"Beloved" by Toni Morrison: Lessons I Learned

Just finished Beloved by Toni Morrison. Having read it, I learned three important lessons.

First, as I mentioned in a previous post, I learned from Morrison that accents do not have to be written in a degrading format. Throughout history, when journalists or political leaders wished to make opposition sound stupid, illiterate, and/or unreliable, they wrote quotations verbatim. If it was a thick Boston accent, quotations would exclude end of word “r’s” and add them where they otherwise wouldn’t go. Urban speakers lose “g” at the end of every -ing word.

Morrison’s main character is the epitome of underprivileged and illiterate: a black “freed” slave woman in the 1860’s. But Morrison does not resort to this degradation. She allows the disrespect from whites in the U.S. speak for itself. But, Morrison also does not disregard the fact that her characters have strong Southern and Southern Black accents of the time period. Instead, she uses a technique of word choice and grammar of the characters’ dialog to bring forth one’s accent. While reading her dialog, the reader quickly begins to read the passages with the accents.

Morrison gives a double whammy. She does not insult the characters. But she also does not insult the reader.

Second thing I learned is that Nobel Prize for Literature winners are AWESOME.

I’ve now knowingly read two: José Saramago and Toni Morrison.

Not only do I gain insight to the craft of fiction writing not attainable from typical fiction authors, but I feel genuinely satisfied after reading their work. It’s as if I’ve just finished drinking a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer afternoon. It physically feels this way. Satisfaction fills my innards.

Thirdly, Nobel Prize for Literature winners are TOUGH TO READ.

I say this from someone who loves reading literary works and classic texts. José Saramago is one of my favorite fiction writers of all time. But his style of writing can be a bit, how shall I say, uninviting. His sentences go on for paragraphs. His paragraphs go on for pages. He never uses quotation marks. So you never know who’s speaking (he does this on purpose so he can screw with you). And he uses periods so infrequently you’d think he had to pay for each one he typed.

Toni Morrison’s style in Beloved slowed me down. It took me two weeks to read it. The dialog was not second-nature to me, as it probably shouldn’t be. Above all this, I couldn’t tell if 124 was actually haunted, if it was all in Sethe’s mind, or if it was all in my mind. Again, I’m sure this was done on purpose. I struggled to even know which part of the timeline I was engaged in. Perhaps this too was done on purpose to show “once a slave always a slave” irrespective of “freedom” status. Or perhaps, I’m just not a versed enough reader to wrap my head around it.

Next on my agenda is Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. I was going to read Tepper. But I need something a little less engaging. Also, I’m learning how to write grants, so I’m reading lots of dry non-fiction grant writing mumbo jumbo.

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