[TW: violence against children, racial slurs, depictions of slavery, abuse]
BINGO – UnCannon
In high school I took two AP English classes. In college, I took a Comparative Western Literature course. Toni Morrison was not on any of my reading lists for those courses despite the fact that Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and that Beloved was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1987 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. Perhaps, Morrison is not read more at the high school level because of the controversial material in her novels. Many of Morrison’s books, including Beloved, have been at the crux of book banning controversies due to language, violence, sexually explicit material, and abuse. But as KJ Ward says in a blog post from 2019, “[e]ngaging with these texts, not just in spite of the objections but perhaps because of them, will open a window to a more meaningful understanding of the human condition.”
Set in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1837 following the American Civil War, Beloved follows a family of formally enslaved people who live in House 124. The main protagonist of Beloved is Sethe, a mother of four children of which only one is still around, trying to live and care for her family the only ways she knows how after the trauma she has endured. She lives with her 18-year-old daughter Denver and her elderly mother-in-law. The house was once also haunted by the spirit of her departed infant child until another formally enslaved person from the same plantation, Paul D, comes around to live with Sethe and Denver and casts the spirit out; soon after, a young woman named Beloved winds up on their porch who Sethe believes to be the woman her departed infant would have grown up to be. Sethe, Denver, Beloved, and Paul D try to find a way to live together and find their way in a post-Civil War world.
Beloved touches on many challenging themes: the nature of memory, what life is like after trauma, mother-daughter relationships, the effects of slavery, and more. Morrison effortlessly weaves each of these themes together to show that no one aspect could ever exist independent of the other. And she weaves them together with the most beautiful language. Morrison writes with over the top with metaphor and simile. Each sentence drips poetic imagery. Though many passages were horrific and challenging to get through, it is hard to stop reading because of Morrison’s command of language.