Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison

Beloved, by Toni Morrison, brings a new perspective to the lives of slaves freed after the Civil War. Published in 1987, the book is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the year 1873. Sethe and her youngest daughter, Denver, are living in an old house called 124, just about settled into their lives after the war. The book follows Sethe on her journey from "Sweet Home", the plantation where she was a slave, and on to her life after slavery. When the book was first published, the reactions varied greatly. On the most part, Beloved was received with great praise and enthusiasm. The peek into the life of an ex-slave haunted by the ghosts of her past, present, and future, was an eye-opener for many; the language used to write the book was impeccable, painting vivid pictures in the minds of the readers. Some critics mentioned that the graphic description of slavery, and violence towards the slaves, as well as sexual acts and coarse language, was not appropriate for certain audiences, which prompted the otherwise critically acclaimed book to be pulled off of the shelf for high school required reading. On the whole, however, Beloved is a beautifully written book, offering rich and thought-provoking dialogues and scenarios. It is entirely deserving of the numerous awards and nominations received.

Toni Morrison Biography

Toni Morrison is an American author born as Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio (Biography.com). She was the second of four children born to hardworking parents who fostered her love of reading, music and folklore (Biography.com). As she lived in an integrated neighborhood, she wasn't fully aware of racial divisions until she was in her teens (Biography.com). As for school, she once told a reporter from The New York Times, "When I was in first grade, nobody thought I was inferior. I was the only black in the class and the only child who could read" (Biography.com) After graduating high school, she majored in English at Howard University and completed a master's degree at Cornell University (Bois). She met her husband, Harold Morrison while teaching English at Howard University in 1957 (Biography.com). They had two children together before her husband decided to move back to his birthplace of Jamaica, leaving Morrison who moved to New York with her sons and worked as an editor before publishing her first novel, The Bluest Eye in 1970 (Bois). After writing three more books, including Beloved, she became a professor at Princeton University in 1989 (Bois). In 1993, she received the Nobel Prize in literature, the first African-American woman bestowed with this honor (Bois). After retiring from Princeton in 2006 and having Beloved named the best novel of the last 25 years by The New York Times Book Review, she began speaking out against censorship saying, "The thought that leads me to contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people, outlawed languages flourishing underground, essayists' questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, canceled films & thought is a nightmare. As though a whole universe is being described in invisible ink" (Biography.com).


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A cover of Beloved

History of time period in which the story was set

This story was set in 1873 with flashbacks to the 1850’s. During the 1850’s Blacks were enslaved and faced numerous challenges regarding their identity. (Sparknotes) Black women and children had it the worst, because many times they were taken advantage of and they didn’t have a good chance of survival. Black women had no help in caring and raising their children. During this time, women alone already didn’t have the same rights as men. Therefore black women had to carry the burdens of being both a weak figure in society and also black. During the 1870’s, the Civil War had just ended yet the unfair and cruel treatment of blacks continued to flourish. (Sparknotes)Society continued to discriminate against Blacks and kept them in imaginary chains for a long time until the Civil Rights Movement. Blacks were no longer enslaved, however many lived in fear and did whatever they could to ensure that they would live to see another day and strived for a free life. Jim Crow laws made it impossible for Blacks to have an equal stature in society and possible for the prejudiced actions that they were faced with daily. Striving for freedom came with its consequences, because majority of Blacks who got too comfortable with their new ‘freedom’ would find themselves slaughtered, beaten, or hanged.


History of time period when Beloved was written

This novel was written in the 1980’s and published in 1987 in Albany, New York. (Sparknotes) During this time America was facing a recession and a stock crash causing costs and unemployment to rise. During this time, the Berlin Wall was coming down and the Cold War was coming to an end. This is also the time period where technology started to become a major part of American’s lives with video games, camcorders, cell phones, etc. Another major event that took place during this time period was the high upbringing of AIDS especially in the Hispanic and African American communities. (Whitely) All of these events could’ve had an impact on why Morrison decided to write the book then. Because majority of the African American population is in the middle class or below, the recession hit them the hardest. This was a very tough time for everyone, but also the perfect time to start writing a book talking about the struggles that African Americans faced during slavery because it was relatable to the struggles during that present time. Especially with the upbringing of AIDS, the African American community was facing another era of oppression. There was no greater time to write a book on the hardships of African Americans during slavery than during the time of all these events, because if the African American community were able to survive and get through one era of tyranny, then they could surely do it again.

Impact of Beloved on Other Literature

Literature and the course of literature has been changing since languages were first invented. Different movements, literary styles, devices, etc. came and went, leaving their mark behind on the legacy. Beloved, by Toni Morrison, was no different. The easy flowing of the words strengthened the plot and moral of the novel, leaving me as the reader slightly breathless at the end of it. In the recent years before Beloved was released, literature as it was known at the time had taken a new turn. The Postmodernist movement swept over the literary world at the end of World War II (SparkNotes), continuing on and shaping into literature as we know it today. When Beloved hit the shelves and stands in bookstores nationwide, and later worldwide, it was already known that it would be a novel to inspire. Toni Morrison's wordplay took readers on journeys through the lives of men, women, and children as they suffered, grew, fell, and stood back up. The critically acclaimed novel certainly set the bar high for later works of literature. Authors later on tried their best to get even close to the level of writing displayed in Beloved, as well as other books by Toni Morrison, and many may have reached it in their own right. As we progress into literature of today, however, swept up into fantastical worlds of fantasy, adventure, and romance, with no-doubt brilliant and extremely talented authors such as J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and John Green, I often wonder if another author will emerge and, using the power of words and the rich language that seems now lost, twist ideas and thoughts into a book with even a fraction of the eloquence and imagination as shown in Beloved.



Reflection of Something Important About Society

Beloved is a novel set in the 1870's, some years after the Civil War, though it was written and published in the 1980's. One of the big themes in the book was abnormality, and coping with being different. Instances of hatred against difference scatter themselves all throughout the history of human beings, leading up to the society we live in today. No matter how hard we try, there are always going to be people who cannot accept others into society, simply because the latter is different in some way or another. During the time Beloved was set, America was just recovering from the bloodiest war to decorate her history. Millions of people, humans, previously imprisoned and enslaved, were now walking the streets as tentative equals with the rest of the population. Throughout the book, the hints to Sethe and Denver's difference from their society are subtle, but strong and frequent enough to show that Toni Morrison may indeed have intended it to be a minor theme in the novel. While Denver and Sethe lived in a moderately accepting community, the obvious haunting of their home setting them far apart from other members of their neighborhood, making it hard for Denver to make friends throughout her lonely childhood, and for Sethe to get proper respect and support in her hardships. It's incredible how easily we shun even those who are closest to us when the situation arises.






Beloved Movie Trailer





Interview with Toni Morrison about Beloved the book
Interview with Toni Morrison about Beloved the movie
Toni Morrison's acceptance speech for Nobel Prize in Literature
Excerpt in New York Times about the Pulitzer Prize awarded to Beloved, by Toni Morrison.


Project

Interview with Dr. Knott, Sethe, and Denver

Script