Some Thoughts on Beloved

Beloved

Beloved (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

I first attempted to read Beloved my sophomore year in high school. I say “attempted” because I never finished it. Before picking it up again recently, I remembered almost nothing about it, except that I found it slow and I couldn’t keep the characters straight, much less get to know them. So I put it down.

I read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Jazz in college and loved them both, so I knew that one day I would revisit Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved. But I wasn’t looking forward to it because of my experience with it when I was 15 or 16.

Predictably, 10 years makes all the difference in the world. Perhaps I’ve become the person my teenage self loathed, because this go-around, reading Beloved solidified my suspicion that my own teenage angst prevented me from accessing the empathy more experienced adults are capable of. Empathy is essential to understanding Beloved.

A major theme in Beloved included mother-daughter relationships, which I wasn’t able to understand from a mother’s point of view firsthand until recently. Morrison writes with such conviction and insight that I think the mother-daughter dynamics in the book are impossible to ignore whether you’re relating from a mother or a child’s point of view, but I will say that as a mother, this aspect of the novel just destroyed me. The book’s protagonist, Sethe, a mother, made every feeling I’ve ever had about my daughter bubble up in me. I read Part 3 (the conclusion) on Mother’s Day. I would not recommend that for my fellow mothers out there, probably.

The other major theme woven into this haunting story is identity, which Morrison skillfully points out can be lost, confused and tattered when one person is a slave to another. By the way, as you might guess if you’ve read other Morrison books, slavery is illustrated in both the historical American sense and non-traditional senses.

I went to Goodreads to remind myself exactly what Beloved was about before I started it again. In the simplest terms, Sethe is a freed slave who has lost all of her children except for one, her daughter, Denver. Toward the beginning of the book, a stranger named Beloved shows up at Sethe and Denver’s home. Beloved is a pretty ambiguous character, and most certainly not what she seems at first. There are flashbacks to Sethe’s time as a slave and her escape to freedom throughout the story, so there are essentially two plots happening at once.

As you might expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, most of the reviews on Goodreads were good, but I always like to see what people who rated books low have to say. Most people who didn’t like Beloved cite the (at times, VERY) disturbing descriptions of slavery, bestiality, infanticide and physical and sexual abuse. Yes, these things are all in this novel and they are horrifying. But I think that if you’re setting out to read Beloved, it would serve you well to remember that this novel deals primarily with slavery, and it’s important to keep in mind that this period in American history should horrify us. It’s easy to read hard facts about one group of people systematically treating another group of people as sub-human and move on, but it’s imperative to understand that we’re not realizing the weight of what happened if we just move on. I think it’s ill-informed at best to gloss over this part of history, and quite possibly dangerous. Don’t forget that slavery is not dead.

So, I would recommend Beloved to anyone interested. If you’ve never read Toni Morrison, you should know that her prose is absolutely masterful. She’s lyrical, emotional and at times dramatic, but restrained enough to never cross the line into melodrama. If you’re like me and have read Morrison before, but never Beloved, please run to your local library or bookstore immediately and pick it up. My opinion is that it’s an important work of fiction.

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The Obligatory New Year’s Post

1 Times Square, 2008 NYE

1 Times Square, 2008 NYE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here we are at the last day of 2012. I was thinking about what one word I would use to describe this year, and you know, I can’t pinpoint one. Contenders included joyous, exhausting, triumphant, devastating, difficult, life-changing and life-affirming. I think they could all apply equally, depending on which part of my life I’m looking at and/or the time frame.

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What Being a Working Mom Means to Me

Infant explorers rice painting5

(Photo credit: hcplebranch) Creative commons license.

Alright, everyone. It’s time for some more mom talk. I’ve written before about being a working mom, and how that affects my family dynamic, but I wanted to address how it affects me as a person.

When I was fresh back to work post-baby, I read a lot of advice about being a working mom. Some of it was really helpful, and some of it was hurtful. But very little of it offered and insight into how working and being a mom would affect me.

I always try to be pro-whatever-works-for-your-family. But there is very little support out there for working moms, aside from the old “it’s okay to have a life outside of your kids” bit. I have several mom friends who recently re-entered the work force, or who will be returning to work post-baby soon. I don’t want them wandering the Internet for advice, feeling more and more discouraged with every mommy blog or advice column they read, like I did. So I’m offering these tidbits and hoping they help those moms I do know, as well as (fingers crossed) a mom or two I don’t know.

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Your Daily Cry

Oh. My. Gosh, everyone. Drop everything you’re doing and watch this immediately (it’s a 12-year-old interviewing his mother):

As a new mom myself, I often wonder what Baby I will be like when she’s older. The most obvious questions are really common ones, like, what will she be like? What will our relationship be like?

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Some More Parenting Talk

Happy Mother's Day Mom!

(Photo credit: kevin dooley)

I have covered my thoughts on the so-called “Mommy Wars” before. But today I feel like I need to plead with my fellow moms (at least, the moms of my generation): stop it. Please, please, stop it.

I have not met a mom of a baby or toddler yet who hasn’t personally felt judged by something someone has said about parenting, whether that something was said on TV, in a magazine, or on Facebook (which I am now calling Hatebook, thanks to my blogger hero Jen Hatmaker).  And I’m pretty sure I have all the types of moms in my friend arsenal: crunchy granola moms, moms who formula-feed, moms who let the TV help them watch the kids for a few minutes, moms who cloth diaper, stay-at-home moms (of both varieties – those who do only because they wanted to and those who do because they wanted to and they can’t afford childcare) and working moms (also of both varieties – because they love their jobs or because they need to for financial reasons). Conclusion: no one is immune from this judgy cloud of paranoia and hate.

Case in point:  I saw this graphic on my Hatebook newsfeed the other day.

The mom who posted it loves her kids and wanted to make a point about responsibility. And I think that’s fine. But in doing so, she singled out a lot of her fellow moms, who were quick to point out that some moms have more photos of themselves than their kids for a multitude of reasons, not least of which is that they don’t feel comfortable posting lots of photos of their kids online (we all know that once you post a photo online, it’s there forever in one form or another).  Responsibility is very good. But is there some number of times which a mom is allowed to go out without her kids before she’s considered in the wrong? And if so, I would very much like to know what that number is (sarcasm here).

I think it’s great to be curious about what other moms are doing (i.e.: method of diapering, breastfeeding vs. formula, age at which to introduce solid foods). But within the past few years, I’ve noticed that as a society, we’ve become nearly incapable of sharing our ideas without inflicting judgment on moms who don’t do it our way. And this is so incredibly hurtful.

Something I need to admit to you, dear readers: I struggled with postpartum depression for a few months after Baby I was born (post about that to come). And I can tell you that one of the most crushing, debilitating things a mom who is struggling can hear is that she’s doing it wrong. It still hurts now that that cloud has lifted and I feel ‘normal’ again. I can’t stand it.

It’s just human nature to think that the way you’re doing things is the best way. After all, it’s your best way, or else you would be doing something different, yes? But let me propose something to you:

Breastfeeding moms: smile at a mom feeding her baby a bottle without mentioning that breast is best. Acknowledge that bottle feeding is a bonding experience as well.

Moms whose babies sleep in cribs: high-five a co-sleeper. Toss that crap about safety out the window. Get warm fuzzies when the co-sleeping mom tells you how much she loves waking up next to her baby. Don’t worry about when/if the baby will move to a separate bed later; that’s the mom’s job. Not yours.

Stay-at-home-moms: praise your working mom friends for finding a caregiver for their babies who loves the baby almost as much as they do. Do not remind the working mom that she spends 8+ hours away from Baby every day. Open your mind to the possibility that this separation is good for the entire family. Do not assume that the family could make one income work if they really wanted to. That family is not your family.

Detachment-style parents: help a baby-wearer carry her grocery bags. Don’t scoff at her and assume she can just put the baby down for a second. Entertain the idea that this is the best nap the baby gets all day.

You get where I’m going right? I know, I KNOW that all the moms out there can remember how tough it can be when they’re uncertain of their parenting choices and just trying to make it work. Taking sides in the mommy wars is a way to proudly proclaim to the world the way you do things. If you can’t do that without implying that someone else’s way is second best, I’m asking you to stop. Think. Empathize. Love. Show respect for your fellow mom, no matter who she might be.