Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

“It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves.”

Reading this novel it is clear that Morrison’s Nobel Prize award was certainly deserved! ‘Beloved’ is a poignant and truly impactful story that follows Sethe and her family as they attempt to deal with the ghosts of their past; from brutal memories of slavery that are slowly unraveled to the ghost of Beloved that continues to haunt 124. This story sheds light onto a reality of slavery that is far too often overlooked, and succeeds in telling the story of those ‘Sixty Million and more’ whose stories have been spoken over and ignored. The brutal scenes in this novel can become hard to read, but this only makes them all the more important considering Morrison’s aim to represent an unfiltered story of slavery and the subsequent trauma faced by so many.

Throughout the novel, Morrison expertly fleshes out all of her characters using structure  and almost lyrical prose, and explores a multitude of themes including the importance of family, community, motherhood, trauma and masculinity. The complex, non- linear narrative serves to reveal the stories of all of the respective characters gradually, and in a way that eventually loops back to Sethe’s major source of trauma: her life at Sweethome and death of her child. Through the memories of Paul D, Denver and Beloved not only are we able to piece Sethe’s story together, but we are also able to make connections with the characters and better understand their motivations for taking the actions they do. This means of exploring Denver is one that I found particularly interesting as her story is majorly linked to the theme of community as she struggles through a life of isolation until she feels she is forced to take action and mend connections to save her family toward the end of the novel.

The magical realism that is apparent in this novel is largely metaphoric, and did a great job of aiding the story that Morrison was trying to tell. The inclusion of Beloved’s perspective when it seems she was between life and death helped to add another dimension to this story, and again provided the audience with an important means of understanding the trauma present throughout the entire novel.

This theme of trauma is also heavily linked to the themes of masculinity present throughout the novel, particularly in relation to Paul D. Much of this character’s trauma appears to come back to this idea of manhood which he begins questioning in relation to his recognition that he was never truly free on Sweethome even before schoolteacher arrived. From this moment right to the end of the novel we see his questions surrounding his manhood and his desperate need to prove his masculinity influence each of the actions he takes. Morrison cleverly uses this as means of reflecting how trauma can effect people in different ways, and how actions that are the result of trauma can effect many of the surrounding people. It was this element of the story that I found particularly interesting, and really made me more inclined to read more!

There is so much more I could discuss about this novel since the narrative is so densely packed, but I will end by saying that this was a brutal but brilliant and impactful book that has definitely become a firm favorite.

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