Book Review – Beloved 

In 1988, Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for the novel Beloved. Although this is a fiction book, there is history tied to the plot. The novel centers on Sethe, an enslaved Black woman who escapes slavery but kills one of her children who comes back to torment her. The version of the novel I read included a new forward by Morrison. In this forward she said:

A newspaper clipping in The Black Book summarized the story of Margaret Garner, a young mother who, having escaped slavery, was arrested for killing one of her children (and trying to kill the others) rather than let them be returned to the owner’s plantation … The historical Margaret Garner is fascinating, but, to a novelist, confining … So I would invent her thoughts, plumb them for a subtext that was historically true in essence, but not strictly factual.

Although this is an award-winning book, it has been met with scrutiny and pushback. It has even been banned in schools. The novel includes acts of bestiality between enslaved Black men and calves, sexual assault, and a child’s murder. Morrison also takes a deep dive into the horrors of slavery and pushes back against the narrative of a benevolent slave owner. The narrative pushes readers to consider what freedom is and what people have a right to do when they are free.

This is not a book I would want to read again. At times, I found the novel repetitive and going round and round the same points. I also question the need for bestiality. I do not feel the inclusion was necessary or really added much to the plot.

As a former English teacher who taught grades where this could have been a novel I used, now that I have read it, I would not use it in the classroom. I believe this would have been better if it was shorter. It might be frowned upon to say that a Pulitzer prize-winning book is not one you would use, but I question if the book is really as good as some people think or if people are more fixated and intrigued by the fact that an author actually wrote about a Black enslaved woman who escaped slavery but killed her kid.

Rating: 2.5/5

Suggested Grades9-12
Lexile870
Guided Reading LevelZ
Accelerated Reader Level6.0

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