The past month was spent reading the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison and I must say, though I was not outwardly pleased with it at first, my interest in the characters as the novel progressed grew substantially. After reading the last few paragraphs of the novel, I finally understood the message that Morrison was trying to convey to the readers and felt as though I had come to terms with the novel’s main ideas. Yes, it took that long. There were passages that were long, some that were full of dialogue, and others that were just plain confusing – all of which inhibited me from seeing the truth and getting to the core of the author’s intent in creating the work.
Here’s a plot summary: Sethe, an ex-slave, lives at 124 (a house) after escaping from horrific conditions of slavery. She murdered her daughter, Beloved (and tried to kill her other children) in an attempt to not let them endure the same terrible experiences of slavery as she did. Now, 18 years later, she is struggling with the memories of her past as they continue to haunt her in the form of the ghost of Beloved. Other major characters in the novel are Paul D (a slave on the same plantation as Sethe), Denver (Sethe’s daughter), Baby Suggs (Sethe’s mother-in-law), Stamp Paid and Ella (ex-slaves and workers on the Underground Railroad). Yes, it sounds disturbing and slightly gory – which it was – but what I failed to realize upon reading the summary (and even throughout most of the book) was that it was much more.
The story is a testament to the millions of slaves that died during the middle passage – a treacherous journey from Africa to North America. It also serves as a memory of the brutal conditions of slaves during the antebellum era, and Sethe’s story is powerful and profound and resonates with me now enough for me to be sitting here writing this book review. Ultimately, Sethe comes to terms with her past, because she has to do that in order to face her future, and that journey can be transposed to any life situation.
And that is how my opinion of Beloved changed dramatically from the first word to the last. Yes, it’s confusing, especially with all the sudden transitions from the present in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1873 and the past in the pre-Civil war era at the slave plantation in Kentucky, but the message is powerful, disturbing, yet beautiful.
Sethe’s story is now a part of me, as well.