Toni Morrison turned 85 yesterday (2/18/16), and to celebrate I decided to read Beloved, a novel that I’ve had on my shelf for quite some time. I’d been meaning to read some Morrison for quite a while, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novelist and professor. Reading up on Morrison, I found out that she grew up in an integrated school and “did not become fully aware of racial divisions until she was in her teens.” Morrison is hailed as an excellent writer on the topic of race especially, so I couldn’t wait to pick up one of her novels and dive headfirst.
I will call them my people,
which were not my people;
and her beloved,
which was not beloved.
I’m one for quotes, especially those that come before a book. Morrison quotes the bible on an introductory page of Beloved, which definitely helped set the mood for the novel. You don’t get the sense that whoever was ‘beloved’ will be a character who is free from struggle or complexity. Beloved is certainly not; the spirit that haunts the house is described as sad and occasionally angry. When I was getting into the novel to begin with, the house was extremely active; ranging from a strong aura to violent shaking.
For the sake of avoiding too many spoilers, I’ll limit this review to short chunks of information that will not spoil the entire narrative for you.
The protagonist, Sethe, and her daughter Denver live together in the house. Sethe’s other daughter is Beloved, the spirit that is haunting their home toward the beginning of the book.
Coming into the novel was difficult (not because of the writing, because of the content). Morrison has a knack for portraying emotion through her phrasing, something that I appreciate. My favorite writing is generally intense, and Morrison fits in well by writing a novel that extended the narrative of Margaret Garner, her inspiration for this novel. Garner, being a real person, whose thoughts and feelings Morrison didn’t want to fabricate and associate with her having no way of knowing what Garner actually felt and thought.
Sethe’s story is very long and very difficult. Her past is full of unimaginable struggle; from slavery, the loss of her husband, the severe beating from her owner before she ran away, the death of one daughter, and the event of her two sons running away.
Denver’s name sparks some interest, the story of her birth being an interesting one. Born during Sethe’s escape, she is born on a boat with the assistance of a white woman who found a beaten and dehydrated Sethe in a field. Her loneliness is almost tangible from the beginning.
Paul D. is another character that plays a key role in the story; he is the only person left from Sweet Home that Sethe knows of, walking back into her life early on in the story. Out of the men that Sethe could have paired with at Sweet Home, though he isn’t the man she chose, he is a definite comfort. The quick shift that his entrance into Sethe and Denver’s life creates is complex; Sethe and Denver’s relationship becomes tense, and Sethe and Paul D. Both seem comforted yet complacent.
Beloved walks in early on, a character whose name is the same as the single word on Sethe’s deceased daughter’s headstone. Her adoration (or obsession) for Sethe is eerie at first, not even remotely similar to her relationship with Denver. Beloved’s ghost like qualities seem to make more sense as the novel progresses.
Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother in law, is deceased for the majority of the novel. Stories about Baby Suggs are littered throughout the novel, and I found myself becoming deeply invested in her character. Suggs was a beautiful woman, holy according to Sethe, who encouraged black folks to love themselves and imagine their own glory. Her life was as difficult, if not more so, than Sethe’s yet she managed to keep that beautiful spirit throughout. “There is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks,” is my favorite Baby Suggs quote by far, and one that stands out by being so powerful (p 105)
I blame this tiny kitten for my inability to finish this novel in time.
The novel is as complex as Morrison’s introduction lead me to believe, and I enjoy the eerie quality of the characters and their interactions, the constant development of the character backgrounds, and the way that Morrison weaves a tale so complex and so realistic that it enchants the reader. I will admit; I am roughly halfway through with the book, I will be finishing it up this weekend.
So far, this book is definitely full of feminist themes; race, slavery, strong female leads, and more. Morrison is lauded, a recipient of honorary degrees, and definitely a strong writer. I have yet to be disappointed in the slightest.
“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
I give this book a 9/10 thus far, I’ll update y’all on Tuesday.
I recently found a copy of The Bluest Eye while going through a relative’s estate, so I’ll likely be reviewing that some time this year as well.
My next book review will be a memoir/collection of essays that deal with feminism and are supposedly hilarious. Expect that and a concept piece next week!
Have an excellent weekend babes!