Saturday, June 9, 2012

Beloved ~ Toni Morrison

So, I read Beloved, Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, partially because I've meant to ever since reading The Bluest Eye and partially because of my recent discovery that in two years of blogging, I haven't read a single book written by a black person.  Oh, and I found a copy for practically nothing at the library book sale.

I'm not really sure what to say about it.  I read some reviews on Goodreads before starting (and man did people not agree) and they all managed to spoil everything that happens in the novel right up to the very end, so I'm going to try and avoid that for you.  It's hard, though, to figure out what I can say about it without spoiling.  It takes place shortly after the Civil War, though there are many flashbacks and "rememories" of times before the war.  The novel focuses on several characters who managed to escape slavery before the war, one of which was a mother of four when her old slave master tracked her down and tried to bring her back.  This triggered an event that seems to be the catalyst for the novel itself, involving a hard, controversial decision and years of regret and haunting.

And there's the sticking point.  There's haunting and a ghostly presence and I just don't know what to make of it all.  It's not exactly magical realism (at least I don't think so) because while some characters take it for granted, some question it, and haunting certainly doesn't seem to be the norm in this world that Morrison has created.  Plus, the catalyst for this presence is so horrific that you wouldn't need a ghost for it to haunt you forever.  So maybe that's it - maybe the ghost is an inner sense of guilt and horror made real?  If that's the point, though, it seems problematic, because the haunted don't seem personally persecuted by the memories themselves, or even the ghost, who they've learned to live with.

I'm not sure why I feel like there has to be a "point," per se.  I mean, I don't usually think a story about people's lives needs to have a specific purpose other than that, but I feel like I must be missing something. Morrison must be saying something profound, must be doing something awe-inspiring, but I'm just not sure what it is.  Feel free to enlighten me, because I'm really just lost on this one.  I didn't dislike it, exactly, though I certainly had trouble motivating myself to read it.  I just didn't get it.  Something didn't click with me, and I'd love to better understand why this won a Pulitzer.

Oh, and this quote, from the very end (but it doesn't spoil anything):
"She is a friend of mine.  She gather me, man.  The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.  It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind." (272-273)
I love that quote, about how love makes you whole.  The once-slaves in the novel say some beautiful things, and I wish I had noted more.  So maybe the novel is about the endurance of love, at least in part?  Though its destructive qualities seem more strongly pronounced.  I don't know - it's beyond my grasp.


  1. I read this book in high school for AP English and just like you, it pretty much went right over my head. I had no clue what was going on, if the ghost was real or not, etc. I think I should probably re-read it but with the memories of the time I did, I'm in no rush, even though I might get it a little better a second time around.

    But at the same time I think if a book is really that good, it shouldn't be a struggle to understand. I used to read books like that and then feel really stupid because I couldn't make sense of them. Now I realize the problem isn't me and maybe they just aren't suited to my reading style and I'm not so hard on myself for not enjoying them.

  2. I greatly preferred Beloved to The Bluest Eye. I loved the former and I didn't like the latter at all.