Beloved

This book is the one I enjoyed the most for Part 4. We learned about the history of slavery in America before reading the book and I think this helped me have an interest because I could sort of imagine it in real life. While I couldn’t relate to most of it because first of all most of it was supernatural, second of all it happened a long time ago, I could sympathize and put myself in Sethe, or Denver’s situation. I think the most interesting part of the book isn’t the plot but the gradual understanding of Sethe as a character. In this sense, this book reminds me of To the Lighthouse because it isn’t about the plot as much as it is about learning about the characters and seeing a 3 dimensional view of them as a person and not a character.

I didn’t understand the ending of the book where Denver leaves Sethe and I really wish that they hadn’t left Halle’s story hanging. But I can see that it isn’t really the main focus of the book and sometimes readers are left with a better memory of a book that requires them to draw a conclusion themselves. While Sethe is a very well-developed character that seems 3 dimensional and has many sides like most people do, I didn’t like Denver and Paul D as much as Sethe as a character just because of first impressions and they don’t seem as developed as Sethe. Maybe I’m biased… but thats the whole point of an opinion.

What I found most interesting about this book are the names. Before talking to Mr. Macknight about the names of the characters, I didn’t realize that names were held so importantly. To us, names are something we are born with, and we can change them fairly easily. We think of them as a birthright. But to them, they don’t have names with family history and the names they have are just purely a label for their owners to control.

“Beloved” Personal Response

Hi everyone!

How do you feel after finishing all the books for IB?

I actually enjoyed “Beloved” quite a lot. I enjoyed the starting and ending the most, and didn’t really find the middle too attractive. I think that is because I don’t really like Beloved. I found her kind of disturbing. The other thing was that I actually had a more positive feeling towards Denver at the start of the book. Partly because I sympathised with her, but also because I didn’t understand the rest of the characters that  much yet. But when Beloved comes into the book as a human, it really annoys me. This is because Denver seems to be pushed around by Beloved, and she does not think logically at all! After that I somehow began to like Sethe more. Probably because she actually feels bad about what she did to her children. It is interesting that she still does not admit that she did anything exactly “bad” though. She preservers that it was the right thing to do at the moment.

The book is very interesting in it’s way of writing. At the start it was just confusing, but then when you find out that Morrison is not giving information to us on purpose, I got hanged onto the story. There were so many unknown things that I wanted to find out about. And these things do not end up like small things that have been exaggerated like some other writers, but the unknown things were actually things that had great importance and impacts. That is where I find Morrison a good writer, there is no need to create false excitement, because the secrets of the characters are actually real big things! So there is this consistency with not telling the reader what is going on all the time in “Beloved”. You really have to get to the end of the page or section to finally be able to say “I get it now!” This also created excitement for me, as it was a time when I suddenly understood everything, and it all came to place together. Even some voices by the characters could not be recognised who it was from until you at least start reading into it a bit more.  The amazing thing is that although it was not told to us exactly, we are able to tell who is saying what or thinking what.

This is similar to “To the Lighthouse” in the sense that the thoughts of the characters are written out directly, and there is a lot of ambiguity in it. In “Beloved”, it is mostly seen in the second half, where as in “To the Lighthouse,” it is seen throughout the book.

Oh, and I have to mention that I love Paul D. He’s such a reliable character (kinda), and so nice! But then I wonder why Sethe didn’t notice him at Sweet Home as much. Since after she met him at her house after 18 years, they seemed to click. Or maybe the book doesn’t explain that part of it, it just mentions that she was good with all the guys I guess.

Beloved PR

Beloved is probably my favorite book out of all the Group 3 books we’ve read so far. The book is not challenging to read or make you want to tear your hair out due to confusion, Morrison uses quite a simple structure along with language, making it quite simple to track ongoing events,thus making it simple for the reader to enjoy the book.  My favorite part of the books are when Morrison melds the past and the present together when Sethe remembers her past in an subtle flashback. The fact that the book starts off with multiple references to the past leaves us with questions of “What happened?” or “What’s she talking about?” This compels us to read further ahead in order to find out more details about said events.

From the first few pages of the book I could already see the fact that it was a ghost story of some sort; that supernatural events were not unexpected and infact seemingly common. However I didn’t expect that the ghost would actually take a solid form and return as someone that has abilities resembling a  wraith, slowly sucking the life out of Sethe. In the beginning Sethe seemed like a realist, someone who has seen the horrors of the world and come to have accepted it. However after the return of Beloved we can see Sethe’s entire personality change, she became more of an idealist, believing that her family was now complete, the whole world seemed to fade away and with it Sethe’s health. In a way Beloved could be seen as a catalyst of age. When she arrived Sethe seemed to age and lose touch with the world while Denver too aged and became more mature; going out to work in order to earn money for the family and begging for food from the community.

This book also presented the era of slavery quite well, going from the kinder owners (the Garners) to the crueler ones (Schoolteacher). It presented both sides quite well to show an unbiased view of it.

Beloved

Beloved was interesting. It seems like for the first time, there was a solid story line to follow through the entire novel. Because of this storyline and clear progression of characters, this was a much easier read compared to Woolf’s ‘To the lighthouse’ and Conrads ‘Heart of Darkness’ and James’ ‘Turn of the screw’. I really like the narrative style of this novel.

I felt like ‘To the Lighthouse’ really helped prepare me for reading this novel. In the sense that I am now made more aware of the inner conflicts within individual characters, and I understand why the characters are constructed better. Through the ‘stream of consciousness’ concept in woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’, I learnt to look at the stream of consciousness of each of the characters. This helped me to better deal with the novel when Paul D, Sethe and other characters seemed to leak out their past in drips and draps. I can now appreciate their thought process and that these drips and draps of information was done on purpose by Morrison, to let us see the inner conflict within the individual characters. How they do not want to remember the past, how they are trying to block out painful memories. Through these, we are able to gain a better understanding of the characters.

The use of language in Beloved was really clever, I could really hear the individual’s voices, yet on the whole, there was a collective ‘VOICE’ that spoke to me. Putting all the individual voices together- i.e. Baby Suggs, Sethe, Denver and Beloved, I got the voice of black slave women in America. Their experiences and thought collectively and individually really gave me a complete all rounded illustration of the slave woman experience. There is a nice musical flowing rhythm within the novel that lets me better appreciate the flow of the novel better.

Though the whole concept of the supernatural was new to me, how ghosts could come back and haunt the living in such a literal and physical manner was disturbing at times. But after I wrapped my head around the concept, I understood that this whole concept better by understanding the ideas it conveyed rather than what actually happens in the novel.

 

“Beloved” Response

I found the first half of Beloved very engaging.  The way Morrison chose to tell the story kept me interested.  The story starts off in the present, with Sethe at house 124 near Cincinnati.  As the book goes on, fragments of each of the character’s pasts are recalled.  I think it was this fragmented recollection of the past that sustained my interest and I’m sure kept many other readers curious as well.  However, a little more than halfway through the book the recollections catch up with the present and the pivotal event of the novel is told.  After this climax, I found the rest of the book less interesting.  With the story essentially over, but some hundred pages left to read, I was pretty disappointed.  I think this was because I didn’t relate to the personal and emotional side of Beloved.

Besides the retelling of actual events, Morrison also focuses heavily on the thoughts and feelings of the central characters.  While some passages were artfully written, I found the emotion that permeated the book excessive.  I think this abundance of emotion is key in Morrison illustrating the struggle of African-American women in America.  Her lyrical writing aids her in conveying this emotion throughout the novel.  It is strong as a piece of literature, but personally it is not something that I enjoy in a novel.

Beloved personal response

‘Beloved’ is one of the books I’ve read with very strong ‘hook’ which encourages the readers to continue reading. The most notable feature to me in this book was frequent, sudden revelations that betray the reader’s assumption and make the whole story more appealing. Examples of such can be firstly the re-birth of Beloved. By seeing the title and first few chapters, I assumed that the book will be a memoir about the lost girl Beloved and how she still remains in Sethe and Denver’s mind. This was because there was not much mentioning of Beloved- probably a reflection of Sethe’s effort to suppress all the bad memories- other than the baby ghost’s appearance. However, us readers are shocked by Beloved coming back in human form. She gradually ‘consumes’ Sethe, and we begin to feel just like Ella who ‘didn’t like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present’.

Secondly, most of Sethe’s past was hidden and was disclosed slowly. When Beloved comes back, Sethe’s negation of Beloved as her dead daughter makes us wonder about their relationship and Sethe’s memory. As if to satisfy reader’s inquiry, Sethe’s memory is revealed- about killing Beloved to prevent them from going back to the Sweet Home. By discovering more about Sethe and other characters from the revelation of past, it makes the ending of the story more complete and successfully engages the reader.

 

Another interesting feature is the poetic quality of the novel. There are lots of repeated phrases and songs, even events, which give subtle rhythm to the novel as a whole. Beloved keeps repeating ‘hot thing’ in her monologue, Paul D repeats ‘red heart’, song with lyrics ‘Bare feet and chamomile sap’ recurs. This repetition sometimes occur few lines after, or even few chapters later, and these notable repetitions bring us back to the part where they first occurred, and helps us to go back into the past and to the present again just like the structure of the novel. Also, the event of Sethe being chased by the slavecatchers happens once in her past, and once in the present with Beloved. Sethe attempts to kill all her children when slavecatcher comes, and she buried this memory for ages. However as she begin to accept that Beloved is her daughter, she sees the image of the same slave catcher when 30 village women tries to pray for her to chase out the ‘evil’. These repetitions of similar events seem to show the realization of Sethe. After the second event, when she recalls the past memory herself and tries to kill the white man, Paul D comes back again, and acknowledges her that her best thing is not others such as Beloved but herself. So the repeating event seems to convey Sethe slowly realizing her value, and accepting her past.

 

After finishing the novel, I began to wonder whether if Beloved actually helped Sethe and Denver. From how Sethe got thinner and weaker by Beloved’s arrival, how Paul D is chased away, and how Denver feels threatened by Beloved’s effect on Sethe, Beloved seems to be harm to their family. But from ‘repeating event’ above, it seems like Beloved helped Sethe to take out and accept her past, and to know the true value of Sethe herself when Beloved disappears.

Toni Morrison interview

INTERVIEWER

Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject?

MORRISON

No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1888/the-art-of-fiction-no-134-toni-morrison