Beloved by Toni Morrison is a stunning piece of literature about the life of a ‘free’ slave. Like many people following the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I was keen to diversify my reading, so my friend lent me Beloved. (My reading isn’t entirely white, middle class woman – I’ve read My Sister the Serial Killer and The Confessions of Frannie Langton this year – but it is definitely mainly white, middle class woman.)
Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, where she lives with her daughter, Denver. But 18 years later, she still isn’t really free. Her life as a slave at Sweet Home farm has cast too many shadows on her life. She lost her husband and her children and doesn’t know if they are alive or dead. Most of all, she is haunted by the death of her baby girl, whose tombstone was engraved with a single word ‘Beloved’.
Beloved is a beautiful and thought provoking read about the life of slaves. Women were expected to produce as many babies as possible, to provide their owners with more slaves. Both women and men were worked almost to death by whitepeople (always one word in the book). Sethe and her family and friends knew that you could never trust whitepeople – even the ones who seemed to be kind.
Since the death of Sethe’s mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, Sethe and Denver have lived a quiet life. But that life is disturbed by the arrival of a beautiful stranger and of Paul D, one of the other slaves from Sweet Home. Paul D’s tales of the life Sethe left behind are troubling, while he worries about what Sethe has really become. And as Sethe and Denver both seek to impress the beautiful stranger, she starts to create havoc for the two women.
If you want to understand more about slavery and its legacy, Beloved is a brilliant read, which will stay with you for a long time to come. But if you’re looking for an easy read, you probably haven’t come to the right place.
Beloved is a challenging read on many levels, but if you are happy with that, you won’t be disappointed.