May 24, 2009

Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

BOOK #: 41
CHALLENGES: Book Awards Challenge, New Authors Challenge
RATING: 4 Stars

"124 was spiteful. Full of baby's venom."

Summary of the Book
Seethe was a slave at Sweet Home Plantation. The Garners, who own the plantation, are nice and respectful towards Seethe and the other slaves. But after Mr. Garner dies, Mrs. Garner has to bring in Schoolteacher to help. Schoolteacher and his nephews abuse a pregnant Seethe, sell the slave Paul D. and Seethe's husband, Halle, and kills Paul D.'s brothers. Seethe manages to escape to Ohio, sending her children on ahead of her to her mother-in-law's house. However, after she arrives, Schoolteacher finds her. Still badly scarred by slavery, Seethe tries to kill her children rather than see them become slaves. She succeeds in killing her toddler daughter. The other two eventually run away and all that is left is Denver, the child she was carrying when she arrived in Ohio, to house 124.

Seethe is now haunted by the memory of slavery, the memory of killing her child, and the ghost of her murdered child. Paul D. shows up one day and is now living at 124 as well. Seethe is finally starting to relax and think there are things to hope for when Beloved shows up. Beloved is a 19-year-old girl who cannot remember her name or where she comes from. However, through a series of strange events over a span of time, Seethe and Denver come to believe that Beloved is Seethe's murdered daughter. Beloved's presence helps soothe Denver's loneliness, but brings back floods of locked-away painful memories for Seethe and Paul D. that they are forced to deal with. But when Beloved disappears because she has no identity, the reader is left wondering if Beloved is a real person, a medium to communicate with the dead, or a psychological invention of those in 124 to help them deal with slavery and its aftermath.

Thoughts about the Book
This book was a difficult read for me. First, there was a lot of skipping around and jumping between past and present events with little or no segues, which had me a bit confused for most of the book. Second, this is another book full of very intense subject matter.

There are several themes running through this book: slavery, loss, anger, identity, motherhood, and ghosts, or the supernatural. Beloved is not just another book about slavery, either. It covers very intense aspects of slavery, including sexual assault/rape and the psychological damage of slavery. Seethe and Paul D. and Beloved were physically free, but they were not mentally free of slavery. They were haunted by it constantly.

Despite the challenge of the book jumping around, I found the book to be a great work of literary art. This book would make a wonderful book group selection if you have not read it. Just take a look at the questions I have off the top of my head:

  • Why does Seethe stay in 124 where the ghost of her murdered daughter is haunting her?
  • How do you create an identity for yourself after being a slave?
  • Is Beloved a real person, or was she a psychological invention, created to deal with the pain and loss?
  • Do you think Seethe still believes she made the right choice in killing her child?
  • What happened to Halle?

Here are some other bloggers' thoughts on Beloved:


  1. I read this book a very long time ago, so I don't remember all the specifics. I do remember though that this book broke my heart. I don't think I could ever kill my own baby, but she must have felt so crazed. She had tried to escape, (didn't she succeed at one point?) I might be remembering wrong but when she killed her baby, wasn't she free at that point? but the slavers had come to claim her baby, and after everyting she went through - she probably would rather see her baby dead than to suffer the tortures of slavery. Horrible. It was a good book, forces one to think, and breaks your heart.

  2. I wish I remember the details well enough to answer those questions. But this is one of my most favourite reads of all time. I really really loved it, and am glad you liked it, too. I will be rereading it one of these days, as it's so layered and complex.

  3. Toni Morrison is such a talented author, but her books aren't easy reads, are they? I haven't yet read Beloved but it's on my list to try one of these days. I am glad liked it. It sounds like a powerful book.

  4. WOW you stayed up and finished it.. I didn't really expect to see the review up already but that's great!!

    I linked to your review from mine hope you don't mind :)

  5. Wow, you finished the book and reviewed it. That's great. I still have my reviews to finish. I want to do 3 today. The book sounds very interesting but I have been avoiding it. Sounds very intense.

  6. It's been a while since I read this, but I remember it being tough to read too.

  7. I'm with Claire, I wish I remembered all the details! But even though this was a difficult read, I think it's a book I'll return to.

  8. I just discovered Morrison this year, but I haven't gotten around to reading Beloved just yet (I did buy it on my last trip to the bookstore, though). She's an immensely challenging reader, but one who is really rewarding and well worth the effort required.

    I thought your review of Beloved was great, and it makes me all the more eager to get to my own copy!


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