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September 15, 2013

Controversy continues over Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”

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Beloved author Toni Morrison’s book “Beloved” is set after the American Civil War (1861–1865) and is inspired by the story of an African-American slave, Margaret Garner, who temporarily escaped slavery during 1856 in Kentucky to the free state of Ohio. When a posse arrives to retrieve her and her children under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slave owners the right to pursue slaves across state borders, Margaret kills her two-year-old daughter rather than allow her to be recaptured.

Beloved’s main character, Sethe,  tries to kill her other three children as well. years later, a woman presumed to be her daughter, called Beloved, returns years later to haunt Sethe’s home at 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati. Sethe comes to believe that Beloved is the two-year-old daughter she murdered, whose tombstone reads only “Beloved”. Sethe  spoils Beloved out of guilt. As Beloved becomes angry and more demanding, throwing tantrums when she doesn’t get her way, her presence consumes Sethe’s life to the point where she becomes depleted and sacrifices her own need for eating, while Beloved grows bigger and bigger.

In the novel’s climax, youngest daughter Denver reaches out and searches for help from the black community and some of the village women arrive to exorcise Beloved.  The novel resolves with Denver becoming a working member of the community and Paul returning to Sethe and pledging his love.

The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, and was adapted during 1998 into a movie.  During 2006 a New York Times survey of writers and literary critics ranked it as the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years.

The book’s epigraph reads “Sixty Million and more,” dedicated to the Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade.

Challengers to the book have called it “a fictitious account” set upon a real-life backdrop of slavery and charged that it contained “gratuitous language, violence and sex acts that provided no historical context for the reader.”

Despite challenges, it continues to be taught in schools, though many classes require parental permission.

 



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