In writing this post, about an in-class book, I’m breaking one of my rules. But, then I remembered that this is my blog so I can write about anything I damn well please. Lately, class–and the books we’re reading in it–has been great. With Othello, I learned to love Shakespeare and with all of the assignments we had, I was given an opportunity to really dive into the text, to engage with it on a level that I seldom do. This week I devoured Beloved in just two sittings. I feel as if this book must be likened to art because of how masterfully it is pieced together by Toni Morrison. With a passion for the novel and without any writing assignments to channel my passion into, I knew that this post was necessary and unavoidable.
As captivating a read Beloved is, it’s horrific. I feel like, for the first seventeen or so years of my life, I’ve been told so many half-truths. In reading books like Beloved–where slavery, rape, sorrow, terrible things are so commonplace–my eyes are opened a little wider. While it is undeniably true that Sethe experiences terrible things, like her milk being stolen and being whipped, she’s generally not the one in control in these situations. Even when she (literally) takes things into her own hands, in killing Beloved, her past is what is really what’s in control of her. She tries so hard to free her and her children from it, yet, she unconsciously reinforces the past when Sethe, like her mother, leaves her child. The situations are a little different, with Sethe’s mother dying whereas Beloved is killed, but they both result in a mother abandoning her child. The past has a tight grip on Sethe throughout the story, and it isn’t until at the end when the townswomen march to 124 and the future and the past meet, when its grip loosens.
Sethe’s past, her experience as a slave, has destroyed her and warped her sense of what love is. To her, love is pain. Love is her mother slapping her in the face after showing her mark, being left with no milk as a baby because the white babies were fed first. Love is her husband, Halle, watching her being raped and doing nothing. Love is killing Beloved. To her, Love is toxic. To me, it seemed that one of her biggest flaws is loving too much, but can you blame her for that? Paul D can see this, he even says “Your love is too thick” to which Sethe replies “Too thick?…Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all” (93). I know what you’re thinking, because I surmise it is what I am too thinking; what is Morrison getting at. I sense that what she’s revealing in Beloved is that love and ownership are knotted together so tightly, especially in the case of former slaves, that the two are impossible to untangle. For Sethe, the results of her unhealthy, poisonous devotion to loving her children are seen when she kills Beloved. Her “too thick” loving even seeps into her romantic relationships like with Paul D.
The jury is still out on if love is what caused Sethe to kill Beloved, if love has the capacity to go that wrong, to be that destructive. It’s clear to me that love–of any variety–is difficult and Morrison has shown in Beloved, that it is even more so for former slaves. There’s a weird relationship between ownership, love, and self-love. Sethe struggles to love her Self, which is understandable considering her past. It compels Paul D to tell her, “You your best thing, Sethe. You are” (155). I think Paul D’s advice to Sethe is something that we all could benefit from. Love seems like a pretty rough business, especially for Sethe, but that shouldn’t scare us away from it or cause us to “love just a little bit” (like Paul D) in an attempt to save ourselves from being hurt. I think it will seem easier if we concede to the fact that love just is.