Book Recommendations: The Bluest Eye and Beloved

“Sunk in the grass of an empty lot on a spring Saturday, I split the stems of milkweed and thought about ants and peach pits and death and where the world went when I closed my eyes.” (from The Bluest Eye)

“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” (from Beloved)

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The Bluest Eye

Publisher: Vintage International

Publication Date: May 8, 2007 (Reprint edition)

Page Number: 206

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Beloved

Publisher: Vintage

Publication Date: June 8, 2004 (Reprint edition)

Page Number: 321

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I’ve been thinking about past books I’ve read.  Toni Morrison popped into my head.  Then, I found out today she died yesterday.  Not saying it means anything, but something like this doesn’t happen to me often.  She left behind great work.  I’ve only read two of her books (shame, I know): The Bluest Eye and Beloved.  They are great reads, full of raw detail and human tragedy.  Both include parenting or lack thereof, the roles of men and women, self worth and personal responsibility, and living in an unforgiving society.Her bookBeloved was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

The Bluest Eye centers around a young girl named Pecola. The Great Depression has ended.   She loves Shirley Temple and is fascinated with her “whiteness.”  Pecola believes her problems would be solved if she were white.  The verbal taunting would stop by children her age, adults would look at her without suspicion, and she wouldn’t be blamed for things she didn’t do.  Her parents have little interest in her well-being.  Her mother is too preoccupied in drowning her own sorrows in movies.  Her father hates his life and takes it out on people around him.   Having no support system, she finds herself pregnant and alone at a young age.  The two girls Pecola met earlier, Claudia and Frieda, try to help her by planting flowers.  They want her baby to live, but after everything Pecola has gone through, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for her future.   The only thing Pecola seems to have left is the love for her blue eyes.

Beloved centers around a woman named Sethe.  She is a female slave before the Civil War.  During one of her escapes attempts, she manages to kill one of her children in order to keep them from experiencing slavery.  In honor of her child, she has a headstone engraved with the word “Beloved.”  The story cuts and back forth in time, between the freed Sethe and the enslaved Sethe.  She currently lives with her grown daughter named Denver.   She finds companionship in another freed slave named Paul D.  He has a hard time with his emotions, but they are right for each other.  Things get complicated when a woman named Beloved comes to stay with them.  Sethe, feeling guilt over killing her child, does everything to keep Beloved happy.  She believes she is the reincarnation of “Beloved” and her increased interest turns her every which way.   She loses her job and becomes a shut in.  One day she mistaking her surviving daughter’s employer for someone from her past.  After Sethe attacks him, her life further unravels.   Beloved becomes distant, Paul D returns, Denver prospers, and Sethe remains guilty for what she has done.

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If books are supposed to keep you engaged, both of them do this.  If books are supposed to educate, they do that too.  If books are supposed to have a message, they definitely succeed.  Sometimes a person from nowhere comes in, rattles the foundation a little bit, and leaves a lasting impression.  In this case, it was Toni Morrison, who wrote not uplifting stories, but realistic stories on societal hardship, personal turmoil, tragedy and its pain, but with a little sliver of hope.  

Toni Morrison

February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019

Vitoria - Graffiti & Murals 0392
Zarateman [CC0]

2019

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