Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide
"Beloved" by Toni Morrison
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Toni Morrison is the first African American Nobel Prize Literature winner for body of work “characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Morrison’s grandfather was born a slave in Alabama. Morrison said her family was "intimate with the supernatural," told ghost stories, and found signs to predict the future.
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Toni Morrison’s Beloved burrows under the lofty language of the founding fathers and straight into the great American horror: the slavery and the caste system. America as an ideal was a mirage and every one of us bears the violent ripple effects raging across the American ecosystem to this day.
The first time I read Beloved in the late 1980s, I’d just given birth to my first child. I was swollen and bruised, leaky and emotional and deeply in love with the little blob of exhausting flesh in my lap. My entire body throbbed with that mysterious hormonal brew of maternal ferocity when Seth entered my consciousness (while aforementioned lap-blob napped between feedings). Seth pulled me under the tidy facts of school-book-learning, because she was me: throbbing, ferocious, swollen and in the throes of mother-love. Except Seth’s babies were born into slavery and certain violence, degradation and broken bones. My baby was borne to the caste perpetrating that bone-crushing brutality. The American tragedy happens on mother’s laps, generation to generation. What a God awful truth for mothers. Because if that caste system turned my perfect lap-blob love-baby into a malevolent monster, I’d be ruined.
There is no “othering” or safe distance from the violence wrought on mothers and babies in Beloved, and the long fingers of muscle memory happen on laps, at dinner tables, on street corners and Capitol steps, on knees or under them, to this day. It’s the American tragedy, our unkept secret and national shame. Toni Morrison made sure we felt it where it hurts most, on mothers’ laps.
Former slave's unimaginable past, PTSD, ghost, intrusive visitor, and loves
Sethe describes infanticide.
There have been attempts, a few successful, to ban Beloved from school curricula because of the very real violence and American atrocities Beloved recounts: infanticide, gang rape, lynching, vicious whippings, and cruel privation. This work of fiction is based on actual events in the life of Margaret Garner and others like her, and is dedicated to the sixty million individuals who died enslaved.
12 hours narrated by Toni Morrison or 321 pages challenge the reader with shocking content that unfolds via “rememory” flashback fragments from several characters.
Reparation. When you’ve done the unspeakable – slavery – fair treatment of Black citizens is the absolute minimum required response.
This novel provides the perspective of Black enslaved people on suffering during and after enslavement.
Serve two buckets of blackberries and stop right there. Don’t go overboard and host a fancy feast for the entire neighborhood that makes people jealous.
“to get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire – well now, that was freedom.”
Would you choose to kill your own child rather than send her back into slavery?
How did slavery shape the identity of victims? White slave owners? Americans today?
What did you learn about slavery in school? What have you learned about slavery in your recent past?
How is the Black Lives Matter movement connected to this novel?
See slaughterhouses of Cincinnati, Ohio and travel to “the bloody side of the Ohio River” to Boone County, Kentucky where Margaret Garner was born on a plantation. Ask Cincinnati’s mayor to give you a tour of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House and find out the city has not named a library for Toni Morrison who was a Cincinnati library page as a young lady. ed house.
“Beloved” 1998; “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” (2019 documentary)
Morrison’s libretto for 2005 opera “Margaret Garner.” “A Mercy” is Morrison’s 2008 novel about slavery in 17th-century America.