Some Thoughts on Beloved
I picked up an extra day at work this week, so I haven’t had as much time for reading or writing, but I thought that since I never wrote a review of Beloved, I should at least talk about it a little and give my rating for it. This won’t be as in depth as my review of The Time Machine because I read it several months ago.
Toni Morrison’s novel is about a former slave who made her way to freedom with her kids, but the reader only knows about this through flashbacks and stories told by the characters because they’ve been living free for years. Except for the woman’s baby, known only as “Beloved” because it is the sole word etched on her tombstone. The baby’s ghost haunts the house where the woman lives with her daughter and her husband’s mother because the woman killed it in a desperate attempt to prevent it from being captured and returned to a life of slavery.
The whole family is cut off from the community because of what the woman did, but they stay in the house because the ghost is there. Until it isn’t. One day a man who was a slave on the same plantation as the woman shows up and appears to chase the ghost away. Then a young girl appears mysteriously on the door step. A girl who insists on being called Beloved…
This is definitely a book that keeps you reading. The characters are realistic, the emotions are raw, and Beloved’s presence alone drives the plot forward in fresh new ways. This is a book about motherhood and family, but it is also very much a book about slavery and deep emotional damage and the way the past can haunt us (literally and figuratively).
The physical scars of slavery are one thing, but the psychological scars are quite another. Before reading this book, I had heard a lot about the concrete, physical horrors of slavery, but this book presents the most horrifying and incredibly believable picture of the psychological horrors that I’ve ever seen, horrors that remain with the characters years and years after they have reached freedom and will probably cause immense pain for the rest of the characters’ lives.
As a child learning about slavery in history class, I liked to hear about the slaves who escaped. The Harriet Tubmans and Fredrick Douglases who went on to do great things with their lives. As a child, you see the escape as the happy ending; once they reached the North all their problems went away and they lived happily ever after. But this book doesn’t just tell that thinking that way is incorrect, it shows you exactly why that’s a load of foolish nonsense in detail so that you’ll never make that mistake again.
At this point, I should mention that I gave the book two and a half stars. Now, as you can see from above, I think that it’s a great book, technically speaking, but, as I say in the About page, I rate books based only on how much I enjoyed reading them.
The problem here is that I’m an extremely sensative person. I’m the kind of person who can’t stand violent movies, has a tendency to wince at slapstick, and blushes when other people do things to embarass themselves. And this is the kind of book that you can so easily lose yourself in that, after reading it for long periods of time, the real world seemed strange and I had to reassure myself that this is reality and slavery no longer exists. So you can imagine what I was feeling as I read this book, especially the most heart-wrenching scenes.
I didn’t enjoy going through that. I felt intense sympathy for fictional characters. I felt guilty for no good reason. I felt depressed because no matter how much I wanted to, there was nothing I could do to better the lives of the characters in the book or the lives of real people in their situation because all the former slaves are dead. I hate that slavery existed and I hate that I can’t do anything to change the fact that it existed.
I might have felt better about this book if I had chosen to read it, knowing fully well what I was getting myself into, but having to read it for class didn’t help at all. I can see how you might argue that reading the book was good for me because it affected me so strongly that it increased my ability to feel compassion and to see the world through different eyes and all of that, but I can’t honestly tell you that I enjoyed reading it. I hope you can understand what my point is here, and please don’t think that I’m advising you not to read this book. If the book sounds appealing to you, I’m sure that you’ll like it very much because it is great and very well written.
And now, on a completely unrelated note…
Current Reading Progress:
Great Expectations– page 317 of 598
Clarissa– 25% through volume 8 of 9