Beloved is a powerful book.
Toni Morrison based her novel on an actual story, a crime case, where a woman was jailed for killing her own baby. She didn’t want her to grow up a slave. In Beloved, this action haunts Sethe. Literally.
The story starts out years later with the arrival of Paul D, the last of the Sweet Home men. Sweet Home was the farm where Sethe lived, worked, married and bore her first three children. But we soon find out there was nothing sweet about Sweet Home. Sethe escapes to live with her mother-in-law, heaving with her fourth child, Denver, who is born along the way.
Paul D dregs up memories Sethe had tried to forget, and a big part of the book is about how people deal with the things that can’t be dealt with. Because repression only works for so long. The past always has a way of catching up with you.
He scares the ghost out of Sethe’s house by shouting and throwing things around, and for a time it seems like the baby is truly gone. But one day a young woman turns up, lost and hungry, with ‘new skin, lineless and smooth’. Sethe takes her in and she never leaves. She doesn’t talk about her life, and the only thing she knows is her name: Beloved.
One of the things that surprised me most was the ghost – or lack thereof. I was expecting to be scared, but this ghost is expelled right at the beginning of the book. The idea of ‘haunting’ is twisted then, inverted. And the real ghosts in the story are inside the mind rather than the house, contained and trying to break free. There is a real sense of being buried in memory.
Sethe biggest crime was loving too much. As Paul D says, her love is ‘too thick’. They can’t afford to love, to grow attached. Beloved is the story then of what happens when you don’t love ‘small’. A true powerhouse of a book, and a story that deserves to be told.