Is it possible to say that an entire novel is a metaphor? Well I just inferred that it was, so I guess that question is settled…
When I was was in my twenties I commenced a BA in English Literature, Toni Morrison’s book Sula was one of the elective readings we had to choose from (which I selected), and it was here that my appreciation for the writing’s of Toni Morrison began, but it was with her amazing novel Beloved that that appreciation became love…
Right from the books opening dedication to the “Sixty Million and more”, Toni Morrison commences a work of art which is worthy of it’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning place in history. It is a dedication which, like much of the novel, is constructed to resonate against the backdrop of historical reference which exists in the global consciousness. More specifically the implied juxtaposition of the dedication contrasts to the horrific figures of Jewish life lost during The Holocaust.
Toni Morrison is an Africa-American author; she is a descendant of slavery, and her works are written from this perspective, but to me Toni Morrison is a human author. I make this statement because it is Beloved, her greatest work, which magnificently transcends the focused nature of it’s subject matter, to speak to a greater commonality, which is our shared humanity. I use sweeping statements of grandiosity whenever I speak and write of Toni Morrison, and more specifically of Beloved (a book I am currently reading for the umpteenth time), because engaging with a Toni Morrison work is like taking the blue pill of literature.
It is a known fact that Toni Morrison’s prose in her novels are painstakingly thought out, they are a unique construction of symbolism and poetry in the guise of prose, that’s not really a guise because that is exactly how the prose is presented, steeped in symbolism and poetry… What do I mean – every time I read Beloved it is almost as if I am reading another novel, the design pattern out of which the story is cut is the same, but the fabric used in the weaving is that of a mirror, it reflects the readers interpretation back, for every eye that interprets the challenge of the story of Beloved will bring to it there own interpretations of empathy, redemption, beauty, love and humanity.
The book is centered around the character of Sethe, a former slave (one of Sixty Million), living her post-slavery freedom with her daughter Denver. They are both quite literally being haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s past life, and life as it is before the start of the book is about to change with the arrival of Paul D. A man from Sethe’s enslaved past, also free, Paul D has traveled far on well-worn feet to, and had arrived to the familiarity and shared-history of company from a time gratefully gone.
What does Paul D’s arrival mean for a former slave mother and daughter surviving with only each other? How do you move forward from horror? How do you build a life of freedom if all you have ever know is the cage and plight of slavery? What stories and secrets have been lived since Paul D and Sethe parted ways? And who is the strange woman who arrives on their doorstep shortly after Paul D, strangely familiar, oddly innocent and unquestionably beguiling? Who is Beloved and what does it mean to be beloved?
There are many questions that come up during the reading of Beloved, it is a challenging read, satisfyingly so, and answers you would not expect abound, more often than not having been already provided prior to the asking. Toni Morrison masterfully weaves the fantastical into a story which is so completely grounded in the realm of the real as to be unbelievable; the roots of the story, so horrific that metaphor becomes the only way to achieve the telling, and in doing so it becomes beautiful.
I promise you this, if nothing at all, you will step away from the book knowing you have read something like no other. The book will take you on a journey you can only imagine full of heartbreak and triumph, mystery and revelation, secrets and promises, pain and joy, life and death, desolation and hope, pain and beauty – If I was to give a traditional rating here, it would be a well deserved six out of five stars.
In conclusion, it was after I had personally discovered Toni Morrison that Oprah Winfrey took her works to a whole new audience when she included a selection of her works as Book Club selections, already a fan I watched an interview with Toni Morrison in which Oprah told the story of how she contacted Toni upon reading her books and told her how she struggled with the layered prose of her novels, finding herself having to reread passages, to which Toni Morrison replied, “That, My Dear, is called reading…”