I just re-read this book in order to teach it in my literature course and I still believe it deserves five stars. The situation (a dystopian theocrati...moreI just re-read this book in order to teach it in my literature course and I still believe it deserves five stars. The situation (a dystopian theocratic future society in which women are basically slaves and breeders) is interesting and--still!--politically relevant. The prose is lovely and effective. Atwood has a knack for providing telling images and making the reader work with her to construct this world by carefully parcelling out descriptive details. She never resorts to mere infodumps to set the scene, instead, like the poet she is, making sure each detail furthers the development of the book.(less)
Every time I read this book I love it more. Eventually I'll be able to write about it and feel I'm doing it justice. In the meantime, here are a few tho...moreEvery time I read this book I love it more. Eventually I'll be able to write about it and feel I'm doing it justice. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts, beginning with a favorite scene, one that is at the heart of Beloved--Baby Suggs' sermon in the Clearing:
"She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She di dnot tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.
"She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.
"'Here,' she said, 'in this here 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. You got to love it. This is flesh I'm talking about here. flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that neet 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 neck 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.' Saying no more, she stood up then and danced with her twisted hip the rest of what her heart had to say while the others opened their mouths and gave her the music. Long notes held until the four-part harmony was perfect enough for their deeply loved flesh." (88-89)
It is this ethic of self-love that makes possible the love for others and the strength of community that permeates Beloved.
"You your own best thing," Paul D tells Sethe. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially for a woman who has never truly known herself or owned herself. Sethe and Denver both have to learn to see themselves as individuals, learn to see themselves and value themselves. Without this, they will disintegrate or be smothered by a too-thick love. After all, "For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, [Paul D] knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have a little love left over for the next one" (45).
Free from slavery, however, free from the threat of losing children to beatings and slavers, this dangerous, too-thick love can give them strength to find themselves. Sethe insists, "Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't no love at all" (165), and Denver draws on her love for her mother to find the courage to venture into the dangerous world outside of their home and get help. A love that puts another's needs before one's own is still dangerous, as the relationship between Sethe and Beloved attests to, however, which is precisely why self-love and love for others must go hand in hand. (less)