Recently, I have had given myself the mammoth challenge of trying to read the works of all the Nobel prize in literature laureates and the first author I have decided to read was Toni Morrison. I knew that Morrison wrote about incredibly harrowing and disturbing parts of the human history and that she is one of the authors that somehow managed to put the horrors to paper. Previously, in my studies I have read ‘Beloved’ and ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Morrison and decided to start my reading and re-reading process with ‘Beloved.’ Although length wise it is not challenging, everything else about this book was. The story, the historical period, the structure, the characters, the sheer suffering depicted all added to the heartbreaking story of slavery, humanity, love and motherhood. It took me a week to read ‘Beloved’ and it made me cry, gasp and leave my copy to take a stroll around my room only to pick it back up again and finish it.

The story begins with a house that is described as essentially being alive and very soon the readers realize that it is haunted and that its inhabitants Sethe and her daughter Denver know and accept it. This element of magical realism is introduced from the beginning and never really leaves story, as most characters accept supernatural elements with complete suspension of disbelief. The story continues with telling us about life of Sethe, a runaway slave with unimaginable trauma trying to keep going and keep trying in a new place, but her past keeps catching up to her, both metaphorically and literally. There are a lot of events in the novel and while I would say that Sethe’s and Beloved’s story is the main plot and the driving force, it is not linear at all and Morrison often jumps around the timeline and introduces other characters that add to the larger story. She also uses a lot of foreshadowing of future events. However, once the real plot twist was revealed, even though we could guess it, the brutality of it still felt shocking, even at the second read.

Oprah Winfrey played Sethe in 1998 movie ‘Beloved.’

If you have never read Morrison before, be prepared that it will take you a bit to really get into it. She has a specific way of writing and telling a story that can often feel convoluted and confusing. Very often, I have heard people saying that they do not like it because they do not understand what is going on half of the time. And I can agree with that, that often the story will drag you around the page, struggling to understand it. However, if you give it a chance, the reward will be multiplied. You do not have to understand every little thing, Bible and mythology reference and metaphor she placed in the novel(of which there are plenty), but rather let yourself feel what the characters are feeling and try to understand and emphasize with them and their actions. The story is incomprehensible because what happened to the characters is the same. In a way, the anger, confusion, sadness, frustration and fear the readers may feel when reading this book is just part of those feelings the characters felt in their lives. This story as well as other Morrison’s books would not work as well if they were just told in a simple linear style as it would not be true to the actual story told in ‘Beloved’.

Her stories are never just about one thing. In ‘Beloved’ the story is about the ultimate sacrifice a mother has to make to save her child, but it is also a commentary on slavery and its effects for generations to come. It is a story about humanity and how far people go to keep a shred of it. It is a story about loss and the horrific effects it could have on those who stayed even if they did not always want to. For me, this book left me feeling a lot of emotions, and every time I read it, I am left shaking and wondering how on Earth did Morrison do it yet again?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Maggie Hardie/REX/Shutterstock (490822g)
Toni Morrison, Nobel prize winning author

Morrison does well in creating these images that by themselves are disturbing enough, but when observed in the context of this work as well as historical context, become even more so. The images of Sethe’s sacrifice as well as the suffering she endured that was one of the final reasons she decided to run and never come back or let her children come back are ingrained in my memory. The way she wrote about them was truly masterful, as she would leave just enough bread crumbs for the reader to keep going while also understanding the implications. Before I realized what exactly Sethe did and why she was in prison, I had an idea about it, but honestly it was just too agonizing to even think about. On the other hand, the metaphor of a girl coming out from the water coinciding with Sethe’s water breaking was successful as it inserted the worm of doubt that this is girl is The Beloved. All the major plot twists were done in such an effective way, every one of them contributed to the narrative of ‘Beloved’. I am sure that many things in the relationships between people flew over my head, and I am not surprised as Morrison’s work continues to be analyzed and new meanings come out frequently. If you have read it and feel like I have missed something important, let me know.

At the end, I scored this novel 5/5 on Goodreads. I have not found any major errors with any aspect of it. While I cannot say I enjoyed it, due to its nature, I can say I do completely understand why this is one of the greatest novels of American literature. Toni Morrison is a genius and I will continue letting her break my heart over and over again. The stories she told are far too important to let a difficult writing style or a book structure make us forget them.

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