First of all, read the foreword after you finish Beloved. I read it before and, if you don’t already know the plot, it gives it all away.
Moving on… Beloved was definitely the most difficult of the three books I’ve read thus far, both in content and writing style. (Foreword-like Spoiler) The story is about a runaway slave, Sethe. Sethe has four children, but soon after she escapes to freedom, her slave owner comes to take her and her children away. In an attempt to kill herself and all her children to avoid going back to slavery, she only kills one of her daughters and is sent to prison. You find this out about halfway or so through the novel, and all the surrounding details are about her time as a slave, her escape to freedom, and the 18 years since she killed her unnamed daughter. The story jumps from past to present and back again with fragmented memories and perspectives from the many characters in the novel.
The final chapter kept repeating the phrase, ‘This is not a story to pass on’ referring to the fact that all the people who lived in the Ohio town with Sethe eventually forgot about everything that happened. But this also refers to the story as a whole and slavery and how we do not pass those stories on. History class is the only time I hear about slavery and the Civil War. We, as a country (and as white people), try to forget about the wrong doings of our ancestors. Of course, it’s much more difficult for the black community to forget about these events, because no matter how many years have passed since the Civil War, the black community is still facing the repercussions of our white ancestors’ way of thinking. It’s heartbreaking to read a story like this, but it is necessary. It reminds us that we do need to pass these stories on. No matter how much we want to repress our knowledge of any terrible event in history, we must keep it in our memory so that we can both prevent history from repeating itself and try to better understand the members of the black community.
Here are a couple quotes (forgive me for the length of the first one, but I especially loved it)…
“”Here,” she said, “in this place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed, what you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your next unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver – love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.””
“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
Next up, On the Road by Jack Kerouac…