Thirty years ago, Toni Morrison published her award winning novel, Beloved. Beloved tells the story of Sethe, a slave who escaped from a plantation called Sweet Home to meet up with her children. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Sethe's master was within his rights to track her down and bring her home. To keep her children from suffering her own fate, Sethe takes them to a tool shed with the intentions of killing them. She only manages to kill the baby when her master comes in. Her daughter is buried, her tombstone reads "beloved".
Years later, Sethe and Denver, her surviving daughter, are living Cincinnati in a home they inherited from Sethe's mother-in-law. The house is haunted by a ghost they believe to be the daughter Sethe killed. One day, a young woman who calls herself Beloved appears on Sethe's doorstep. Sethe, understandably consumed with guilt over murdering her child, spoils the young woman, believing her to be the daughter she murdered all those years ago. The idea of this woman being Beloved is solidified in Sethe's mind when the hauntings stop immediately following her arrival. Beloved takes almost an obsessive interest in Sethe, taking everything Sethe offers her and more. She drives a wedge between Sethe and her boyfriend, another former slave from Sweet Home, and even tries to interfere in the relationship between Denver and her mother. Delving deep into mother-daughter relationships and the psychological impact of slavery, this book is a tough read. To really appreciate this novel, the reader needs to understand the character Beloved. Beloved is a representation of this family's repressed trauma, suddenly forced to the surface.
Critical reception of the book is a bit of a mixed bag. By some, it's viewed as an exaggeration of the horrors of slavery while others view it as the most important book on the subject. For me, it is difficult to exaggerate the horrors of slavery since it is literally the most horrific thing I can think of. So, I'm with Ms. Morrison on this one. Though it isn't universally viewed as a success, Toni Morrison was nominated for several awards, including the National Book Award and she received the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Melcher Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award. When accepting the Melcher award Toni Morrison said, "there is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby honoring the memory of the human beings forced into slavery and brought to the United States. There’s no small bench by the road; because such a place doesn’t exist, the book had to."