Toni Morrison’s Beloved

toni-morrison-beloved“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

 Toni Morrison, writer, professor and essayist on issues including race, gender and forces of life, won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Beloved is regarded by many as Morrison’s best work, and once you have spent some time in the text, it is easy to understand why. Morrison works to help the reader grasp the psychological devastation wreaked by the institution of slavery by close observation of a community of ex-slaves creating lives in Ohio in the second half of the 19th century.

This text is meaty and evocative, and also quite difficult to read alone. The work also offers endless possibilities in terms of discussion of the formation of self, claiming of self, mother/child relationships, the fury of love, the permeable boundaries between the living and the not living, as well as the more predictable (but no less provocative) issues of race, gender and role of history.

But what you need to know– along with the history and context which will be provided as part of the Salon–is that the writing is so gorgeous. Morrison tackles the most painful aspects of human experience with an honesty and lyricism that will leave you breathless. If this is your first reading of the book, try not to read around too much: many reviews and commentary give away the central traumatic event that Morrison reveals carefully & purposefully in her own time.  I think Morrison is very purposeful in the way she tells this story—we will discuss the framing and the narrative progression and her purpose there.


  • One- Meeting Salon Intensive  Wednesday April 24th 6-10 PM 
  • RECOMMENDED EDITION: Beloved, by Toni Morrison,  Vintage New ed.  ISBN-10: 0099760118

This sounds like warning but is meant simply to prepare you: the book has some graphic scenes- not, I think, gratuitously, but disturbing nevertheless. There are also some incredibly beautiful passages- and some that weave the violence with beautiful prose. It is also a work that (purposefully, I think) disorients the reader in the beginning. This is one of the ways in which the Salon is useful; we usually start with a lot of questions about what is going on …and why Morrison seems to make the read so difficult for the reader. Your persistence is needed- but I promise you, you will be rewarded. 

If this is your first reading of the text, please know that you will read the first chapter and probably feel quite disoriented (just for starters, notice the chapters aren’t numbered- why would Morrison choose not to number the chapters? What effect does this have on your reading?) I have a few suggestions to help you get your bearings: you might want to keep a list of characters (who they are, what you know about them, how they are connected to each other). I also encourage you to write down dates- the novel opens in the year 1873 (third line, first paragraph) – see if you notice when the time changes and make a note of it.

I am an advocate of active reading- your engagement with the text will be strengthened with a close interaction. One of the ways to do this is to write notes directly in the book- question marks in the margin where you don’t understand, exclamation points where you do, highlighting or underlining a passage that strikes you- making note of a passage that is opaque but intriguing, finding connections both within the text and to your own experience. We will talk more about this- mostly find what works for you to help illuminate the text.

Reflections from a previous study participant:

Beloved is one of the most beautiful and impactful books I’ve ever read. The impact I got in my first reading (I had recently become a parent), but the lyrical beauty I didn’t fully appreciate until I studied it with you. It was really interesting to re-read such a complex book at a different time in my life (I’m such a slow reader that I tend not to spend time re-reading). My first reading of Beloved left me thinking that forgiveness (or redemption) was perhaps not possible, the crime against humanity was too great. My second reading left me with a feeling of the possible and I felt some hope for humanity shine through that I hadn’t quite picked up on before. Thank you for guiding me through that experience. I have students of many different nationalities and ethnicities. I think Toni Morrison has helped me to start unpicking some of my own biases and preconceptions, for which I am grateful.”

If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.



Posted on

July 15, 2018