I have now read “Beloved” and I am forced to admit that I did not like the book because of how gruesome it was. I felt Toni Morrison’s taste for gore undid the readers (or at least my) ability to empathize with the characters or even feel they were human. To me the book might have been a success: if Paul D. had not raped Beloved; if Paul D. had a few fewer tragic circumstances before meeting up with Baby Suggs; if Stamp Paid was a sympathetic character who had not murdered Vashti; if the “white woman” who tried to rescue Denver from her poverty was a heroine and not a villain; and if the black community had likewise been portrayed more sympathetically. I don’t necessarily mind the anti-white stance because the book is against slavery, or the negative feelings Toni Morrison feels towards religion if that is how she really feels. However, I resent the supposition that every bad deed a person ever does is because of the “oppressor culture.” I do want to believe there is some room for personal responsibility.
Frankly, there was just too much gore in the book. What the writer did not understand is what anyone who ever watched a horror flick might: if you really saw a slasher movie where the person at the center is murdering person after person, you might be scared but you probably wouldn’t actually shed any tears for the victims. That is why even the Beloved character–who in a better book could have been moving–barely matters to the reader. What Toni Morrison needed to recall–if her tragedy truly was as bad as the Holocaust–was that Ellie Wiesel’s Night could only be written after years of introspection about his loss. That is why Ellie Wiesel’s books are moving and tragic, while the bitterness of Morrison merely has the effect of a slasher film.
Morrison also manages to make the point that for a black person there is no point in being “good” in this world. The greatest criminals among black people are those who appear successful. The greatest apparent criminals (the woman who killed her child and the pedophile who raped a young girl) are the most sympathetic characters. This inversion of traditional values is really only perverse to me. I can see how an unhappy life could twist a person. However, I deny that every person who had an unhappy childhood left twisted, or that a person twisted beyond repair makes a natural hero in a book. Certainly if a young person felt for people like Paul D. it would not be good for them if Paul D. raped a kid and they knew it.
That is why I would not want Beloved to be assigned reading in the public school system. It is simply too disturbing. I don’t want children to grow up to be like Morrison’s heroes or heroines. I don’t want them to reject adults who try to help them succeed. I want them, also, to be pro-education. More, I want them to believe they can get up on their own two feet and succeed despite the hurdles life puts in front of them. And, frankly, I would not have wanted to read Beloved as a high school age kid.