Saturday, January 9, 2010

No. 42: Beloved by Toni Morrison

We thought we'd try something different here at The Daily Banning and play a little Book Jeopardy! Here is our virtual host, Alex Trebek.

Trebek: "Thank you, Daily Banning. I'm happy to be here. Let's get started. Pick a category, Gentle Readers."

Gentle Readers: "We'll take Books Kim Didn't Fully Understand for $200."

Trebek: "The answer is ... Written by a Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, this book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988."

Gentle Readers: "What is Beloved?"

Queue music of smartness...

Trebek: "That is the correct answer for $200!"

Daily Banning: "Thanks, Alex. You can go now."

Trebek: "But we're not finished with the category."

Daily Banning: "Actually we are. Besides, there is a picture of the book along with its name in the title of this post so our readers probably already knew the answer anyway. Thanks again for stopping by."

That was my attempt at stalling. I'm finding it really difficult to explain this book. I am in no way qualified to analyze its symbolism or messages because, frankly, I didn't really get all of it. Here's what I can tell you: Beloved is a beautifully written story about the effects of slavery on those who survived it. Set at the end of the Civil War, Morrison tells the story of an escaped slave, Sethe, who [Spoiler Alert, stop here if you don't want to know what happens in the story] when caught, chooses to kill her children rather than send them back into slavery. The rage of Sethe's dead child literally rocks the house she lives in, until it takes on physical form and comes back to life to torment her.

At least, that's what I got out of it. I could be wrong as the novel is written in an experimental style in which its pieces are broken apart and the reader is left to reassemble them. I, apparently, am not good at this. There was a whole "he died on his face, she died on her face" and "she wasn't even smiling" section that left me thinking that Morrison was a little crazy. However, the novel is still worth the effort if only to get insights like this:
“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
I am not the only one who thinks this novel is better than average. A survey of writers and literary critics conducted by The New York Times found Beloved to be the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years.

It gets banned because its subject matter is difficult (really difficult) to read. Critics (mostly parents) cite the novel's treatment of bestiality, infanticide, racism, and sex as inappropriate for underage readers. As recently as 2007 and 2008, Beloved was pulled from library shelves in Kentucky, Idaho, and Illinois by concerned parents and school boards.

It helps to remember that Beloved is based on the true story of Margaret Garner. Is the banning of this novel akin to burying the ugly truth of America's involvement in slavery? I'll leave it to you to decide, Gentle Readers.