Toni Morrison has been lurking at the edges of my “To Read” list for a while now. I chose Beloved for no reason other than the fact that it was the first Morrison title to pop into my mind. I finished this novel two weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to write about it until now. I’m still not sure if I’m ready. If The Empathy Exams is the book that taught me the most about others, Beloved has taught me about what it looks like to love.While there was so much to unpack in this novel, I kept coming back to this idea of love.
Morrison based the plot of Beloved on the story of Margaret Garner, a woman who was arrested for killing one of her children (and almost killing the others) rather than have them return to slavery with her. Beloved examines what kind of love would motivate a mother to slaughter one of her children. This is not an easy love to examine. This love isn’t butterflies and red hearts; this blood is “too-thick,” as one character describes it.
What makes this love so much more intense is the context. Morrison explains it beautifully:
For a used-to-be slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children sh had setlled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one. (45)
This is a time and place where love must be held back, where love must be small, timid, and careful. Yet, Sethe, one of the main characters in Beloved, loves her children recklessly and deeply. Sethe’s love is all-consuming.
All of the main female characters in this novel at one time or another feel this deep, terrifying love—”She will forgo the most violent of sunsets, stars as fat as dinner plates and all the blood of autumn and settle for the palest yellow if it comes from her Beloved” (121). These characters are willing to deny themselves beauty, connection with others, even food, sustaining solely off love.
This book weighed on me like a boulder. This love sucks the life out of a person. The characters are “locked in a love that wore everybody out” (243), including this reader. Characters become afraid of this deep love. Beloved simultaneously encouraged me to love deeper and to love carefully. I don’t ever want to be afraid to love. I want to love deeply and fiercely, with no regrets. Yet, my love must not consume the beloved. I must love carefully, making sure that I don’t create harm where I mean to cultivate beauty.
How do you love fiercely and carefully simultaneously? How does your beloved feel both treasured and safe?