Read it again… for the first time | Books


Once again, coastal Georgia is the proud recipient of a Big Read grant. This year’s book is Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel, “Beloved,” the multigenerational story of a family that escaped slavery in stages. Set in the period immediately after the Civil War, it illustrates how the trauma of bondage lingers in the lives of those seemingly free. It won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1987, and in 2006 a New York Times poll of 200 critics, writers, and editors named it “the best work of American fiction published in the last twenty-five years.” “. Morrison herself was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

If, like me, you’ve read it and been a little confused, you’re not alone. “Beloved” isn’t an easy read but, once you get used to it and start to tell the elements apart, things fall into place pretty clearly.

For those of you who haven’t read it, a quick recap: The book tells the story of a former slave, Sethe. In her late 30s, she lives in rural Cincinnati in an uneasy truce with Denver, her 18-year-old daughter, and Baby Suggs, her stepmother. The house they reside in at 124 Bluestone Road is clearly haunted and neighbors avoid them. Soon, Paul D arrives, coming from the same Kentucky plantation, “Sweet Home”, where Sethe had once worked as a slave. Paul D tries to put the house in order and exorcises the unknown spirit. Taking shy Denver outside for the first time in years, they meet a young woman on their doorstep, who calls herself Beloved. She is 20 years old and strangely unmarked – she has no lines in her palms, for example, and her feet and clothing show no signs of straining. She claims that she does not know her identity or where she comes from. As Paul D grows tired of the wife, Sethe welcomes him to stay with them because Denver was alone and needed a friend. A frustrated Paul D is forced to sleep in the outside shed, where he is seduced by Beloved.

Sethe finally reveals her terrible dark secret to Paul D. Years before, she had escaped slavery with her four children, but, after a month of freedom, she was found by her master, Mr. Gardner, and a few officers, despite the fact that slavery was now illegal. . The master, a cruel man known as the “schoolmaster”, allowed his nephews to bully Sethe while he was taking notes for his black science studies. He forces Sethe to make a horrific decision: to kill her children rather than allow them to endure the pain and shame of slavery. Both boys and the newborn survive, but she manages to slit the two-year-old’s throat.

Rejected then by her master, who saw that she was no longer fit to serve, Sethe was saved from hanging and released to raise her three remaining children. The ghost of the dead baby begins to haunt the house. Both sons left after having particularly chilling encounters with the ghost. Baby Suggs died a broken woman. Sethe believes that Beloved is the spirit of this girl, whose tombstone only reads “Beloved”. In an attempt to ease her guilt, Sethe begins to spoil Beloved, who becomes increasingly demanding. Denver seeks help to drive the spirit out of the house, and Sethe, who inadvertently attacks a white man, believes her master is returning. This action propels Denver into the community, which finally becomes fully integrated.

Ultimately, Paul D also has guilt issues, but they stem from the new decisions he made while sleeping with the returned beloved. He thinks he is being punished for sleeping with her when he finds out how Sethe tried to murder her children. He also feels guilty for encouraging Sixo, another slave, all those years ago to try to run away with him. They were caught and Sixo was burned alive. In the end, none of them escaped slavery except the children.

Trying to critique “Beloved” would be too difficult for me, and it’s been done by hundreds. All I can really do is say how I felt about this masterpiece and hopefully get people to read it. For starters, Morrison presents a highly questionable story that provokes a variety of reactions, but avoiding ideas we disagree with is a surefire way to break up civil conversation. If we can’t read books with ideas we argue with, how are we going to engage with real people whose ideas differ from ours? “Beloved” is a story that forces the reader to come to terms with the main character’s trauma and fully realize how it has affected her. Some may think Morrison’s depiction of an evil act is too sympathetic, but I felt that in the end Morrison handled a very difficult subject beautifully. “Beloved” is not a hopeless story, nor does it conclude by presenting Sethe’s choice as good.

The whole book is a difficult journey, but it is a journey worth taking. Sethe spends most of the story obsessing over her past and inflicting her self-imposed prison on those around her. Paul D, on the other hand, recognizes the need to move forward. “Me and you, we had more yesterday than anyone. We need some kind of tomorrow,” he tells her as the story comes to an end. Paul D realizes we can’t not live prisoners of our past – such a life is no life at all.Instead, we all need some sort of tomorrow.

Then there’s Morrison’s writing. It’s simply beautiful, with many lines of truth and beauty. She masterfully captures the place, time and people she writes about. His dialogue is incomparable. She captures the uncertainty of individual behavior, ranging from cruelly punishing someone she believes to be too proud, to risking her life and unconditionally opening her doors to those in need. We learn language best from those who use language well, and Morrison used language very well. The way she paints images with her words and draws the reader into what the character is feeling and experiencing is outstanding.

Finally, “Beloved” has been described as a timeless romance. It is not only a book that describes the stories and struggles of enslaved black people in the United States, but it also opens up a conversation about the richness of the black community, tradition, community dialogue, empowerment and healing while navigating black womanhood.

There’s no doubt that “Beloved” is brutal and disturbing and could cause nightmares. It is continually on banned book lists, and its removal from the Virginia public school curriculum was a hot topic in the last gubernatorial race. But its power speaks to what makes this novel vital, not dangerous, for students. Morrison understood that the ghosts of racial slavery continue to haunt the American present, and she created a piece of literature that ensures future generations have access to this most crucial understanding. The controversy over the teaching of “Beloved” is larger than a book; it is a chapter in the current national debate about the teaching of American history in public schools. The censorship of America’s past does not make students any less susceptible to feelings of despair over the challenges of racial inequality, discrimination, and violence that we face as a nation. Moreover, the intervention in the curricula is really unnecessary. With the existence of the internet, it’s kind of ridiculous to get worked up about the “explicit material” in one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. More importantly, it excludes a fundamental truth of education, which is that it can – and should – be unsettling, destabilizing and mind-altering. Believe me, kids today can handle it.

Coastal Georgia is fortunate that an organization such as Golden Isles Arts and Humanities selects this unforgettable book as our 2022 Great Read. I urge you to read “Beloved” and participate in the horde of activities associated with it. For a list of events, visit goldenislesarts.org.


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