Summary: Beloved tells the story of Sethe, a runaway slave, and her daughters. Through varied points of view and fractured telling, the reader learns that Sethe was raised primarily on a plantation called Sweet Home, where she married Halle. When the owner dies, "schoolteacher" is brought in to take care of the slaves. His cruel treatment leads Sethe to send her children (two boys and Beloved) to escape, and Sethe later escape herself (while pregnant with Denver). When schoolteacher catches up with her, she kills Beloved rather than allow her daughter to reenter the life of slavery. Eighteen years later, Sethe lives with her grown daughter Denver when a mysterious woman appears--a reincarnation of Beloved.
Musings: I don't believe I have read this book before, although I am familiar with some of Morrison's other work (I taught Sula to 11th graders a few years back).
The story Sethe and Paul D (another slave from Sweet Home) have to tell is chilling and disturbing. Their experiences are all the more horrifying to the reader because they are told slowly throughout the novel, and the reader is left to piece together the different parts. Mr. Garner, the Sweet Home owner, boasts that his slaves are "men," but Morrison shows the stifling and confining effects of slavery--even the relatively "benign" slavery the Garners practice.
When Sethe rebels against Sweet Home, she does it primarily for her children. Her desperation over her abuse stems from the loss it represents for her children (notably Beloved).
Although the characters never felt quite real to me, I did feel carried along by the rhymic quality of Morrison's writing. Like her other books, the novel is full of strong dialect that makes the characters unique. The book has an earthy and bodily focus, which emphasizes the connection between a person's inner self, physical existence, and natural surroundings.
In the end, Beloved wasn't a book I liked, but it is a well-crafted novel deserving of its high praise.