BkFt: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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 Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison, published in 1987, is set after the American Civil War (1861–1865).  The novel is a tribute to all those whose lives were fractured by slavery and the book’s  epigraph reads “Sixty Million and more,” dedicated to the Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade.  Beloved won a number of prestigious literary prizes; the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1988), the American Book Award (1988), the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1988), the National Book Critics Circle Award (1987), and the BelovedFrederic G. Melcher Book Award (1988).

In Morrison’s acceptance speech of the Frederic G. Melcher Book Award she noted:

“There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby” honouring the memory of the human beings forced into slavery and brought to the United States. “There’s no small bench by the road,” she continued. “And because such a place doesn’t exist (that I know of), the book had to.”

According to wikipedia her remarks inspired the Toni Morrison Society to begin to install benches at significant sites in the history of slavery in America. “The New York Times reported July 28, 2008, that the first “bench by the road” was dedicated July 26 on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which served as the place of entry for approximately 40 percent of the enslaved Africans brought to the United States.”

Beloved is said to have been inspired by the story of African-American slave Margaret Garner who temporarily escaped slavery by fleeing to Ohio in 1856 and who then killed her own daughter to prevent her having to go back into slavery when a group of people came to retrieve her.  This novel’s main character is Sethe who has also fled slavery to Ohio and similarly when people show up to retrieve her she kills her daughter and tries to kill her other three children before being returned to a life a slavery.  The story is about Sethe, her remaining children, and a woman believed to be Beloved, the baby she killed, which haunts them in their home in Cincinnati years later.

“Sethe is an escaped slave in post-Civil War Ohio. Her body is scarred from the atrocities of her white owners, but it’s her memories that really torture her: she killed her 2-year-old daughter, Beloved, so the child would never know the sufferings of a life of servitude. But in Morrison’s novels the present is never safe from the past, and Beloved returns as an angry, hungry ghost. Sethe must come to terms with her, exorcise her, if she ever wants to move forward and find peace. Rich with historical, political and above all personal resonances, written in prose that melts and runs with the heat of the emotion it carries, Beloved is a deeply American, urgently important novel that searches for that final balance between grief, anger and acceptance.” (Grossman from TIME)

You may be wondering how the supernatural element of this novel plays out as I did.  I think the best way to describe it is through the words of Margaret Atwood in her review for the New York Times:

“The supernatural element is treated, not in an ”Amityville Horror,” watch-me-make-your-flesh-creep mode, but with magnificent practicality, like the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw in ”Wuthering Heights.” All the main characters in the book believe in ghosts, so it’s merely natural for this one to be there. As Baby Suggs says, ”Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby. My husband’s spirit was to come back in here? or yours? Don’t talk to me. You lucky.” In fact, Sethe would rather have the ghost there than not there. It is, after all, her adored child, and any sign of it is better, for her, than nothing.”

I remember reading Wuthering Heights very well for its haunting tale so I am intrigued to read this novel.  Have you read Beloved? Share your thoughts with us.

All TIME 100 Novels – Beloved 


7 thoughts on “BkFt: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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  1. It’s on my list to read as part of my quest to find the Great American Novel. I tried to listen to it as an audiobook a couple of years back but hated the narration, which was actually done by Toni Morrison herself. Hoping I’ll get on better with the print version…


    1. I have been following your GAN quest which is quite a feat, I must say! I haven’t read Beloved but from what I’ve read about it it’s got to be on the list…we’ll know for sure once you’ve reviewed it for us! 😀 You mentioned in one of your comments that you might do a similar quest for the UK which would be wonderful! As for audiobooks…what a fail. I’ve tried desperately to enjoy them but, like your experience with Beloved, the narration always grates me. I did see that Alan Rickman narrates some audiobooks and if he ever did a book I want to read that I think I could enjoy!


      1. Mmm..yes, Alan Rickman’s voice is lovely! I used to listen to audiobboks a lot when I had a long daily drive, but I don’t anymore and find if I try to listen to them at home, I tend to fall asleep pretty rapidly.

        I’m enjoying the GAN quest so far, but it’s early days. I’d love to do a British one too, but just can’t find the time at the moment. Maybe you should do that one… 😉


  2. This is one of my all time favorite books (a rather long list, but still). It’s a book you can enjoy on many different levels. You can enjoy it on a purely shallow level, or if you’re like me, you can enjoy it because the deeper themes are so seamlessly ingrained in the story.


      1. I read The Bluest Eye, which was very good, but I wouldn’t say one of my favorites. No doubt Morrison is a strong writer, but I think by the time she wrote Beloved, she had gained more finesse for conveying ideas from the story instead of outright stating them, as she does from time to time in The Bluest Eye.


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