Thursday, August 23, 2007
I first read Toni Morrison's Beloved as a senior in high school. I loved it then. I was still mormon, at least on the books, and desperately making plans to get out of my suburb and go to college. Much like the characters at the beginning of the novel, I was ready to get out of the past, but I couldn't just yet.
The book is incredibly well crafted. I believe it deserved the Pulitzer - without a doubt. The language is beautiful. The descriptions are stunning and breath-taking. More than anything, I appreciate the characters.
This novel is full of flawed characters (which most of you can surmise I'm a fan of). It's difficult to know what's right and wrong. In fact, there is no right or wrong in this novel. Only that the characters (specifically Sethe) do what's best with what they know how. And - who can say that any of us in the same situation wouldn't do any different? She faces an impossible situation.
One review we discussed at book club said the book was a waste - they didn't even finish it. That's a shame. I believe these stories need to be told. We can't deny what happened - we can't cover it up. In my mind, we have to make sense of our past before we can move on. And we have to make sense of the cards we were dealt. We have to acknowledge the past and the oppression that occurred (that some still face).
Another person at the book club took the characters literally. Beloved was not a ghost, she was real (and in the end of the book, pregnant). This reviewer also blamed the other characters for how they reacted to Beloved. I disagree. It seems to me that everyone in the novel reacts as best as they could. I don't think we could say any of the characters (including Paul D.) are innocent or blameless.
The imagery in the book is stunning. I appreciate the flashbacks throughout the novel, I think they bring depth and understanding to the character action. I also appreciate Faulkner's work (think As I Lay Dying) and I believe this novel drew heavily on the Faulkner tradition. At least it drew on Faulkner's tradition of stream of consciousness, not fully explaining situations or resolutions.
Re-reading the book now, older, as a mother had a profound impact on me. I have a deeper understanding of just what Sethe's decision meant (if you haven't read the book, she kills one of her daughters to prevent her from returning to slavery - and was about to kill her other children as well).
I also have a different understanding of what making your own decisions means - what freedom means. I find myself incredibly grateful for all the things I've been given - all the advantages I have. I don't want to take any of that for granted.
It's not an easy book to read. It's profoundly sad, as any book about slavery and its aftermath would be. But there is hope. The hope that we can overcome whatever obstacles we face, we can work together and move on. The hope despite everything gives one pause.