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the review book beloved

Review book: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison, the second of four children in a black working-class family, was born as

Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Her parents, Ramah (Willis)
and George survived the Great Depression with the aid of the government and by sharing
with their equally poor black and white neighbors. Living in an integrated neighborhood,
Morrison did not become fully aware of racial divisions until she was in her teens. "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," told Toni in an interview in The New York Times. Dedicated to
her studies, Morrison took Latin in school and read many great works of European
literature. She graduated from Lorain High School with honors in 1949. Toni Morrison
worked as novelist, editor and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid
dialogue and richly detailed African-American characters. Among her best known novels
are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, Love and A Mercy. Morrison's highest
achievement is the novel Beloved, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. In 1993,
Morrison became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature. The Nobel
Foundation stated that Morrison “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality”
through “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import.”


Beloved is a big novel. Therefore, in this paper, we attempt to cover only the first

chapter. However, to get a grasp of the novel, it is essential to provide a brief summary of
the novel followed by a synopsis of chapter one.


The novel

Beloved begins in 1873 in Cincinnati, Ohio where Sethe, a former black slave has been
living with her daughter, Denver.
On the day the novel begins, Paul D, whom Sethe has not seen since her escape from
Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky around twenty years earlier, stops by her house. From
the fragmented flashbacks of main characters, all events are revealed. When Sethe, the
protagonist, turns 13, she is sold to the Garners, who own Sweet Home and practice a
relatively benevolent kind of slavery. There are also five other male slaves there, namely
Sixo, Paul D, Paul A, Paul F and Halle. Halle later becomes Sethe’s husband. Together they
have two sons, Howard and Buglar, and a baby daughter named Beloved. Mr Garner’s death
leaves Mrs. Garner in a deep grief, and she eventually asks her sadistic brother-in-law, who
is known to the slaves as the schoolteacher, to run the farm. The schoolteacher treats the
slaves so brutally that they decide to run away. When escaping from Sweet Home, Sethe is
pregnant with her fourth child.
The schoolteacher, however, anticipate their escape. His two nephews violate Sethe and
steal the milk her body is storing for her infant daughter, Beloved. Unbeknownst to Sethe,
Halle is watching the event from a loft above her where he lies frozen with horror and goes
mad. When the three villains find out that Sethe has reported their misdeeds to Mrs. Garner,
they whip her severely regardless of her pregnancy and that leaves chokecherry tree-shaped
scars on her back. Fortunately, Sethe manages to escape and is nurtured by a white girl
named Amy Denver, who later helps her deliver her forth baby in a boat. Sethe names the
second daughter after her benefactress.
Sethe spends twenty eight wonderful days in Cincinnati with her mother-in-law and her
children. On the last day, however, the schoolteacher comes for Sethe to take her and her

children back to Sweet Home. Rather than surrender them to a life of dehumanizing slavery,
she takes them to the woodshed and tries to kill them. Beloved is the only one to die, having

her throat cut with a handsaw by Sethe. Sethe later resorts to sleeping with an engraver to
get the word “Beloved” carved on the headstone. Thanks to a group of white abolitionists,
Sethe is released and returns to the house numbered 124.
Meanwhile, Paula D is sold to another slave owner in Georgia where he has endured
torturous experiences. One day, a fortuitous rainstorm allows him to escape. He travels
northward and ends up on Sethe’s porch in Cincinnati years later.
Paul D’s arrival at 124 makes the ghost of Beloved and Denver resent him right from the
start. Before moving in to 124, he chases the ghost away. One day, when the couple returns
home from a carnival, they encounter a strange young woman sleeping near the steps of
124. The woman calls herself Beloved. Beloved and Paul D hate each other and Beloved
controls him by moving him around the house and seducing him against his will.
When Paul D learns the story of Sethe’s infanticide, he leaves 124. In his absence,
Beloved grows increasingly manipulative and parasitic while Sethe is obsessed with
satisfying Beloved’s demands and making her understand why she kills her. Worried about
Sethe, Denver leaves 124 and seeks help from her former teacher to exorcise Beloved from
the house. When arriving at 124, they see Sethe on the porch with Beloved who stands
smiling at them, naked and pregnant. Eventually, Beloved disappears for good and Denver
is taken to her new job. Afterwards, Paul D comes back to Sethe and they live happily ever

2. Chapter 1

The first chapter tells the present life of Sethe and Denver at 124. Eight years earlier,
Sethe’s mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, also lives with them. Before she dies, she sinks into a
deep depression and spends her last days requesting “color”- bits of brightly colored objects
she hopes would alleviate her sadness and loss of all eight of her children. Not so long after
her death, Sethe’s two sons, Howard and Buglar each runs away from the house because of
the malevolent presence of an abusive ghost that has haunted the house for years.
Sethe works hard to remember as little as possible about her past until one day she
returns home and finds a surprising guest, Paul D. They slip into easy conservation although
they have not seen each other for eighteen years. Paul D walks into the house and gets
soaked by a wave of grief over him. Sethe explains that the presence is the sad specter of her
dead baby, Beloved. Sethe also tells Paul D about the chokecherry tree on her back and
firmly refuses to move out of the house when Paul D proposes the idea. Sethe cries and says
that the men whipping her stole her baby’s milk before she ran. Paul D comes up to her and
pulls down the top of her dress. He cradles her breasts in his hand while he kisses each line
of her scars. Seeing them flirt and talk about Sweet Home makes Denver jealous and
excluded. She bursts into tears, saying that she can no longer live a life of being isolated by
the whole community. The house immediately begins to lurch and shake as the ghost vents
its rage. Paul D shouts at the ghost and asks it to leave. Denver resents his act, for the ghost
is the only company she has.
In part III, we attempt to demonstrate author’s point of view on racial discrimination and


Author arguments
1. Problems of racism and slavery

“Beloved” deals with the themes of love, family, self-possession, slavery and the cruelty
of whites. Racism is one of the most important fields in “Beloved” as well as chapter one
under which the cultural identity has been hidden or captured by white master’s bitter
treatment. The beginning of the novel is depicted by the pain and the pang of slavery and its
aftermath. The protagonist Sethe is described as the medium of Schoolteacher and his
nephews’ sexual fulfillment and childbearing machine without regarding her motherhood
and humanity. Schoolteacher’s nephew “took Sethe’s milk” and “used cowhide” on her
when she told Mrs. Garner about it (p.10). Morrision condemns and raises her voice against
the problem of racism in a very ironic tone. This is clearly reflected in the epigraph
"Sixty Million and More"
The first sentence refers to the number of black people who died from the time of the
Middle Passage (1770-1807), the stage of the slave trade in which millions of Africans were
shipped to America. Through this, the author reminds readers of the frightening history of
the slaves.
"I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved which was not
beloved." (Romans 9:25).
The rest of the epigraph is quoted from the New Testament in a letter from St. Paul to
the Romans. In the letter, Paul encourages the new Christians in Rome by promising them
that they are God's people and will receive God's love through grace. God's promise of love
and forgiveness comes even though the new Christians do not deserve to be beloved. The
Biblical quote is a fitting beginning for a novel that deals with love and forgiveness. The
epigraph also creates the tone for the opening chapter of the novel, which deals with

Beloved, the destructive ghost of Sethe's daughter who causes problems for Sethe. Although
Beloved was never a slave, she was a victim of bondage, for Sethe killed her so she would
never have to endure the hardships of servitude like her mother. Even though Sethe claims it
to be an act of salvation, she eventually haves to suffer the guilty of murdering her daughter.
2. A new manifestation of motherhood

Toni Morrison, in Beloved, expresses her praise of the sacred motherhood that a black
slave mother, has for her children. The love is vividly portrayed in the milk stealing scene in
the first chapter. Since Sethe was not only deprived of nursing from her mother for the first
few weeks of life but also she was also left hungry, she fully understands the importance of
breastfeeding for both mothers and children. On that basis, she is concerned about providing
milk for her children as she shares with Paul D “all I knew was I had to get my milk to my
baby girl” (p.10). Her milk is all she has for her children and even though she is violated,
she still makes sure that her children have enough milk by telling “the women in the wagon
to put sugar in cloth to suck from so when I got there in a few days she wouldn’t have forgot
me”(p.10). According to Barzey (2015), Sethe’s love is symbolized by her ability to
breastfeed them. Therefore, after the schoolteacher and his nephews stole her breast milk,
she reported the misdeed to Mrs Garner as a way of expressing her anger. Yet when she
spoke of the incident, she was even angrier about the fact that they had stolen her milk
intended for Beloved than the severe whipping that leaves permanent scars on her back. She
keeps repeating twice that “and they took my milk” (p.11). Sethe’s maternal love somehow
recalls us of that of Fantine in Les Miserable who is forced by circumstances to sell her hair
and front teeth and become a prostitute in order to get some pennies for her daughter. Their
maternal instinct is so strong that they regardless of skin colors are both willing to do
anything to support their children.

Unlike vulnerable Fantine who, probably like other mothers, sacrifices her beauty and
health for the sake of her daughter, Sethe in Beloved would rather kill her children than
subject them to the horrors of slavery. Toni Morrison’s Beloved explores one of the most
poignant and devastating effects of servitude on motherhood. It is slavery that turns children
of slaves into property- the property that is sadly not slaves’ but their masters’. Morrison
also explores the fact that slave mothers are not allowed to raise or nurse their own children.
More deeply than anyone else, as a victim of slavery, Sethe understands that a life of
bondage is full of injustice and indignity. Therefore, she cannot leave her children living the
life she has endured; death is much kinder than slavery.
Sethe’s infanticide still remains a controversial topic. No matter from which
perspective each reader sees the event, it is undeniable that all mothers will do their best for
their children. Slavery may force mothers to make such harsh decisions that no mother
should have to make but it never can destroy maternal love. Thanks to Morrison, all the
moral truths are once again portrayed dramatically and clearly.
The next part reveals our thoughts on this novel and the first chapter in particular. In
other words, we will present outstanding features in terms of writing style and the plot as
well as discuss subtle points which may cause confusions for readers.




One of the factors making “Beloved” a popular novel is the author’s writing style full
of sensations and meanings. Morrison knows exactly what she wants to convey and how to
do it, and she exploits every aspect of her subject by using various techniques including
metaphors. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (p.925), “a metaphor
is a word or phrase used to describe somebody or something else, in a way that is different

from its normal use, in order to show that the two things have the same qualities and to
make the description more powerful”. In the first chapter“124” serves as a metaphorical
“124 WAS SPITEFUL. Full of a baby's venom” (p.1)
“Beloved” opens with the house numbered 124, a repeated mantra that suggests
numerological possibilities. On one symbolic level, the numbers 1, 2 and 4 add up to 7which
is the number of letters on Beloved's headstone. In Christian lore, the number 7 represents
charity, grace, and the Holy Spirit, as well as completion and perfection. As we will see later
in the novel, Beloved's death signifies the end of all these elements in both Sethe's life and
the life of her family. When Beloved died, the family lost the charity of the townspeople, the
grace of a happy life together and Baby Suggs's connection to the Holy Spirit. The family
became incomplete and imperfect. Furthermore, the house numbered 124 is itself symbolic
of the fact that Sethe's dead child's anger and bitterness continue to haunt and define 124 as
her home (and her life). Howard and Buglar, Sethe’s first and second children are forced to
run away years ago when the baby is angry, ghostly outbursts became too much for them to
handle. Denver, Sethe's fourth child, still lives with her mother in the house at the start of
the novel. The dead child whose spirit breaks dishes and clatters on the stairs was Sethe's
third child, and her physical absence is represented by the fact that the house number lacks
the number three.
b. Flashbacks

Apart from metaphors, Morrison also demonstrates her tremendous talent for using
flashbacks effectively. Liz (2014) defined a flashback in literature as an occurrence in
which a character remembers an earlier event that happened before the current point of the

story. Flashbacks are often employed to provide additional information about characters and
create suspense or add structure to a story.
Right in the first chapter of Beloved, the technique is applied to explain more detail
about the current state of the house, “by 1873, Sethe and her daughter were [the ghost’s]
only victims” (p.5). Flashbacks are also triggered by Sethe when telling Paul D about her
two sons running away from 124 “by the time they were thirteen years old- as soon as
merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny
hand prints appeared in the cake (that was for Howard)” (p.5)
Thanks to Toni’s clever use of flashbacks, very few readers will miss the experimental
structure of Beloved. It is not a linear tale, told from the beginning to the end. The novel, in
essence, is written in fragments of memories. The juxtaposition of the past with the present
serves to reinforce the idea than the past is alive in the present no matter how many years
have passed by. As written in the first chapter, Sethe works hard to block her painful
memories of the past but the appearance of Paul D once again evokes them all over. Other
authors like Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five and Julio Cortazar in Rayuela choose to
tell their stories completely out of chronological order. Unlike them, Toni structures her
masterpiece in a way that flashbacks and present events are clearly switchable. Therefore, it
is easier for readers to determine the time when events really happen and to grasp the flow
of the novel.
c. Ironies

Morrison’s works are often full ironies and Beloved is no exception. In the first chapter,
ironies are visibly manifested in various images such as the chokecherry tree, Sweet Home
and the hat. Let’s examine what lies behind Sweet Home. Pretty obviously, the place sounds
like a heaven based on how it is named. However, it is literally more like a hell where slaves

have to bear extreme hardships as Paul D noted “it wasn’t sweet and it sure wasn’t
home”(p.6). Specifically, right in Sweet Home, Sethe was whipped and raped while Sixo
was killed after years of ruthless exploitation. By using this ironic symbol, Morrison subtly
strips the essence of the contemporary society.
d. The chapter’s plot

The very first chapter presents a paradox about maternal love. N.K Jemisin in The
Hundred Thousand Kingdoms once said “In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess”.
Tragically, Sethe, the goddess in this situation, ultimately decides to murder her own
daughter with a handsaw even though she tries her best to make sure her body is storing
enough milk for her children. The question is why a mother can do such horrible things to
her own children. With this paradox, right from the first chapter, Toni successfully works up
the reader’s thirst for the answer.
From the beginning to the arrival of Paul D, the chapter is written in low and pleasant
tone. It is not until Paul D shows his sexual compassion to Sethe that the ghost vents its rage
by rushing a table toward him and making the house pitch. However, Paul D shouts at it
“Leave the place alone! Get the hell out!” (p.11), and the house suddenly stops lurching.
Unlike other novels of horror genre, by letting the ghost appear right from the first chapter,
Morrison wants to expose the unique African culture in which tales related to ghosts,
poltergeists are passed down through generations as a result of the troubled psychic state of
a person (Tiny Jump, 2010).

Successive questions about the ghost come into reader’s

mind: where it comes from, what it embodies and whether it disappears forever. Its presence
truly evokes the reader’s curiosity and readers are appealed to the novel right from the very
first chapter.

2. Weaknesses

Despite being one of the greatest novels, Beloved stirs up controversy. It is argued that
the novel is selective about its readers because of complex syntax and vocabulary. Firstly,
Toni Morrison uses non-standard English syntax in Beloved. "Syntax" refers to the order of
words and phrases used to make sentences. Many of the characters use non-standard or
disordered syntax, and much of the narration in the novel is told with non-standard syntax.
For example, in Chapter One, the house in which Sethe and her daughter live is described in
the following way:
“It had been a long time since anybody (good-willed white woman, preacher, speaker or
newspaperman) sat at their table, their sympathetic voices called liar by the revulsion in
their eyes. For twelve years, long before Grandma Baby died, there had been no visitors of
any sort and certainly no friends. No colored people. Certainly no hazelnut man with too
long hair and no notebook, no charcoal, no oranges, no questions” (p.7)
The syntax in this chapter is disordered to replicate dialogue and the way characters in
the book, brought up mostly as slaves, would speak. Some sentences are not full sentences
but fragments to show the way people might have told this story orally rather than in
writing. In addition, the confused syntax expresses the confusion and disorderly nature of
the characters' world. The African-American characters in the book are all affected by
slavery, a horror that creates lives that are not orderly or neat. The characters' language and
syntax reflect their life experiences in a cruel and chaotic world. Toni Morrison uses
language to express the culture of the black community. She makes use of idioms to help recreate the sense of a specific community, that of African Americans in Reconstruction Ohio.
When the characters use words like “ain't” and "reckon" and phrases like “sit down a
spell”, it helps place their characters within that community.

One particularly interesting example of this idiom is the way in which it describes
people of different races. In compound words such as “whitegirl, blackman, and
coloredpeople” a person's race is actually part of the word that describes them. Both of them
contribute to the success of this novel. However, using non-standard syntax, unfamiliar
idioms and compound nouns results in confusions.

As a result, readers without

comprehensive knowledge of black people’s culture may find it difficult to acquire a full
understanding of the content of “Beloved” Will Joyner (1998)
In conclusion, Beloved is indeed one of the best literary works we have ever had. It is
not an easy book to read but if you persevere and want to enrich our knowledge about
slavery, maternity and supernatural forces, it is absolutely a rewarding experience. We
would recommend this book to all lovers of great fiction.

Barzey (2015)
Liz (2014)
Mervyn Rothstein (1987)
Oxford English Advanced Learner Dictionary. A S Hornby. 7th Ed. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1948
Romans (9:25) http://biblehub.com/bsb/romans/9.htm
Tiny Jump (2010)
The Nobel Prize in literature 1993
Will Joyner (1998)

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