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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,
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.