Books

Beloved

A novel by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story — set in post-Civil War Ohio — of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked death in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad: a woman of "iron eyes and backbone to match." Sethe lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs and a disturbing, mesmerizing intruder who calls herself Beloved.

Sethe works at "beating back the past," but it is alive in all of them. It keeps Denver fearful of straying from the house. It fuels the sadness that has settled into Baby Suggs' "desolated centre where the self that was no self made its home." And to Sethe, the past makes itself heard and felt incessantly: in memories that both haunt and soothe her...in the arrival of Paul D ("There was something blessed in his manner. Women saw him and wanted to weep"), one of her fellow slaves on the farm where she had once been kept...in the vivid and painfully cathartic stories she and Paul D tell each other of their years in captivity, of their glimpses of freedom...and, most powerfully, in the apparition of Beloved, whose eyes are expressionless at their deepest point, whose doomed childhood belongs to the hideous logic of slavery and who, as daughter, sister and seductress, has now come from the "place over there" to claim retribution for what she lost and for what was taken from her. 

Sethe's struggle to keep Beloved from gaining full possession of her present — and to throw off the long, dark legacy of her past — is at the centre of this profoundly affecting and startling novel. But its intensity and resonance of feeling, and the boldness of its narrative, lift it beyond its particulars so that it speaks to our experience as an entire nation with a past of both abominable and ennobling circumstance.  (From Vintage)

From the book

124 WAS SPITEFUL. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old--as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny band prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods: the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed. No. Each one fled at once--the moment the house committed what was for him the one insult not to be borne or witnessed a second time. Within two months, in the dead of winter, leaving their grandmother, Baby Suggs; Sethe, their mother; and their little sister, Denver, all by themselves in the grey and white house on Bluestone Road. It didn't have a number then, because Cincinnati didn't stretch that far. In fact, Ohio had been calling itself a state only seventy years when first one brother and then the next stuffed quilt packing into his hat, snatched up his shoes, and crept away from the lively spite the house felt for them.

Baby Suggs didn't even raise her head. From her sickbed she heard them go but that wasn't the reason she lay still. It was a wonder to her that her grandsons had taken so long to realize that every house wasn't like the one on Bluestone Road. Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she couldn't get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. Her past had been like her present--intolerable--and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering colour.

"Bring a little lavender in, if you got any. Pink, if you don't."


From Beloved by Toni Morrison ©2004. Published by Vintage.

Interviews with Toni Morrison

Jian's feature chat with Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and academic, Toni Morrison.
The Nobel Prize winning novelist, Toni Morrison. The New York Times described Morrison as “the nearest thing America has to a national novelist.” Now, the author of “Beloved”, “Jazz”, “Paradise” and “Love” has a new novel called simply, "Home".
The American author of the prize-winning Beloved talks about her new novel Jazz.

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