Beloved by Toni Morrison
The first time I read this book, many years ago, I didn’t like it. It’s a tough read. Morrison’s language is so dense and packed with imagery and symbolism that the reader must allow herself to be consumed by it. There’s no other way to read this book, and I must have wanted to rush through it when I first read it, because I got little from it other than annoyance.
But BELOVED was chosen as this month’s read by my neighborhood book group, so I reread it, and this time I was ready for it. I just returned from the discussion. I love my book group! I think it’s the first such group I’ve belonged to where people really discuss the book instead of chat and eat (although the chatting and eating groups are definitely fun, too!). Our discussion tonight, though, lasted a couple of hours and was thoughtful and provocative. Native northerners and native southerners, baby boomers and young moms, each with her own perspective on the book and on life, joined forces tonight to understand and expand our thinking.
If you thought your children were going to be subjected to a life of captivity, torture and dehumanization from which there is no escape, could you kill them to spare them that experience? That’s one of many central questions at the heart of BELOVED. Toni Morrison does a phenomenal job of “showing rather than telling,” which is the task every writer has before her. She makes the reader feel the experience of the slaves, both in bondage and once freed. Her narrative style is intentionally disjointed so that the reader only gradually realizes what has happened, and what is happening. When you allow yourself to be consumed by the story, you can discover things not only about the characters but about yourself as well.
I can see why BELOVED was chosen as the best book written in the last twenty-five years. I’m not widely read enough to make that claim, but the richness of this story and the way it chronicles one of the ugliest facets of America’s past can’t be disputed. I plan to read it again very soon.
“If you thought your children were going to be subjected to a life of captivity, torture and dehumanization from which there is no escape, could you kill them to spare them that experience?”
That’s a tough one. I answered that I could do it but then I couldn’t send the post. I think a person would have to be without faith in order to do that.
I tried to read Beloved and couldn’t do that either 🙂 I got that thing out of this house as soon as I could and now you’ve almost convinced me I should try it again 🙂
I don’t know, Lorene. I can understand you wanting to get it out of the house. There’s a creepy feeling in the early part of the book–maybe throughout the whole book. It’s just not a comfortable read. I don’t think any of the women in my book group put it aside, though, in spite of initial reservations. One of them did a lot of research into the book on the internet and shared all she’d learned–the symbolism, for example (notice the dedication to “sixty million and more” slaves, and then think of the character Sixo’s name). Another had done her masters thesis on BELOVED.
I’d understand though, if you didn’t read it. Every once in a while I read a book that so disturbs me, I feel as though I need a support group to help me through the trauma (THE WHITE HOTEL. Oh my God). Maybe BELOVED would be that for you, and if so, it’s not worth it.
And the question of “could I kill my child?” No, I couldn’t. But then I’m not Sethe and haven’t lived through what she lived through.
I just didn’t understand what I was reading. I might try it again at some point because I hate to admit I’m not smart enough to understand a book. Then again, there’s so many authors writing stuff I totally enjoy reading. Life’s short.
I’m sure you’re very smart. After all, you’re one of my readers! And you’re right–our reading time is too limited to read something we’re not enjoying. John is a voracious reader, but I think he’s given up after about five pages of BELOVED, and he doesn’t give up easily.
So what will you be reading next, Lorene? And how do you get those cute little emoticons in your posts?
Next up for me is HER MOTHER’S SHADOW. Then it will most likely be BREAKHEART HILL by Thomas H. Cook.
I didn’t know the smiley would post like it did. I typed : and ) with no space so it would look like a smile. It posted as a yellow smiley face. I know it does that in instant messenger but was surprised to see it post here as a yellow smiley.
🙁 🙂 🙂 🙁
let us know what you think of BREAKHEART HILL. I haven’t read it yet.
I felt like this about THE GLASS CASTLE–whew….
I think that a large part of this book was showing that you have to face your past, your fears and deal with them before you can ever move on to any type of future. I agree that it was a tough read, as the subject matter was heartbreaking and the imagery terrifying. The second time through is much more rewarding as the symbolism can easily be picked up on, and the story starts to piece together.
I think you’re right about the theme of the book, Chelsey. I hadn’t thought of that specifically. And you’re right–the second time I read it, it meant so much more to me that the first time.
“The first time I read this book, many years ago, I didn’t like it. It’s a tough read. Morrison’s language is so dense and packed with imagery and symbolism that the reader must allow herself to be consumed by it. There’s no other way to read this book, and I must have wanted to rush through it when I first read it, because I got little from it other than annoyance.”
my classmates and i are required to read this book. in my opinion, this book is not as though as you put it. its true that its packed with imagery but after a while you understand Toni Morrison’s writing technique and it gets you hooked.
(ps: we’re a junior high school class.)
Wow, I’m impressed! You’re way ahead of most people your age. Way ahead of most adults, for that matter. I’m so glad you’re enjoying BELOVED.
Nice to see that many others like myself enjoy Morrisons work but its not a hard read. Its packed with so many elements that it would take days to fully explain it all. If only i could meet her, after reading any of her books i feel as though i cannot match or bypass her greatness if i were to publish my own novels.
I dont mean to offend anyone. Bonsoir.
I think when people refer to BELOVED as being a “hard read” it’s because of all those “elements” you refer to. There is so much to absorb. It’s the sort of book that could be the focus of an entire college course, with its historical context on race, gender, slavery, politics, as well as its extraordinary writing. Morrison has her own style, and if you ever write your own novels, you will have yours. Best wishes.
Hi, I had to read Beloved for a book assignment. I only read a few pages into the book before I was hookked for hours I couldn’tput it down.This book is a booke that grabs your attention.
Kelsey, it’s great that you enjoyed this book so much! You must be a very bright young woman.