Beloved, first published in 1987, is a novel by Toni Morrison, winner of the National Book Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize, and Nobel Prize in Literature (1983). "An escaped negro slave is haunted by the spirit of her child whom she killed so that the child would never have to experience the degradation of human bondage--an experience the mother knew only too well."
Professor Morrison's novel resonated with me on a profound, personal level. I am a recent descendent of slaves (my father and paternal grandparents). When my father was alive, he told me a little bit about what it was like for him and his parents to be enslaved--the brutality, the injustice, the deprivation--but there was only so much he had the heart to put into words. Not that he sugar-coated it--some of the stories he told me haunt me to this day--but the sheer, overwhelming sadness of the experience was difficult for him to describe and for me to comprehend.
My father's memories and the descriptions in Beloved are eerily similar on a basic level and lead me to conclude that there are certain things that are universal to the experience of slavery--both from the perspective of the enslaved and the slaver. Beloved sings this mournful, universal song, and, having heard it, I feel more complete for it, as certain blank places in my understanding were filled in with its sad music.
Of course, Beloved can certainly be read as a story about the resilience of the human spirit in the face of impossible evil and cruelty and the ultimate triumph of that spirit over man's extreme inhumanity to man. It is a story about the value of freedom, and that death--a kind of freedom--may be preferable to living without it. But there is much more to Beloved than this if one delves deeper.
I would recommend Beloved to anyone interested in learning more about the abhorrent practice of slavery--and that should be just about everyone. Slavery still exists in some parts of the world, and even to a shocking degree in the United States. It is a profound evil--perhaps the worst kind--and one must understand what it is at a profound level in order to recognize it and root it out.
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