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2020 books > February 2020 - Beloved

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message 1: by Z. (last edited Jan 16, 2020 01:55PM) (new)

Z. F. (zee_eff) Our February Blender selection is Toni Morrison's 1987 novel Beloved, which uses conventions of literary and historical fiction, magical realism, Southern Gothic, and ghost stories to grapple with the inescapable legacy of American slavery. The novel is a modern classic which earned Morrison the Pulitzer Prize, was adapted into a 1998 film starring Oprah Winfrey, and was voted the best American work of fiction between 1981 and 2006 by a New York Times survey of writers and critics. It's a fitting book to read this Black History Month, especially in light of Morrison's passing last August.

As always, please share whatever thoughts and opinions you may have here, and I can't wait to discuss on February 19!


message 2: by Lucy (new)

Lucy (lucy47) | 141 comments This is a remarkable book, and listening to the author read it is such a gift! I'm a little past 1/3 thru, and marvel at Morrison's language and unblinking courage in telling this story.


message 3: by Z. (new)

Z. F. (zee_eff) Lucy wrote: "This is a remarkable book, and listening to the author read it is such a gift! I'm a little past 1/3 thru, and marvel at Morrison's language and unblinking courage in telling this story."

Glad you're liking it! Morrison really is a brilliant and deeply thoughtful storyteller.


message 4: by Readridinghood (new)

Readridinghood | 27 comments This book had a slow confusing start. I couldn’t make sense of what I was hearing. As I became more familiar with the characters,the story began to fall into place. I’m really into Beloved now. And I am excited to say I’m near the end of the book! Basically the book is very sad. My 2020 mind can’t imagine what it took for Sethe to kill her children in such a horrible way!
I know she wanted to spare her children a lifetime of torture as slaves, which she had endured all her life, but it still bothers me that she chose to kill her children in the way she did. But I imagine she felt there was no other hechoice. Thank God that was not described!
Sometimes I got the 2 Paul’s mixed up. I think I liked Paul D and felt compassion for the difficult life Paul F had to lead. Who was the one set on fire? Or was that Six-O? Speaking of him, why did he keep saying “seven-o? It seams like it was a victory cry. The things that teacher did to the slaves, tore my heart out! I found the website, bookrage very helpful as a resource.


message 5: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments Readridinghood wrote: "...I know she wanted to spare her children a lifetime of torture as slaves, which she had endured all her life...".
Some versions of the book have a Forward by Toni Morrison that talks about exploring the history of black women in the country:
in slavery, "...marriage was discouraged...; in which birthing children was required, but "having" them, being responsible for them -- being, in other words, their parent -- was as out of the question as freedom...". This is chattel/property at its worst. You've run into some of this in Kindred.
I found this book extremely difficult and confusing when I first read it over a year ago. Things make more sense on a 2d read.
Take heart: if it is a difficult read, you probably learned a lot.


message 6: by Z. (new)

Z. F. (zee_eff) Readridinghood wrote: "This book had a slow confusing start. I couldn’t make sense of what I was hearing. As I became more familiar with the characters,the story began to fall into place. I’m really into Beloved now. And..."

Donna - I'm glad to hear you got into Beloved after awhile. It's definitely a tough book, with a lot of puzzle pieces that don't immediately come together. This is my second read-through, so I'm finding the plot a lot easier to grasp while the subject matter is even harder to stomach. I think we're in for a good discussion Wednesday!


message 7: by Z. (new)

Z. F. (zee_eff) Geoffrey wrote: "Readridinghood wrote: "...I know she wanted to spare her children a lifetime of torture as slaves, which she had endured all her life...".
Some versions of the book have a Forward by Toni Morrison ..."


Geoffrey - I agree that this is the sort of book which benefits a lot from a second reading. On the other hand, it's also impactful and disturbing enough that one read-through is enough to stick in the mind forever...


message 8: by Readridinghood (new)

Readridinghood | 27 comments Hi I just finished listening to Beloved.
I have read other books by Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye, Particularly broke my heart. I found this book a sad, confusing read. Then again, those were sad times.
I felt sad for Denver when she was ignored by Sethe and Beloved as Beloved became more selfish,within her pregnancy, bullying for attention from Sethe. I didn’t think much of Denver in the beginning. My opinion changed when Denver saw it was time for her to take charge, and she did. I was proud of her. I loved the way Ella Put
Denver at ease when she went to Ella for a job. What was the
purpose of Beloved’s pregnancy? Was Denver mute at some point? Or was it thought that she could not hear? I hated the death of Six-O
. That was horrible! I hope someone can tell me what the meaning of “7-o” ?
Lastly, I know Danny Glover portrayed Paul D , and I
Don’t completely blame Beloved for her actions, but was was her reason for Seducing Paul D?


message 9: by Geoffrey (last edited Feb 18, 2020 11:06PM) (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments Readridinghood wrote: "
...What was the
purpose of Beloved’s pregnancy?...What was was her reason for Seducing Paul D?..."

I thought that Beloved seducing Paul D. was an example of "as low as it gets" --Beloved was trying to take everything away from Sethe while she completely took owned Sethe.
It set up the scene at the end where Beloved appears on the porch as the spawn of Satan(Lilith?).


message 10: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments Readridinghood wrote: "...I hated the death of Six-O
. That was horrible! I hope someone can tell me what the meaning of “7-o” ? ..."


7-0 = one better than 6-0?
I felt like he was basically a noble character (at heart).


message 11: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments After reading Beloved for the 2nd time, I feel that Beloved was a completely evil thing. A fairer name for her would be Be-damned. She exploits Sethe's major sin in life to her own ends, and almost kills her in the process. Don't know where the story would have gone if Beloved had killed(sucked the life out of) Sethe


message 12: by Anne (new)

Anne | 57 comments I’ll be there tonight. I’m not quite finished but hopefully I’ll be closer by tonight. I just finished listening to this podcast ep though if anyone has time today, I recommend it!


https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast...


message 13: by Lucy (new)

Lucy (lucy47) | 141 comments Finished yesterday, and only by skimming quickly the description of Sixo's death. Schoolteacher's cruelty is almost worse when it becomes clear that it's a "logical" extension of his conviction that slaves and Negro people were inferior, beasts who were completely classifiable by their animal characteristics. Is his treatment of the Sweet Home slaves better or worse than the wanton bestial behavior of his ignorant bloodthirsty 'pupils'? It is all I can do after reading this book to hold my head up and meet an African-American person's eyes, for wondering if they will ever be able to forgive what was done to their ancestors. And as Morrison's book forces us to confront, what is perpetuated in the inequity of racial relations today.
Only Denver's saving herself (and Sethe), and Paul D's return to Sethe made this beautiful but impossibly painful book possible to finish.


message 14: by Z. (new)

Z. F. (zee_eff) Thanks for all the great comments, everyone. I think Beloved is the kind of book it's impossible feel neutral about, or to read passively. I can't wait to talk more tonight.

On a housekeeping note, it looks like Sujata is on snack duty. I'll post my discussion questions in a bit, as well.


message 15: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments Beloved is more about rural blacks around the time of the Civil War.
For Morrison's treatment of how urban blacks are affected to this day by issues created by slavery, read Song of Solomon.


message 16: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments What made Beloved so eyeopening for me was how extreme "you're just property" was, & how demeaning.
Some particularly gross examples:
- Their children aren't theirs.
- They are bred to produce money for the owners (children were sold off any time the master wanted to)
- There was a price on everyone's body.
- Sethe was forcibly milked. Her milk went to white children 1st.

To me, Mr. Garner's place was better than other places because he tried to make it better.
What will ultimately cure society of these racial injustices is all of us trying to make society better. Unfortunately, reparations(throwing money at the problem) will not improve the situation(it's a nice gesture) or make the problem go away.
Understanding the hurts better may make it easier to see what needs to be done, but only a cultural change will fix the problem. Attitudes from 200+ years have become ingrained in the fabric of our society. Our good deeds will help to solve the problems.

I'm sure I missed a lot here. If so, it won't be the 1st time.


message 17: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments For a different & interesting take on the problem of race, read Americanah(Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -- a Nigerian (woman) author). In this story, she looks at how attitudes of American Blacks(AB) and Non-American Blacks(NAB) differ. Some of the ostensible blog posts(in the book) made by the main character are the best essays on racism I've read.


message 18: by Z. (new)

Z. F. (zee_eff) Discussion questions, as promised:

1) Do you think Sethe’s actions towards her children are justified? How about the other characters’ responses to her? Why or why not?

2) In the world of the story, who or what do you think Beloved really is? As a literary device, what does she symbolize?

3) What is the effect of Paul D’s arrival on the situation at 124? Is his influence ultimately positive or negative?

4) What happens to Baby Suggs at the end of her life? Why does her worldview shift so much at the end, and what are we supposed to make of it?

5) What does this book have to say about family, and specifically the relationships between mothers and daughters? Is the family dynamic here believable?

6) How do issues of race and gender (among others) come together and play upon one another in “Beloved”? Does the novel present any one stance or message on these themes?

7) Why is there so much said about the relative “goodness” of the Garners compared to other slaveholders, and how does Morrison play with our perceptions as the full story of Sweet Home comes together?

8) How does Morrison’s nonlinear, jigsaw puzzle approach add to or detract from the story she’s telling? How would the novel’s effect be different if it were presented in a more straightforward way?

9) If you had to, how would you classify “Beloved”? In what ways does the novel subvert or experiment with genre?

10) Have you read any other books by Toni Morrison? If so, how does “Beloved” compare? If not, would you read another?


message 19: by Geoffrey (new)

Geoffrey Nutting | 109 comments Zachary wrote: "Discussion questions, as promised...".

Geoffrey's answers(?):

1) Do you think Sethe’s actions towards her children are justified? How about the other characters’ responses to her? Why or why not?
Sethe’s actions towards her children are justified in that she wants them to have a better life than she had. She is an overprotective mother, though. Her killing her daughter (Beloved I) to save her from the horrors of slavery is at the extreme edge. As a literary device, it lets Morrison show how slavery stripped Negroes of any identity or purpose in being.

2) In the world of the story, who or what do you think Beloved really is? As a literary device, what does she symbolize?
Beloved is a frightening example of how completely someone can sucker an unsuspecting soul to their own ends. Beloved is Sethe’s all-possessing regret for an action she took during the horrible period when she and her brothers were treated like ‘normal’ slaves at the hands of schoolteacher.
As a literary device, Beloved is the spirit of Sethe’s child that is finally exorcised from Sethe’s soul. Paul D. manages to rid 124 of the haint that has been there when he 1st comes in, only to have it come back almost immediately as Beloved. Beloved is a clever literary device, but one I have trouble believing because seems so improbably consuming to a white person like me. Take Morrison’s tale, Beloved, as an example of the African tradition of relating tales for teaching, rather than entertainment prevalent in Western literature.

3) What is the effect of Paul D’s arrival on the situation at 124? Is his influence ultimately positive or negative?
Paul D’s arrival at 124 upsets an unstable situation where Sethe & Denver each have the other for ‘their own’, so they don’t need to look beyond 124 for answers in life. Denver feels pushed out and afraid that Paul D. will take ‘her spot’ in Sethe’s feelings. With the ouster of Beloved, relations between Denver, Sethe and Paul D. can become simpler and more stable. Paul D.’s incursion is ultimately beneficial in making them all interact with others in their neighborhood.

4) What happens to Baby Suggs at the end of her life? Why does her worldview shift so much at the end, and what are we supposed to make of it?
I don’t know, except that having her die before freedom came(to all Negroes) means that her passing is the passing of the old guard (those who grew up & lived under slavery their whole lives)

5) What does this book have to say about family, and specifically the relationships between mothers and daughters? Is the family dynamic here believable?
Relationships between mothers and daughters is a delicate competitive balancing act between the old (Mom) and new(daughter(s)), daughters will supplant from Mom in the family. Beloved destroyed this balance with her spirit of ‘take all, give none’. I found the family dynamic hard to believe -- probably more so because I have no sisters.

7) Why is there so much said about the relative “goodness” of the Garners compared to other slaveholders, and how does Morrison play with our perceptions as the full story of Sweet Home comes together?
The Garners are a rare example of how things could be; the Garners are what Sethe, and the boys grew up accepting as ‘normal’, although they know logically(from other slaves) that this is not normal at all (schoolteacher’s behavior is closer to the norm). Morrison starts w/ the Garners as the norm for Sethe & the boys, and as the story goes on, schoolteacher is introduced bit by bit as the Garners are eliminated, and the reader can see the rottenness of the slave-holding system, so the reader understands the influence of each malign facet of society created under slavery. Eventually, one can understand the difficulties in adjusting to freedom when they move to Cincinnati.

8) How does Morrison’s nonlinear, jigsaw puzzle approach add to or detract from the story she’s telling? How would the novel’s effect be different if it were presented in a more straightforward way?
A more linear approach would have made it easier for my mind to grab a hold of the basic story.
On the other hand,that approach wouldn’t have allowed Paul D into the story: you have to know about him, and the backstory for this tale to work.

9) If you had to, how would you classify “Beloved”? In what ways does the novel subvert or experiment with genre?
The first time I read Beloved, it was only a (very strange) novel. I could see it as a form of magical realism, with (cultural elements I didn’t understand) planted in as items that a reader would take for granted (as usual). This is a pitfall for white readers (like me) who don’t have much real life experience with the African-American culture (& values, and what things are taken as givens, & …).
How can an author write something that pulls (a Western) reader across that gap? With great difficulty. Morrison has done a good job in Beloved. The main thing I understood after a 1st reading(a year ago) was “I don’t understand this”. A second reading(now) has let me (to my horror) put all the pieces together.

10) Have you read any other books by Toni Morrison? If so, how does “Beloved” compare? If not, would you read another?
I’ve read Song of Solomon, dealing with life in an unnamed (northern) town ~100 years later than Beloved. It deals with people who have lost both their spiritual & historical roots in the urban jungle they are in. So how do you recover that past?
Contrast this with Beloved, where you are dealing with people who know their (recent) historical past too well. Some of their more distant past (the slave ships) is still present in people’s spirits.


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