Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Review: Beloved

Yesterday, I finished reading "Beloved" for Toni Morrison. The end of every book is sad and painful, especially if it is a novel, not a short story. You feel anxious and wish there was still a few more pages. This is what I felt when I was done with Beloved.

The feeling was aggravated by the way the story ended. You see, Beloved is the story of a baby-girl, murdered by her mother, who haunts her own house and comes back in flesh 18 years after her death because she is kicked out of the house. The amazing thing about Toni Morisson's style is her staggering realism. Reality screams out to you about slavery and its abnormal results. The deconstruction of family unites, alienation, emotional detachment, loss of identity, inevitable insanity. But also all the great results that leaked out of this horrible situation, like black solidarity, survival, etc.

All this made me inevitably think of Beloved as part of the realism literary movement. It particularly reminded me of Zola's L'Assommoir. But in no case is Beloved described as a book that falls under the realist umbrella, at least, I have not found any critique classifying Beloved as realist. But the feeling it produced in me was so similar to L'Assommoir, as well as other realist books I've read.

For sure Beloved is part of the African literature. It is all about African literature, slavery, emancipation, African-American social struggle, white oppression, African culture and myth, etc. That I can understand, what I find surprising is for it being classified as American literature, yes Toni Morisson is American, but reading American literature often left me feeling disappointed, if not completely bored. Beloved just doesn't belong there if you ask me.

In addition, the whole story is so well thought through, the plot, the details, the characters... And though you know the story from the beginning you keep reading, because the more you read the more you realize that you didn't know what you thought you knew. The story begins almost with Paul D showing up at Sethe's door telling her very little about the Sweet Home men, the story ends with the little he knew about Sweet Home men. You would have to wait till the last 100pages to know why Sethe killed Beloved. And though throughout the story you know that the girl that showed up at 124 Bluestone is the murdered Beloved, you close the book asking yourself, was she really the "crawling already?", dearly beloved, murdered baby? Or was she another Beloved, that was also extremely deprived of love and everything else, like "crawling already?" was and filled her position so well because she was so much like her. She needed Sethe (and Denver) and Sethe (and Denver) needed her.

When I was done with the book yesterday, I seriously felt depressed. I felt Beloved was betrayed, that nobody understood her, that she was looked at as a monster, a devil. The situation required Deems' intervention to bring me back to reason. She was the one who recommended Beloved to me, and she had to explain to me that it's ok, that Beloved was in fact a memory. She in fact came back to force the main characters to face their rememories and move on. I wasn't very convinced, I sort of hoped for justice, but she did make sense.

Now, I won't go into the psychological details of the story, I could never gather them all in a post (it would actually need a whole thesis), but do read the book, you'd be amazed how the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, not giving you the answers you wanted, but giving you the answers that life would give you, if you investigate deeply enough.


deema said...

It's ok that you weren't convinced by my analysis of Beloved. :)I mean, yes, what has happened was tragic and very unfair, and we must not forget that. But in the end, the mother couldn't suffer the "sin" of killing her baby all her life. She had to remember, and to forgive herself. And to move on.

I think the weird way everyone in the family acted when Beloved came to them was because they were caught in the horror of their past and they needed to be set free from it.

This is why the best part of the book I think is when Baby Suggs leads the prayers by telling everyone to love their hands, love their necks, to love every part of their bodies (remember that part?)

Anyway, it's been so long since I read that book. I hope I can get the time to reread it and then we can really talk about it.

Pazuzu said...

eh, that was the highlight of the story, bas kamen lamma she goes back to when she first felt like a free woman, noticing for the first time that she owns these hands and she owns a heart that beats :)
which relates to the scene you mentioned, which happened after, but was described afterwards, amazing flashback technique