‘Beloved,’ by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison was a poet. Sure, she wrote Pultizer Prize-winning fiction and dabbled in non-fiction, but her evocative stories and literary language is no less poetic and impactful.
‘Beloved’ tells the story of runaway slave Sethe, who came to Ohio with her four children, one of whom was barely a toddler. We hear the bulk of Sethe’s story when a man, Paul D, whom Sethe knew from the plantation where they both were horribly abused for much of their lives, strikes up a relationship with Sethe and is warned by his co-workers of her past.
Paul D learns that when Sethe she first escaped “Sweet Home”, her former owner and a party tried to track her down, but left, horrified that she tried to kill her children, rather than have them be subjected to a life in slavery. Appauled at the sight of her toddler daughter dead by Sethe’s hand, the men leave and she and her remaining children begin their lives in freedom. But Sethe is shunned by the community because of what she did, and eventually she is left with only her daughter Denver for company.
But Sethe believes her dead daughter never truly left her. Their home, as Paul D discovers, is haunted by something dark. And after expelling the malevolent spirit, Paul D encourages Sethe and Denver to get out of the house. They venture to a carnaval and upon returning, are greeted by a strange woman, calling herself Beloved. What transpires is an elegantly written, heartbreaking story of a woman slowly going mad from her guilt and grief, and a ghost made whole who is too young, too confused to understand that the obsessive love she demands of her mother is the very thing that is killing her.
Why It’s Banned: School boards, and vocal parents, particularly in the south have argued that ‘Beloved’s’ content isn’t suitable for teenagers with its portrayals of bestiality, infanticide, sex, and violence.
Why You Should Read It: Apart from winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, ‘Beloved’ stands as an important book that seeks to inform and enlighten. Morrison claims to have gotten the inspiration for the book after hearing of the Margaret Garner case. Garner escaped with her family to Ohio but were persued by U.S. Marshalls. Cornered, Garner hid in a woodshed and killed her daughter, reasoning that she would be safer in Heaven than being exposed to the atrocities of slavery.
The book is one that we feel should be required reading for the accurate portrayal of slavery and the themes that cross racial and socieconomical divides including community, masculinity, and the psychological effects of slavery.