Beloved

Beloved

by Toni Morrison

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Overview

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400033416
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/08/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 5,449
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She lives in Rockland County, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey.

Hometown:

Princeton, New Jersey, and Manhattan

Date of Birth:

February 18, 1931

Place of Birth:

Lorain, Ohio

Education:

Howard University, B.A. in English, 1953; Cornell, M.A., 1955

Read an Excerpt

I

124 WAS SPITEFUL. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away 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 band prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods: the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed. No. Each one fled at once--the moment the house committed what was for him the one insult not to be borne or witnessed a second time. Within two months, in the dead of winter, leaving their grandmother, Baby Suggs; Sethe, their mother; and their little sister, Denver, all by themselves in the gray and white house on Bluestone Road. It didn't have a number then, because Cincinnati didn't stretch that far. In fact, Ohio had been calling itself a state only seventy years when first one brother and then the next stuffed quilt packing into his hat, snatched up his shoes, and crept away from the lively spite the house felt for them.

Baby Suggs didn't even raise her head. From her sickbed she heard them go but that wasn't the reason she lay still. It was a wonder to her that her grandsons had taken so long to realize that every house wasn't like the one on Bluestone Road. Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she couldn't get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. Her past had been like her present--intolerable--and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color.

"Bring a little lavender in, if you got any. Pink, if you don't."

And Sethe would oblige her with anything from fabric to her own tongue. Winter in Ohio was especially rough if you had an appetite for color. Sky provided the only drama, and counting on a Cincinnati horizon for life's principal joy was reckless indeed. So Sethe and the girl Denver did what they could, and what the house permitted, for her. Together they waged a perfunctory battle against the outrageous behavior of that place; against turned-over slop jars, smacks on the behind, and gusts of sour air. For they understood the source of the outrage as well as they knew the source of light.

Baby Suggs died shortly after the brothers left, with no interest whatsoever in their leave-taking or hers, and right afterward Sethe and Denver decided to end the persecution by calling forth the ghost that tried them so. Perhaps a conversation, they thought, an exchange of views or something would help. So they held hands and said, "Come on. Come on. You may as well just come on."

The sideboard took a step forward but nothing else did.

"Grandma Baby must be stopping it," said Denver. She was ten and still mad at Baby Suggs for dying.

Sethe opened her eyes. "I doubt that," she said.

"Then why don't it come?"

"You forgetting how little it is," said her mother. "She wasn't even two years old when she died. Too little to understand. Too little to talk much even."

"Maybe she don't want to understand," said Denver.

"Maybe. But if she'd only come, I could make it clear to her." Sethe released her daughter's hand and together they pushed the sideboard back against the wall. Outside a driver whipped his horse into the gallop local people felt necessary when they passed 124.

"For a baby she throws a powerful spell," said Denver.

"No more powerful than the way I loved her," Sethe answered and there it was again. The welcoming cool of unchiseled headstones; the one she selected to lean against on tiptoe, her knees wide open as any grave. Pink as a fingernail it was, and sprinkled with glittering chips. Ten minutes, he said. You got ten minutes I'll do it for free.

Ten minutes for seven letters. With another ten could she have gotten "Dearly" too? She had not thought to ask him and it bothered her still that it might have been possible--that for twenty minutes, a half hour, say, she could have had the whole thing, every word she heard the preacher say at the funeral (and all there was to say, surely) engraved on her baby's headstone: Dearly Beloved. But what she got, settled for, was the one word that mattered. She thought it would be enough, rutting among the headstones with the engraver, his young son looking on, the anger in his face so old; the appetite in it quite new. That should certainly be enough. Enough to answer one more preacher, one more abolitionist and a town full of disgust.

Counting on the stillness of her own soul, she had forgotten the other one: the soul of her baby girl. Who would have thought that a little old baby could harbor so much rage? Rutting among the stones under the eyes of the engraver's son was not enough. Not only did she have to live out her years in a house palsied by the baby's fury at having its throat cut, but those ten minutes she spent pressed up against dawn-colored stone studded with star chips, her knees wide open as the grave, were longer than life, more alive, more pulsating than the baby blood that soaked her fingers like oil.

"We could move," she suggested once to her mother-in-law.

"What'd be the point?" asked Baby Suggs. "Not a house in the country ain't packed to its rafters with some dead Negro's grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby. My husband's spirit was to come back in here? or yours? Don't talk to me. You lucky. You got three left. Three pulling at your skirts and just one raising hell from the other side. Be thankful, why don't you? I had eight. Every one of them gone away from me. Four taken, four chased, and all, I expect, worrying somebody's house into evil." Baby Suggs rubbed her eyebrows. "My firstborn. All I can remember of her is how she loved the burned bottom of bread. Can you beat that? Eight children and that's all I remember."

"That's all you let yourself remember," Sethe had told her, but she was down to one herself--one alive, that is--the boys chased off by the dead one, and her memory of Buglar was fading fast. Howard at least had a head shape nobody could forget. As for the rest, she worked hard to remember as close to nothing as was safe. Unfortunately her brain was devious. She might be hurrying across a field, running practically, to get to the pump quickly and rinse the chamomile sap from her legs. Nothing else would be in her mind. The picture of the men coming to nurse her was as lifeless as the nerves in her back where the skin buckled like a washboard. Nor was there the faintest scent of ink or the cherry gum and oak bark from which it was made. Nothing. Just the breeze cooling her face as she rushed toward water. And then sopping the chamomile away with pump water and rags, her mind fixed on getting every last bit of sap off--on her carelessness in taking a shortcut across the field just to save a half mile, and not noticing how high the weeds had grown until the itching was all the way to her knees. Then something. The plash of water, the sight of her shoes and stockings awry on the path where she had flung them; or Here Boy lapping in the puddle near her feet, and suddenly there was Sweet Home rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves. Boys hanging from the most beautiful sycamores in the world. It shamed her--remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might to make it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could not forgive her memory for that.

When the last of the chamomile was gone, she went around to the front of the house, collecting her shoes and stockings on the way. As if to punish her further for her terrible memory, sitting on the porch not forty feet away was Paul D, the last of the Sweet Home men. And although she could never mistake his face for another's, she said, "Is that you?"

"What's left." He stood up and smiled. "How you been, girl, besides barefoot?"

When she laughed it came out loose and young. "Messed up my legs back yonder. Chamomile."

He made a face as though tasting a teaspoon of something bitter. "I don't want to even hear 'bout it. Always did hate that stuff."

Sethe balled up her stockings and jammed them into her pocket. "Come on in."

"Porch is fine, Sethe. Cool out here." He sat back down and looked at the meadow on the other side of the road, knowing the eagerness he felt would be in his eyes.

"Eighteen years," she said softly.

"Eighteen," he repeated. "And I swear I been walking every one of em. Mind if I join you?" He nodded toward her feet and began unlacing his shoes.

"You want to soak them? Let me get you a basin of water." She moved closer to him to enter the house.

"No, uh uh. Can't baby feet. A whole lot more tramping they got to do yet."

"You can't leave right away, Paul D. You got to stay awhile."

"Well, long enough to see Baby Suggs, anyway. Where is she?"

''Dead.''

"Aw no. When?"

"Eight years now. Almost nine."

"Was it hard? I hope she didn't die hard."

Sethe shook her head. "Soft as cream. Being alive was the hard part. Sorry you missed her though. Is that what you came by for?"

"That's some of what I came for. The rest is you. But if all the truth be known, I go anywhere these days. Anywhere they let me sit down."

"You looking good."

"Devil's confusion. He lets me look good long as I feel bad." He looked at her and the word "bad" took on another meaning.

Sethe smiled. This is the way they were--had been. All of the Sweet Home men, before and after Halle, treated her to a mild brotherly flirtation, so subtle you had to scratch for it.

Except for a heap more hair and some waiting in his eyes, he looked the way he had in Kentucky. Peachstone skin; straight-backed. For a man with an immobile face it was amazing how ready it was to smile, or blaze or be sorry with you. As though all you had to do was get his attention and right away he produced the feeling you were feeling. With less than a blink, his face seemed to change--underneath it lay the activity.

"I wouldn't have to ask about him, would I? You'd tell me if there was anything to tell, wouldn't you?" Sethe looked down at her feet and saw again the sycamores.

"I'd tell you. Sure I'd tell you. I don't know any more now than I did then." Except for the churn, he thought, and you don't need to know that. "You must think he's still alive."

"No. I think he's dead. It's not being sure that keeps him alive."

"What did Baby Suggs think?"

"Same, but to listen to her, all her children is dead. Claimed she felt each one go the very day and hour."

"When she say Halle went?"

"Eighteen fifty-five. The day my baby was born."

"You had that baby, did you? Never thought you'd make it." He chuckled. "Running off pregnant."

"Had to. Couldn't be no waiting." She lowered her head and thought, as he did, how unlikely it was that she had made it. And if it hadn't been for that girl looking for velvet, she never would have.

"All by yourself too." He was proud of her and annoyed by her. Proud she had done it; annoyed that she had not needed Halle or him in the doing.

"Almost by myself. Not all by myself. A whitegirl helped me."

"Then she helped herself too, God bless her."

"You could stay the night, Paul D."

"You don't sound too steady in the offer."

Sethe glanced beyond his shoulder toward the closed door. "Oh it's truly meant. I just hope you'll pardon my house. Come on in. Talk to Denver while I cook you something."

Paul D tied his shoes together, hung them over his shoulder and followed her through the door straight into a pool of red and undulating light that locked him where he stood.

"You got company?" he whispered, frowning.

"Off and on," said Sethe.

"Good God." He backed out the door onto the porch. "What kind of evil you got in here?"

"It's not evil, just sad. Come on. Just step through."

He looked at her then, closely. Closer than he had when she first rounded the house on wet and shining legs, holding her shoes and stockings up in one hand, her skirts in the other. Halle's girl--the one with iron eyes and backbone to match. He had never seen her hair in Kentucky. And though her face was eighteen years older than when last he saw her, it was softer now. Because of the hair. A face too still for comfort; irises the same color as her skin, which, in that still face, used to make him think of a mask with mercifully punched-out eyes. Halle's woman. Pregnant every year including the year she sat by the fire telling him she was going to run. Her three children she had already packed into a wagonload of others in a caravan of Negroes crossing the river. They were to be left with Halle's mother near Cincinnati. Even in that tiny shack, leaning so close to the fire you could smell the heat in her dress, her eyes did not pick up a flicker of light. They were like two wells into which he had trouble gazing. Even punched out they needed to be covered, lidded, marked with some sign to warn folks of what that emptiness held. So he looked instead at the fire while she told him, because her husband was not there for the telling. Mr. Garner was dead and his wife had a lump in her neck the size of a sweet potato and unable to speak to anyone. She leaned as close to the fire as her pregnant belly allowed and told him, Paul D, the last of the Sweet Home men.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A masterwork. . . . Wonderful. . . . I can’t imagine American literature without it.” —John Leonard, Los Angeles Times

“A triumph.” —Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review

“Toni Morrison’s finest work. . . . [It] sets her apart [and] displays her prodigious talent.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Dazzling. . . . Magical. . . . An extraordinary work.” —The New York Times

“A masterpiece. . . . Magnificent. . . . Astounding. . . . Overpowering.” —Newsweek

“Brilliant. . . . Resonates from past to present.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“A brutally powerful, mesmerizing story. . . . Read it and tremble.” —People

“Toni Morrison is not just an important contemporary novelist but a major figure in our national literature.” —New York Review of Books

“A work of genuine force. . . . Beautifully written.” —The Washington Post

“There is something great in Beloved: a play of human voices, consciously exalted, perversely stressed, yet holding true. It gets you.” —The New Yorker

“A magnificent heroine . . . a glorious book.” —The Baltimore Sun

“Superb. . . . A profound and shattering story that carries the weight of history. . . . Exquisitely told.” —Cosmopolitan

“Magical . . . rich, provocative, extremely satisfying.” —Milwaukee Journal

“Beautifully written. . . . Powerful. . . . Toni Morrison has become one of America’s finest novelists.” —The Plain Dealer

“Stunning. . . A lasting achievement.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Written with a force rarely seen in contemporary fiction. . . . One feels deep admiration.” —USA Today

“Compelling . . . . Morrison shakes that brilliant kaleidoscope of hers again, and the story of pain, endurance, poetry and power she is born to tell comes right out.” —The Village Voice

“A book worth many rereadings.” —Glamour

“In her most probing novel, Toni Morrison has demonstrated once again the stunning powers that place her in the first ranks of our living novelists.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Heart-wrenching . . . mesmerizing.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Shattering emotional power and impact.” —New York Daily News

“A rich, mythical novel . . . a triumph.” —St. Petersburg Times

“Powerful . . . voluptuous.” —New York

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Beloved 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 317 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A child is a gift which cannot be compared to any in the world, but when a child is murdered for the mother's survival, its spirit lingers on in the thoughts and nightmares of the family. Beloved by Toni Morrison is a haunting novel of a mother and daughter, their struggles to survive the shadows of their past, and the secrets that hold them back in irrefutable ways. The deeply troubled main characters and bone chilling plot takes place in a haunting setting which keeps the pages turning and the reader wanting more, even after the novel has ended. MOrrison wrote this novel with spellbounding emotion that can hadrdly be compared to any work of fiction I have ever read. Morrison's brilliant masterpiece transposes the mind of the reader into the time of the Civil War, where escaped slaves are continuously disturbed by their precedent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There's a good reason this book won the Pulitzer Prize and is voted the #1 Work of Fiction in the last 25 Years! Amazing book and a must read!

I didn't find it confusing - but it was deep and required you to sit with it sometimes to absorb it - which also seemed to me, intentional by the writer. I loved that about it.

I saw some say it had nothing to do with slavery and I can only tell you that it has everything to do with slavery. It has to do with it's mental and physical abuse and the effects of it. All of this book is about is slavery.

One more thing I HAVE to say... One reviewer said she, Sethe, did what she did to Beloved for her own survival. ...but that's not why she did it... she did it out of love for the child.
DeDeFlowers More than 1 year ago
I was very apprehensive about reading Beloved. I heard nothing but bad things about it from the people I know. So I went into it with a bad attitude. After reading the first couple chapters I understood Toni's writing style and was able to really get into it. I was never bored and I was able to put myself in the story. During one chapter I was literally breathless when it ended! It was that real. Parts of this novel are creepy, and I think that is what makes it so unique. You will feel many emotions while reading. It's a feeling that doesn't happen very much. I do have to say, I think people who know a lot about slavery will get more out of this, as it is a book about slavery. A couple things that were mentioned confused me and I had to look them up. I think this is a great book that you should not hesitate to pick up. It is extremely unique and will keep you reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters and their experiences were almost too real to bear. I don't think anyone could ever feel the horror, the pain or the fear the characters must have felt without actually having lived it or had a family member tell it. And yet there was hope and love. I'm so glad to have read it.
Barbara2 More than 1 year ago
I thought this was one of the best books I ever read. I have seen the movie a few times and loved it, thinking this was one of Oprah Winfrey's best works. But when I read the book I could just see the characters in the movie and they were perfectly selected. I think Thandi Newton should have won an award for her portrayal of Beloved. Toni Morrison's writing is beautiful and so revealing of her characters, as well as being one of the best descriptions of slavery before and after the Civil War when it was supposed to be ended. I will keep this book for future readings as it was so exciting I couldn't put it down and hated to see it end. I am looking forward to reading more of her books which I hope are equally good, as they couldn't be better.
theokester More than 1 year ago
Overall I had a hard time with this book. It was a very slow read for me, often talking itself in circles and leaving me confused. Still, I found the story very interesting and thought provoking. I felt awful for Sethe and her family and for the trials they had to endure. Even though, as I mentioned above, I felt that the 'slavery' theme often got overshadowed, I was still struck by the awful fact that slavery did exist (still exists some places in the world) and just how awful it was. Even the "good" slave owners (of "Sweet Home" where Sethe ran from) were despicable and made me shrink in shame. It was a good book, but hard to read. I don't know how good the movie was, but if it's true enough to the book, I might recommend watching that rather than trying to push through the book. Still, it's worth reading if only to get a new insight into the world of slavery and racism that raged (and still lingers) in America and the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beloved was undescribeable. Morrison's use of words to describe events and charectres in the book is gorgeous. I've read it numerous times and each time i fall inlove over and over again.
MarysLibrary on LibraryThing 4 days ago
This is truly the Great American Novel. It isn't easy to read but every American should be familiar with it.
saskreader on LibraryThing 6 days ago
This is a disturbing and compelling story, and I may be one of the few people who actually liked the movie, as well! Theme is that even though it was abolished, slavery continues to haunt Americans.
dawnpen on LibraryThing 6 days ago
So picture history. Picture books stacked like bricks around the affluent neighborhoods in Georgia. Picture `at yo service¿ cookie jars and reels of documentary footage on the editor¿s floor. Picture them opening all the windows at the local high school because they¿re painting over the graffiti again. During summer, the smart kids talk about reverse discrimination at the Taco Bell. Then they go to college.
sweetmarie9 on LibraryThing 6 days ago
I really loved this book - it stuck with me and continues to haunt me even today, years after I read it. I can't wait until I have the time to sit back down with it - hopefully that will be soon.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing 6 days ago
This is one of those books that it's become "cool" to villify, but I think it's just an awesome novel. It's intense, and eerie, and while it can be stylistically difficult, I believe that the narrative choices Morrison makes fit with the story and even add dimension to it.
Anonymous 3 months ago
18876111 More than 1 year ago
I first read this in a college literature class, and I didn’t really understand the importance of this book. After re-reading it, I understand it a lot more now. Because it is historical fiction, there is a lot of historical context and importance that I didn't understand when I first read it. The book takes place after the American Civil War and deals with the slave trade. With this book, I really saw the trials and tribulations of trying to escape slavery and be free. I found this book intriguing and haunting. In my opinion, it's a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For some reason I can only get this book in Spanish and I can only read English.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Octlow More than 1 year ago
If you are a Literature Major in life you will love this novel. But if not, be prepared to struggle through understanding this narrative of magical realism. This is a very complex novel with multiple themes, motifs and surreal events. Be prepared to read it through at least 2 times and find help to understand it deeper. One of the major hidden themes in the book is "The Middle Passage"; the voyage of the slaves from the coast of Africa to the coast of the Americas. What my generation has hidden so well is the holocaust of approximately 60 million slaves that either died in passage, (due to living conditions on the ship) or were thrown overboard during passage due to illness, or new births that would not make the journey. After reading this I am amazed at how well whites have either altered history or ignored history of blacks in America. It is an excellent book if you are willing to put the time and effort into it. Good Luck.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Boring and a waste of good reading time. I was so disappointed in the story. I am a reading and English teacher, and I read a lot. I have a hard time believing this book won a Pulitzer Prize. What were they thinking???? Please, do not waste your time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago