I waited entirely too long to read this book. Who knows, maybe now that I’m older I can appreciate it much more than I would’ve years ago.
It’s obvious by the 5 stars that I love, love, love this book. I can list all the reasons why, but it would take too long. That’s not to say the book is perfect, because it’s not. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Beloved could be called a ghost story, a possession of sorts. It could be called a dark, twisted horror novel that skates along a razor sharp edge toward the Realm of Terror a la Stephen King. There are a lot of people that call it an allegory, a spirit of guilt so overwhelming as to feel like a physical presence, one that pushes someone toward a psychotic breakdown. Strangely enough, the classification of Beloved is secondary to the feelings conjured from this story.
I say this because no matter what theory a reader holds, it doesn’t change what the book is about:
A runaway slave named Sethe who killed her kids rather than let them be captured and sent back into slavery. Part of why she did this probably had to do with the PTSD associated with being raped by four men while she was pregnant with her daughter Denver. That’s debatable, but there are a lot of people who would judge a woman harshly for murdering her children regardless of the reason. I would suggest those people take into consideration what it must have felt like to be a slave back then, at least for the sake of literary novels.
*****SPOILER ALERT*****SPOILER ALERT*****
In reality, a woman who did that would have to override her maternal instincts or be mentally ill, but that’s not the issue in Beloved. The big issue is the after effect, where her daughter, Beloved comes back to haunt Sethe and Denver, effectively causing Sethe’s boyfriend, Paul D, to leave because he can’t cope with what’s going on.
Beloved comes back to Sethe and Denver via the body of a young woman with a cut across her throat exactly where Sethe’s daughter was cut and bled to death. Despite being a young woman, Beloved appears to have the mentality of a little girl, and one with a malevolent intent. Not only is she spoiled and entitled, it looks as if she’s intent on destroying Sethe from the inside out as revenge for being murdered.
It’s as if the child inside Beloved desperately wants and needs Sethe’s motherly love, yet she wants to punish Sethe for that very love . Maybe because that love is ultimately what cost Beloved her life? Perhaps. What’s so frightening about all of this is that Beloved describes where she comes from and where she dwelled this whole time she’s been dead, and it’s reminiscent of some creepy underworld where lost souls dwell. I cringe at the thought of a little girl existing in a place that cold and dark.
Oh, and what’s going on while Beloved lives there is enough to make a sane person shake their head in disbelief. The home is in disarray, they’re on the brink of starvation, and they’re completely isolated from society. Sethe overcompensates with Beloved at the expense of poor Denver, just so she can try to justify her actions toward Beloved. But see, the real problem is that Sethe believes deep down inside that murdering her Beloved can not truly be justified, that she doesn’t deserve forgiveness, and that’s why she has a complete break down. It was heartbreaking to read, despite how I felt about her actions.
**I don’t want to leave Denver out of this review, because she’s sometimes downgraded to a side note, or even worse, left out altogether, and that’s not fair. Denver is a big part of the undercurrent of the story. How she survives the haunting is nothing short of a beautiful coming-of-age story. **
Moving on to a couple of small issues. They weren’t enough to warrant a drop in 5 stars, because the beautiful writing more than compensated for them. But nevertheless, they still exist imho.
One is the breast milk issue. Reading about how the four men stole Sethe’s breast milk while they raped her was…oh geez, there’s not even a word that sums up a convoluted feeling like that. With that being said, I don’t get it. I probably missed the point of it somehow, but why did they do this to her and why would this prevent Sethe from bonding properly with her unborn daughter Denver?
Another is the issue of the age of Beloved. Yes, she’s the age of Beloved had she lived, but she didn’t live, she physically died. So if this isn’t supposed to be an allegory of a psychological haunting, then how could Beloved describe the dark spirit world in which she dwelled if her flesh continued to grow?
*****END OF SPOILER*****END OF SPOILER*****
Ok, deep breath….the last issue is one that really has nothing to do with the story itself, it’s just something that I’ve noticed is prevalent in a lot of books about slavery written from a woman’s pov.
A large percentage of women today are raped, regardless of where they live and their skin color. This crime against femininity is nothing short of a silent holocaust. And yet, it’s almost trivialized in regards to slavery.
Must every book written from a female slave’s pov include rape, and the awful and jealous way the slave owner’s wife, aka The Mistress, reacts to it? As if the beautiful, victimized slave girl is irresistible to the slave owner, and the ugly white Mistress seethes with jealousy.
I have no doubt that many, many women and children were raped by slave owners, farm hands and God knows who else, and I’m sure if we use our imaginations we can start to see some of the other horrific things that went on during those days.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s unoriginal to keep churning out books based on this. It’s impossible that every slave was raped, just as it’s impossible that every single slave owner was a rapist. It’s nonsensical and silly to keep writing from this perspective. Just my .02