The book, Beloved, has a definite chill to it. The story, the characters, the world in which the characters are forced to exist all drew me in. And there I sat, captivated, uneasy, and creeped out. But mostly captivated.
Beloved is the story of slaves, in captivity, during escape, and in freedom, spanning from about 1855 to 1873. The images the book draws of the physical, but mainly emotional trauma of life as another man’s chattel are stark and distressing. Written from the slaves’ point of view, Toni Morrison was able to put me into their shoes more completely than I had felt in all my previous readings. Perhaps it is her gift for poetic prose that touched me so deeply.
Aside from the torment of enslavement, Morrison adds a more mystical, other-worldly aspect to the story with the appearance of the protagonist’s dead child, Beloved, now grown and in new flesh, at the family’s door. Ghosts coming to life don’t unnerve me that much, but while this innocent child returning as a young woman should have induced some sympathy in me, I felt none. She creeped me out.
The real value of this book, however, are in the deep insights it offers to us as human beings. One that particularly struck me was that those who consider themselves superior debase themselves in their efforts to keep others “in their place.” Morrison wrote, “Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle…” Through the system of slavery or any effort to demean another people, the oppressors become debauched themselves. Morrison writes, “The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin.” While reading this, the History Channel’s “Ku Klux Klan” was on the television, driving this truism home to me in all its horror. It also is evident in research I’ve done on the 18th century oppression of the Irish peasants.
I did find the style and structure of the book to be confusing at first. I had to re-read the initial twenty-five pages before I understood what was what, but I would urge anyone drawn to this book to stick with it. The rewards are bountiful.