Beloved by Tony Morrison- ‘Beloved’ is written by the American writer Toni Morrison and was published in the year 1987. Toni Morrison is an editor, essayist, novelist, a teacher and professor emeritus of the Princeton University. She won the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her novel ‘Beloved’.
Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. On May 29, 2012 she was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. ‘Beloved’ is set in the years after the American Civil War. A story had appeared in 1856 in a newspaper article, titled “A visit to the Slave Mother who Killed Her Child”. This novel is a take-off on that article.
‘Beloved’ is a story of Sethe, a former slave and her family and the year is 1873. The novel begins with the arrival of Paul D to her house No:124 in Cincinnati. Seeing him she remembers her past and story travels on two planes, one in the present and the other in the past. Recollecting the past Sethe remembers that Paul. D, Halle, her husband, she and many others were the slaves of Mr Garner’s Sweet Home. Fortunately for them Mr Garner was a compassionate master. Sethe was a young girl when she was bought by Mr Garner and all the men eyed her. She married Halle. Soon Mr Garner dies and his brother takes over and things are the not the same thereafter.
They all try to escape but in vain. Some of them are killed. Seethe is still intent on running away with her children, who were three in number. She was pregnant with the fourth. But she is caught and her breast milk is taken off by the nephews of the new master, called School teacher. Halle is a witness to this, unknown to the perpetrators of the crime and he goes mad and later dies. Sethe reports the crime to Mrs Garner and the School Teacher whips Sethe for it.
Sethe next attempt to run away with the children is successful and white girl called Amy Denver helps her and she delivers the fourth baby on the run and names her Denver. Stamp Paid is another man who helps her and she reaches her mother-in-laws house. Baby Suggs , her mother-in-law welcomes them after cleaning Sethe first.
Sethe spends nearly a month in peace and after twenty eight days the School Teacher comes to take her back to slavery. She takes her children and run away from him and she prefers death to being a slave. Sethe runs to the woodshed and tries to kill her children and slits the throat of her older daughter with a handsaw. She is caught and taken to the jail. The headstone of the murdered child was named ‘beloved’. Meanwhile a group of abolitionists ensured her Sethe’s release. Sethe returns to her house 124 in Cincinnati.
Sethe’s sons run away from the home fearing the ghost of their sister. Denver the daughter is a recluse. It is into this situation that Paul. D walks in and he revives his love for Sethe. The story does not end here. One day they see a girl dripping wet sitting outside their house named Beloved and then things change. Sethe feels it’s her daughter who had comeback and she begins to pay all her attention on her.
Paul.D wonders why and it’s then he hears the story of the killing and he leaves immediately. Beloved literally sucks up on her mother. She becomes fat and Sethe becomes very thin. Beloved threw tantrums and Sethe tried to fulfil all her whims and fancies. Meanwhile Denver goes out to seek help from her teacher. Mr Bodwin come to help Denver, Sethe thinks it’s the School Teacher and goes to kill him. All present there stop her and in the melee Beloved disappears forever. Soon,Paul Dreturns and tries to bring things back to normalcy as now Sethe was a broken woman.
Characters in the novel
Sethe is the protagonist of the novel. She escapes slavery and lives with her mother-in-law in a house 124. She is a proud woman and could not accept going back to slavery days. To avoid this she is ready to kill herself and the children but ends up killing her eldest daughter only. She was a bold and rough too. Sethe would steal food rather than wait in the line. She is tender too so succumbs to the ways of Beloved.
Beloved is a stranger who walks into the life of Sethe. But she is of a mysterious character. Whether she is a girl of flesh and blood or a revenant is to be figured out by the readers. She appears one day and disappears after a few months. She is of the same age as Sethe’s older daughter had she lived. Though a young girl her soft skin, linguistic ability and behaviour was that of a child. Her name also indicates that she could be a revenant as Sethe had inscribed ‘Beloved’ on the headstone.
Paul D, with whom the plot starts, is one who shared the slavery days with Sethe and her husband Halle. He has painful memories but represses it and does not get attached to anyone. But women tend to confide in him. Sethe provides stability to him but he is shattered on hearing the killing of Sethe’s daughter and leaves 124. Eventually he returns to bring Sethe to a normal life.
Denver the last daughter is a recluse. Baby Suggs is bought by her son Halle and is set free. She is a preacher and she inspired people even after her death. School Teacher is the one who takes over Sweet Home of Garner. He is sadistic, cruel and cold. There are other characters like Stamp Paid, Amy Denver, Mrs and Mr Bodwin , Lady Jones, Mrs and Mr Garner, Halle and other slaves of Sweet Home.
The major themes of the novel ‘Beloved’ are psychological impact of slavery and mother-daughter relationship. Slavery breaks people physically and psychologically. They are taunted so much that sometimes they feel the physical torture is better. Sethe felt School Teacher’s taunts about her animalistic characteristic more painful than their sexual and physical abuse. The mother-daughter relationship in this novel is a little different. She is very passionate about protecting her children and at the same abhors the slavery life. So she resorts to killing her children to prevent them from becoming slaves; an honour killing of sorts. Community solidarity also comes through in the story. Pain and family relationships are other minor themes.
124, is the house where most of the incidents occur. The house is almost a character in the story and its clear with this line “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children.” In the story of the past ‘Sweet Home’ of the Garners is the place where most of incidents occur.
“Beloved is one of the few American novels that take every natural element of the novel form and exploit it thoroughly, but in balance with all the other elements.” Jane Smiley – Novelist and Essayist
Beloved also challenges the ‘old school’ standards by which novels have been evaluated –- based on factors such as poetic writing, creative use of language, metaphor, etc. Yes, you can find these elements in Beloved, but they are a little beside the point. Morrison herself has admitted to getting “annoyed at people who said there were poetic things in my writing.” - Ted Gioia, Musician and Author.