A discussion on “Beloved”

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison is considered a classic by many. It was published in 1987 and won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize. While it has been praised for its literary excellence, it has also been condemned for its subject matter.

“Beloved” has been on the American Library Association’s Top Ten Most Challenged Books multiple times, and recently the Republican candidate for Virginia’s governorship released an ad featuring a woman who supported the banning of “Beloved” in Virginia school curriculum.

“Beloved” tells the story of Sethe, a former slave, processing her trauma “through a whirlwind of haunting memories and, simply put, babies,” says Lilly Rowland, an OPRF senior in Glynnis Kinnan’s AP English Literature and Composition class. Bernie Heidkamp, another AP English teacher, says “Beloved” is about “formerly enslaved people who are living with that past.”

To demonstrate Sethe’s trauma, Morrison uses flashbacks and time skips, employing a writing style Kinnan describes as “swirly.”

To fully understand what’s going on, Rowland said she has to reread passages multiple times.

“It is all about shifting between perspectives and shifting in time and shifting in setting,” Heidkamp says. It reads, he continues, like “one novel-long poem.”

While Heidkamp admits students read “Beloved” for “English-y things” like Morrison’s unique writing style, he thinks there is a more important purpose for reading it in class. “Whatever racial background you are as a reader, the story takes you into the perspective of people we rarely get the perspective of,” he says.

Fatima Sidime, a senior in Heidkamp’s class, says the class tends to talk about “the grammar in the book (and) the perspective of the book” and that she feels “the story evokes empathy really powerfully.”

Rowland was “ecstatic” when she found out they would read “Beloved” in class. She says that “since ‘Beloved’ is such a flavorful read, the ability to assess it in class is really valuable.” Class discussions normally center around themes, Rowland says. In Heidkamp’s class, discussion centers around the shifting nature of the novel.

It is Sidime’s second encounter with the novel. “When I went to Cincinnati a year or two ago with my parents, we listened to the audiobook in the car,” she says.

Being in the setting of the book while reading it was certainly an experience. “I was right by the river, which was a barrier between free America and enslaved America,” she says.

“It’s really a lot to be thinking about,” she says. “It made me reflect on my own privileges and my ancestors.”

Because her class is predominantly white, she “finds it hard to speak up.” “When there’s four Black people in the class and we’re having a conversation about race, it feels like I’m a representative,” she says.

“Beloved” is a dense, complicated, and wonderful book. It explores the mental and physical ramifications of slavery and the superstitious beliefs that ruled Sethe’s life. While some people consider it a difficult book, Heidkamp said he thinks “it’s kind of an undeserved reputation,” so “Beloved” is certainly worth a read. Rowland highly recommends it: “If someone is considering reading it on their own, they should do it!”

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