Toni Morrison books intimidated me for the longest time. I felt like I wasn't smart enough to fully digest what she is trying to tell us. A few months back, I read The Bluest Eye, and I understood why these books are important. They tell stories that need to be told. Ones that you rarely hear. Messy, complex, sad and real stories that are still present in generational trauma today. Beloved is not a feel-good story. It is quite the opposite. It is dark, traumatic, sad and heartbreaking, but it is a story that needs to be told and one that needs to be read and shared.
(From Goodreads) Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad, yet she is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Meanwhile Sethe’s house has long been troubled by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Sethe works at beating back the past, but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly in her memory and in the lives of those around her. When a mysterious teenage girl arrives, calling herself Beloved, Sethe’s terrible secret explodes into the present.
The symbolism in this book is incredible. Morrison is known for her lyrical prose and every word is written with such intention and purpose. Sethe is haunted by her past. Her entire life has been one trauma after another. Born into slavery, she does what she needs to in order to survive. After falling in love and building a family, Sethe plans her escape for freedom. Things do not go according to plan, and she finds herself pregnant and lost in the woods. After giving birth to Denver, she finds safety in Cincinnati and meets up with her mother-in-law and three young children. Life seems to have made a turn for the better until *something* happens to Sethe that is back shadowed throughout the book. The reader does not fully know what occurred until the latter half of the book, which brings everything full circle.
There is no doubt that Sethe cares for her children. But how do you fully love someone who you know will eventually be taken from you? Beloved delves into the depths of a mother's love and how sometimes a love that deep can be dangerous. There is no doubt that Sethe harbors trauma that she has deeply suppressed and is now leaking out to her young daughter, Denver. It is a story told time and time and again. Generational trauma is real. And for those who are descendants of victims of slavery, that trauma runs deep and raw.
There is so much to unpack with Beloved. This review gives just a small glimpse of what Morrison is trying to convey. This is one of those books that years from now I will come back to and re-read. And I guarantee when I do that, I will discover pieces I glossed over the first go around. All the more reason to read this modern-day classic.
Content warning: racism, slavery, rape, murder, death of a child, physical abuse, bestiality, traumatic birth
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”