All the World's a Classroom
Beloved by Toni Morrison
How I Came Across the Title
Some time last year, I saw this Toni Morrison’s interview with Stephen Colbert (I miss Colbert!). She said something amazing. After 20-something years, she read Beloved again a few weeks before the interview. She said, “It was really good…”
A writer is his/her own best/worst critic, so for her to say that, I thought, was really special. Also, the novel won the Pulitzer Price for Fiction in 1988, so it must be good.
I added the book to my wish list. Fast-forward to April this year, during a visit to NYC (best city on earth), I came across a couple who were selling their used books on the side of the street near the NYU campus. I browsed, of course, and found Beloved!
Thoughts on the Book
Chilling. Powerful. Mysterious. Beautiful. Like a painting. I wrote a review here.
The language, the words, and sentences are very powerful. It was poetic and its rhythms change depending on the narrative style. It’s truly a work of art.
What led me to start reading this book was Just Mercy. For me, this book continues the thought that Bryan Stevenson proposes, that as a society, we need to heal from slavery through a process of truth and reconciliation. It’s a painful process, but denying or suppressing this history will only cause more problems.
What I would read next as a result of Beloved is The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois.
Toni Morrison, Beloved, Penguin Putnam Inc., 1998.
Chilling. Powerful. Mysterious. Beautiful. Like a painting.
Beloved is a work of art. And like many pieces of art, there are aspects of it that I don’t understand. I’m not too left-brained, however, to miss the beauty of Morrison’s words and phrases.
Beloved tells the story of Sethe, an ex-slave, and her daughter, Denver. They live in a house, called 124, which seems to be haunted by the spirit of a baby—Sethe’s dead child. Upon the arrival of Paul D, an old friend/fellow slave of Sethe, the spirit left the house. But not long after, a girl about the age of Sethe’s daughter if she had lived arrives at 124 and catalyzes a series of reactions from the 3 main characters. This woman calls herself Beloved.
The confusion of who, or what, Beloved is remains a mystery, both to the characters in the novel and the readers. Sethe and Denver believe she is the dead child returning in flesh. Or, she may be just a confused girl who believes Sethe is her mother. Regardless, as a literary device, the character Beloved is brilliantly created to trigger the other characters’ development.
Indeed, character development is, to me, the meat of the story. With Beloved’s presence, they are faced with history in slavery, their past actions, and how they are impacted by their past. Beloved’s identity is confused with the beliefs that each character projects to her—whom they think she is.
My favorite parts of the book are when Morrison zooms in to the internal narratives of each character, employing the first-person point of view. The emotions are palpable. The plot’s climaxes are also glorious, in a terrifying way (I won’t spoil any plot).
Zooming out to the social context that Morrison is addressing, Beloved is a powerful painting of what slavery does to humans and their sense of ‘self.’ Multiple times in the novel she describes a fragmenting experience that the characters experience—feeling that their heads, arms, or legs are coming apart, or not recognizing their own voices. Even though the characters are technically free men and women, the trauma of being owned and tortured remains in their lives.
There are two things (for the sake of this short review) that I think Morrison highlights in the novel. One, the impact of slavery is intergenerational. Denver grows up free, but she very much reaps the experiences of her mother and grandmother. The healing process from the evil of slavery is long and arduous. Two, when someone or a people is degraded, all humanity is degraded. Slavery does not only degrade the slaves, but also the perpetrators. A web of humanity connects us all.
Originally published here.
The real question is, How could I not come across Thinking, Fast and Slow? The book was displayed wherever books were sold when it came out in 2011. I was always tempted to buy it due to its very intriguing title, but that year was when I resolved to read the unread books already in my possession. When the Kindle version of the book was on sale for $2.99 last year, I jumped on it. Of course, it took me more than a year to finally read it, but I’m definitely glad I can be counted in the company of those who have finished it!
Thoughts on the Book
I always appreciate books that make me think about thinking and that can refine my thinking. This book details how judgments are made in our mind and warns against false intuitions, biases, and illusions of truth. I posted a few thoughts as I went through the book:
Don’t Jump! – about jumping into conclusions
When Size Matters – about evaluating statistical information
OK, But Not OK. Not OK, But OK – about the discrepancy between perception and reality
I’ll be writing an overall review for BookWoms soon, but in short, I really enjoyed the book!
The subject matter of the book lies in the intersection between economics and psychology. If this book appeals to you, you’d probably also like the following books:
As for me, reading this book makes me want to read these two books by Nassim Taleb, who is quoted a number of times in the book:
The Black Swan (Good thing this book is already on my bookshelf)