Toni Morrison's Beloved: Not a Story to be Passed On
Beloved, Toni Morrison's Nobel Prize winning novel, is a masterfully written book in which the characters must deal with a past that perpetually haunts them. This haunting, in the form of a twenty year old ghost named Beloved, not only stalks them in the spirit, but also in the flesh. Beloved, both in story and in character hides the truth in simple ways and convinces those involved that the past never leaves, it only becomes part of who they are. This contortion of truth does not allow any character to escape. Each one hides and runs from the brutality of slavery, yet cannot escape it's heritage. Set in the post-Civil War era of the rural Ohio back roads, each protagonist faces the fact that through Beloved's return they must deal with the ties of the past and the prosperity of the future. And after dealing with those memories that don't let them go, they can move on with their lives. Beloved, the ghostly character, drives this story of Sethe, Denver, and Paul D. to an exploding end of triumph and unity.
The story of Sethe is taken from a true story of a woman who did escape from slavery only to be caught by her past. In Morrison's own words in an interview with Gloria Naylor, she concedes that Sethe is an intriguing character taken from a true account:
I had an idea that I didn't know was a book idea. . . . One was a newspaper clipping about a woman named
Margaret Garner in 1851. It said that the Abolitionists made a great deal out of her case because she had escaped from
Kentucky with her four children. She had run off into a little woodshed right outside her house to kill them because she
had been caught as a fugitive. And she had made up her mind that they would not suffer the way that she had and it was
better for them to die. She succeeded in killing one; she tried to kill two others. She hit them in the head with a shovel
and they were wounded but they didn't die. And there was a smaller one she had at her breast. She had placed all of the
value of her life in something outside herself. That the woman who killed her children loved her children so much; they
were the best part of her and she would not see them sullied. She would not see them hurt. She would rather kill
them, have them die. (Taylor-Guthrie, 207-208).
The same publication that leads Morrison to conjuring up the characters and the story of Beloved also surveys the horrors of slavery in the mid 1800's. Morrison dedicates the book to "Sixty Million and more"(Morrison, i) slaves and acknowledges the freedom that each slave yearned for. This freedom constitutes having the ability to chose one's own responsibilities and loving other people more than you love yourself. (Taylor-Guthrie, 195-196). Morrison's characters stand in for all those slaves and former slaves who were...