Just finished Beloved by Toni Morrison. Or maybe I should say Beloved finished me. What was it? A ghost story? A gothic? A love story? A critique of America’s peculiar institution and its terrible repercussions?
Beloved sparked a slow-burning anger. It made me feel guilty for enjoying Gone With the Wind. It made me feel betrayed by the people who made it. Benevolent slavery never was.
Beloved is a ghost, a haint, a girl without lines on her palms. She was the girl who didn’t get to be and came back—vengeful and confused and wanting to be loved.
Paul D. and Sethe are people with borrowed names and borrowed lives. They’ve hacked a crazy jagged twisted path to freedom. They’re recovering from slavery and its spirit-killing evil. Their poetry is a quilt stitched together from washed out, worn out clothes in dull grays and blues and two unexpected and brilliant patches of orange. Their poetry lies hidden and sweet like the blackberries trapped behind skin-ripping brambles.
Sethe has seen her man hung up on a tree. White boys have sucked the milk meant for her child. She has walked till she couldn’t walk and crawled till she couldn’t crawl and crossed the river to freedom. But now the white man with documents of ownership has crossed that river, too. He has come to claim her and her children. And Sethe is not going back. And neither are her children.
Sethe is the executioner of an act that has been long in the making. She crawled to freedom and arrived at a dead end. And so she takes up the blade. She chooses the only kindness left open to her. She slays her beloved child.
Beloved pulls back the curtain on false and hypocritical morality. Beloved turns everything around and declares who the real murderers are. Beloved shows how morality shifts when someone else is determining your future; when someone has the power to buy you or sell you, treat you kindly or whip you.
Toni Morrison is writing history. Telling us look. This is what slavery did to us. White people. Black people. Everybody. It wounded all of us. These are the scars we live with. This is the history of all of us. While some men were measuring heads and categorizing features as animal or human, others were having their heads measured.
Beloved speaks truth. Beloved needs to be read alongside Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Native Son. And also Birth of a Nation and GWTW. Because people will read those books, too. And we need books that rebut them.
Thank you, Toni Morrison. It is scary and profound, amazing and wonderful that America births heroes like you.