A masterpiece. Oh it is a masterpiece!
Toni Morrison in Beloved tells us the story of a slave family during the times when slavery was being abolished; when they’ve lived such a life and didn’t know how to live otherwise or are still living in the aftermath of what they went through. A time, when legally slavery was done with, but society still had a long way to go in terms of realigning ideologies.
Subtle realities hit you in the passing. Brutal realities. Things that happened to them, choices they had to make, blatant hypocrisy they had to accept as normal, everything hits you. When one of the characters talks of freedom as
“To get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire. That was freedom”
You begin to realise how deprived they were.
This is the story of Sethe, a young mother of four and her baby daughter Beloved who was killed and comes back to claim what she was left without. Along comes her mother-in-law Baby Suggs, who has seen it all and survived, yet breaks down at the end (making you wonder how dreadful that last nail must have been to break such a strong woman) when she talks of “… the weariness in the marrow of your bones”, Denver, her surviving daughter who lives in the perennial fear of when the killer will attack her next, Halle and Paul D, the two men in her life because of and inspite of whom she is strong, the random strangers who save her and the many people who break her, Beloved keeps you enthralled.
There is a concept Sethe talks of – of dirtying you.
“… That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.”
Couldn’t even think it up? What lives they must’ve led.
Beloved scared me. Not because somewhere there is something creepy happening in the book, but because the reality described, of those times, is nothing short of a horror story. The scariest part was that that way of life was thought to be normal. I always fail to understand how one human can treat another so badly. The atrocities that the slaves went through are bone chilling.
And yet I was mesmerised by the book, by the vivid description that it makes of the human spirit that survives all this. The author has so deftly explained it. And whether the situation is painted before your eyes or catches you off guard mid paragraph, the impact is strong. You feel it. You are transported to those times, smell the flowers they are picking into their baskets, see the emptiness in their eyes, sense the oncoming danger. All of it. Just through her words. That is the true power of her storytelling. It moves you in more ways than one. And makes an impression so strong.
That Beloved remains beloved to you. Not because you like her but because Toni Morrison brought alive that world for you.
Photos: Remya Nair