Wednesday, April 9, 2008

More on Beloved

I was intrigued by Toni Morrison's way of presenting this story. Just when you thought you had a handle on what may have happened, another flashback will come and give you more of the picture. That's part of what kept me reading. I rarely felt like I'd heard all the details so I had to keep going to find out what had really happened. (That's why I also avoided reading the summaries Sarah had linked to until I finished the book - I wanted to read and draw my own conclusions before I had it handed to me. But the links were great after I'd finished the book!)

I also thought Morrison was very subtle in telling her story while at the same time presenting so many different topics to the reader. At the very beginning she gives a description of Sweet Home that sort of summed up a major theme of the book for me, that things aren't always how they seem. "It never looked as terrible as it was and it make her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves" (page 6). (And don't you think hell probably is really like that? Deceiving?)

There are many themes running through the book that we could discuss; in the interest of length I think I'll only touch on one more here and perhaps save the others for another post. It is sad to think of what people are capable of doing to other people. The animal theme ran throughout the book. Sethe and other slaves were treated, spoken of, valued like animals. The schoolteacher not only referred to her as "the breeding one" and her babies as "foals" but also had his pupils list the animal characteristics of slaves. In the case of people like Amy Denver, talking about and seeing slaves as animals may purely be the result of education and environment. That's all she's ever seen or heard; she doesn't treat Sethe like an animal though, helping her with the birth of her baby and caring for Sethe's wounds. But I wonder if some of the other people, and perhaps how it all started in the first place, decide that slaves are like animals simply to excuse or justify their behavior. In order to make it okay to treat a person so cruelly, they have to dehumanize the slaves or servants. So instead of employing an actual person, an animal is used to do the work, making the slaveowner feel a little more at ease with whipping or overworking or whatever. (Not that cruelty to animals is okay. Calm down PETA!)

Any one else have any thoughts along these lines? Or on any other theme?


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