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Beloved is a fictional account of the story of Margret Garner. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988. It is a wonderful book--if you haven't read it you should.
It is superficially about slavery--about a world where girls had to breed, boys felt the humiliation of having sex with calves, men wore bits and saw roosters who were freer than they women were forced to forget their children and people had their most bestial characteristic recorded by a schoolteacher and his pupils. As a novel which documents the incredible the horrific, elements of slavery it is over whelming.
However, Beloved is really about women, and it's on this level that the novel affects me.
For years men have been telling women what is important. I've read numerous books by men which try to define how we should see themselves and their connection to society.
But I see the world in a very different way. there are different terms for Black women, and we are now writing about what we view as the crucial issues.
From my perspective this means taking a look at Beloved without the backdrop of the feminist and traditionalist movements. The focus is shifted on how I, as a woman, love--how I connect, how I feel, how I value myself, how I see the world.
Coming from St. Louis, one of the more conservative parts of the country, I've grown up to view women and their role in society in a radically different way than most people at Harvard. In my hometown there is no visible movement towards feminism. People are not P.C. The family takes priority--most women wear the title of housewife, and men aren't afraid to open a door.
And I look forward to making a career of being a wife and a mother, too I can't wait to pack my kid's lunches, to pick out bed sheets with cute cartoons on them, to tie my husband's tie before work, to cook with him, to buy things for the house, to go to cheerleader practices, and to plan get-togethers.
Before you put the paper down, I want you to know that I don't believe every woman has to have the same values as I do. Women can do everything and anything they want. I do think however, that women are most happy when they give their lives to their children and their husbands.
Keeping the example of Beloved in mind I acnowledge the danger in my choice. In dealing with women in the novel, Toni Morrison chronicles the destructive possibilities of love and its ability to kill.
Beloved tells the story of a woman named Sethe. After escaping slavery, she and her children, threatened with the possibility of returning to Sweet Home, their plantation--back within the reach of the schoolteacher, their manipulative master.
In desperation, Sethe tries to kill all of her children, but only succeeds in the killing her first daughter, Beloved.
Beloved comes back, though--her hunger for her mother's lover brings her back from the other side. Angry, Beloved returns to consume her mother, and Sethe's wrenching guilt allows her to do so.
I'm not saying that I am going to the rush out and kill my children. I'm not saying that anyone who devotes herself to her family will necessarily be consumed by it. No. But Beloved makes me realize that in devoting my life to my family I could lose myself--lose my best part.
Beloved is about loving too thickly. It is about mother-love, women in love. It shows that a woman's need to connect, to protect, to give, and to sacrifice are all good. But it also shows that they can destroy.
So, on the most important level, I understand what all of the feminist alarm is about.
Nonetheless, my view has come under attack now that I am at Harvard. People always ask me," Why are you at Harvard?" "Don't you have any ambition?" and "Do you think women should be subservient?" (The answers: I'm at Harvard to get an education, I do have ambition, and women are not subservient.)
Admittedly, traditional views have made women susceptible this problem of the all consuming love. I know women who act on benevolent, if not selfless, motives to devote their lives to others. Their actions don't contain the slightest hint of self distruction, but their actions have ended up killing them spiritiually, emotionally, or physically.
As a woman with traditional values being confronted for the first time with intellectual challenges and alternative points of view, I've had lots to reconsider and re-examine. Literature has always played a pivotal role in defining my priorities and ideals. Beloved has been a lightpost within this confusion-it tells me what's important for Blacks, for woman, for society. It's not about hunting whales or riding a raft.
It is about women--about love,
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