Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931) is a writer of power. Her characters are more than renditions of processed imagination published on paper. Her stories are those rare delicacies that entice you to stay awake that one extra hour and read just a little more. And perhaps some more.
Morrison’s fifth novel Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, is a story of trauma, but the lyrical eccentricity and the artistic construction lends this work the hallmark of novelistic genius. For a story that starts with the words “124 was spiteful”, Beloved lives up to its claims to the supernatural on an entirely unexpected level. The ghost grows from a presence to a physical entity and finally into a psychological condition. It is not a sequential installment of a horror film, and this is where the sheer skill of Morrison becomes most evident.
Toni Morrison’s art is quite simply incomparable. Her language is a palette of colours and every stroke of paint creates a new line of thought. The story is rich with imagery; her use of metaphors is unique to say the least. There is a conversation dedicated to describing the whiplashes on the protagonist’s back as a chokecherry tree, and the appeal it has is not only of semantic cognizance, but also a visual one. By this time, the reader knows that this is sheer art, because there are few other ways to describe it.
One of the greatest appeals of this novel is the construction of the narrative, which undulates at the whims of the stream of the characters’ consciousness. Time becomes flexible, linearity completely subjective, and it creates in the reader the sensation of moving in and out of someone’s mind. A few words create a thousand interpretations and the reader is left with a set of mostly inexplicable emotions. Toni Morrison brings out many thematic substructures, but they are all intricately interwoven together, creating a delicate framework of sensory storytelling.
Beloved is based on the story of Margaret Garner, a black woman and a former slave who sawed her daughter’s head in a desperate attempt to “save” her. Morrison came across this story while working on “The Black Book”. The difference between a journalistic rendition of an incident like this and Morrison’s account of the same is the analysis of the psyche behind the act. One gives statistics while the other becomes a study. Morrison brings forth a very rational, and strangely sympathetic side to a story that has every chance of being dismissed as a grotesque instance of a heinous crime. But that is where Morrison comes in as an artist. She attributes to the incident the insight of a writer, and deconstructs the cause that holds the power to induce such desperation, that a mother kills a child to protect her. It is more than literature; it is surgery, and Morrison scalpels her way through the psyche of the characters as though she were studying them instead of having created them herself.
Beloved is a novel in colour; the tints and shades are palpable and therefore, reading it becomes equivalent to creating the novel all over again in the individual shades of individual perceptions. That is the sheer joy of reading this novel. It is empowering and devastating all at once, and yet somehow, the reader at every point is exactly where the genius Toni Morrison wants her/him to be.