I wrote previously that Beloved was essentially my introduction to the horrors of American slavery and to
the complexities of American history and racism in America. I read it in my second year in the United States, while taking AP American History in 11th grade high school.
Written in 1987, it won author Toni Morrison the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. It’s a novel set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War which tells the story of Sethe, an ex-slave, her daughter Denver, her lover Paul D who was a fellow slave on a Kentucky plantation called “Sweet Home”, and the house at 124 Bluestone Road which is haunted by her deceased baby daughter whose grave’s headstone reads “Beloved”. After Paul D exorcises the house a young woman who goes by the name Beloved and who seemingly embodies the spirit of the deceased daughter shows up and affects each of their lives in different ways.
It is one of those novels that weaves back and forth piecing together
flashbacks, “rememory”, and nightmares. Thus, it’s
quite tedious to read. In addition, its topics are disturbing and haunting making for a very emotional book.
It is a story inspired by the life of Margaret Garner a fugitive slave woman who kills her own daughter rather than allow her to be returned to slavery when they are caught by U.S. Marshals acting under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
dedicates the book to “Sixty Million and more”, the nameless, sixty million and more people who became victims of
slavery and the Middle Passage. Reading it again after more than twenty years living in the United States as a Black woman, it conjures up so many different emotions now. For Sethe, slavery meant that nothing was hers, not even her babies milk. I cannot imagine that.
But the character I was most drawn to this time around that I don’t recall even noticing with my first reading was Sixo, another of the Sweet Home Men who is very observant and probably is the most intelligent of the lot. Sixo is a slave captured in Africa who has a strong sense of identity and rejects all things white America. He tells time his own way thus he “never got it right” which we see when he miscalculates the time for a rendezvous with the Thirty-Mile woman. He has deep respect for nature calling a particular tree “Brother” and communicating with the wind to allow for his lost lover to find him at their rendezvous spot. He refuses to speak English anymore “because there’s no future in it” realizing that reading and writing will enslave his mind by imbuing white American cultural values that would make him “forget things he shouldn’t”. Sixo sees no future of acceptance by America of people like himself, Black men, thus sees no reason to conform to their cultural norms. Sixo’s theme is one of the violence experienced by Black American men and the criminalization of their everyday activities as subordinates of the dominant white American hegemonic masculine establishment which continues to this day to negatively define Black men, as evident in the multiple incidences of unarmed Black men being harrassed and killed by police throughout the country today.