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203 of 221 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "That woman is crazy, [but] ain't we all?"
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1988, Toni Morrison frees herself from the bonds of traditional narrative and establishes an independent style, just as her characters have freed themselves from the horrors of slavery and escaped from Kentucky to Ohio. Revealing the story of Sethe and her family as they survive the brutality of the farm, only to encounter torments...
Published on December 30, 2005 by Mary Whipple

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102 of 115 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great poem, tedious novel
Beloved is the story of Sethe, a runaway slave in the closing days of slavery, and the people around her - Beloved, the ghost of her dead baby, Denver, the remaining daughter, Paul D, her lover who also escaped from the same plantation in Kentucky, and Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law.

The writing is craftful and the imagery masterful. The depiction of slavery...
Published on July 7, 2006 by D. C. Palter


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203 of 221 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "That woman is crazy, [but] ain't we all?", December 30, 2005
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1988, Toni Morrison frees herself from the bonds of traditional narrative and establishes an independent style, just as her characters have freed themselves from the horrors of slavery and escaped from Kentucky to Ohio. Revealing the story of Sethe and her family as they survive the brutality of the farm, only to encounter torments even more punishing than whippings after they escape, Morrison presents scenes in a seemingly random order, each scene revealing some aspect of life for Sethe, her boys, her dead baby Beloved, and the new baby Denver, both in the past and in the present. Moving back and forth, around, and inside out through Sethe's recollections, she gradually reveals Sethe's story to the reader, its horror increasing as the reader makes the connections which turn disconnected scenes into a powerful and harrowing chronology.

As the novel opens, Sethe and Denver have lived in #124, a house in Ohio, for eighteen years, refusing to socialize and enjoying no company. When Paul D. Garner, one of the Sweet Home men and a friend of her long-missing husband, arrives on her doorstep and moves in, Sethe slowly reveals her long-buried nightmares, and the two share their stories of the events leading up to their escape. Most haunting to Sethe is the death of her young daughter Beloved, shortly after the escape from the farm, though the reader does not know for many pages the shocking manner of her death. When a ghostly figure who calls herself Beloved arrives at #124, shortly after Paul D., Morrison creates mystery and a heart-stoppingly tense atmosphere when Beloved moves in. As Beloved gradually takes over the household and seems to demand and then possess Sethe's soul, the sorrow which has burdened Sethe seems close to breaking her.

The sadism of some slave-owners, the devices used to torture, and the desperate measures some slaves took to protect themselves and their loved ones come fully alive here, the horrors growing as the reader gradually discovers the real source of Sethe's torment. By forcing the reader to make the connections, instead of spelling out details in a traditional narrative, Morrison strengthens the impact of the novel and its brutal revelations. Symbols of water, rain, snow, and ice connect the disparate scenes, and the use of shadows and the ghostly character of Beloved keep the reader on tenterhooks until the action is eventually resolved. A powerful, atmospheric, and shocking novel, Beloved is also a searing indictment of slavery and the damage it has done to the fabric of life, damage that cannot be repaired until it is fully recognized through novels such as this. n Mary Whipple
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102 of 115 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great poem, tedious novel, July 7, 2006
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
Beloved is the story of Sethe, a runaway slave in the closing days of slavery, and the people around her - Beloved, the ghost of her dead baby, Denver, the remaining daughter, Paul D, her lover who also escaped from the same plantation in Kentucky, and Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law.

The writing is craftful and the imagery masterful. The depiction of slavery and its malevolent effects on everyone is poignant and convincing without ever being maudlin or preachy. What could have been a sad tearjerker is much too real, too convincing, calloused over with the hardness that the characters are forced to develop when everything they love, from their spouses to their children are beaten, raped, taken away, or killed at the whim of the whiteman.

But while I can appreciate the story, the structure, and the way it was written, I found it extremely tedious to read. It hangs on the thinnest of narrative thread, and whenever a plot threatens to develop, the scene ends and we find out what happened later as an aside. Most of the 275 pages are dense interior monologues, frequently repetitious, that sometimes degenerates into what seemed like random text.

The characters are drawn with detail, each distinctive and real. I feel I could recognize them on the street if one walked past. But they are as closed to us as they are to themselves. While they evoke my sympathy, they never gain my empathy. We study them, we hear them, we even feel them, but we never are them.

As an epic prose/poem, Beloved is amazingly successful. Its images are strong and convincing. As a novel, it's a long, tedious read with no payoff. I would recommend Beloved to someone who enjoys poetry. For someone looking for a story, even a difficult one, there are many far more readable.
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144 of 165 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of Morrison's finest books, May 22, 2000
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
As a a high school English teacher, I've reread this book about 8 times and have taught it over the years to many students. Although it's certainly a complex novel, it's basic storyline is not hard to follow -- just the narrative style which shifts voices quite a bit. One thing that helps when reading anything by Morrison, but especially Beloved, is to remember that she herself is a classicist. Do yourself a favor and read the Medea myth -- you will suddenly understand 100 times more than you would if you skip it. I would also recommend NOT watching the movie, particularly if you are looking for explanations. Parts were well done, but the book is so rich that it seems mean to lower the dignity of the prose by showing private scenes. It's an incredibly rich and lyric novel with strains of Morrison's rendition of a kind of Magic Realism style. Don't expect everything to be realistic: there are ghosts and half painted characters that cross our normal boundaries of time. Expect to be disoriented at the beginning, but the plot clears up as you go and then you can go back and re-read the opening chapters. A great work of literature which yields more after every reading.
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59 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of One Mother's Love, July 27, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
What kind of mother would deliberately cause the destruction of her own beloved child? This is the question Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner (and probably the greatest woman novelist of the twentieth century), Toni Morrison, explores in her rich, densely-layered novel, Beloved.
Set after the end of the Civil War, when slaves were freed by emancipation, but still victims of random acts of violence, the book also serves as a metaphor for the legacy of slavery and asks the chillingly relevant question: Why is the leading cause of death among young, African-American men murder by another black?
Beloved's protagonist is Sethe, an escaped slave and mother of four. Her joy at successfully escaping her former master while pregnant and giving birth before finally finding refuge at her spiritually-nourishing mother-in-law's home, vanishes a mere twenty-eight days later.
The sight of a cruel white slave owner's hat sends Sethe and her children running to a woodshed where she is forced to confront demons no loving mother should ever have to face.
Sethe's demons do not disappear when she emerges from the woodshed, however, and settles down in a small Ohio town. Instead, they remain to both haunt her and help her to understand the violence that occurred so many years previously.
Morrison, as skillful a storyteller as ever lived, spins a gorgeously heartbreaking tale in Beloved, and one whose plot is impossible to predict. With a mastery of language given to only a few, this extraordinarily talented author weaves subplot upon subplot and brings each exquisitely created character to life.
There is Paul D, another slave who escaped from the same plantation as did Sethe but who has not seen Sethe for more than a decade when he once again encounters her and the two of them contemplate what they hope will finally be a bright future for both.
There is Denver, Sethe's daughter, a troubled and isolated teenager whose life encompasses little more than her immediate surroundings and whose social interactions have dwindled down to embrace only her mother and the ghost of her long-dead sister.
And then, there is Beloved, the centerpiece of this exquisitely wirtten, lyrically beautiful book.
While Sethe appears to embrace a logic that says, "Before the while man destroys you, let me do it," Morrison, herself, tells us that it is time for us to look beyond the past and move on.
Today, more than twenty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, African Americans are, in many ways, worse off than they were before. The question plaguing most black Americans seems to be whether to cast their lot with the whites of the community or to separate, turn inward and seek their own redemption...alone.
In Beloved, Morrison uses the character of Ella, one of the leaders of her small Ohio community, to metaphorically explore this issue. "Whatever Sethe had done, Ella didn't like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present...Daily life took as much as she had. The future was sunset; the past was something to leave behind. And if it didn't stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life; every day was a test and trial. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,' and nobody needed more; nobody needed a grown up evil sitting at the table with a grudge. As long as the ghost showed out from its ghostly place, shaking stuff, crying, smashing and such--Ella respected it. But if it took flesh and came in her world, well, the shoe was on the other foot. She didn't mind a little communication between the two worlds, but this was an invasion."
Beloved is first and foremost a brilliantly crafted and mesmerizing story, faultlessly told by one of the world's most gifted storytellers. It is a story of ghosts--those that haunt Sethe and those that haunt all of us. Beloved is not magic realism, nor does it contain elements of magic realism. Magic realism, by its very nature, requires that the fantastic be accepted as mundane by those experiencing it. There is certainly nothing mundane about Morrison's ghost and her acceptance by Sethe.
Although most of the novel's characters ostracize Sethe and blame her for her past, Morrison, herself, does not. Instead, she wisely extends a vision of harmony to the black community that exhorts them to let go of their past, no matter how painful, and move ahead.
Beloved and Sethe must, eventually, come to terms with the past and with each other, just as the community must come to terms with itself.
In the end, Beloved's protagonists decide on different paths to follow, some of which are quite surprising, although always heart-rending.
Morrison, however, remains true to the vision she created in Beloved: those who cannot let go of the past will ultimately self-destruct; those who can respect its lessons and mourn its loss but not feel indebted to right its wrongs, will find themselves endowed with unexpected, joyous freedom.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not a story to pass on..., July 26, 2000
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
You will not only find this novel difficult to put down, you will find it difficult to put out of your head. I have had wonderful--often heated and wildly divergent--discussions of this novel in both my Lit. classes and my bookclub. I would urge anyone who reads this book to seek out other readers to discuss it with--you will probably be surprised at their interpretation of symbols or events in the story. While Morrison depicts the devestating repercussions of slavery, the story is not completely bleak, and it gets even better with every re-reading. Even without discussion, the prose is challenging but rewarding, and the story is unforgettable. Put this novel on your "must read" list.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Give it a chance!, November 15, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
Many of you who are writing are students, and since I am a teacher, I am rather sad to see you criticizing the book. My students(honors high school seniors)are struggling with it now, and in fact I think some have simply not been reading. This book requires an initial effort on the part of the reader -- it will take time for you to understand why "124 was spiteful." However, this book (and since I'm an English teacher, I've read many!)is a marvel. It demands an intelligent reader, one who wants to know more, one who has compassion, one who is willing to think about slavery and what it has done -- to individuals, to African-Americans, to whites, to the U.S. culture. There are mini history lessons on virtually every page, as well as new vocabulary, wonderful imagery and symbolism, beautifully drawn characters, and food for thought that should stay with you for a lifetime. If you are looking for a thriller to pass the time, this is not the book for you. If you want to think about our country's past and how it haunts our present, try Beloved.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful story of human nature, guilt, and love, March 10, 2000
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
When I was first assigned this book for summer reading in my AP English class, I believe my thought was, "Darn." I did not expect to be uplifted by a story which I had heard described by upperclassmen as "depressing", "depraved", and "confusing." But I was. Morrison attacks taboo subjects with taste, compassion and humanity. Although her treatment of time can become confusing, the reader who endeavors to understand this book will! This is not a light read for an airplane trip (learn from my mistakes, readers! When it's Beloved by Morrison or Pauly Shore in Biodome on the inflight movie...!), but rather a deep and thought-provoking read that requires many hours of somber solitude. There were parts of the novel that went over my head until my English teacher explained them to me, but I don't know if that is because of my young age or the depth of the book. However, you might want to take into consideration before spending money on the book that this is essentially a stream-of-consciousness novel, with many different facets and motifs. The book contains some really graphic subject matter, which is another thing to consider. However, this is what I consider the bottom line: This is a fantastic, although sometimes shocking and confusing, book. I believe that anyone who is mature and really tries to understand this book will be enriched by it.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a powerful book......, May 25, 2007
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
BELOVED was one of many pieces of required literature assigned to me, in a university course, where we intensively studied broken treaties and equally broken people in global society. Numerous scholars, critics and professors often make this well-known and well-respected novel, by award winning writer Toni Morrison, when the topic of slavery depicted in modern literature is front and center. There is a good reason for that. BELOVED takes a haunting and heartbreaking look at the life of Sethe, an abused, emotionally maimed African-American slave whose own child, Beloved, was taken from her in such a heartless way. This ghost from Sethe's past continues to haunt her in everything she does. It isn't until she has a chance encounter with Paul, also a slave, that all of her demons are truly exorcised from her memory.

I would agree that BELOVED is an important piece of literature worth reading, purely because it so acutely depicts the devastation and human cruelty that takes place in spades in the business of slavery and slave trade. Sethe is an example of many women who were truly broken down by their experiences as human beasts of burden. Slaves (African-American men, women and children alike) were reduced to machines (if not less than that) at the hands of evil and violent slave masters. The effects of brutal beatings, rapes and horrid living conditions ravaged an entire population of people whose predecessors have not forgotten the ancestral scars laid on their heads, backs, and memories (through story and continued sorrow). Why then do I only give BELOVED three stars and not five? For starters, there are passages in the book that could have been more compelling. Yes, I know that many Morrison fans will argue with me on this point to the grave. I don't blame you. I just feel that there were episodes in the story that I felt a tremendous disconnect from as a reader. I wanted so much to feel more engaged and connected. Instead, Morrison maintained a heavy-handed distance between her characters and the audience. It was painfully orchestrated, and I found that quite disappointing, since I believe that slavery is something we, as American people, must acknowledge and come to understand in a sensitive way, in order to recognize the historical damage we did a great population of people in this country. We must thank Toni Morrison, just the same, for her efforts to bring this painful part of our history to the foreground of our minds through this novel.
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494 of 632 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Daring to Criticize a Sacred Cow..., February 24, 2001
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
Well, that's what this book is, let's face it. I'm sure giving it a negative review will destroy my ranking, as all the petty people who can't stand to read a dissenting opinion will instantly push the "unhelpful" button, but no work of art deserves "sacred cow" treatment, so here goes.
Sometimes I miss the old days when the goal of a writer was simply to tell a story, and the meaning that could then be extrapolated therefrom was due to universal symbols that came from deep within the writer's unconscious mind. With the advent of Freud's theories and modern psychology, writers became more "aware", and as such, more consciously manipulative of literary elements such as symbolism and psychological depth in their creations. Beautiful works of immense psychological depth and universality have been the main result of this new awareness, but as Ursula LeGuin says, "To light a candle is to cast a shadow." This new awareness in the modern writer has led to a brand of writing which is so consciously manipulative and heavily loaded with symbolism and double entendre that depth and subtlety are the first things to be sacrificed. It's like being able to see the hands of the puppeteer while watching a puppet show, or the cameramen in the background while watching a movie: the reader becomes aware of being manipulated for the writer's purposes, and the art of writing becomes a game in which the writer attempts to score points by being as "deep" and symbolic as possible. Ironically, the more the writer tries to be deep, the more shallow the writing becomes.
Such is what I believe to be the case in Toni Morrison's "Beloved". There is too clearly an attempt to be "deep" through the use of symbolism, to the extent that even the characters are symbols. I could not summon up a grain of empathy for any of the characters, the title character least of all. They are inhuman, fulfilling their respective symbolic functions and nothing beyond that. For example, I found it unrealistic that at the slightest questioning Sethe would launch into long stories of past experiences--it was too obviously the writer's way of grabbing the opportunity to inject more pain, more suffering, more symbols, rather than the spontaneous desire of the character to tell her story. Similarly, I found Sethe's loss of control over her bladder at the sight of Beloved's face to be, in a word, ridiculous...not to mention unbelievable.
And let's be real here: Beloved is annoying. As a character she is flat and even vaguely revolting, as a symbol she is overdone. The "poetical" chapters with her and Sethe are some of the most blatant attempts to be deep that I have ever come across--and for that reason they fail utterly. That the pseudo-poetical writing should have won so much acclaim is an insult to those who can truly write poetically and are less appreciated. A combination of repetition, disjointed prose, and heavy symbolism does not make poetry; more often than not it makes bad writing.
One of the central problems I had with this book was that it was based so entirely on a symbol: the ghost of Beloved and her coming back from the dead, for the simple reason that this device never rang true. Certainly magical realism has been done before, but that doesn't mean it's easy. In a story which is set in a world which is otherwise the same as ours, it's difficult to suspend disbelief enough to take the "ghost" theme seriously. The fact that all the themes of the book ultimately tie in to the ghost theme lessen the overall impact of the story.
Certainly the suffering the characters go through is horrific, but if the reader is to actually feel their pain, the story must be believable and the characters must be real human beings. On both counts this book suffers. The writing does not handle reality on its own terms, and instead plunges into pseudo-mysticism and self-conscious symbols, both of which give the reader license to feel completely detached. The style of writing is itself almost painful to read, so much does it embrace the very worst of modern writing without its good points: almost every sentence is full of symbols, and the stream-of-consciousness style often does not sound as if any effort at all was put into it--as if having an editor would have detracted from its "depth".
This book addresses the noteworthy issue of black slavery, but the pseudo-mystical approach and heavy-handed symbols reduce it to a pretentious prize for pompous academics or a tear-fest for the overly emotional. If you do not fall into this category, you are advised to steer clear.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Discover Toni Morrison with Beloved, May 2, 2001
By 
This review is from: Beloved (Paperback)
One of America's greatest modern writers hits a homerun with this novel. Those who have heard of Toni Morrison but perhaps been a bit intimidated by her literary reputation can be advised that this book is as good a read as any and just as accessible on various levels. On the most basic level, this book is a ghost story.
It begins with Sethe, an ex-slave who has found her way to Ohio. Behind her she left Sweet Home, as close a utopia as one can get for a slave-master relationship. Sweet Home contains a past that begins positively, (Sethe is able to choose her husband and is left alone by the other men on the plantation). Yet as the novel continues the reader learns the darker side of Sweet Home which developed after the master passed away and the mistress became too ill to take care of the plantation. Ahead of her in Ohio Sethe has several children who eventually leave and a one Baby Suggs, her husband's mother, who evolves from a type of minister to a dying woman who has denounced the white world completely. Left in the house is Denver, her young daughter and Sethe. It is implied that her boys have left home because they couldn't stand it anymore. "It" is the spirit that has inhabited their home for several years. It takes many shapes and forms, and has become a sort of companion for the lonely Denver. Its presence is short lived once Paul D, a survivor from the Sweet Home days, arrives. He cannot stay in the home as long as she is there and physically removes her spiritual presence. But the ghosts presence revisits the home, this time in the form of a young woman. She has the mental and physical capacity of a toddler, and becomes a permanent fixture in the home of Sethe, Beloved and Paul D. Who this mystery woman is and what she represents is the great mystery of the book, one that is solved by the readers early, and by the other characters later. Unlocking her mystery will take a community effort, one that hasn't been seen around Sethe's house for over a decade.
This novel is a great exploration of the past, present and future and how those three interact with each other within the hearts and minds of the characters. Sethe must understand her past in order to have a future and this struggle is played out in dramatic turns which credit Morrison's creative genius. At times this book seems almost epic in size. Morrison flies back in time with every turn of the page. As a result, the reader understands characters' entire histories, and one feels as if they have known them for quite some time.
Morrison's non-linear writing can at times be intimidating for the reader. Yet for those who stick with the book they will be heavily rewarded. Her language use and non-traditional sentence structure left this reader in awe. Descriptions are unique, honest, and accurate. She describes the trials of an ex-slave with seemingly effortless grace.
I highly recommend this book to both veterans of Morrison's work as well as new comers. She has mastered the art of story-telling and has something to offer for every type of reader. She will long be remembered as a shaping force for contemporary fiction.
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Beloved
Beloved by Toni Morrison (Paperback - June 8, 2004)
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