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Sensational evasions in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

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Toni Morrison's Beloved


This Examiner’s sojourn into African American literature began with a paperback of Toni Morrison’s “daddy novel,” Song of Solomon, and ended, in an unfortunate metaphysical dead end, with her otherwise universally acclaimed work of magical memory, Beloved. A large print edition was unwittingly purchased during the film adaptation’s initial release; its covers pressed shut with a sense of offense, and passed on in unannounced censure to a woman who was molded by the Caribbean diaspora.

The disapproval for a work of over laden melodrama which evades its own ethical responsibilities has not softened this penny paid critic as Morrison’s work shifts gears, going from blockbuster advent to canonical archive of enshrined appreciation. Enshrined appreciation comes easily to a reading public whose psyche buries the price of its historical pluralistic forge.

Morrison’s mastery or choice of subject matter is not the implicit basis for contention, as she embodies an affecting magical realism at least the equal to that deployed in other narratives of cultural variance. Compare the density of elocution in The Tin Drum to the humor which shadows the Suggs family in Morrison’s Midwest Reconstruction era locale, or Rushdie’s free form restrictions in his satirical revolt now sadly tied forever to its fatwa.

Morrison’s supernatural disruptions are the equal to that of her peers, and escapism as a literary techique cuts across ethnicity, but her poltergeist transformed into an oversexed imaginary daughter of insatiable appetite obscures the tensions involved in the interrogative challenge Ms Morrison poses in her examination of human worth, not that she hasn’t used incest as a deadly form of family destabilization before. It appears in more gruesome fashion in her early work of uber-realism, The Bluest Eye.

The Bluest Eye fails, as Morrison herself acknowledges, because she was experimenting with perspective to soften the emotional blow of a black girl trapped in such an extreme social stigma. Beloved fails because it is in fact as soft as pillow down, too soft. In modern media culture, infanticides, which are more common than women care to admit, are closely aligned to the poor success rate of psychiatric treatment, but Morrison’s Sethe murdered her baby for a reason. Paul D says it's wrong, and battles the entire weight of racial superiority through the compulsion of sexual humiliation with a revenant “which may be something more,” to use Denver’s closing words. Expediting guilt through a resurgent hymn of grief simply isn’t enough, not for all the literary tools within our humanist disposal.