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Recommended Read: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Written by The Reader, 5th September 2012

This week's Recommended Read comes from Jessica McDermott, joining the Communications Team this month on work experience, who has been captivated by the powerful and thought-provoking portrayal of African American slavery offered by Toni Morrison in Beloved.

After being given a list as long as my arm of novels to read for my English Literature degree I was definitely delighted that Toni Morrison’s Beloved was one of my options and after reading it twice already I am definitely keeping hold of it to read again. My interest in literature and history is probably what drew my attention to Beloved as Morrison depicts the reality of slavery through the consciousness of African American slaves. Despite fictional characters being used, the story parallels the real life story of Margaret Garner, a former slave. I’m not going to lie, this novel does tug at your emotions as you learn of the lives that the characters are trying to conceal.

Set in 1873, eight years after slavery was outlawed, the novel centres around Sethe who, in a quick decision of fear, has killed one of her children - Beloved, the title character of the book - after attempting to kill them all, to protect them from her master at Sweet Home Plantation. Sethe and her family have suffered the horrors of slavery which they reluctantly reveal throughout the novel which is why Sethe does not wish for her children to live the life of a slave. However, this murdered child returns as a supernatural presence? Or human?  This is debatable, but nevertheless she forces the characters to ‘rememory’ their lives of being slaves in order to free themselves from their repressed memories. As a result the novel as a whole poses the striking question; can the characters that have experienced slavery ever truly be free?

This presence of Beloved changes the dynamic of the novel as she is the opposing argument to Sethe’s reasoning for killing her. This storyline asks you to familiarise with Sethe’s position and the choice that she has made: was Sethe wrong to steal the life of her child? Or on the other hand is no life at all better than that of a slave?

You can almost feel the shame and heart ache that the characters have to overcome in order to be able to tell their story which Beloved tries to retrieve from them through the process of ‘rememory’. It is this aspect of Beloved that Morrison is highlighting to make it clear that the psychological aspects of slavery are damaging and have had lasting effects on the characters.

So, does Morrison complete her epigraph which begins;

Sixty million
and more

I would definitely agree that Morrison serves her purpose. She allows a voice for the disremembered freed slaves as she highlights the shame of slavery but more positively the possibility for recovery. Despite not being able to connect with the characters regarding slavery, the shame of sharing aspects of our lives that we might bottle up is a factor we are all familiar with. So, if you enjoy historical fact intertwined with fictional characters then I would definitely recommend Beloved to add to your reading list.

Beloved, Toni Morrison, Vintage Books (1987/2005)

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