This is serious literature, no Terry McMillan pulp... When slavery has torn apart one's heritage, when the past is more real than the present, when the rage of a dead baby can literally rock a house, then the traditional novel is no longer an adequate instrument. So Beloved is written in bits and images, smashed like a mirror on the floor and left for the reader to put together - memory is a central theme.
Morrison increases our sense of outrage of slavery by describing the system, initially, not at its most brutal but at its most enlightened. Sethe and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, recall life under a former 'good' slave owner, Garner, in Kentucky, whose farm was called 'Sweet Home' and who treated his men as something other than children or savages. The scenario is, for us, brief, as kindly-disposed slave owner falls on hard times and sells one of his men. Then he dies and Sweet Home becomes a sour hell under a new, sadistic proprietor, Schoolteacher.
Sethe in an attempt to be reunited with her family is discovered by Schoolteacher. She is whipped and raped without any concern for her pregnant condition. Sethe escapes, perilously pregnant, from Kentucky to Ohio, gives birth on the way and when united with her other children tries to kill them when the threat of recapture by Schoolteacher seems certain.
On the other hand, Sethe still goes ahead with her escape and gives birth to Denver on the way, yet this escape mutates into an enslavement of herself as an asylum for her disposition.Schoolteacher tracks her all the way. She succeeds in murdering one baby daughter, Beloved, to escape and is able to erect a tombstone for her only by giving herself to the man who carves it. Her services are enough to pay for one word, 'Beloved' (rather than the full 'Dearly Beloved' of the funeral service) to be carved in the granite.
It is now 1880, years after slavery, nearly a score years after the above scenario and Beloved returns to haunt her. Though robbed of friends by the poltergeist, she is living in the survivor's state of stunned calm until one of her fellow slaves from Kentucky turns up on her doorstep after eighteen years. Paul D Garner, with his special quality of empathy, is "the kind of a man who could walk into a house and make the women cry."
In the first few hours of his visit he rids Sethe's house of the poltergeist, makes love to Sethe, and hugely antagonises her teenage daughter, Denver, not only by his interest in her mother, but because the poltergeist was her one companion. The ghost, however, loses little time in effecting a more solid manifestation, as a young woman runaway whom Sethe shelters, and by whom she comes to be dominated. She gives up her job to be with Beloved and while the girl ghost thrives, she and Denver are reduced to near starvation. It is only when Denver dares to come out of her isolation and invoke the help of the rest of her black community that Beloved can be sent back to her grave and Sethe and Paul D. reunited.
Beloved, The Movie
Starring Oprah Winfrey (Sethe), Danny Glover (Paul D. Garner), Thandie Newton (Beloved), and Kimberly Elise (Denver)
Written by Toni Morrison (novel) and Akosua Busia
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most respected women in the entertainment biz. She is not a movie star. She is a television personality that is constantly helping people. She is taking her obvious talent to the big screen to adapt Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Oprah wouldn't do this if she didn't strongly support the book's message.
The movie is about a freed slave named Sethe (Winfrey) who lives in postbellum Ohio. She begins to become distressed by the memories she has of her life before the war. She had a daughter, Beloved, who came from being raped as a slave. She endured physical abuse constantly. What upset's her the most is not the memories of abuse, but the memory of the fate of her child. She was forced to give up the child.
They don't just pass out Pulitzer Prizes. The novel is gripping, and the big screen adaptation shouldn't be much less. Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) is a speaker for the people and a master of creating the mood he intends. Beloved should outdo the most recent slave film, Amistad, which had to compete with Titanic.
Read the novel first! Available in paperback or hardcover.