On the Southern Literary Trail discussion

Beloved
This topic is about Beloved
80 views
Group Reads: Post-1980 > Beloved, by Toni Morrison: September 2012

Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Zorro (ZorroM) | 163 comments Everitt wrote: "Now for a second set of questions: is Beloved, written by Toni Morrison, born in Ohio, educated in Washington DC and upstate New York and resident of the same plus Connecticut and Massachusetts (Yale and Bard College) Southern literature? I've heard the book classified as magical realism - what do you think about that? Must Southern lit necessarily preclude science fiction, fantasy and magic remaining in the provinces of realism, romanticism and gothic traditions?"

I do not see this book as a Southern novel. Yes, it is definitely magical realism and the readers will hopefully be able to 'suspend disbelief' and read it as the characters in the book live their lives in this dimension of magical realism.

I do not see any feminism in the writings of the authors you mention.


Jessie J (subseti) | 324 comments Everitt wrote: "Ok I found this today while looking up something on slipstream fiction. I'd never heard of slipstream before so got curious and looked up a list of the best books. I was shocked to see "Beloved" li..."

The only other book on the list that I've read is "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut. I really like Vonnegut. This was a book that a forward- thinking English teacher in my little rural high school had us read when I was a freshman or sophomore.


Jessie J (subseti) | 324 comments Everitt wrote: "Ok I found this today while looking up something on slipstream fiction. I'd never heard of slipstream before so got curious and looked up a list of the best books. I was shocked to see "Beloved" li..."

From your spoiler on this post, here's mine:

(view spoiler)


Jessie J (subseti) | 324 comments Everitt wrote: "Now for a second set of questions: is Beloved, written by Toni Morrison, born in Ohio, educated in Washington DC and upstate New York and resident of the same plus Connecticut and Massachusetts (Yale and Bard College) Southern literature?"

I think this is a trickier question. First, what is the place of African American literature in Southern literature? Second, what is Morrison's place in African American literature? Third, what is the place of the Northern/Western, post-Civil-War "transplant" in Southern literature (black or white)?

I used the Civil War as the cut off, but there might be a more appropriate date.


message 5: by Randall (new)

Randall Luce | 109 comments "Is Beloved, written by Toni Morrison, born in Ohio, educated in Washington DC and upstate New York and resident of the same plus Connecticut and Massachusetts (Yale and Bard College) Southern literature?"

I've read Beloved before -- I'd rank it third among the her novels I've read, after Song of Solomon (the second half of that book soars) and Paradise. I'm kind of resisting reading it now, again, in part because I'm a little uncomfortable calling it "Southern Literature."

My problem is that, for me, to call a book "Southern" merely because it tackles slavery and racism is to segregate slavery and its aftermath within the South. Those of us who aren't southern can distance ourselves from that era in our history. "Not my color, not my kind."

But in it's early days slavery was nation-wide (see this) and, of course, the post-bellum after-effects of segregation and racism were not limited to the South. I find it interesting that Morrison writes about the early days of slavery (A Mercy), or it's aftermath (Beloved), and stays at the institution's geographic borders.

To me, she's saying, bring it down from the attic. After all, before we thought it crazy, it had its place in the parlor.


Deborah | 62 comments In the end, I don't think Toni Morrison said it was Southern Literature - we did. We nominated and voted for it.

With all the things that we can say about this book, I don't think defining whether various literary tags can be applied are the most important.


Kathy Duffy Thomas (Kathy_Duffy_Thomas) | 23 comments Everitt wrote: "Ok, I've never read this one before. Perhaps some of you have? If so please feel free to jump in and share your resources and thoughts here.

I know Oprah Winfrey loves the book and has done it in..."


I read Beloved when I was in college the second time. I was taking a course in Latin American literature, with a heavy emphasis on magic realism in its different forms. My Brazilian professor insisted that North Americans didn't have magic realism. I believe Beloved is magic realism... the ghosts and other spiritual aspects are just there and accepted. It's not a ghost story, it's about a place and time where ghosts are family. I think there are aspects of magic realism in other southern novels.


Jessie J (subseti) | 324 comments Deborah wrote: "In the end, I don't think Toni Morrison said it was Southern Literature - we did. We nominated and voted for it.

With all the things that we can say about this book, I don't think defining whethe..."


Well said.


Zorro (ZorroM) | 163 comments I hope you who are reading Beloved will comment as you read.

I just re-read the first section and may decide that I do need to read this book again, although I did not intend to.

Baby ghost is causing all kinds of problems for her family.


Deborah | 62 comments Zorro, I think you should re-read - depending of course on how recently you read it the first time.

For me it's been close to a quarter of a century since my first read. I remembered that it was pretty.

I'm so glad that I was prompted to read again. This is a rare book in that it is both beautiful and difficult. It demands from the reader an open thoughtfulness and examination of the way we are in the world. It makes us examine how we function in society, what we demand of our neighbors and ourselves. Where we draw lines and our capacity for empathy.

I think you should take it up. If you regret it, you can always put it down again.


message 11: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 2672 comments Mod
Deborah, I was going to comment on this book, but you just said everything that was in my head to say. I, too, read this book about 25 years ago and loved it. Because of time committments this month I will not do a re-read; it was a difficult book that took a lot out of me emotionally. I remember one scene where she was doing the hair of her mistress while her baby was being stung by bees where she had left her outside under a tree, and she couldn't go to her. I was a young mother with a baby at the time, and the empathy I felt for her was devastating. It was the first book that made me really understand how agonizing and dehumanizing slavery was to African Americans, if that doesn't sound too arrogant. After all, how can a white woman make a statement like that without sounding like an idiot?


Zorro (ZorroM) | 163 comments Diane said: "It was the first book that made me really understand how agonizing and dehumanizing slavery was to African Americans, if that doesn't sound too arrogant. After all, how can a white woman make a statement like that without sounding like an idiot? "

I felt as you did, Diane. I also felt guilty...I know it doesn't make sense, but I felt guilty because my ancestors were slave owners and held these humans as if they were their livestock.


message 13: by Lawyer, "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 3202 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "In the end, I don't think Toni Morrison said it was Southern Literature - we did. We nominated and voted for it.

With all the things that we can say about this book, I don't think defining whethe..."


Randall wrote: ""Is Beloved, written by Toni Morrison, born in Ohio, educated in Washington DC and upstate New York and resident of the same plus Connecticut and Massachusetts (Yale and Bard College) Southern lite..."

I think both Randall and Deborah have made valid points. However, not only have members of this group classified "Beloved" as Southern Literature. "Beloved appears at number 16 on "The Oxford American's" List of 500 best Southern Novels.

Here's what Diane Roberts, a professor of literature and writing at Florida State University and Fellow in Creative Writing specializing in Southern Culture at the University of Northumbria, one of OA's judges had to say:

“Though Morrison is an Ohioan and the bulk of BELOVED takes place across the river Eliza Harris crossed so memorably in UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, the novel is ‘Southern’ in that it is in profound conversation not only with UNCLE TOM’S CABIN but also Faulkner’s GO DOWN, MOSES, ABSALOM, ABSALOM!, and THE UNVANQUISHED (among others). Morrison makes authentic the voice of the slave…. Besides, as Henry Louis Gates has said of African Americans, no matter where they were born, ‘we are all Southerners’.” —Diane Roberts


The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson lends credence to Gates' statement quoted by Roberts above.

After having received a message from Zorro regarding the same question--"Is it Southern?" I said I'd dig into the question and get back. It's been a while. I've stretched myself thin with too many reads.

Frankly, I was amazed at the number of Southern Literary Reviews that also classify "Beloved" as a Southern novel. Take a run through EBESCO or JSTOR, one of which should be available at your public library.

It's also interesting to consider Ms. Morrison's biography. Her father was from Georgia. He moved his family to Lorain, Ohio, to escape the racism he experienced in the South. Morrison was born there in 1931. Southern black songs and folklore were a significant part of her childhood. She has described her mother and father as being very proud of their heritage and that as her father had been subjected to racism in Georgia, he held a prejudice against whites. Morrison is a Southerner one generation removed.

Morrison initially wished to be a dancer. However, she also loved to read. After graduating from high school, she attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., majoring in English and minoring in Classics. She joined a touring repertory theater company, taking several tours through the South in the 1950s where she saw examples of what her father had described firsthand.

While I certainly agree with Randall that slavery was not limited to the South, Southerners doggedly hung on to the inhumane practice longer than any region in America. I also agree that racism exists in every part of our country and that multiple cultures are subject to it.

But in the final analysis, I have no disagreement with "Beloved's" classification as Southern Literature, any more than I would have a problem classifying Bernice McFadden's Gathering of Waters being classified as Southern Literature, which dealt with the murder of Emmett Till.

I am on my second read of "Beloved," approximately a third done with it. I feel as though I've sat down with a friend I've not seen for a long time. And as at our last meeting, she still tells me the truth that is far from easy to hear.

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


Deborah | 62 comments There is a one star review from a woman who hated this book. One of the first thing she said in her review that was that she hated all the characters. She was particularly appalled by the rape of cows. How can you read a book about people who rape cows.

It's an image that comes early in the book and it is shocking. So, I've been mulling over Morrison's intention. I have some ideas. I wondered what other people thought.


message 15: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 2672 comments Mod
How about the same thing in "The Hamlet"? That was quite a chapter, and hilarious.


Zorro (ZorroM) | 163 comments And the watermelons in Suttree!


Deborah | 62 comments I saw it as far more sinister. I thought it showed the men of Sweet Home as diminished. I think it also served to grant a certain majesty to Sethe as though they even at their worst wanted her to see them only at their best.

I think it also established that she would not go easy on her characters or her readers.


Zorro (ZorroM) | 163 comments Morrison's use of bestiality also echos "slavery's chattel principle, which equated slaves with livestock"


Deborah | 62 comments Yes. I was thinking that as well, but had trouble articulating it.


Allen | 2 comments Zorro wrote: "Morrison's use of bestiality also echos "slavery's chattel principle, which equated slaves with livestock""

Right, and I feel like it's referencing the fact that many of the slaves were so programmed to believe that they were nothing more than livestock, that they began to act in that way. When they spoke of leaving the 13 year old Sethe be, it was as if where she was new and perhaps unbroken, they wanted to leave her that way and not let her reach the place of abjection they were currently inhabiting.


message 21: by Randall (last edited Sep 19, 2012 10:01PM) (new)

Randall Luce | 109 comments Allen wrote: "I feel like it's referencing the fact that many of the slaves were so programmed to believe that they were nothing more than livestock ...."

I have to disagree. They were horny, with no opportunities (other than that "30 mile woman"). Morrison, I beieve, was trying to show one of the absurdities of the slave system, that would so impede the everyday freedoms that, today, we all take for granted.

Morrison's whole point there, especially the men allowing Sethe to wait and decide for herself who her husband would be, was that no matter what the system said they were, they themselves did not think of themselves as subhuman, and merely chattel. Paul D's behavior in the rest of the book doesn't covey to me that he thought of himself as no better than a piece of livestock.

(And, while we're on the subject of cow rape, I'm glad that here, Morrison ignored the writer's advice to "show, don't tell.") ;)

On a different point, I think Morrison's portrait of the slave-holder as being somewhat humane ("I treat my slaves as men") also serves to show that an individual's motives counted for very little in a system that was, to its core, evil.


Zorro (ZorroM) | 163 comments I am surprised that there have been so few posts here.


Deborah | 62 comments Me too!


kisha Everitt wrote: "Ok, I've never read this one before. Perhaps some of you have? If so please feel free to jump in and share your resources and thoughts here.

I know Oprah Winfrey loves the book and has done it in..."


I am a very big fan of Toni Morrison's writing. I am also a fan of Southern Lit and Historical Fic. I don't think that I would classify it as Southern Lit. Similar to what Randall stated, that would be excluding slavery and racism to a "down south" thing and it wasn't. Though it was more popular and lasted longer in the south, it wasn't exempt in northern areas. I definitely don't consider it feminist either. Beloved is a story partly based on an old wives tale that says "people who die hard dont stay in the ground." In this book she basically brought to life what some people believed happened when people died a hard death. I wouldnt necessarily label it magical because some people truly believe in ghost or spirits lingering the earth and haunting and taunting people. I beleive this story was about sacrifice, about a mothers love for her children, about strength and endurance, and pride far more than it was about slavery or southern behavior or even ghost for that matter. If it is so important that it has a label or genre, I would say historical fiction.


Zorro (ZorroM) | 163 comments Kisha, I agree with all you say and I think that in order to read Beloved with understanding, I have to suspend any disbelief in ghosts, spirits haunting and taunting that I have, and I have to read the book as the characters in the story lived it.

Beloved made a really big impact on me when I read it with Oprah and then saw the movie.
This month while you all read Beloved, I read A Mercy by Toni Morrison


message 27: by Lawyer, "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 3202 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Me too!"

Me three! *grin* For what it is worth, here is my review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


kisha Zorro wrote: "Kisha, I agree with all you say and I think that in order to read Beloved with understanding, I have to suspend any disbelief in ghosts, spirits haunting and taunting that I have, and I have to re..."

Mercy is one that I haven't read. I think I will definitely put that on my 'to read' list.


message 29: by Deborah (last edited Sep 30, 2012 08:00AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Deborah | 62 comments Sorry guys and thank you Kisha. I didn't think think about people not having finished yet. (view spoiler)


kisha Deborah wrote: "I remember at one point while reading I had the impression that Beloved was pregnant. Was that really something that I took from the text or did I just imagine it? If I didn't imagine it what was t..."

*SPOILER* for those who haven't read or completed it. Yes, Deborah she was pregnant by Paul D. I'm not exactly sure of Morrision's intentions there, maybe drawing attention to lack of birth control and to let people know that at that point she was no longer a ghost but was there in the flesh. And you have a very valid point, what would she have given birth too?! IDK????


Beverly | 194 comments Everitt wrote: "Ok I found this today while looking up something on slipstream fiction. I'd never heard of slipstream before so got curious and looked up a list of the best books. I was shocked to see "Beloved" li..."I joined the group Sept 16 so I am trying to catch up on all the discussions. I read Beloved and did find it interesting though difficult to follow. I like your comment to look at it as "'an effect' as much as a story." I do believe that would make it an easier read.


Jessie J (subseti) | 324 comments Zorro wrote: "I am surprised that there have been so few posts here."

I'm afraid I didn't have time to do our September reads, and I feel very guilty about it. I have the book--maybe I'll be able to reread and come back to this discussion later?


message 33: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue | 548 comments I wasn't able to get to this during September but plan to in the future.


back to top