terça-feira, 28 de abril de 2009

BELOVED, by Tony Morisson

Author: Toni Morrison (1987)

Sethe is an escaped slave in post-Civil War Ohio. Her body is scarred from the atrocities of her white owners, but it's her memories that really torture her: she killed her 2-year-old daughter, Beloved, so the child would never know the sufferings of a life of servitude. But in Morrison's novels the present is never safe from the past, and Beloved returns as an angry, hungry ghost. Sethe must come to terms with her, exorcise her, if she ever wants to move forward and find peace. Rich with historical, political and above all personal resonances, written in prose that melts and runs with the heat of the emotion it carries, Beloved is a deeply American, urgently important novel that searches for that final balance between grief, anger and acceptance.—L.G.

From the TIME Archive:
"Beloved is full of vivid images, freshly rendered"

Something Terrible Happened BELOVED
Monday, Sep. 21, 1987 By PAUL GRAY

Writing a novel about slavery in the U.S. would seem to be a fail-safe endeavor. The audience for such a book is already converted: the evil of owning men, women and children as chattel is shamefully obvious to everyone, and the heroes and villains are easy to tell apart. But it is precisely the contemporary consensus on human bondage that makes serious fiction on this subject so rare and so difficult to achieve. Imaginative literature at its best does not reinforce received opinions but disturbs them, puts them to the test of experience relived. And what is obvious to readers now -- that slavery was a moral abomination -- did not appear as unchallenged truth to everyone embroiled in its practice then. Those who possessed and those who were possessed struggled, like most people at all times, everywhere, to get through their days; neither history nor the exigencies of survival allowed them much time for meditation or outrage. To portray the texture of such lives, a novelist must be willing to forgo reflective indignation and let the characters and details speak for themselves.
To a remarkable extent, Beloved does just that. Toni Morrison, the author of four previous novels including the acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977), certainly displays slavery in all its cruelty and loathsomeness, but she does so from an intriguing, unsettling perspective. Her heroine is Sethe, who has run away from her Kentucky master and settled with her mother-in-law on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The details of Sethe's break for freedom are appropriately heroic. Pregnant with her fourth child and apparently abandoned at the last moment by her husband and fellow slave Halle, she nonetheless manages to send her three children ahead of her in a wagon bound for Ohio and then arrives there herself in 1855, after giving birth to her daughter Denver on the way.
When Paul D, another slave from the Sweet Home farm in Kentucky, fetches up at Sethe's address 18 years later, he finds evidence of defeat rather than triumph. Sethe's two oldest children, both boys, have run away. The youngest, the girl Denver, seems hostile and reclusive. The third child, also a girl, is long since dead, but her spirit disruptively haunts Sethe's house.
Evidently something terrible has happened here, and much of Beloved is devoted to a painstaking unraveling of this mystery. Sethe is an unwilling participant in the process, since she has everything to forget and believes that "the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay." She cannot quite manage this, since she is afflicted with "a brain greedy for news nobody could live with in a world happy to provide it." The arrival of Paul D brings reminders of the life she fled, but it also seems to promise happier times ahead; he frightens the noisy, disembodied specter off the premises and moves in. But soon Sethe must take in another, more upsetting guest, a young woman who materializes one afternoon in the yard and who calls herself Beloved. It is the name Sethe gave years ago to the daughter whom she murdered with a handsaw.
As it shuttles back and forth in time, Morrison's narrative slowly unfolds the rationale behind Sethe's violent act. What seems incomprehensible gradually takes on an awful inevitability. Having risked everything to escape servitude and degradation and having tasted nearly a month of freedom, Sethe saw four men on horseback approaching to reclaim her and her children: "And if she thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them." If she had had her way at that mad moment, Sethe would have killed all her children and then herself.
Morrison's supple prose makes such desperation palpable. Beloved is full of vivid images, freshly rendered. Here is the runaway slave facing the Ohio River, which stands between her and liberation: "Sethe was looking at one mile of dark water, which would have to be split with one oar in a useless boat against a current dedicated to the Mississippi hundreds of miles away." Here are Sethe, Denver and Beloved enjoying a rare moment of pleasurable abandon on a frozen lake: "Their skirts flew like wings and their skin turned pewter in the cold and dying light."
The flesh-and-blood presence of Beloved roils the novel's intense, realistic surface. This young woman may not actually be Sethe's reincarnated daughter, but no other explanation of her identity is provided. Her symbolic significance is confusing; she seems to represent both Sethe's guilt and redemption. And Morrison's attempt to make this strange figure come to life strains unsuccessfully toward the rhapsodic: "I will never leave you again/ Don't ever leave me again/ You will never leave me again."
In the end, the implausibilities in Beloved may matter less than the fact that Sethe believes them. Uneducated, her heritage and culture reduced to a few shreds of memory, she sees no distinction between the supernatural and the equally surreal facts of her own life. Morrison's heroine is hard to understand, and to forget.
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