ended up liking her character transformation the most:
“In that bower, closed off from the hurt of the hurt world, Denver’s imagination produced its own hunger and its own food, which she badly needed because loneliness wore her out. Wore her out.”
Pain is a given throughout the book, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the following quote: “Can’t nothing heal without pain, you know.” Such a hard truth and the characters in this book had so much more to heal from than the rest of us.