Psychological Suffrage Exposed in Morrison's Beloved

Psychological Suffrage Exposed in Morrison's Beloved

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   Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) was her fifth novel, and

the most controversial work she had ever written.  Morrison

was working as a senior editor at the publishing firm Random House when she

was editing a nineteenth century article which was in a historical book and

found the basis for this story.  A direct connection between Morrison and

this novel is best demonstrated by Morrison's statement of " I deal with

five years of terror in a pathological society, living in a bedlam where

nothing makes sense".  This novel is set during the mid-nineteenth century

and reveals the pain and suffrage of being a slave before and after

emancipation through deeply symbolic delineations of continued emotional

and psychological suffrage.


        Stanley Crouch stated " For Beloved, above all else, is a blackface

holocaust novel" (38-43).  He believed that by including sadistic guards,

murder, separation of family members, a big war, failed and successful

escapes, and losses of loved ones to the violence of the mad order,

Morrison was attempting to enter American slavery into the martyr ranks of

the Nazi's abuse of the Jews (Crouch 38-43).  Also, Crouch stated, " …she

lacks a true sense of the tragic" (38-43).  He supported this by stating " …

it shows no sense of the timeless and unpredictable manifestations of evil

that preceded and followed American slavery" (Crouch 38-43).


        However, Crouch realizes that Morrison has real talent, in that he

believes she has the ability to organize her novel in a musical structure

by using images as motifs.  He also felt that the characters in the novel

served no purpose other than to deliver a message.  Crouch believed that

Morrison did not want her readers to experience the horrors of slavery that

others did, but rather just to tally up the sins that were committed

against the darker people and feel sorry for them.  Furthermore, he

presumed that this novel was designed to make sure that the view of the

black woman being the most scorned and rebuked of the victims of society,

doesn't weaken.


        According to Ann Snitow, " …she harps so on the presence of Beloved,

sometimes neglecting the mental life of her other characters" (pp. 25-26).

She believed that by sacrificing the other character's vitality until the

very end, the novel is left hollow in the middle.  However, Snitow did

state " If Beloved fails in it's ambitions, it is still a novel by Toni

Morrison, still therefore full of beautiful prose, dialogue as rhythmically

satisfying as music…and scenes so clearly etched they're like

hallucinations" (25-26).  Snitow compares Morrison's writing style to

Dickens, in that she believes that each of them are great, serious writers.

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        Also, Snitow believes that Morrison sets herself apart from other

writers by rejecting irony.  She sees the novel as mixing the grotesque

with passion and romance; not just irony or zaniness, which is what is

normally mixed in contemporary fiction.  Furthermore, Snitow believes that

the novel revolves and searches for, but never gets any closer to the

people that are numbed with overwhelming grief.  Overall, Snitow's critique

of this novel can be best illustrated by her statement  " This novel

deserves to be read as much for what it cannot say as for what it can" (25-



        Rosellen Brown stated " The rhythm of black speech in Morrison's

control is complex and versatile, and with it she makes third person

narrative sound as intimate as a back porch conversation, and confidences

in the first person sound like a dream…" (420-21).  Brown believed that

this novel may be Morrison's most visualizable of all her novels.  Also,

Brown stated that " Beloved brings us into the mind of the haunter as well

as the haunted" (420-21).  Brown believes that this is an invitation that

no other American writers has offered.


        According to Brown, Morrison manages to continually bring about

images and specific memories like stones, and these images and memories

disappear  and resurface over and over. She believes that Morrison places

these memories within the novel until the entire novel is like a tight

verbal net from which no feeling can escape attention.  Furthermore, Brown

believed that the audacity and the energy within this novel lies within the

pain and ambivalence of its characters toward their memories, and more so,

their forgetting.  Overall, Brown thought that Beloved was an extraordinary

novel with language that is at the same time loose and tight, colloquial

and elevated, which makes this novel stunning.


        I believe that Beloved was a vividly irregular family saga that is

set in the mid-1880's in Ohio.  By that time, slavery had been diminished

by the Civil War, but the horrors of slavery lied within the memories of

those that were subjected to it.  Morrison has the ability to describe the

physical horrors and torments that the slaves endured in a kind of delicate

way that still made my nerves twitch at the thought of such cruelties.  The

story does not simply tell us how one slave felt, but rather it reveals the

ways in which individuals, families, strangers, slaves, and even the

caregivers viewed slavery.


        The story is somewhat of a ghost tale because it revolves around

the spirit of a mother's baby daughter's ghost, whom she murdered in order

to save her from what she thought was going to be a life of inhumane

cruelty.  This supernatural entity is what makes the story so intriguing

and interesting.  This entity, named Beloved, is haunting and frightful at

times, but Morrison manages to write in such a way that the reader is not

frightened at the mere appearance of the ghost, but rather is nervous and

intrigued by what message the ghost will bring forth.


        Overall, I believe that Toni Morrison's Beloved is one of the most

thrilling novels that I have read. Morrison has the ability to write about

unthinkable atrocities without making the readers sick to their stomachs.

Furthermore, I enjoyed the story being presented in the form of flashbacks

to past tragedies, memories, and nightmares.  The only negative thing that

I can say about this book is that after finishing the book, there are a

couple of unanswered questions:  What will happen to Denver, who is

starting a new life at the end of the novel, and more importantly, what has

happened to Sethe's, the mother, sons.  Whether or not  the reader is

interested in slavery, this novel will captivate almost anyone because it

is not only a tale of slavery, but it is also a tale of human beings'

mistakes and their consequences that we must pay for them.



Brown, Rosellen.  "The Pleasure of Enchantment." The Nation October 1987:

Crouch, Stanley.  "Aunt Medea." The News Republic, October 1987:  38-43.

Morrison, Toni.  Beloved. Maine: Thorndike,  1987.

Snitow, Ann.  "Death Duties:  Toni Morrison Looks Back in Sorrow." VLS 58
(1988) :  25-26.
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