Beloved

by Toni Morrison

Hardcover, 1987

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Alfred A. Knopf, (1987)

Description

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe's new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement. After the Civil War ends, Sethe longingly recalls the two-year-old daughter whom she killed when threatened with recapture after escaping from slavery 18 years before.… (more)

Media reviews

"Beloved" is Toni Morrison's fifth novel, and another triumph. Indeed, Ms. Morrison's versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds. If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, ''Beloved'' will put them to rest.
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As a record of white brutality mitigated by rare acts of decency and compassion, and as a testament to the courageous lives of a tormented people, this novel is a milestone in the chronicling of the black experience in America. It is Morrison writing at the height of her considerable powers, and it should not be missed.
Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a victim's dark violence, with a lyrical insistence and a clear sense of the time when a beleaguered peoples' "only grace...was the grace they could imagine."
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User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
Beloved by Toni Morrison is set in a rural area outside Cincinnati after the end of the Civil War, but it also frequently flashes back about 20 years to life-shaping events at "Sweet Home", a nightmarishly named Kentucky slave plantation. This is the first novel by her I've read, and I came away very impressed by her writing. The novel is an industrial strength reminder of the horrible treatment of so many blacks by so many whites during that time. "To Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay. The 'better' life she believed she and Denver were living was simply not that other one."

Sethe is a woman in her 30's who was devastatingly mistreated at Sweet Home after the "kind" owner passed away and a relative, the "school teacher" arrived. But she's a survivor, and makes her way, with her daughter Denver, to her mother-in-law's Ohio farmhouse. The house comes to be haunted by Sethe's daughter Beloved (name taken from her funeral service), who was gruesomely murdered under dreadful circumstances. This supernatural element is treated as practical and real, not late night movie scary. Lonely Denver considers the ghost a friend, and even Sethe finds comfort in her presence.

The arrival of another former slave with romantic feelings for Sethe upsets the balance, and Beloved becomes more aggressively present. Members of the town become involved as concern rises, culminating in a reverberation of Beloved's original fate.

The effects of slavery are seen everywhere in the book, with the power wielded by whites over blacks in that time having myriad toxic effects. Sethe's mother-in-law shares the lesson she's learned from her "sixty years a slave and ten years free": "there was no bad luck in the world but white people. 'They don't know when to stop'", she said." We see occasional acts of kindness, but they are overwhelmed by slavery at its worst. There are reminders of the Holocaust - a sense of superiority justifying atrocious acts. A treatment of people as not-people. And the desperate acts of the oppressed. Even those more fortunate had not "lived a livable life. Even the educated colored: the long-school people, the doctors, the teachers, the paper-writers and businessmen had a hard row to hoe. In addition to having to use their heads to get ahead, they had the whole race sitting there. You needed two heads for that."

It's easy to see why this has become a modern classic. It realistically conveys slavery's damaging effects, and romanticizes no one, including Sethe. The supernatural element engages the reader in a new way, seemingly rooted in black folklore, with elements of magic realism. The writing is exceptional from beginning to end, including passages like this one: "There was a time when she scanned the fields every morning and every evening for her boys. . . . Cloud shadow on the road, an old woman, a wandering goat untethered and gnawing bramble - each looked at first like Howard - no, Buglar. Little by little she stopped and their thirteen-year-old faces faded completely into their baby ones, which came to her only in sleep. When her dreams roamed outside {the farmhouse}, anywhere they wished, she saw them sometimes in beautiful trees, their little legs barely visible in the leaves. Sometimes they ran along the railroad track laughing, too loud, apparently, to hear her because they never did turn around." Sethe is torn throughout between not wanting to look back, and wanting what was good in the past to come back and find her.
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LibraryThing member theokester
This book was actually supposed to be one of the books for a class I cancelled due to scheduling conflicts. It was also listed as one of the best American novels of the past 25 years...so I kept it even after canceling the class. While it was an interesting story and a thought provoking read, I had a hard time with this book for a few different reasons.

Writing Style
The narrative was written in a close third person following very closely alongside the minds of a few main characters, Sethe primarily but also Denver, Paul D and some other characters who showed up later (Stamp & even Beloved herself). The voices used were likely fairly authentic to the voices of mid/late-1800 recently freed slaves in America. The grammar was a little mixed up at times, but generally very understandable.

The grammar wasn't as difficult to follow as the actual style of the voices themselves. Often, I was caught in a sort of stream-of-consciousness type narrative from one of the characters. Being pulled that far inside the character's head made it difficult for me to keep my bearings or perspective clear. The roundabout way subjects were treated left me confused and really slowed down the reading for me while I tried to keep the message straight. I'm not sure if this disorientation was intentional or if it's my own personal distance from this type of character that made it hard, but that was my primary complaint with the book.

Characters, Setting, Tone, etc
The characters were well created and very alive to me, especially as the book progressed. Even though the 'stream of consciousness' writing hung me up a lot, it also helped me get to know the characters better. I felt like I understood Sethe and Denver much better after getting into their heads.

The settings fluctuated back and forth for me...sometimes they felt extremely real and vivid and other times they felt very flat and clapboard/2-d.

My biggest complaint with the characters and the setting was that I often lost site of the fact that this was set in the mid-1800s in a post-civil-war/abolitionist nation just rising out of slavery. The tone of the novel was often the largest element, and that tone often didn't ring "post-civil-war" to me.

Again, it could be my distance from the subject but many times through the book, it was almost a shock to be reminded that these characters had just recently been living on a plantation as slaves. Most of the time while I was reading, my mind conjured up a more contemporary setting...people living in a poor borough in the 1900s, perhaps even the late-1900s.

Maybe that should be a compliment to the story rather than a detractor...it shows that this is a Timeless sort of tale that could easily happen 150 years ago or last week.

Themes
This novel presented a number of strong messages.

The racial message was naturally there loud and clear. It came as a strong reminder of the horrific reality that was slavery in the U.S.A...and the racism that followed after abolitionism...and even today. I loved the line where Sethe comments that she has her freedom now, but she's still not free.

That sense of freedom leads into another major theme, that of Identity. Sethe and these other ex-slaves are trying to redefine themselves in a world that has chewed them up and spit them out. Beyond the slave reference, Sethe and her family have an added stigma because of Beloved. All of the characters come face-to-face with their own identity (or lack thereof) and have to take major actions to determine what they want to become.

The other major theme that struck me was that of Family and of relations within the Family. Most of what Sethe did was for her family. She was driven to escape slavery to protect and provide a better life for her family. She ran with her kids in tow to the tool shed when the white authorities came, because she had to protect her family. She went to prison for her family. She lived alone and stigmatized in a haunted house in an effort to keep her family whole. And yet, her actions also served to drive her family apart. Her sons leave as soon as they feel physically capable of doing so. Her remaining living daughter Denver is totally estranged and practically ignored by her. Going back to the "identity" factor, Sethe hasn't really learned how to be a mother and has to learn what it means to create a family in the world she's living in.

Overall
Overall I had a hard time with this book. It was a very slow read for me, often talking itself in circles and leaving me confused. Still, I found the story very interesting and thought provoking. I felt awful for Sethe and her family and for the trials they had to endure. Even though, as I mentioned above, I felt that the 'slavery' theme often got overshadowed, I was still struck by the awful fact that slavery did exist (still exists some places in the world) and just how awful it was. Even the "good" slave owners (of "Sweet Home" where Sethe ran from) were despicable and made me shrink in shame.

It was a good book, but hard to read. I don't know how good the movie was, but if it's true enough to the book, I might recommend watching that rather than trying to push through the book.

Still, it's worth reading if only to get a new insight into the world of slavery and racism that raged (and still lingers) in America and the world.

***
3 stars
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LibraryThing member igjoe
Once again a very popular book has disappointed me. Boring and slow. I can see the qualities in this book, but it feels like a book that you are being forced to read in high school. Over-hyped and a struggle to finish.
LibraryThing member surreality
Plot: A central plot, with subplots tied to it that add the events from the past. Confusing at times since the subplots are not chronological and the point of view shifts regularly. The pieces don't quite fit together, which adds confusion that may or may not be intentional, but is distracting nonetheless. Good set-up but a disappointing ending that doesn't resolve anything.

Characters: Great characterization for some characters, while others fall flat. I found it impossible to find anyone to sympathize with - the ones who suffer are apathetic and uninteresting, while the interesting ones are side characters with not much attention paid to them.

Style: Half of the book is a great narrative, the other half is terribly overwritten. The narrative half packs a punch with its themes and the way they're dealt with. Streamlined, just the right amount of description and beautiful language. The other half reads as though Morrison decided that it's time literature happens instead of just a story, and stuffed in every technique known to mankind. There are moments when it turns poetic, but then comes so much symbolism that all joy goes out of reading.

Plus: It's an interesting ride.

Minus: It's a book that wants to be something greater, and tries too hard.

Summary: High quality, but it failed to leave any lasting impression or make me feel involved.
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LibraryThing member santhony
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is certainly not the kind of book I would ordinarily take on. Written by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, it can be a chore at times, but nevertheless was surprisingly able to keep my attention throughout.

The setting is immediate post Civil War Ohio, with numerous flashbacks and remembrances from the period preceding the War. Sethe, the main character, was a slave at the Kentucky Sweet Home plantation. She escaped with her children (three, with one in the oven) in a harrowing adventure, giving birth along the way. She is ultimately tracked down and due to the Dred Scott decision faces repatriation with her family. In response, she murders her oldest daughter rather than see her subjected to slavery, but is stopped before she can complete her plan to kill herself and all her children.

After the war, she lives in an old two story home that is actively haunted by the spirit of her dead daughter, Beloved. The haunting has led her two sons to flee, but her daughter Denver remains. She is joined by one of the men from Sweet Home; then a mysterious, young stranger appears, named Beloved. It is clearly the physical manifestation of her long dead daughter.

As you would expect from a novel written by a Nobel Laureate, the prose is florid and rich with imagery and symbolism. There are brief periods of stream of consciousness narrative that were incomprehensible to me. Nevertheless, the story is intriguing and much of the history is very powerful and compelling. I took on the novel with somewhat low expectations (not of the book, but for my capacity to appreciate it) but emerged very pleasantly surprised.
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LibraryThing member stuart10er
Draining and wonderful.

I wish I could give it high marks for the writing, which was amazing and splended, vivid and lyrical, and lower marks for how staggeringly depressing and draining it was to read.

Slavery is awful, soul-desroying, for everyone involved and like some kind of old testament punishment curses us unto the seventh generation with its poison. Just awful and terrible.

So - this book is awful in the best possible way. What would you rate that? An exploration of all the terrible things that slavery does to all involved and to their children and their children's children. Painful.
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LibraryThing member bluepigeon
I think it is very interesting that most people have either given this book 5 stars or 1 star.

Toni Morrison's language flows like a river. At times strong, at times slight, never overwhelmed. Dialog among characters is very well done, and just like in real life, sometimes it may not be obvious what's going on. In fact, this is perhaps one of the most interesting things Morrison does in Beloved. As readers, we visit the thoughts and stories of many characters, and in a way, we have privy to understanding their reasons. So when someone does a certain thing, it seems unbelievable almost that other people do not understand why, because we do. At a certain point in the book, the story actually develops to reveal a misunderstanding and the characters realize it and go on to rectify what they have done. But at another point, again, just like in real life, misunderstandings remain mysteries, remain prejudices, assumptions, opinions born out of a hunch. This becomes one of the drivers in the story, especially in a story dealing with ex-slaves who don't speak much about their feelings or thoughts, perhaps because they are not supposed to have any.

To say that it is hard to relate or sympathize with any of the characters in the book is a sign that a) you are very easily offended by historical facts and human nature, or b) you are ignorant of what might happen to humans or what they will be capable of doing under extremely harsh conditions (i.e. slavery, not being allowed to have sex with anyone for 20 years, rape, abuse, etc), or c) you have not really read the book. Yes, what the characters in the book do during and after their life as slaves might not be wonderful. Yes, they did not crawl under a tree and cry themselves to insanity (well, not all of them, at least,) some survived, some had sex with barn animals, some were forced into sex as well as into labor, some found love, some escaped, some murdered... The list is long, though a much much longer list can be assembled of the things slave owners did to their slaves, even the nicest ones who "listened to what they had to say."

The book and the story does a very good job of telling life how it is (I do not mean "telling life how is WAS." I do not know much about the history of slavery or the lives of slaves and ex-slaves, nor do I know how accurate the depictions in the book are of that time in America. I know enough to be able to judge that it is not too far from reality in general.) How some crimes that seem unimaginable are entirely possible given the right life, right personality, right time (or lack there of.) How not all "coloreds" agree on moral and ethical actions and judgments, and how in that regard, they are very much like "whitefolks." How being a mother means something entirely different to one woman compared to another, though it is so easy to pass judgment when one is not in the particular situation. How one charismatic person can bring together a whole community out of scraps of humans trying to outlive their past, and how a single act of violence can change a whole community. In this regard, though the book is "about" slavery and ex-slaves, it could be about any group of people who have had a harsh, unmerciful life trying to make sense of what's left. Dysfunctions arise in such a community, or in any family within that community exist in every community, but perhaps the reasons and how they come about are different.

Yet the book has hope to offer in the end. Hope that some will rise from this broken community, from the dysfunction, put together what they have learned from their grandmothers and mothers and sisters and even strange men, find work, find things to want, a life to desire... Hope that some will learn not to have to think of each day as a fight to keep the past at bay, but a day to be lived to build a future. As some other things in the book, this hope is not surging, in-your-face kind of hope, but a slow, steady trickle in the end that leaves you imagining how, from there, we got here. And how much more we have to go...
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LibraryThing member MoniqueReads
Before I get to a review I have a story to tell. When I was growing up, I lived in a mostly white town. In fact, I think there was only one other black family in the whole town. So, my grandmother felt the need to constantly give me books written by black authors, and try to force me to read them. I would not have had a problem with it if it had not been for the fact that the books that she picked always seemed to deal with slavery. And for 8 or 9 year old me, that topic was too distressful. So, one day she gave me "Beloved" to read. Yes, my grandmother gave me, a 8/9 year old little girl, "Beloved". Needless to say, that I was so confused by the first chapter. This book is hard for some adults to read, I cannot begin to understand why she thought it was appropriate for a child. I have a feeling that she did not read the book herself but did like the concept. But anyways, I did not pick up that book until two decades later and was quick to tell anyone who asked that it was difficult and I would never try to read it again. In walks the Pulitzer Project and 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and "Beloved" is on my TBR list.

What a difference twenty years make. I still believe that "Beloved" is a difficult read. The language and imagery is challenge. But I have to say that I enjoyed every last page. Morrison is a master with the English language. I could see the characters, the town, their past, and their present. For me Morrison made it all come alive. Now that I have really read the book, I can't remember what I found so difficult about it. Maybe my vocabulary and reading ability have evolved (I seriously hope so or the public school system has a lot to answer too).

The characters were very well thought out and portrayed. Each of the main characters (Sethe, Paul D, and Denver) grow throughout the novel. Morrison took the reader inside their thoughts and let you see their feelings and the reasons for their actions. Nothing was left to guess about. Each character had their own personality and past that shaped their decisions. It was intriguing to see how the events in the past lead them to the point where the story takes place. How these events shape how they each react to Beloved's presence.

Now for some people this will be a difficult read. While I enjoyed how Morrison was able to pact so much into the story, I can also see where it would make it hard for some. There are a lot of different things going on. A good portion of the story is dealt with through flash backs. Sethe, has flashbacks to her time as a slave and her escape. Paul D, has flashbacks to his own enslavement, incarceration, and all the hardship he had to go through. Denver has flashbacks to her lonely painful child. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out since Morrison gives you bits and pieces at a time. But I did enjoy her method, it just made me continue to turn the page.

Another thing that can be hard is the imagery. While Morrison does not go into great detail, the subject matter is harsh. And the things that characters go through are sad and difficult (it is a post slave tale). The decisions that they made at times can be unthinkable to someone not in their position.
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LibraryThing member lilysea
Every person in the United States should be required to read everything Toni Morrison ever wrote, beginning with this book. Perhaps my favorite book by perhaps my favorite writer.
LibraryThing member Karweenie
This story IS based on actual events (Morrison learned of an escaped slave killing her children from an 1850's era newspaper).

However, the novel is incoherent and confusing. Narration flips from character to character with no transition, entire chapters are written in stream-of-consciousness, by the end you're so turned off by the style that you're dismissive of the substance. Very disappointing.… (more)
LibraryThing member dawnpen
So picture history. Picture books stacked like bricks around the affluent neighborhoods in Georgia. Picture ‘at yo service’ cookie jars and reels of documentary footage on the editor’s floor. Picture them opening all the windows at the local high school because they’re painting over the graffiti again. During summer, the smart kids talk about reverse discrimination at the Taco Bell. Then they go to college.… (more)
LibraryThing member OracleOfCrows
As with most of Toni Morrison's books, this one will pull you in within the first few pages. A mother is haunted by her child, but finds herself comforted by this. Many complex themes; death, grief, slavery, make this one of Morrison's best books. Full of fantastic imagery and beautifully written prose. I'd recommend this to everyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member gbill
Certainly worth reading, but not for the squeamish, and muddled at times.

Quotes:
On hell:
"...suddenly there was Sweet Home rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too."

On the past:
"To Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay. The 'better life' she believed she and Denver were living was simply not that other one."

On cooking:
"The cabbage was all gone and the shiny ankle bones of smoked pork were pushed in a heap on their plates. Sethe was dishing up bread pudding, murmuring her hopes for it, apologizing in advance the way veteran cooks always do."

On feelings:
"Hey! Hey! Listen up. Let me tell you something. A man ain't a goddamn ax. Chopping, hacking, busting ever goddamn minute of the day. Things get to him. Things he can't chop down because they're inside."

On religion:
"She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.
She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it."

On white people:
"Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed," she said, "and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in the world worse but whitefolks."

"He simply looked at the face, shaking his head no. No. At the mouth, you see. And no at whatever it was those black scratches said, and no to whatever it was Stamp Paid wanted him to know. Because there was no way in hell a black face could appear in a newspaper if the story was about something anybody wanted to hear. A whip of fear broke through the heart chambers as soon as you saw a Negro's face in a paper, since the face was not there because the person had a healthy baby, or outran a street mob. Nor was it there because the person had been killed, or maimed or caught or burned or jailed or whipped or evicted or stomped or raped or cheated, since that could hardly qualify as news in a newspaper. It would have to be something out of the ordinary - something whitepeople would find interesting, truly different..."

"Eighten seventy-four and whitefolks were still on the loose. Whole towns wiped clean of Negroes; eighty-seven lynchings in one year alone in Kentucky; four colored schools burned to the ground; grown men whipped like children; children whipped like adults; black women raped by the crew; property taken, necks broken. He smelled skin, skin and hot blood. The skin was one thing, but human blood cooked in a lynch fire was a whole other thing. The stench stank."

On slavery:
"He wasn't surprised to learn that they had tracked her down in Cincinnati, because, when he thought about it now, her price was greater than his; property that reproduced itself without cost."

"Cogitation, as she called it, clouded things and prevented action. Nobody loved her and she wouldn't have liked it if they had, for she considered love a serious disability. Her puberty was spent in a house where she was shared by father and son, whom she called ' the lowest yet.' It was the 'lowest yet' who gave her a disgust for sex and against whom she measured all atrocities."

On love, slavery, and motherhood:
"Risy, thought Paul D, very risky. For a used-to-be slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have a little love left over for the next one. 'Why?' he asked her. 'Why you think you have to take up for her? Apologize for her? She's grown.'
'I don't care what she is. Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What's that supposed to mean? In my heart it don't mean a thing.'"

On women:
"...like the interior sounds a woman makes when she believes she is alone and unobserved at her work: a sth when she misses the eye's needle; a soft moan she sees another chip in her one good platter; the low, friendly argument with which she greets the hens. Nothing fierce or startling. Just that eternal, private conversation that takes place between women and their tasks."
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LibraryThing member MColv9890
Sorry to say I find nothing within Toni Morrison's writing that appeals to me. Personally this novel could just as easily never have existed. I realize this will anger many and confuse others, but I challenge you to find within her vivid descriptions of violence any ray of light or speck of darkness that is worth more than a few brief moments' contemplation.… (more)
LibraryThing member murraymint11
Reminiscent of ‘Roots’ and ‘The Color Purple’, I found the language dense and fairly challenging at first; I had to concentrate while reading throughout the book, and sometimes had to read a sentence twice over (which I actually didn’t mind).
I liked the way the author gave out the background story in tiny snippets. I found it an often harrowing tale, and somewhat shocking in that a lot of the trauma described so vividly in the book happened after the abolition of slavery.… (more)
LibraryThing member Luli81
You who read me keep your repugnance and horror to yourself. I am here to tell you my story with an iron smile under my chin. The men without skin stole my milk so my mother punished them with my blood. You don’t understand, her love was too thick. I was the already crawling baby waiting to be loved. I am Beloved.

Which kind of unimaginable atrocities can lead a mother to murder her own baby to spare it a certain life full of humiliation and wanton abuse?
How much suffering can a human being undergo before he loses touch with reality and turns to derangement as the only way to cope? But I do wonder, derangement or conscientious remembrance as a sort of self-inflicted punishment?

“Beloved” is a piercing cry of sorrow, angst and promise impregnated with magic realism which disrupts the mind and upsets the body. Set in the 1870s Ohio, this story reveals, in a disturbingly subtle and poignant way, the real value of freedom as opposed to a life of slavery.

Sethe’s has been an oppressed and undignified life, for she is a negro, and she is woman. Baby Suggs, the mother of her spouse -only in the eyes of God- Halle, tries to warn her about the risks of being a slave woman and insisting on loving her children too dearly. But Sethe blooms with the seed of light which is growing inside her and plans an escape with her family to be able to love freely.
Until one fateful day, when the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, disguised as men without skin, come to take what they believe to be their right. They come to teach a lesson to these proud animals which have had the boldness to believe they can be human beings. It’s an arduous task.
They undermine the body and tear the flesh, proving their power and manhood, forcing their entrance.
They arise as the masters, squeezing all kind of fluxes from emaciated carcasses: urine, spit, blood and milk. But not tears, never tears. The fluxes blend into a streaming river of sorrow and lost hopes which will never reach the cleansing waters.
They wear out the spirit and subjugate the soul, chocking and chopping.
The hummingbirds sing, flapping their wings, and the sunbeams shine through the branches of the trees, which are now adorned with hanging limbless torsos. The natural world, which becomes the imperturbable setting for this irrational carnage, watches as an indifferent spectator.

There is no place to run away to but Sethe’s instinct to feed her children moves her towards a fragile safety where her baby daughter is born. Twenty-eight days of respite it’s all they are given, for the hunting hasn’t finished yet and the Horsemen come to claim their missed prey.
Now, I am not a mother and I don’t know whether I will ever be, but the dread of imagining the flesh of your flesh having to undergo such shaming and degrading misery has to be terrifying. Sethe’s love is too thick, and she can’t remember whether she has two or four feet, animal or human? The only thing she knows is that she can’t allow her children to go through the kind of hell she went through, she wants to spare them all. She only has time to spare one before she is stopped. Her Beloved.
A murderess?
Or a selfless, desperate act of a loving mother?

“Beloved” is the unfinished name that Sethe could afford to engrave in her baby’s tombstone after selling her body.
”Beloved” is also the haunting otherwordly presence and the only company that Sethe and the only daughter she has left, Denver, have in 124 Bluestone Road, after Baby Suggs dies and her two sons disappear one mundane evening.
The perturbing phantasmagorical presence of the killed baby, which at some point is inexplicably reincarnated in flesh, taking the form of a young and attractive woman who appears out of nowhere in Sethe’s porch, drenches the novel in myriads of ways.
”Beloved” is as threatening as she is reassuring.
”Beloved” portrays the perpetual symbol of an act of sheer love, reminding Sethe of her doleful past.
”Beloved” craves for nourishment not wanting to realize that Sethe’s milk has gone sour and is now poisoning what little is left of her humanity.

It is now up to Denver to try to atone for her mother’s sin and to Sethe to allow a blessed man from her past, Paul D., a kind of man who could walk in a house and make the women cry, to offer her the possibility of a future.

This is the sort of novel that defies words and syntax, challenging the reader to put the scabrous pieces together, forcing him to move forward and backward in time, for there isn’t another way to portray its brutish reality than to merge fantasy and facts, dreams and yearnings, magic rituals and ancestral beliefs into a single powerful voice, the voice of the guilty conscience, which becomes the ultimate narrator of the story.
The act of embracing the mystery doesn’t smooth any of the atrocities portrayed in this novel, although the lyrical prose and the symbolic patterns, challenging notions of life and death, make it possible to put across an overwhelming message of hope in the natural goodness of human beings.
An individual might not find enough strength in him to exorcise the ghosts from his past, to break free from his long life bondages, to recover from the nonhealing wounds of his soul. But when embraced by the nourishing arms of the community, when allowed to enter its collective memories and sorrows, he becomes miraculously empowered to banish his worst nightmares, to let go of the shame and the guilt.
A future, free from the shadow of slavery is possible then, where a so much coveted peace of mind can be envisioned, where the hummingbirds will sing and the sundrenched grass will gleam in harmony with smiling faces instead of iron grimaces and scarred necks.

“The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind. And if it didn’t stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life- every day was a test and a trial.” (page 256)

Disremembered and unaccounted for, I am not lost because no one is looking for me, and even if they were, they can’t call me, for I have no name. I am the girl and I am still waiting to be loved.
This is not a story to pass on.
This is a story to forget so that a new beginning can be born.
But I’m still here. I am “Beloved” and this story is mine.
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LibraryThing member nevusmom
Lots of leaping around in this book, which made it somewhat hard to follow. Other reviewers have given thorough synopsis, so I won't. I got it at a yard sale. I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it.
LibraryThing member dczapka
Beloved is one of the few books I've read that seems to be perfectly attuned to the medium in which it is presented, and is even conscious of that fact.

The novel is a wonderfully emotional tale, one whose secrets can be deciphered by the truly careful reader fairly quickly but still manages to remain suspenseful and readable throughout. It develops patiently yet reads quickly, a testament to the inclusive voice Morrison uses in a tale that is as much about murder and sacrifice as it is about exclusivity.

Sethe is a powerhouse character, quiet and unassuming but leaping from the page when her nobility is tested, simply-spoken but evocative, particularly in her wonderful monologue in Part II. Moments like this, and the three monologues that follow, are wonderful examples of Morrison's use of words to put feelings and images into the reader's mind that simply can't be described in any other way.

The novel can tend to feel a little confusing at times, but for the most part it manages it as well as it manages all its other seeming polarities. Tinged with the supernatural but always feeling painfully grounded in the real, it's a heartbreaking story that is moving and inspiring. A first-rate work.
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LibraryThing member fothpaul
This book seemed to swing between some exceptionall moving elements of poetry to intolerably difficult to read sections which chugged along at a snails pace. Every time I felt exhasperated by the text, another beautiful description or comment would come along and make me carry on reading.

The story was not especially my cup of tea. I enojyed the details of the transition from slavery to freedom and the attempts of Sethe and her fellow former slaves in trying to set up lives after slavery. I didn't particularly enjoy the ghost story part. To me it felt like the author was using the ghost as a metaphor for the ghosts of slavery, coming refusing to leave the newly freed slaves alone and ruining their new lives. This was ok as a concept, but the streams of conciousness which took place about 3/4 of the way through summed it all up for me. Just a little bit too annoying to be truly enjoyable.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
...in all of Baby’s life, as well as Sethe’s own, men and women were moved around like checkers. Anybody Baby Suggs knew, let alone loved, who hadn’t run off or been hanged, got rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen or seized. What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children. (pp 27-28)

Sethe grew up in slavery, raised more by a community of women more than by her own mother, and working mostly for the lady of the house. After Sethe’s husband Halle bought freedom for his mother Baby Suggs, and a new and much crueler master took over the Sweet Home plantation, a group of slaves begin planning their escape. Sethe and Halle send their three children first. Sethe is eventually able to get away but Halle doesn’t show. She makes her way across the Ohio River to join her three children and Baby Suggs, giving birth to her daughter Denver during the journey.

Beloved opens eighteen years later; Denver has grown up but the other children are mysteriously absent. Toni Morrison circles around “what happened” for most of this novel, moving between time periods and slowly fleshing out the narrative. Another former slave, Paul D, turns up and helps Sethe learn to love again. But their relationship is threatened by Beloved, a strange girl who appears one day out of nowhere, and Sethe begins to focus more on Beloved’s needs than on Paul D. Slowly, slowly, Beloved’s identity becomes clear and we learn her story.

Beloved is one of Toni Morrison’s best-known works. I first read it more than 20 years ago, and while I knew Beloved’s place in the narrative, I found I remembered very little else about the book so my reading experience was like discovering this work all over again. And it was amazing: beautifully written, emotional, and dramatic, describing through Sethe and Paul D the devastating impact of slavery on the psyche.

That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn't like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up. And though she and others lived through and got over it, she could never let it happen to her own. The best thing she was, was her children. (pp 295-296)

This was absolutely brilliant, and has inspired me to read or re-read more books by Toni Morrison to fully appreciate her work and her literary legacy.… (more)
LibraryThing member rbtwinky
I had a hard time getting into this novel. The line between realism and the fantastic was very blurry, which I struggled with. I also had difficulty relating to the characters, perhaps in part to their on-again-off-again realism.
LibraryThing member streamsong
Something is wrong at the house numbered 24. While Baby Suggs was still alive, it was a place of meeting and even dancing. But while her daughter, Sethe and Sethe’s daughter Denver still live there, it is no longer visited by the black community. It’s known to be haunted and people avoid it and those who live there.

Then there are two new arrivals to the house. Paul D and Sethe had been slaves together and he brings pieces of Sethe’s story that she did not know.

The second arrival is a mysterious woman who knows intimate details of Sethe’s life. She’s called Beloved, which happens to be the sole word on the grave marker of Sethe’s murdered child.

This is Morrison’s classic novel of the horrors of slavery and how death can appear the lesser of two evils. It’s easy to have head-knowledge of the evils of slavery. This book will bring you to the heart knowledge.

This was a reread for me. The story begins toward the end and follows a complicated timeline with much skipping back and forth. I listened to this on audio, read by Toni Morrison. And while I loved Ms Morrison’s reading, and recommend the audio version wholeheartedly, for me the audio added a bit to the time line confusion in this astounding story.
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LibraryThing member ysmng
One of my favorite books. Scenes have stayed with me since I first read the book in early 90's. Strong and powerful imagery.
LibraryThing member browner56
In the 1870s, Sethe, a former slave, is living in southern Ohio with her daughter Denver and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. Sethe’s husband and her other children are long gone, either killed or disappeared in the aftermath of the war. The three women live in virtual isolation from the community because of a terrible, but not-so-hidden secret about Stethe’s past: she was convicted of murdering her daughter—we know her only by the name Beloved—whose angry spirit now haunts their house. Following the death of Baby Suggs, can the arrival of Paul D, himself a former slave who knew Sethe and her husband on their former plantation, exorcise the sins of the past and bring hope once more to their lives? Any chance of that happening is thwarted by the appearance of a young woman who seems to be Beloved returned in the flesh. So, is this girl Sethe’s real daughter or someone pretending to be her? As the characters’ fates are revealed, we learn through their various “re-memories” about the tragic, soul-crushing journey they have taken to get to where they are. Needless to say, these are not pleasant recollections.

There can be little doubt that Beloved is an important book. Its brutal and heart-wrenching depictions of the Civil War era slave trade brought a human face to that sad episode in our collective history and, in so doing, helped to educate an entire generation. It is also a creatively composed tale that allowed author Morrison to exhibit her poetic and affecting writing style in full measure. But was it also a good book? On that point, I really don’t know. I do know that I did not particularly enjoy the experience of reading it. The story was unrelentingly grim in its presentation of misery, pain, and oppression and that made it very hard to get enthusiastic about picking it up at times. Beyond that, I found it difficult to muster much sympathy for Sethe’s remorse at killing a child to keep her from a life of slavery, which was a critical aspect of the whole plot. In fact, other major prize-winning novels (e.g., Sophie’s Choice, Ironweed) have handled a parent’s grief over the death of son or daughter in a much more realistic way. Still, Beloved was a moving story with some memorable characters that taught me a lot. Perhaps this is one occasion when that matters more than whether the book was fun to read.
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LibraryThing member nancenwv
It took me awhile to know what to say about this book or even want to put it into words. It is haunting and powerful. I think the other worldliness does more to impress the horror and displacement of slavery. Beautifully sad and evocative.

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